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Location data adds context for Web personalization

Location technologies can provide another layer of context for serving up Web personalization, but it may require updating systems and strategies.

Location, location, location; long a determinant of real estate values, it's also becoming a crucial data point for Web strategies that strive to deliver personalized experiences.

Web personalization is the process of tailoring a site's presentation to match user preferences, based on past behavior and other data. Adding location to the mix can unlock new potential for delivering targeted or localized content. But it also requires a willingness to embrace a more complex engagement strategy that could require upgrading older or more limited Web content management (WCM) software.

The global database company Couchbase is rolling out a Web personalization program, having upgraded from an aging WCM system to Hippo CMS in October. With the main-site migration nearly complete, Shane Johnson, Couchbase senior product marketing manager, said the company, which is based in Mountain View, Calif., has started using it to target regional Web-based campaigns.

The trial run was a recent London conference. The Couchbase website promoted it in Europe, while visitors from Asia or the Americas saw a more general campaign. Johnson termed it a small example of something with large potential.

"There was really very little value in telling people in the United States about the conference we were hosting in London," Johnson said. "Segmenting visitors based geographic location allows us to target them better."

By homing in on location, Couchbase might get better attendance at its events without spending more time and money on marketing efforts. But Couchbase has yet to develop these efforts for future events.

Couchbase is also consolidating its disparate array of international websites, microsites and portals into the Hippo platform, but Johnson said it will maintain its multilingual presence. For example, visitors from France will see a French language version of the site.

Language offers a clear example on the power of localized content. A 2014 study -- "Can't Read, Won't Buy" by the Common Sense Advisory marketing research firm -- found that 55% of global customers surveyed would only make online purchases with websites delivering content in their native language. Localized content can help bridge both geographical and language barriers, and it's often used by global brands to tailor a centralized message to regional specifications, said Real Story Group founder and analyst Tony Byrne.

"It's fundamentally an efficiency story where you do need to propagate information or messaging across lots of locales," Byrne said. "Without any kind of automation, it's going to become a total nightmare."

Location-based targeting is a similar approach to Web personalization, which centers on geotargeting customers based on the user's current location and demographic data. Byrne described location-based targeting as low-hanging fruit of market segmentation for B2C scenarios, such as retail. He also cited an example of a regional urban health care provider that's experimenting with it.

"They've done focus groups and found that people in different zip codes are motivated by different types of imagery, maybe different types of branding and messaging," Byrne said. "We know for a fact that big retailers will vary the merchandise that they show you based on location."

Byrne added that Web personalization comes with some caveats, saying the dynamic content has performance implications and also complicates content strategy, due to the increased number of scenarios. He advised testing things out.

"You might need to impersonate someone coming from a rural postal code in your testing regime to make sure they're getting the appropriate information," he said "The technology is relatively simple, but the complexity comes in on the operational and content side."

A personalized intranet

Personalization and localized content can also yield value through internal websites. That was a goal for Citrix Systems Inc., a software company based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that rebuilt its intranet using Adobe's Experience Manager software. Citrix has more than 100 offices worldwide and filtering information with location was crucial for the reboot, explained company director of Web product management Michael Berg.

"A central focus was making location a key part of the site experience," Berg said. "We really struggled in the past, where people would find content that was relevant elsewhere, but not with their office."

The re-launched intranet uses location to filter news, events and company announcements for relevance. Under the old system, Berg said intranet users were using a "needle-in-a-haystack approach" to find relevant information, adding that it resulted in significant consequences on at least one occasion.

"I went to the India office once and I couldn't easily find the holiday schedule beforehand," said Berg. "I went there and, sure enough, our office was closed two of the 10 days I was there. It was pretty disappointing to go halfway around the world and only find that out then."

The new intranet allows users to toggle the display, to learn about what's happening at other branch offices. It also has a companywide notification center, which displays relevant deadlines and upcoming events, which are tailored according to the user's role in the company. Berg said that a personalized intranet not only helps employees to be more productive but also has real business value in terms of time saved and increased efficiency.

"We see that as a core central part, to make sure we get the right information in the right people's hands, based on location and also their role in the organization," Berg said.

Byrne said there's value to improving employee experience, but cautioned that takes strong identity management practices from the both intranet and connected systems to make it work.

"If it's not, then you're just showing the same thing to everybody and we know from experience that just doesn't work in a large enterprise, Byrne said.

For B2B operations, personalization often means intuiting the role website visitors play in a given company and tailoring the experience accordingly. The Couchbase website already does to some extent with cookies that track anonymous visitor activity, but the site's profile feature will soon be upgraded to provide single sign-on across the entire platform. Johnson anticipates the additional information from that technology will provide more intuitive visitor experiences, adding Couchbase is looking to go to the "next level" in personalization, and location will likely play a larger role in the future.

"We know from a competitive standpoint that the competition shapes up differently across regions," he said, "so I do think it's possible in the future some content will be targeted based on geography."

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