I have an admission to make: I don’t pay for my own Netflix account.

While I’ve embraced many of the responsibilities of adulthood—paying my own rent, waking up before 8am, and spending my hard earned cash on copious amounts of avocado toast—I’ve somehow avoided the illustrious $11 monthly charge for Netflix.

I share an account with my family, and the reason I’m fine with sharing my account is that Netflix allows each user to create a persona. When I log in, I can click my name, and confidently know that my content feed is updating based on what I’ve rated highly and enjoyed watching in the past.

You see, my feed is directly personalized for me (not for my dad, not for my sister, not for my old college roommate with my login).

Anyways, the point I’m driving home is that Netflix has a lot of data on their users. And they use it well—personalizing every experience and making the site more engaging.

When you start watching Roma on your iPad or an episode of Parks & Recreation on your TV, you can be confident that Netflix is utilizing both demographic data (your job, location, age, etc) alongside more specific user activity data (your watch history, past ratings, device type, location, etc).

Netflix feed
My highly curated Netflix feed

Combined, these data sources create a highly personalized experience for every user. So personalized in fact that “there are 33 million different versions of Netflix” according to Joris Evers, the company’s Director of Global Corporate Communications.

So, what exactly is personalization?

Personalization is exactly what it sounds like—it’s the practice of building a customized website experience for each visitor that comes to a page. Rather than displaying a single, one size fits all experience, a personalized website displays a unique experience based on a visitor’s specific characteristics. So in the case of Netflix, each user is seeing a variation of the page that’s built with a particular person in mind.

Personalization is human, it’s effective, and it’s the direction the web is moving towards in 2019.

When personalization is done well, the user feels like the page is directly talking to them, but they don’t notice that their version of the site is different than any other version of the site. For instance, I don’t think about how my Netflix dashboard differs from my friend’s view—I simply enjoy how the experience seems highly relevant for me.

With personalization, a website can also know if they’re correctly targeting the right type of visitor. For instance, if I’m shopping for Marketing software I’m not shown offers that aren’t relevant for my company and salespeople don’t have to waste time on qualifying me if I don’t look like a good fit. Pretty cool, right?

Personalization is not customization

It’s also important to note one important distinction of personalization. It’s quite different from the concept of customization. With customization, a user is presented with the option to modify an experience on a site. And while this provides more functionality for users, it requires work on the visitor’s end. Personalization does not—and the user often doesn’t even know the page they see is a variant.

Generally, personalization is handled by members of the Data, Growth Marketing, Product, and Design teams.

Why designers should care about personalization

illustration of designer hitting targets
With a customized design you’ll be able to hit the right targets. Illustration by OrangeCrush.

As a designer, you’re focused on creating solutions for humans. And to make an experience more pleasant for a visitor, it’s always beneficial to look at something from their perspective. Think about the following scenarios:

  • Wouldn’t it be great if you had fewer required questions for a visitor to fill out?
  • What if a page could present an element at exactly the right time?
  • Could you create a way so a visitor didn’t have to deal with a barrage of seemingly, untargeted and irrelevant emails?

Personalization, when implemented effectively, can help you reach all of these goals. And in 2019, it’s never been easier to implement personalization at scale.

Marketers aren’t the sole stakeholders with personalization—it’s something the whole team, including designers, need to actively think about.

Without further ado, here are 5 ways designers can start embracing personalization this year.

1. Make signup flows more intuitive

For many online businesses, the sign-up flow is the bread and butter for the business. If it messes up, all of the traffic that the marketing team drives to the site simply does not matter.

A high conversion rate is what drives long-term business growth. And one of the many goals tasked to UX/UI designers is to reduce friction points during this important customer acquisition moment.

Further, the signup flow is one of the first customer touch points to engage and wow a user. If the customer walks away from a sign-up excited and itching to use your product, you’ve done a great job at creating a potentially long-time loyal brand advocate.

So, how do you design personalization into a sign-up flow and please a user from the get-go?

Well, first try including personalized copy and personalized content into each step. Here’s a great example of this tactic in practice from the team at Wistia. They carry over my name from the first page of the signup flow to my Project Dashboard. Seeing “Ben’s first project” when I get that page is pleasing as a user, and I’m more likely to mess around on the page due to my warm welcome.

Wistia
via Wistia

When designing a flow, there are a lot of sign up form best practices that you should follow on your page. These include things such as big and bold CTAs, clear value props, and social proof. Following these standards will generally help you create a higher converting and more personalized page.

But often, what’s more powerful than what you show your visitors on your page is what you don’t show your visitors. Hear me out.

Let’s take the PR monitoring tool Mention’s sign-up flow for a ride.

Mention pr tool website
via Mention

After you enter your email address, one of the subsequent pages in their signup flow auto populates required fields using an external data provider.

Using a service such as Clearbit or Datanyze, Mention can pull information into fields that both wows me as a user and decreases the time it takes to sign up. These include fields such as Name, Phone Number, Company Size, Industry, or other information that would typically have to be manually collected.

In the example below, you can see how Proof is filled in as my company name. I’m given the option to correct the field, but in this case, the information is accurate, so I move on through the flow.

Mention account creation
via Mention

The great thing about this exact sign-up flow is that it gives me full transparency on what information they have on me—I appreciate the time that auto population of data saves me, and I’m happy they gave me the opportunity to adjust the data if it’s incorrect.

Consequently, I feel a higher level of trust from their service. Great thought, great design.

2. Give users personalized recommendations

Another awesome use case for designing personalized experiences is the ability to give users better recommendations. By using data you’re likely already capturing on the backend, you can display demographic (about the users), firmographic (about the company), or behavioral (about the user’s actions on site) data on the front-end to build a more engaging product.

If you’re working on designing a project for an e-commerce site, this could be accomplished by suggesting another product based on a visitor’s past actions on site. Apple accomplishes this tactic very well by pushing users towards relevant products after the user adds a product to a cart.

iPad suggested purchases page
via Apple

On the page above, I added an iPad Pro to my shopping cart, and I was shown three relevant accessories to add to my cart. It saves me time as a consumer, and more importantly, it makes me more likely to purchase the items and increase my order value.

3. Integrate tailored content

One quick and easy method to design personalization into a site is to create swappable content modules for visitors based on their behavior or characteristics.

All visitors are different, and for that reason you can expect them to want to consume different content media (video vs case studies vs blog articles) as well as different headlines (5 Ways Designers Can Embrace Personalization vs 9 beautiful book cover design trends for 2019).

If you’re working on a content site, you could shoot the visitor to a relevant new piece of content based on what they just completed reading. For instance, notice how Hubspot shows me 3 relevant articles after I finish reading the article: The Hard Truth About Your Customers.

Hubspot page with related articles
via Hubspot

Even though I haven’t read the articles yet, I can assume that 10 Great Customer Service Quotes to Inspire You, 10 Way Marketing and Customer Service Can Work Together, and 5 Customer Service Mistakes Your Company Might be Making will all be relevant for me based on my reading history.

Another great example of content personalization comes from Airbnb. The home rental site recognizes that since I have an upcoming trip to Tulum on my account, they should adjust my homepage for content that’s relevant to that trip.

Airbnb Tulum
via Airbnb

Rather than seeing random cities I should travel to up top, they provide experiences that I should look at for my upcoming trip.

The ability to think through what will be most top of mind for a visitor is a perfect way to add an extra bit of engagement and warm the visitor to your brand.

4. Delight high-value users

As a designer, you’re tasked with visually capturing your brand. Usually you approach this design challenge by creating a page that captivates all visitors. But what if you wanted to go above and beyond for a certain high-value group?

Another way to embrace personalization is to roll it out to a specific subset of your visitors. Optimizely, an A/B testing platform, does a great job of integrating custom experiences for high-value visitors on their homepage.

Below, you’ll see how Optimizely is targeting Travel websites with their copy and imagery on the page.

Optimizely personalized homepage
via Optimizely

Now, compare that page with a custom experience they built when pitching the high value Adidas account. The page pulls custom imagery of a woman running in Adidas gear and then directly sends a personalized welcome message to the Adidas team.

Optimizely page personalization for Adidas
via Optimizely

The overall experience, while more time-intensive than other personalization tactics, can be great if you’re looking to impress a specific, high-value visitor to your site.

5. Welcome returning visitors

Know that feeling when you walk into the coffeeshop down the block and the barista remembers your name and drink? If you’re like me, you’re probably a big fan of that moment—it can make even the most average day feel a little bit brighter.

As a designer, you should strive to build experiences like this on a daily basis. One simple and effective way to embrace personalization is to wow returning visitors to your site.

Consider Gusto’s homepage for a second. If you visit and don’t have an account on the site, they push all traffic to sign up for their service and they message how it’s “time to set up your 2019 payroll.”

Gusto homepage for new clients
via Gusto

But if you’re already a Gusto customer or an employee of a business that uses Gusto, should they send you to the same page?

I think you’d agree the answer is no. Look at this brilliant personalization Gusto is able to deploy for visitors with existing accounts.

Gusto page for returning clients
via Gusto

They welcome the visitor back and provide a visitor with one action to take: Sign in. It’s clean, it’s inviting, and overall it makes me a bigger fan of the Gusto brand.

Thinking ahead

I hope you’re convinced that personalization should be a top of mind focus for 2019. And it’s important to remember that personalization is not just the responsibility of one party—many stakeholders need to buy in to the practice: design, marketing and engineering.

Need a quick reason to embrace personalization?

  • It’s easy to do
  • It makes the on-site experience more pleasant for a visitor
  • It creates limitless opportunities

Cheers to building a more personalized web in 2019.

Ben Johnson
About the author

Ben Johnson is the Head of Content at Proof, a Y Combinator-backed startup that provides real-time social proof and personalization software. Over 18,000 sites trust Proof to help increase their conversion rates.