In the world of ecommerce, people will encounter your product in a variety of ways – from search engines to social media, meaning it is important to grab their attention at every one of these entry points. If you have a specific content or buyer’s journey laid out on your site and expect visitors to take a certain path, don’t. They will likely enter on a different page or starting point.

The goal of digital marketing is to ensure they find the content they are looking for, locate your CTA (call to action), convert, and ultimately get on the path to brand loyalty. By providing personalized content, you can optimize each page of your website, as well as specified content journeys and provide a more engaging, user-friendly experience.

What are the SEO challenges of personalization?

I wanted to start with something different and focus on what could potentially go wrong with personalization efforts and how Sitecore addresses these issues. When creating tailored content that is personalized to a specific user or group of users (segment), there are several factors to consider that could have a significant impact on your marketing strategy and search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. These include:

  • Page speed
  • Cloaking
  • Duplication

What is page speed?

Page speed is the amount of time it takes for a particular page to load. It is also a key ranking factor for search engines when looking at performance. There are different aspects to this, such as time to first byte, first meaningful/contextual paint, and so on. The bottom line is that the longer it takes a page to load, the less likely visitors will stick around, and the search engine rankings will be negatively affected.

Adding personalized content or dynamic content to a page requires running multiple pieces of content and scripts in the background. These can become taxing on servers when trying to serve up content, resulting in increased load times and a poor user experience.

What is cloaking?

According to Google, cloaking “refers to the practice of presenting different content or URLs to human users and search engine bots.” This is a violation of their guidelines and an extremely risky practice that will damage your rankings. When personalizing content, it is common to have multiple pieces of content to show each user segment or individual. While this is not advised, there are ways to avoid issues, such as implementing canonical links to the preferred version of each page.

What is duplication?

Another use for canonical links is when you have duplicate content. This can happen often when personalizing content. While there is no actual penalty for duplication, it can cause other issues, such as keyword cannibalization. This occurs when two duplicate or near duplicate pages are optimized for the same terms and are fighting for the same space. Depending on your content strategy and how much content you plan to personalize, it may be a good idea to implement canonical tags to avoid any issues before they occur.

How does Sitecore address personalization challenges?

Sitecore handles personalization very deliberately, so it does not negatively impact performance. Let’s look at some of the concerns mentioned earlier and see how they are handled by Sitecore.

Cloaking

Does Sitecore show search engines different content than what visitors will see?

No. We do not change the page’s purpose or its content. We only personalize messaging on a component level; the base content does not change. Our goal is to be indexed in search engines, not to compete with ourselves or, worse, engage in some black-hat SEO tactics that will lead to extremely poor results. As an example, on Sitecore.com, our personalization is geo-modified so images will resonate better with audiences in that region. Again, not affecting the copy on that page, more so catering to local SEO as part of an SEO strategy.

Page speed

Does personalization effect page speed?

Google has stated on their PageSpeed Insights that the time to load LCP, or Largest Contentful Paint, should be at or under 2.5 seconds. LCP can be defined as the time it takes to measure the perceived load speed or when a page’s main content is loaded. When it comes to personalization, different content may be served, which can slow load times.

Sitecore handles personalization a little differently. Immediately after a page loads, the JavaScript kicks in to inject the personalized content that Google can crawl.

When getting started with personalization, it is common to employ third-party rules. These can inflate load times and create a poor experience. Sitecore does not utilize these in our practice, ensuring Sitecore CDP and Personalize load pages without delay.

How much content is typically personalized?

Does Sitecore personalize everything?

With Sitecore, personalized content is delivered at the component level. While you can personalize every component on the page, best practice is to personalize only highly visible items such as headlines, introductions, and product recommendations. These light touches help visitors feel they are getting a personalized search experience while not affecting your SEO (search engine optimization), or putting too great a burden on your content marketing team, or adding multiple points of analysis for your personalization results.

Scripts

On pages that employ personalization rules, do we have any extra scripts running that would inflate a page’s load time?

Our scripts run server-side, so they do not cause longer load times on landing pages; personalization rules run in milliseconds. Sitecore builds a session in memory, includes useful items from recent visits, then serves content based on a visitor’s interest.

Storage

Where does Sitecore store its personalized content?

Visitors to Sitecore are cookied. The content is stored server-side. The cookies remember the user behavior throughout the site. This information is then sent to Sitecore, allowing us to serve up personalized website content via machine learning when relevant.

What are the SEO benefits of personalization?

We have addressed potential pitfalls with personalization and how Sitecore addresses these issues. So, what are the benefits of personalizing content? Driving relevant organic traffic tends to bring in more traffic to sites than paid (Google Ads) or any other channels. PPC requires a budget that can fluctuate depending on who you are targeting and what you are trying to promote.

Keyword relevancy is another aspect to consider. With personalization rules in play, we can target visitors’ search queries no matter which stage of the funnel they are in. Earlier, we had mentioned that visitors can enter your site or story from many different entry points. This is where and why it is important to grab their attention.

For example, we know that people searching for a specific keyword will often come to a related landing page, such as commerce. We can then offer them relevant content on that page, which is relevant to that query, or tailor the intro to address that particular query or related pain points.

Over time, if that personalization is shown to be successful, perhaps by increased time on site or pages viewed, then we may adjust the content on that page, which also aids in our content freshness, and helps improve rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs). It’s a great example of SEO and personalization working together to achieve better results.

Personalization makes it easy to generate content for the individual user, improving your marketing efforts and greatly improving the user experience. With Sitecore, you can personalize any web page throughout your site, not just the home page. This makes it easier for marketers to focus on a target audience with their messaging.

If you are looking to improve conversion rates for your marketing campaigns and run some A/B testing, Sitecore’s experimentation and personalization platform, Personalize provides intelligent optimization and automation to help you deliver impactful and relevant experiences.

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Separate from Google Analytics, our Personalize Analytics are visualized with a crystal-clear reporting functionality powered by a rock-solid statistics engine. Using industry-leading decisioning, the platform blends data, personalization, and segmentation rules to drive each customer’s next-best action, while A/B testing allows you to understand how your tests are performing against the goals and metrics you define so that you can ensure you are offering customers real-time personalized experiences.

Focus on qualified leads

Engage with your audience. Personalization rules are based on the following:

  • Queries – Specific content a visitor is looking for
  • Personal information – From a profile they created and when logged into their account
  • Previous visits – Visitors’ browsing history is retained to offer a better experience when they return to the site
  • Relationship building – Showing personalized content shows you care. This can have advantages such as lead nurturing and building audiences for email marketing.

Improve the customer experience

A high-quality, tailored experience means repeat business, right? So why not try to provide the best experience possible for your visitors? Whether content is viewed on desktop or on a mobile device, a good experience on a website can have many SEO benefits such as a reduction in bounce rate, increased time on page/site, an increase in the number of pages viewed per visit, an increase in overall engagement and customer loyalty. All of the above are also ranking factors when a search engine crawls and indexes a website, so it is important to create an experience that will make visitors want to come back.

For further insights into personalization and how to deliver standout customer experiences that build trust and loyalty, arrange a product demo today.

Joe Rega is Digital Marketing Manager at Sitecore. He has been working in SEO for over 17 years. When not optimizing he can be found playing bass or mandolin. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.