I had the opportunity to attend the Inbound Marketing Summit 2011 in Boston this year along with Donny and Josh, and one of the biggest takeaways from a developer's standpoint is that the best way to enhance user and customer experience with the websites and applications we develop is to add elements of personalization - this creates a "sticky" experience that keeps folks coming back for more over time. So what is a personalized experience?
If you've been keeping up with our blog there's a good chance you've had a chance to use either Amazon.com or Netflix.com - two websites that are very well optimized to provide a personalized user experience. When you first visit either of those websites your experience is fairly bland. Let's take Netflix for example, this is what you see the first time you visit:
It's a fairly boring user experience. You see what the Netflix service is, how it works and they have a great call to action to get visitors signed up for a free trial. Other than that though, the website offers no input as to how they recommend using their service - they're leaving that bit up to you. What's cool about Netflix is that it learns over time and adapts to your tastes in movies, so that once you've been using the service for a while your user experience changes to something like this instead:
As you can see Netflix shows me my most-recently watched content as well as similar content that I might also enjoy, and they've even lined up some recommendations in one of my favorite genres so I never have to hunt for new stuff to watch. They do this by watching my habits over time and building a personalized profile for me that makes using their product a heck of a lot more fun and a whole lot easier. I never get to the point where I feel like I've run out of things to watch on Netflix because they're constantly honing my customer profile to show me more of what I like! Amazon.com works in much the same way. Over time they keep track of the products you like to browse and purchase and will show you recommendations for different products to try. Essentially they're just making it a lot easier to continue using their service so they ensure you stick around to give them repeat business.
Another cool way to add personalization into a website in my opinion is by using Facebook Connect. Facebook Connect is an API that lets developers utilize a Facebook user's account info to make a more personalized web experience for them. What that means is that a web developer can build your website such that visitors can use their Facebook login to access your website also (or, let's be honest, get logged in automatically since most people are accessing Facebook all day anyways). After that it's incredibly easy to pull in "like" data and other information to make it easier for people to share your products and content with their Facebook friends. Check out some of the cool things Spotify, a new on-demand music streaming service is doing with Facebook Connect to make sharing playlists with Facebook users a breeze.
So that's my main takeaway from #IMS11 - personalization! I can't wait to start creating more personalized customer experiences moving forward that help keep visitors coming back for more.