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Content Personalization Can Feel Invasive – Why We Like It Anyway

Many content consumers are spooked by how content recommendations can seem invasive. But the flip side, when done correctly, is you get the content you need so you can make decisions faster.

Woman looking at her smart phone
A woman checks out ads personalized for her. [Samuel B. / Adobe Stock]

How many times have you searched online for bed sheets, sneakers, or skincare products only to then see ads show up — everywhere — for that exact thing you searched on? We’ve all been there, and while it may feel invasive, in reality it’s the job of people like me to help make your searches more targeted. In fact, what we do helps build the foundation that powers those searches: content personalization. 

Content personalization is the suggested content or ads that might make you feel someone is watching your digital history — perhaps a little too closely. Though this shouldn’t have a stigma in a majority of cases. Instead, think of it as a time saver that gets you to relevant content faster.  In fact, 52% of customers expect offers to always be personalized — up from 49% in 2019, according to the Salesforce 2021 State of the Connected Customer Report.

Content personalization 101

Salesforce uses, and our team governs, a set of terms — called a taxonomy — that gets applied to any piece of content — like this blog post, for example — into our content management system (CMS). The content creator applies the relevant terms to the piece of content, which then gets matched to its intended consumer. For example, content tagged with “manufacturing” will get delivered to known manufacturers visiting our digital experience. That’s taxonomy and content personalization in its most basic form.

Think of the taxonomy as potential descriptive attributes to a piece of content:

  • Topic – What it’s about? 
  • Industry – Is it for or about this industry?
  • Business size — Industry size for which this content is best suited or is about
  • Role — Intended line of business or specific role
  • Geo — Is the content for or about a certain locale?
  • Events — Focuses on particular events or activities
  • Product — What product is this about or is related to?

Some content entries have a handful of associated terms, others have more. It just depends on its complexity. 

Twenty-five years ago, everybody got the same web page when they went to a website. It was a one-size-fits-all experience and there was no way to “personalize” content based on a visitor profile. As technology evolved, you could build and deliver web pages utilizing basic attributes — first-time versus returning visitor, for example. Now, pages can be assembled with multiple components all based on user attributes. If you’re a small business manufacturer of automotive parts in the Midwest, we may have tailored content for you that will help you run your business better in that region. Your web page may have entirely different content than what another visitor to our digital experience sees. That’s a good thing, because it’s the content you need to make informed decisions. 

It all comes down to taxonomy


It can be unnerving when I go to a website and ads along the right side loudly promote recycled plastic patio furniture. How do they know what I’ve been shopping for lately? Isn’t that invasive? Actually, no. Sites like Amazon and Google show recommended alternatives to my recently searched items. Personally, I find those suggestions extremely helpful. Netflix does it, too, by suggesting movies based on my viewing history. Each of the videos I’ve watched has a set of relevant taxonomy terms applied to it. Netflix uses those terms to know what to recommend next and I appreciate getting served up something more likely to resonate with me, keeping me from endlessly scrolling for something good. (Full disclosure: I still endlessly scroll through Netflix). 

And how does all that recommended content make its way to my browser or streaming service? Taxonomy terms. Some taxonomist at Netflix finalized all of the genres users could browse, from horror to fantasy, and then applied those terms to content, just like our team adds the topics of most interest to Salesforce prospects and customers.

So while we may bemoan personalized content seeming to know too much about us, we usually don’t mind when it makes our experience more effective.

How to best leverage your company’s taxonomy?

Many large (and small) companies already have taxonomy terms that often reside in your CMS, but content creators and marketers may not realize that. For those who oversee taxonomy, governing those terms can feel like herding cats; it doesn’t have to be that way. 

To help you understand more about how taxonomy can benefit you, here’s an overview of  what we do at Salesforce:

  • Align terminology. One department referred to an industry as “Health & Life Sciences” while another called it “Healthcare and Life Sciences.” Trying to tag and track two discrete terms clearly caused confusion and mistakes. Once we explained the importance of aligning the name, having all content tagged with just the one term helped accidentally avoid omitting valuable content.
  • Limit exceptions. Content creators often want our team to add a very specific term to the taxonomy. Our government team recently requested “State and Local” as a term, since Salesforce has products for those specific government markets. In the end, however, the existing “Government” term sufficed to cover all things governmental.
  • Be specific. We follow a steadfast rule that taxonomy terms refer to the “aboutness” of content. When somebody requested “Availability” as a taxonomy term, there wasn’t enough context or specificity. Did they mean system availability or staffing capacity? Make sure the taxonomy term is about the content it classifies.
  • Use multiple terms where possible. If you have a video about a C-suite leader, you may think you need to create a taxonomy term like “C-suite videos.” Resist the temptation. Simply tag that video with “C-suite” and “video.” Then, if someone is browsing through all videos, that one will show up, as opposed to it having the separate tag “C-suite videos.”

It’s all about time

Time is precious. And there’s nothing more frustrating than going to a website and poking around for exactly what you need. Or worse, missing out on something you didn’t know you needed. I look at content personalization as a time saver, an efficient means of delivering the content I need. When done right, we appreciate digital experiences that leverage personal and tailored experiences. 

Salesforce places trust as its top value. Customers trust we will communicate openly and transparently with them. And, they trust us with their data. Content personalization is a way to deepen the trusted relationship with our potential and current customers. It’s a way of saying we understand your needs and may have a specific solution for you.

Content personalization has come a long way. And its intention isn’t to be invasive and stalk you, but to deliver what you need when you need it.

Become an expert on 1-to-1 personalization. Download our ebook now.

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