Has the “smart content” bug bitten you yet?

The other day I received a phone call from a client asking me to explain “smart content”. They had heard people talking about it and wondered what it was and whether it was worthwhile investing in some kind of system. It was another one of those occasions when I silently sighed and thought “here we go again, the Internet believes it has invented something new when it hasn’t.”

There’s quite a buzz online at the moment about “smart content” suggesting it is the next generation of content production and an amazing new technological advancement that can bring about significant increases in business. Yawn. I’ve heard it all before. 

So what is “smart content”? Well, essentially, it is content that is personalised to your website visitors. Goodness me; that’s a novel idea…! 

One of the systems that offer “smart content” says it can ensure that headlines are written including the name of the visitor. For instance, instead of saying “Hello and welcome to our website” it would say “Hello Reader and welcome to our website”. That’s been standard in email marketing for years. Yet, I have news for the companies providing this “amazing, new” service. I used it back in 1999 and 2000 when I had a website providing an “information product”. When a visitor landed on that site, they were asked to type their name into a box that popped up. They did that, hit enter, and “hey presto” their name appeared in the headline. The current buzz around “smart content” appears to have ignored the fact that software to achieve this has been around for almost 20 years.

Plus, this kind of personalisation is standard in the real world. You don’t speak to clients without using their name, do you? Even basic retail sales staff will ask you for some personal details of some kind so they can personalise the conversation. Personalising “content” is not new; it is what every good business does.

What is new is the way some of the modern systems allow you to connect content to your CRM system. That means that if a customer lands on your website the “smart content” system knows that and presents copy aimed at existing customers, instead of material meant for first-time visitors. But that is not really that hard to achieve even without a fancy content management system that has “smart features”. For instance, you simply provide every customer with a personalised page such as “yourcompany.com/customername”. They go to that, and the copy is aimed directly at them and is completely personalised. 

Similarly, with the careful use of links and marketing campaigns, you can direct different “personas” and various kinds of customers to specific landing pages that are geared to them. This is somewhat basic stuff.

However, to give the fans of “smart content” their due, many firms are not doing the basics. Indeed, when I am running masterclasses for companies I often find that they have produced just one page of content on a particular product or service aimed at “anyone and everyone”. When I ask “who is this aimed at” I get told things like “potential customers”. But then I ask, “do you have different types of customers for this item?” I get told about a variety of clients with slightly differing needs. So then I ask “how can this content be suitable for these different customers?”

Generally, the firms I work with have to admit that the copy is too general and doesn’t “hit the spot” for each of their customers. When I explain, they need a separate landing page for each product or service targeted at several different kinds of customers and behaviours I get complaints. They say “but that means hundreds of pages”. True, I say. But then I ask, “do you only have one conversation that you use with every different type of customer, or do you mould what you have to talk about to that type of customer you are facing in the real world?” Companies have to admit that they potentially have hundreds of different conversations in the “real world” and see the nonsense of only having one “conversation” online. Even if you are only doing the basics of online content, you need lots of different pages for each type of person visiting your website – even if much of that material is repeated across those pages. Then all you have to do is direct the various targets to the specific page for them.

“Smart content” systems do take this a stage further, possibly personalising things down to the individual. However, in my experience, most companies are nowhere near ready for this. Most business websites are still “all things to all people”, not really personalised in the most basic of ways. If your firm’s website doesn’t even personalise things down to the “persona” level or even to “categories” of potential visitors, then attempting to personalise things for individuals will be a real problem.

What the buzz about “smart content” actually reveals is that even though the technology is not as new as many would believe, the principal is old. Businesses have personalised “content” of all kinds for centuries. Yet along comes the Internet and they appear to have forgotten to do that, instead, providing material that will suit “everyone” or “anybody”. 

If there is one thing that the “smart content bug” will do for businesses it is to make them think whether their website is personalised enough for all the different visitors. In most instances, the answer will be a resounding “no”. And that means that 2018 should be the year of providing more focused and specific web content so that each individual persona is looked after. 

All of the evidence is in favour of this. Focused and personalised content tends to increase lead generation and actual sales by around 45%. By having web pages that are for “anyone” you are dramatically reducing your income. 

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