Activating Users with Personalization

As part of the UX growth team at Avvo, I have spent some time learning how websites and products activate users. Activation is an important metric for startups, perhaps because it forces us to think about creating value for users. What is valuable enough for a user to get past a registration form? What is valuable enough for a user to pay money? What is valuable for a user to choose our product instead of a competitor's?

One way to differentiate a product’s experience is to build around the behaviors of the consumer and serve up offerings they would most likely be interested in. Besides having the major potential to higher conversion rates and increased revenue - from our perspective personalization results in more return visits, helps Avvo create a loyal customer base, and also encourages word-of-mouth recommendations.

Personalization vs. Customization

To start, it’s important to make sure we distinguish the difference between personalization and customization. They serve different roles in UX.

Personalization: Giving the user choices without them asking for it. Being intelligent and adapting to user behavior.

Customization: Allowing the user to select what they want to tailor their experience and choose preferences from a set of choices. Ex. Browser preferences.

When an app or site knows you so well that it makes suggestions or shortcuts, it accomplishes two things:

  1. the user’s task is accomplished more easily

  2. the user feels an intuitive connection with the product

Personalization is all about setting context for the user. (Source: link) At Avvo, we believe we can be more effective if we are serving up the right information at the right time.

Most common ways to Personalize & Display

There are a lot of ways to personalize depending on how much personal info we draw from. Examples include:

  • Related content - This is the most basic and we are doing this at some level today by showcasing related content based on the current information being viewed. This is simple and cool because it can be applied to first time visitors without any real information from the user. Ex. You’re reading about divorce? Well, did you see this divorce lawyer?!

  • Social connections - This is pretty much essential for social media sites, but this can also be used against the product we’ve identified, especially when there are concerns about privacy. Avvo takes anonymity pretty seriously … we know that people are often dealing with sensitive issues when it comes to legal, so this can be a bit tricky. However, in our situation, we do know that folks are often working on a legal matter with a spouse or family member, so there may still be a network of people to consider.

  • Recommendations - We can recommend our heart out and we see this all the time on Amazon based on past purchases and views. Netflix kills this as well know, they’ve turned this into science with a capital S. If done right, this can be a great investment. However, it can also go very wrong. See the infamous Google artificial intelligence error where it inappropriately classified African-American users as gorillas (Source:

  • Push notifications - This opens up a new interactive option with the mobile app, and something to consider. This can be tricky and needs to be strategic when prioritizing app parity. Getting a text from your lawyer to wish you a happy birthday is a personal (perhaps creepy) touch. But oh my gosh the return visits with a birthday promo code!

Personalization pretty much works only if we gather the right information

Passive Data: This is information that most established sites have access to.

  • Location - IP sniff and serve up geo-specific recommendations

  • Device - At Avvo, we are doing this already with responsive design, but there could be more potential for adaptive content.

  • Previously viewed pages and previous purchases. Foolproof!

Active Data: This is information that we as an industry have been resistant to, but moving ideas away from the friction it may cause to excitement for creating a relationship may help ground ideas to test on a product.

  • Sign-up questions - Asking users for some demographic info. This can help us build on customer journeys and get to know our users better.

  • Questionnaires - Asking straight up direct questions that our site would need to perform the service of personalization. There is an opp here to truly create a user “profile” for their current legal situation.

  • Saving content and/or rating: Goes a step further than related content and previously viewed pages that might not truly reflect their needs.

Usage Data: Nest and Waze are awesome examples of this. Waze has figured out that I leave work at the same time every day, so now it starts with that information if I load it around 5p. Nest learns temperature preferences from morning and night.

Who’s doing it awesomely?

The UX community is constantly talking about Netflix and Spotify in this regard, for good reason. Spotify continues to offer new personalized features that keep users engaged. Netflix serves up super relevant choices.

Here are some more: 11 Examples of Online Personalization You’ll Love

Is there an opportunity to personalize?

Personalization is only possible if the right data is gathered.

Often times, we have some passive data, and can continue with personalization on that front. For example, we can detect you’re on a mobile device, and therefore provide an interface that is easier to interact with on a smaller screen plus larger touchpoint (finger vs. mouse).

The opportunity my team has been identifying are ways to engage and retain users with active data, to create a “profile” (which would offer consumers value) that include signup questions, detailed case questionnaire, ratings, and engagement.

What this could do is create two types of users …

  • Existing - registered users (those who create accounts for taking action on the site)

  • New - profile users (those who have created, well, a profile on the site).

Some of the things we're working on ...

  • Learn and adapt to users, we need to know why that’s important in the first place. Conduct interviews, create user scenarios, and review any existing analytics to determine the most appropriate personalized experience based on user goals.

  • Collect the user’s available data. This is primarily a technical endeavor that tries to capture information about devices, search histories, browsing/clicking behavior, IP address, etc.

  • Create advanced user segments based on data and customer journeys. Contextualization is all about applying user empathy to data analysis.

  • Being super overt about asking for personal information from users to help form their experience and boost account creation.

This is just an overview of what I’ve been thinking through on the topic.

If personalization in UX strategy is a topic you have an interest in, or know someone who does, please connect! I’d love to learn from other people’s experience!

About Me

My name is Puja, and I'm on the User Experience team at, the #1 site to find a lawyer. At Avvo, we provide people with detailed information on lawyers and legal issues so that they can make the choices that are right for them.


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