Audience Engagement Top Stories
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70% of digital publishers personalize content for visitors, study finds

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7 out of 10 online publishers personalize the content they deliver to visitors, according to a survey of 200 publishers by Digiday this month.

Content personalization—a practice once frowned upon both by publishers and consumers—now appears to be becoming mainstream, and more publishers are willing to talk about it.

The New York Times, one of the early adopters, has implemented various personalization strategies, e.g., based on factors such as readers’ geographic location and what content they read. The Boston Globe has used personalization technology to tailor both editorial and marketing content. Hearst Newspapers has used Google’s natural language processing to personalize stories for readers.

Passive personalization is the norm

“Readers might not always be aware they are served different content than the person sitting next to them,” said Mark Weiss, from Digiday Research. “84% of publishers that do personalize content said they conduct passive personalization rather than active personalization.”

Passive personalization is based on information gleaned from readers’ location or browsing history, to tailor to the content they see, as opposed to active personalization where readers self-select the kind content they prefer.

Personalization becoming more popular

The survey also found that personalization is likely to become more popular among publishers, with 50% of publishers that do not currently personalize content said they are developing plans to do so.

“Overall, I’ve seen publishers worry about not sounding caught-up if they’re not doing some form of personalization,” said one anonymous publisher executive to Digiday. “They think they’re being left behind.”

Ethical dilemma regarding personalization? Nope.

Rather than being held back by any ethical considerations, the Digiday survey found that most publishers who are yet to implement personalization have not done so primarily because of technical (68%) and monetary (58%) constraints.

Only about a quarter of respondents said it was not aligned with their editorial missions (27%) and just 14% were concerned about potential editorial pushback.

Personalization is everywhere, and readers don’t care

“Part of why personalization has become so widespread among publishers is that it has become a catchall for a number of projects,” mentioned Mark. “Tailored content has evolved beyond algorithms customizing homepages and now includes everything from popular-articles widgets to newsletters constructed based on reader interests.”

And regarding the low single-digit concern (3%) for consumer backlash, the reason is simple: reader apathy. “We don’t hear about personalization from readers,” Jason Jedlinski, SVP of Consumer Products at Gannett, told Digiday, pointing out to social platforms like Facebook and Twitter for changing readers expectations around personalization.