Everyone has had that weird feeling. You visit a website that’s been personalized to the point where you think they have bugged your house and may have access to your social security number.

It’s not a good feeling. No one wants to feel like they’re being stalked!

Don’t let your personalization make visitors uneasy. The personalized messages and experiences you deliver should come across as friendly and helpful, not creepy. Here’s how to do that.

1. Be Transparent

Disclose your privacy policy, data collection and data sharing policies.

There is a huge paradox in this because explicitly introducing privacy language has been shown to increase reported privacy concerns. However, doing so simultaneously diminishes the effect of privacy concerns on consumer behavior. And given the EU GDPR legislation now in effect, this is particularly important.

Research has found that the inclusion of ad security icons, for example, increases the effectiveness of tailored ads (see Brinson & Easton, 2016), even when the icon is unrecognized (Aguirre et al., 2015). Referencing privacy policies, too, has been found to diminish concerns over data sharing and personalization — even if consumers never read the policy (Martin, 2015). So it’s worth it to be clear about what data you collect and how you use that data, and in the case of EU citizens, it’s a legal requirement.

2. Let people opt in

Segmentation is something you do for your customers; personalization is something they do for themselves.

It can be beneficial to segment your online visitors according to whether they are a first-time or returning user, for example, or based on their location or the action they took to arrive at your website. Any experience you deliver to each of these segments can be helpful, but will not be personalized to the 1-to-1 level, so it may not be as effective as it could be.

There are occasions when you may want to put the power of personalization in your customer’s hands and let them self-select.

A practical example of this would be waiting to provide 1-to-1 personalization until a visitor has viewed a few pages on a website. Once this happens, offering a dialog asking "would you like a more personal shopping experience" could increase the effectiveness of subsequent personalization. Another opportunity would be after a consumer has elected to download your app, or during an email newsletter signup process the consumer has initiated. While there are many times personalization will be so subtle that it can’t be recognized — it simply appears to be a relevant experience — there are other occasions where you may want to ask people to opt in.

3. Target the right people

If you owned a store, you’d greet a long-time customer differently than a first-time customer. Consider the digital equivalent: the personalization experience for someone who subscribes to your weekly email newsletter versus someone who is a completely new user to your site.

That weekly email newsletter subscriber is naturally going to be more interested in — and receptive to — a personalized experience. Research supports the theory that personalization is more effective in the "pull" direction than in the "push" direction (see Limpf & Voorveld). This means that implementing personalization with more loyal customers, and especially those who have requested more tailored experiences, will be more effective.


Personalization can be a big step for a company — if you’re going to put the effort in, make sure you’re approaching it the right way with transparency, opt-ins and appropriate targeting. Follow these guidelines and your personalization won’t be seen as creepy.

Looking to jumpstart your personalization strategy with Evergage? We can help — read how here. Or look for us at The Personalization Summit in Boston September 12-13. Want to set up a meeting? Reach out at [email protected] and we’ll make it happen.

AJ Bikowski is Senior Experience Designer at Brooks Bell, an Evergage partner. AJ delivers design and UX strategy for FedEx, IHG, and other Brooks Bell clients. He has extensive experience in graphic design, website optimization, and user experience research. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication with a concentration in visual communications and a minor in psychology from the University of South Carolina.