Personalisation must have goals and rules to be effective

By Ariane Bernard


New York, Paris


Let’s remember that a goal of a personalisation is always going to be one of two things: 

  1. An upside of a measurable event — whether that’s the increase of a direct metric or the increase of an audience behaviour (active days, likelihood to subscribe at N days, etc). 

  2. To limit the scope of a negative measurable event. (It sounds like this is stating the same thing the other way around, but it’s isn’t!)

For a personalisation algorithm to work, it has to have inputs — rules (the algorithm) and an outcome we can measure to see whether personalisation “is working.” That’s the loop. 

A personalisation algorithm must have rules and an outcome.
A personalisation algorithm must have rules and an outcome.

Where we’re lucky is that choosing a measurable event to service in personalisation can often be a proxy for several of the organisation’s goals. Trying to apply a recommendation algorithm to content and looking at CTR (for example) is useful and valuable because CTR can be:

  • Directly making money (for example, the thing being clicked is a performance-based ad unit).

  • Making money because there’s an extra pageview and this page has ads on the page.

  • Making money because as the user’s session grows longer, she is habituating on our pages and is more likely to turn into a fan and later a subscriber. 

So CTR in this respect is a proxy for both user satisfaction and for money. (Anecdotally, a publisher in India told me that their new foray into personalisation is doubling CTR from previously unpersonalised spaces. The upsides of this type of change won’t linearly grow like this forever, but what changes can you make to your product that yields that kind of upside right at the gate?)

It seems therefore that editorial personalisation shouldn’t be so contentious. Journalists too want their readers to engage further with what they are producing. Even if we look to something so crass as CTR, that metric correlates with a number of things that the organisation’s social mission as a news organisation probably wants to support: more engagement with its overall product.

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About Ariane Bernard

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