You may have become so used to it that you take it for granted, but everywhere you look, you’re surrounded by personalized content – from your LinkedIn feed to your Amazon shopping experience to your Google Search results.

That’s because when it comes to digital experiences, personalization is a win-win strategy. For customers, it creates a more relevant and engaging experience, and for companies, it provides an opportunity to build a stronger relationship with them.

So why has product documentation been left behind? Why do its users – from support agents to programmers to IT professionals – often encounter documentation that makes searching for answers akin to finding a needle in a haystack? For example, in looking for an answer about a product, they might encounter a dozen "installation guides", "setup guides" and "configuration guides", and not even know where to start. And just to figure out where to start, they might need to search through each guide independently. Why are we making them work so hard?

Most companies are stuck with an outdated approach to publishing technical content - one that all but ignores how users actually search for and use that information. But personalization is finally finding its way into product documentation, creating new and improved ways for users to access and locate the content they need.

So what would personalization look like in a documentation portal? Before we get to that, let’s talk about the four basic principles of personalization strategy.

The 4 R’s of Personalization

There are four key components that any business can leverage to create a personalized digital experience for users:

Recognize: Know your customers by gathering data about them – like their role, company, location, preferences, and which product of yours they use.

Remember: Keep a record of your customer’s history – like their browsing behavior, actions taken, and implicit interests.

Recommend: Help them navigate the mounds of information by presenting content that's uniquely relevant to them. This can come in the form of content recommendations, product announcements, cross-sell opportunities, and calls to action.

Relevance: Personalize the experience so they get the content and options most relevant to them; this may include boosting or hiding results based on who they are, which product or version they're using, or where they’re located.

4 R's of Personalization for digital experiences
The 4 R's of Personalization (image courtesy of https://alidropship.com)

How ServiceNow personalizes their content

Now let's put theory into action and see how ServiceNow, a billion-dollar IT services company, has used the 4 R’s to create a richer, more helpful, and more personalized content experience.

ServiceNow's documentation portal is completely public, but a pop-up on the homepage encourages users to log in to improve their browsing experience. By logging in, they can set personal preferences like their location or the product or versions they wish to see content for. This is done via ServiceNow's SSO system, and the portal will remember this information for future visits.

Log in to personalize documentation portal
Users can log into the ServiceNow documentation portal to enjoy a personalized experience.

This user information is then used to personalize the search and navigation experience, allowing ServiceNow to surface better content recommendations and provide a more relevant experience. For example, from that point onwards, the user will have a pre-selected filter that surfaces more relevant search results depending on what product version they're using.

The portal will also present content recommendations based on the user's profile, rather than simply showing the latest content, or menu options that may not even be relevant.

Documentation portal is personalized based on location data
ServiceNow's portal displays content and menu options based on user preferences, such as product version (e.g. London).

In this case, a personalized approach means that users can also subscribe to certain topics and to receive a notification when each topic is updated. Not only does this proactively help users and make the content more versatile, but it also allows the company to monitor what users are most interested in so they can optimize content efforts accordingly.

As a final example, users can use the "Send Feedback" on each piece of content to submit their own questions or thoughts. This helps the company keep their content up to date, and even more importantly, helps users find the answers they need more quickly in the future.

As older methods give way to the new, personalization is a key driver behind the evolution of product documentation. To learn more about this shift and see personalization in action, check out Zoomin’s webinar, What’s Up, Doc(S)? Bringing The Global Personalization Trend Into Documentation.

You can also learn more about the business impact of personalization in documentation – from avoiding information overload to providing a better customer experience – in this STC Intercom by Scott Abel: "It's Time We Start Personalizing Technical Documentation Experiences".

All product names, logos, brands and trademarks used on this page are property of ServiceNow.

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