This syndicated post originally appeared at Network World Zeus Kerravala.

As more websites personalize content for users,
optimization efforts need to adapt.

Credit: Thinkstock

Content delivery networks (CDNs) have been the de facto standard method of improving internet content for years. CDNs work by pre-fetching content and putting it as close to the user as possible. The closer a user is to a CDN point of presence (POP), the better the performance.

However, as the great poet and song writer Bob Dylan once said, “the times they are a changing,” and the way internet content is optimized needs to change as well. CDNs have been effective because most of the content flowing across the Internet was somewhat static, meaning it is cacheable. Today, that’s not the case, as more and more content is becoming personalized and dynamic, and therefore non-cacheable.

The challenges behind optimizing static content are well understood today. This is content that doesn’t change very often, and when it does, the changes are predictable. JavaScript and images are great examples of static content that can easily be cached. CDNs came into existence specifically to address static content as it’s cached and served from the edge of the network.

Over the past few years, the industry has seen an explosion in content that is un-cacheable. Dynamic objects and AJAX calls have been increasing the amount of dynamic content for a few years, but an even bigger driver is personalized content. Content personalization comes in many different forms, but it revolves around the segmentation of the audience the business is trying to capture. This includes:

  • Location information: Everything from apparel to cars to coupons can be personalized based on location. The clothing needs of someone living in Winnipeg will vary quite differently from those of a person living in Arizona. This is why so many websites now try and capture location information as a first step in a personalized experience.
  • User behavior: Online marketers are starting to study how visitors to a website behave, and then capture this in real time. Traditionally, email campaigns relied heavily on past behavior, but the personalized web depends much more on current data and analytics.
  • Unique interests. Not everyone has the same interests, so it’s important to capture the motivating factors behind each visitor to a site. For example, on a travel site one person may always be searching tropical destinations, while another may be on the prowl for great ski resorts. The travel site’s ability to understand this and personalize the information gives them a significant advantage over sites that push the same content to everyone.

I’ve discussed this topic with a number of marketing professionals, and almost all of those I interviewed agreed that content personalization was a critical success factor moving forward. However, almost all of the businesses I interviewed expressed a lack of understanding of how to optimize the performance of personalized content.

So, if CDNs aren’t the answer here, what’s can improve the performance of the highly personalized Internet? In October, I wrote about a start up called Teridion. The company’s Global Cloud Network was also featured in a Network World new product roundup in October.

In my post, I compared Teridion to being Waze on steroids, inasmuch as the company continually computes the fastest path between two points and creates a virtual overlay to avoid congestion. Many of the use cases I highlighted were for bi-directional content, such as media and gaming, and the company has had some early success with file sharing and backup and recovery services.

At first glance, these use cases may seem quite different, but the one point of commonality is that these are all highly personalized, and therefore un-cacheable services. Personalized content is growing in popularity across almost all verticals and company sizes. Any organization that has a digital strategy today should be thinking about personalized content, and I believe this will be the low-hanging fruit for companies like Teridion that can solve the challenge of optimizing personalized content.

The Internet is continually evolving, and the digital era will change the Internet experience into something that becomes increasingly personalized. Businesses should look beyond CDNs to ensure that customers have an experience that keeps them coming back.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.
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