New Personalized URL Best Practices

By | October 23, 2009

Have you noticed? The best practices for personalized URLs are becoming more sophisticated. You may not always see those best practices listed, but they are being reflected more and more often in industry case studies. It’s really neat to see the evolution.

It struck me because, earlier this week, I released an update to “Personalized URLs: Beyond the Hype,” a primer and training and educational tool for printers and marketers.  In the best practices section, I had previously separated out the best practices into two categories: those commonly seen in industry case studies and those not yet commonly seen but practiced by some of the industry’s leading practitioners. During the process of updating the report, however, it struck me the extent to which the two are converging. In fact, in the October 2009 update I removed the distinction between the two classifications.

Here are three of the best practices that have now moved into the mainstream:

Incorporating personalized URLs as part of a larger, multi-channel campaign. Although personalized URLs are, by definition, multi-channel, I’m talking about using them as part of a larger, more comprehensive strategy that includes email, text messaging, and other channels to prime the pump, follow up, or reinforce the message.

Using personalized URLs as one of several response mechanisms. Personalized URLs are not a marketing strategy. They are a response mechanism. Sometimes they are the best response mechanism. Sometimes they are one of several “best” response mechanisms, depending on your target audience. The recognition that different audiences respond to different response channels and that marketers don’t want to lose responses by forcing them into a single channel is finally starting to sink in.

Using the survey buttons to really learn something. For a long time, marketers were using the survey buttons on the mini-sites to be cute. Tell us your favorite band, your favorite color, or some other thing like that, and then marketers would follow up with a personalized poster or sign to show their ability to process variable data, but in the long run, it didn’t really accomplish much. The buttons weren’t really being used to learn about the prospect in a way that could either be used by the sales force to make follow-ups more effective or that could be used to wrap around to better personalize future campaigns. Today, they are.

Those are only three of the major changes I’ve seen, and there are many more. The point is that 1:1 printers and marketing services providers are really beginning to wrap their minds around these applications and do a better job of implementing them. That is good for everybody — printers, their clients, and the customers and prospects, too.

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13 thoughts on “New Personalized URL Best Practices

  1. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro

    I am having trouble with the wireless connection on my computer, so the website currently still lists the most current update to “Personalized URLs” as May 09, but the report delivered is actually the October 2009 version.

  2. Adam Edelman

    These three best practices have been around for quite sometime. For many marketers, they are integrated into the fabric of “best of breed” direct marketing strategies and campaigns. Kudos to Heidi for bringing them to the attention of the print and graphic art industry.

  3. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro

    Yes, even though these best practices have been around in the marketing world for a long time, they are only now finally starting to show up in the personalized URL/direct marketing case studies. I agree — they are long overdue! Part of the problem is that these technologies start out in the graphic arts industry, but since printers aren’t (yet) marketers, it takes years for the technology and the marketing practices to blend.

  4. Marion

    I especially like the survey part of this post! To me, this is the most power part of what a pURL can deliver. It’s a way of gaining more information from your audience, information that you can use to make your future campaigns even more compelling.

    To Adam’s point, while the technology has been around for a while, I think that some in the print and graphic arts industry have struggled with how to use them to achieve the best results. Heidi’s post (and her research) give us some tools to help that thinking.

  5. Yale Rieck

    What I really like about this thread is the obvious, yet not obvious fact that many printers really are and should be evolving into marketing providers. PURLS are a really good technology, but really should be part of a technology package, that also includes other aspects of technology to help increase the effectiveness of each touch. Add in a mix of online design and print providers can then enable their customers and ensure best practices for all aspects of PURLs and their ancillary counterparts are followed. Just my $.02.

  6. Fred

    These are all great points! I would like to ad that as a company that sells and brokers direct mail, and consults with many industries, I am hoping that with increase appeal in pURLS happens, more providers of this technology enter into the industry. I really like the idea of using pURLs in our response efforts (as part of several we use), but in many project (still) cost per response on our test campaigns are rarely justifying the $.10 being charged by the providers out there per pURL. Competition will bring this price down eventually, but until I can segment increase results with pURLs, and relate that back to cost of use, I am still on the sidelines but wanting to join the game…

  7. Ed Bracken

    As a printer selling pURLS, I have realized I need to bring in a marketing professional to offer an executable solution. Also, regarding the pURL as one of many response mechanisims; I have learned that pURLS will not fare well when a BRE or toll free number is also offered. My opinion is that a pURL should only be used when the prospect needs to visit the seller’s web site anyway – like to register for membership or an event.

  8. Bob Stuart


    Another good best practice is automatic email routing. Example, a recipient responds to a direct mail offer and visits their PURL. While there they request information on products/services. As a result an email is forwarded to the sales person for that account. The rep contacts the prospect while the need is ‘top of mind,’ which dramatically increase the process of closing sales.

  9. Brian B

    To piggy back on Ed’s comment, the whole goal of a PURL is to get them to the microsite to flag them as a suspect and then hopefully gather some information from them to qualify them as a real lead. Too many calls to action will only hurt response rates and measurability (the real value) and could potentially derail the value of the campaign.

    Also, we need the real measurement of success to be cost per customer, not response. Getting response is still a cost in the mind of a business…getting a customer is an investment.

  10. Nick Pride

    Just wanted to pick up on a point raised by Fred about the cost of pURLs. There are service providers out there who do not use a pay-per-URL model (I use one of them). I think the ‘click-charge’ pricing model will not last long, but there’s no need to wait to change how you pay. Then you change the game …

  11. Richard Penny

    Interesting article Heidi. As one of those marketers you speak of in the final paragraph of the article I can tell you that our use of survey buttons, seemingly-inane questions and subsequent posters were used to try and capture attention for and awarness of the possibilities of VDP and PURLS.

    Done well, they were very effective in the early stages of developing a market for VDP. Completely agree though that the time for this has passed and it is time to get on with using the technology to its full potential.

  12. John Foley, Jr

    Hmmmm – Best practice or Bad practice? Are Personalized URL’s DEAD?

    Could we read someday on PURLs “The day my response mechanism died” Like the failing BRC?

    With QR Codes coming strong who wants to type? Just asking….

  13. Clint Bolte

    A very basic point and observation…until PSP/MSP start using these tools (VDP, PURLS, TransPromo, etc., etc.) for their own purposes all of these best practice case studies seem little better than academic treatises. Then from your own experiences the refinement comes.

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