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#63 – Paul Halfpenny on Adding Personalisation in WordPress

[00:00:00] Nathan Wrigley: Welcome to the Jukebox podcast from WP Tavern. My name is Nathan Wrigley.

Jukebox is a podcast which is dedicated to all things WordPress. The people, the events, the plugins, the blocks, the themes, and in this case, making your WordPress websites personal to each visitor.

If you’d like to subscribe to the podcast, you can do that by searching for WP Tavern in your podcast, player of choice, or go to forward slash feed forward slash podcast. And you can copy that URL into most podcast players.

If you have a topic that you’d like us to feature on the show, I’m keen to hear from you and hopefully get you all your idea featured. Head over to forward slash contact forward slash jukebox, and use the form there.

So on the podcast today, we have Paul Halfpenny. Paul is the CTO at Filter, a remote first digital agency that specializes in open source tech, such as WordPress, Laravel, React, React Native and Ionic, with enterprise clients. He’s been a speaker at WordCamp Europe and has an interest in making websites a more personal experience.

Website personalization is the idea of amending content served by your website to match the conditions of your current users. It might be that you want to show, or hide, content to people during certain times of the year. Perhaps it would be helpful to translate content if the user comes from a specific locale. Or maybe you would like to offer a product based upon pages that a user has previously visited, or items that they have bought.

All of this falls under the umbrella of personalization. And it’s an area that Paul thinks is going to be more important in the future.

On the podcast, we talk about what techniques you can use to offer up personalized content. That could be WordPress plugins or options within blocks, but there’s also more complex setups with a whole range of ‘at the edge’ technologies.

We chat about what kind of information you might want to amend on your website and whether it’s possible to do too much, and risk users feeling that they’re being tracked wherever they go online.

How can website owners and users benefit from these techniques, and can this be sold as a service to clients in the same way that you might offer SEO or website optimization?

Towards the end, we talk about whether or not aspects of personalization should be added into WordPress Core. Have SaaS services, which bake this into their platforms, heralded in an era in which personalization is expected by the majority of clients.

It’s an interesting chat with many insights and tips. And so if you’re looking to explore this further, this episode is for you.

If you’re interested in finding out more. You can find all of the links in the show notes by heading over to forward slash podcast. Where you’ll find all of the other episodes as well.

And so without further delay, I bring you Paul Halfpenny.

I am joined on the podcast today by Paul Halfpenny. Hello Paul.

[00:04:03] Paul Halfpenny: Hello, how are you doing?

[00:04:05] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. Good. Thank you. Very nice to have you on the podcast today. Paul’s going to be talking to us about personalization in WordPress, which is a topic, at least on this podcast, we have never touched upon. So this will be a really interesting and novel episode.

Before we begin Paul, every episode I get the guests just to give us a bit of orientation, tell us who they are, where they work, how long they’ve been working with WordPress, and all of those kind of things. So, although it’s a very generic question, can we begin there? Tell us about yourself Paul.

[00:04:33] Paul Halfpenny: I’m Paul. I’m the CTO at Filter. We’re a remote first digital agency. We’re based in the UK, and we specialize in open source tech such as WordPress, Laravel, React, React Native. We’ve been working on WordPress since about 2012. We’ve done that for a number of different clients that we’ve worked with over that time.

Some small, some large, some we’re not really even allowed to mention. And we’re a WordPress VIP partner agency. We’re an Altis partner agency, WooCommerce partner agency as well. My co-founder and I, Ollie set up Filter just to try and be a little bit different to normal agencies. So we try and ensure that we have regular hours during the week, so nine til five thirty. We try not to work evenings and weekends, wherever possible. We are family friendly, so we try and be as flexible as possible with everybody in hope that we create a nice environment for everybody to work in.

[00:05:31] Nathan Wrigley: Oh, really nice. Thank you very much for telling us all that. That’s great. The subject for today is personalization. Now, in the real world, we probably have a great understanding of what that means. We like things to be personalized. But we may not understand what it means in the context of websites and WordPress websites in particular.

So do you mind just spending a few minutes broadly, give us the 10,000 mile high overview of what you mean by personalization in websites.

[00:05:59] Paul Halfpenny: Yeah, so I think personalization is the process of knowing what the needs and preferences and interests of your customers or your site visitors are. So you can serve them what they’re looking for. So that’s going to allow you to give them more relevant communications. That’s going to perhaps improve their experience of going onto a website or an app that you develop.

And it’s about creating that kind of smart content for your audience. So you are going to use items such as perhaps their location, their demographics, maybe what device they’re using, maybe where they’ve come from, maybe the language that they speak, to show them content that’s relevant to them. So for instance, if you are running a promotion on Facebook, and you’re directing people to your website.

You might want to show visitors from that campaign an offer that you don’t send to anybody else. So you might check where they’ve come from, check the referrer, and then you might show some content on the website that gives them a promotional code that they can use in your shop, for instance. So it’s really about ensuring that you are trying to ensure that each of your users has an experience that’s relevant and contextual to them.

[00:07:19] Nathan Wrigley: I guess it’s a fairly new idea, and by that I don’t mean it’s within the last year or so, but it’s not something that is as old as the hills in terms of web technology. You know, if you go back a decade or more, this was possibly beginning with some of the bigger platforms. I imagine Google were making forays into trying to figure out what your search results should look like. But in terms of WordPress websites, this feels like the beginning of that journey. Am I right in that or has this been going on for a while?

[00:07:51] Paul Halfpenny: So personalization, I think, at an enterprise level has been around for a while. The really obvious answer is Amazon. So Amazon has been tracking your user behavior on their site, and they know which products to show you. So particularly in e-commerce, it’s a really big focus. And I think over the last decade, I would say, that’s translated itself into being, not just something that’s in custom platforms that bigger companies develop for themselves, but in proprietary content management systems like Sitecore or Optimizely, which have personalization baked into their core, and allow site editors to manage that.

But we have only really seen it become of interest and becoming more popular in WordPress over the last couple of years. Yeah, it’s kind of more recent in WordPress, but it’s been around for a while. And I think even if I think back to my first agency job, which was in around 2003, I think 2002, we were talking to people that were selling email personalization. They would send a trigger campaign and then based on a response they would send out another type of campaign. So personalization is just becoming more standardized.

[00:09:06] Nathan Wrigley: Thank you. That’s really interesting context. There’s a couple of words that you use there, which I think might be worth drilling down into. The first one was, well, you may have said no or knowing, but you said something along the lines of, knowing more about the user, but also you then, a little bit later possibly, substituted that word for tracking.

And the two are very different, I guess. And in the example that you used of Amazon, I’m guessing the majority of what they know is based upon you being logged into their platform and performing actions. So, as an example, I’ve logged in and I demonstrate a desire to buy, I don’t know, a trampoline, and all of a sudden that’s bound to my account.

Whereas it could be also trying to discover things when nobody is logged in. It’s just a visitor to the website. So you mentioned geography. So I’m coming, I’ve got an IP address, which appears to come from France say, and that can serve up different kind of content. So I guess it’s interesting to get into that conversation about is there a difference between knowing and tracking, and also the state, whether we’re logged in or not logged in. Whether any of that is important.

[00:10:17] Paul Halfpenny: Obviously, when you are logged in, you get a lot more information about that user. So you can tie it to a particular user profile. You can match it to what they did last time they came back to the site. If they’re not logged in, you can only track them as long as a cookie might be stored in their browser, for instance, and if they clear their browser cookies you’re not going to be able to remember or retain that information for the future. So logging in gives you certain benefits.

We try and split it down into simple and complex personalization. So simple is the idea that you just show basic content to nudge them in the right direction. So you might be using their location. To say okay, you’re coming from France, I’m going to show you this particular content. Or you might understand where they’re coming from and you don’t require them to be logged in to give them that level of personalization.

I think a really good example of simple personalization is the ability to use date-based controls to show somebody different opening times during a holiday period. So, for instance, you might want to show a different block of content to somebody on the 20th of December that shows them when you are open for Christmas, and then you want to remove that block and you are just using simple controls to be able to do that.

The more complex type of personalization is where you are actually tracking that data. And there’s a couple of ways to do that. So, you can obviously get people to log in and you can score their behavior on your website. So that might be when somebody goes to a particular page, you might decide to attribute a particular value to that page. So if they go to the homepage, you might give them a one, and if they go to the sales page, you might give them a five. And then if you go to a pricing page, you might give them another couple of points as well.

And in the background you can then associate some rules and go, well, if they hit this particular score, we are going to show them a particular piece of content. So you are tracking them around the website and you are understanding what they’re doing. And obviously you’ve got your user data there.

And that’s all using what we call first party data. So first party data is the data that you take on your site that your customers have agreed to give to you. I think in the wider industry, there’s a, particularly at the enterprise level, there’s a lot of large companies using platforms called CDPs, and that acronym stands for customer data platforms.

And customer data platforms are a way of ingesting content from lots of different third party sources. So you might bring in data from Facebook and you might bring in data from AdWords, and you might bring in data from email, for instance, if you’ve got an email database. And the customer data platform will allow you to stitch all of that data together to provide more 360 holistic view of what you are doing across the internet.

So it’s looking at all these data points and it’s matching you across all these different accounts. And then based on that, you can take different decisions in marketing automation to personalize an omni channel campaign where you are perhaps tracking what they’re doing on Facebook and then showing them something else on the website based on what you know they’ve done on Facebook previously. That sounds a little bit scary. That’s the kind of world that we are living in right now.

[00:13:33] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, I guess elements of it could sound scary, couldn’t they, depending on how far you take it and where the data ends up. But in the scenario that we may get in depth in today, if everything is just holed up in WordPress, I guess that’s maybe a different discussion.

I’m interested to know how you would implement this, because a lot of the things that you described there, on the face of it, seem fairly complicated. It also seems that there is no limit to how complicated you could make it. So you could have condition, upon condition, upon condition. You really could go down the rabbit hole. So my first question is, is there a sort of seesaw here? Is there a, you have to weigh up what the benefit is as against the time it takes to put all these things together.

Because I’m sure as developers of websites, we’ve all been down that rabbit hole before. You put a ton of time into something which it turns out was absolutely pointless. Nobody looked at it or nobody interacted with it in the way that you were imagining. And so there’s that trade off. But also what kind of interface are we dealing with here? I’m guessing this is the domain of plugins. How do we build these, kind of, if then statements to make all of this happen?

[00:14:42] Paul Halfpenny: The idea that it’s quite complicated is true. So it can become as complex as you allow it to really. I think over the past decade or so, what we’ve seen is that when people have bought enterprise content management systems that have personalization tools baked in. They haven’t actually been able to get the full value out of those tools in all situations. Because they would very often need to bring in a team or fund a team to allow you to do that.

And that can take multiple years, if you have complex requirements. And it costs a lot of money to do that. I think WordPress is a great example of going at it a different way. So within WordPress, there’s a number of different plugins out there that allow you to add personalization to your website very simply and easily.

And a lot of those are also leveraging the benefits of Gutenberg as well. So, one that I’d really like to pick out is Block Visibility by Nick Diego, who’s a, I think is still a developer advocate at WP Engine. And that’s a, that’s a great plugin for being able to decide whether to show or hide block of content based on some custom rules.

There’s others out there. IfSo’s quite a popular plugin that allows you to do that as well. But it also allows you to create audience segments and add conditional CSS where you need to. There’s plugins such as LogicHop. That has a pretty comprehensive rule set.

And Human Made, as part of their Altis platform, they’ve been building something called Experience Blocks more for the enterprise set, I would say. Where they are taking that data offsite and then allowing you to use pretty enterprise analytics to see, to do AB testing and to personalize content as well.

There’s also ways to do it at the hosting platforms as well. So we call this personalization at the edge. So rather than putting a plugin into your site, which might slow your site down, or you might have too many complex rules, hosts such as Pantheon and WP Engine have options to allow you to vary the content that’s being sent back from the CDN or the cache layer. So it doesn’t actually hit your WordPress site.

So, Pantheon, have a PHP library that allows you to do that. WP Engine allow you to segment your user content using a vary response header. So you can say, well, for this group of users, I’m going to segment this group of users, this type of user, and then show them this content. But it doesn’t actually hit WordPress. It’s a cached version of that page that hits that particular segment.

[00:17:16] Nathan Wrigley: It sounds from what you’re saying that the WordPress plugin route, so you mentioned Block Visibility, Logic Hop. You also mentioned IfSo, and there’s probably some others. It sounds like they maybe are the domain for people who are just sort of dabbling in this. They might not be experienced, they might not be developers, but it sounds like when you go to the edge scenario, the WP Engines and Pantheons and what have you, you really need to be an expert at this or at least be committed to becoming an expert in it. Is that a fair appraisal or have I misunderstood?

[00:17:49] Paul Halfpenny: I think that’s relatively fair. I think certainly doing it at the edge is probably slightly harder. I think the benefits of doing it with a plugin such as the ones that we mentioned, allow you a more point and click interface within WordPress itself, within the WordPress admin.

And actually they’re as comprehensive, if not more comprehensive than other methods. I think the important thing is, is ensuring that they’re associated with Gutenberg or Elementor, and you can do that within those page builders as well, or block builders or whatever we’re calling them these days.

So that it’s a relatively smooth and easy process for people to use. I think for me, the key is always about ease of use. So, when we look at the kind of CMSs that we’ve used over the past 10 and 20 years, I know that the best reaction we get from our clients is when we show them WordPress as a contact management system. Because it will be, oh, thank goodness, that seems easy to use. I can cope with that. I don’t really have the time to go on a five day course to learn how to use this CMS, because I’m not using it every day. I’m using it once a week to post some content. And so WordPress really works for that, which is why we, you know, that is our CMS of choice these days, because we know how well it works.

And I think Gutenberg’s a massive step forward with that as well in terms of having a WYSIWYG editor, having the ability to drag and drop blocks onto the screen. And I know things aren’t absolutely a hundred percent perfect right now, and I know there’s still challenges, and I know there’s still things to improve upon. But actually that’s a great interface for clients and the best personalization tools allow you to quickly and easily decide which blocks to show on a screen to which particular users?

[00:19:37] Nathan Wrigley: Okay, in terms of performance of a website, that is something which is more and more, especially from the Google side of things. It feels like Google are really making performance and speed and all of the metrics that they’ve got for how quickly page loads and all of that. That’s very important and obviously any website that wants to do well needs to be found in a search engine.

And I’m wondering if the WordPress plugin route is going to make that more difficult. So as an example, if we get really carried away and on our homepage of our website we have multiple different areas of personalization. It’s three days to Christmas and so we’ve put different images all over the webpage. We’re telling people that oh, hi, welcome visitor from France, or whatever it may be.

You get the picture, we’re just adding in all of this stuff. And every single time we add in something, we’re adding complexity. And although the example I’ve given is ridiculous. Still, I’m sure that certain queries, certain things that you are asking are going to have an impact. So we’ll just speak about that for a minute.

[00:20:42] Paul Halfpenny: Valid question. So I think it’s really important to remember that not every WordPress site runs like on a blazing fast hosting platform, and can cope with complex queries. A lot of WordPress sites run on shared platforms, they run with limited resources. And if you do add too much complexity to what you are trying to achieve, it might impact on your site speed. And obviously as you add that complexity and you add WordPress to be doing more, particularly in the database on every single request that you’re sending it back, that prevents it from being cached.

So we did some work on this in terms of personalization, we built our own plugin, WP-DXP. We actually used a web component on the front end that communicates with the backend via the REST API, and that returns the data in some json. So it’s a lighter touch way of being able to add that personalization into the page, without having as much impact on the front end.

But I think it’s really important, I think there’s a limit to how much personalization you should put in place. So we’ve talked quite a lot internally about how we can use AI to personalize websites. The jury’s kind of still out on that actually, because we are not sure that you need the ability to show absolutely different content to absolutely every different visitor that’s coming.

Actually, what you should be doing is just chopping up your users into different types of audience segments, and then basing it on that. And you perhaps don’t need more than a couple of audience segments for a simple site. I think if you are doing something really complex and actually you really need high levels of personalization, then it might be that you’re running a headless site anyway, and you’re using APIs to deliver the content rather than sending it back to the server and doing it that way.

[00:22:36] Nathan Wrigley: I guess like anything else, if you have an infinite amount of resources to throw at it, that could be time, development cost, or indeed just money on infrastructure to actually host the site. More or less all of this is going to be in purview, but the more meager your resources are, probably the lighter a touch you should have with all of this.

[00:22:56] Paul Halfpenny: Yeah, and I think, if you’re just running a personal site or you are running a brochureware site for maybe a shop or a restaurant or a bricks and mortar store of some kind. You probably won’t have high level needs for personalization. You might have the example that I talked about earlier in that you want to show different opening hours. So you might use a date based request, or you might want to show a promotion to certain kinds of people at certain times of year. But you probably won’t be using scoring across the site to understand their behavior as they go around your website. That’s probably not an issue for you.

Whereas if you’re running a publishing site, and you are developing news or content on a regular basis, then you might well need to do that. But then you’d expect that your resources will be higher and you will be able to have a dedicated server or a different kind of hosting platform that allows you some more resources to do that, to implement that complexity.

[00:23:50] Nathan Wrigley: I guess your imagination is the limit really here, isn’t it? You could do whatever you like. And I think examples like social media platforms, you may have an opinion about whether these are good for society or not, but social media platforms are examples of serving up personalized content.

My Facebook feed is nothing like yours. The same would be true for when I go to Twitter. It’s giving me content based upon a whole slew of data that it’s got. And it’s really compelling. I come back and I come back and I come back and even sometimes I tell myself I shouldn’t come back. I keep coming back. And it really is the personal touch.

And if you can find aspects of that. Now, I imagine very few people are actually trying to build a social network. But just the idea that you could serve up something and learn over time that that one little thing is impactful. The position of something, the color of something, where it is on the page or whatever it may be. It’s definitely worth exploring because we know we are influenced by these things.

[00:24:53] Paul Halfpenny: I always come at it as a, we want to help users to find the answers. So that’s where personalization works for us. It’s trying to recognize who they are, what their interests are, where they’re coming from. Nobody’s on the same journey. Everybody will land on your website on a different page. And it’s about trying to work out, if they haven’t logged in, who are they? Or if they have logged in, you know who they are. Perhaps you’ve got a little bit of history about them.

And then trying to provide them with the answer that they need so they can carry on with their day. What people don’t want to do is come to a website and click around for ages, trying to find the information that they want and then get disappointed and go away.

For me, we should be trying to ensure that people get the information that they need as quickly as possible and have a satisfying experience. It’s almost the same as for an e-commerce shop. What you want to do is, you know you probably want to buy this thing, you want to get there, you want to find that item, you want to purchase it as quickly as possible, and then you want to carry on with your day.

Nobody wants to sit on the internet all day trying to find information. I do think you’re right about the depths of personalization that social media have gone to, and how there is a danger there of. perhaps unintentional bias. So obviously when you’re personalizing at that level and that scale, you’re putting everything into machine learning.

So you’re taking what people have done on the site before. You’re sticking that in some kind of data lake or big platform on the backend. And then you’re using machine learning to look for patterns so you can go, right, okay, next time this happens, show this to this person, because a hundred people, other people did this as well.

But you end up having those biases and potentially putting people into echo chambers that mean that they don’t see the outliers. They kind of get trapped, in seeing the same information, and that’s not really helpful. I always talk about my Apple music station. I have Paul Halfpenny station on Apple Music and for some reason, well, it brings up a lot of Depeche Mode to begin with. And that’s a good thing for me, but it very often brings up a specific Manic Street Preachers track, and I love the Manic Street Preachers, more they’re early stuff.

But because this track keeps on playing, I assume it thinks that I really like that track. And then it keeps on playing it to me again. I’m kind of stuck in that cul-de-sac around that track right now. I think trying to use personalization to help people find answers is not necessarily to put them into a specific hole and go right, we know this is who you are, this is exactly what you want. It’s creating some openness, allowing them to see answers that they might not be expecting sometimes, not always providing everything to what they’ve done before, is where we should be heading.

[00:27:32] Nathan Wrigley: it sounds analogous to me, going to the supermarket with my shopping list and more or less entering a shopping experience where on the first aisle is everything I want. I have to walk 10 meters into the shop, and my trolley’s now full, my list of shopping items has been ticked off.

You know, I’ve just achieved what I want to do, and then I walk out the shop and get on with my day. So it’s a bit more like that. It’s trying to put things which are more helpful. I agree that the AI thing is something which, I don’t think at least WordPress and personalization, were probably not quite there yet, certainly not on the scale of the major social networks. But yeah, just the idea of going into a supermarket. Having the list, but somehow being presented with a supermarket, which is just what I want. That does seem like a really laudable target.

[00:28:23] Paul Halfpenny: Yeah, Yeah I love the fact that you used a shopping list. I’m very strange, I think because I enjoy going to supermarkets. Slightly weird, whenever we visit another country, I like to go in the supermarket, and we were in America recently, and going to Walmart was probably the highlight of my trip.

I like to go and look around, but then, you know, I also like to be able to go to Sainsburys and go and get the three items that I need and get out of there pretty quickly so I can get back home for tea. So knowing where everything is, is really helpful.

[00:28:51] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, okay. I’m going to change my analogy in that case. So I walk into the supermarket and when I get to the toothpaste bit, there is only toothpaste, but there’s multiple brands of toothpaste. So it’s not like it’s only giving me one toothpaste, but it’s just sort of showing me, well, here’s all the toothpaste for you.

That’s really interesting. I’ve experienced this in real time, in that I’ve been contacted by some developers who’ve demonstrated what their plugin can do. And I have to say it really caught me short. I was a bit blown away by what the page was showing me. It wasn’t scary. It was quite entertaining and engaging, and I guess you just have to draw a line for yourself. How much work do you want to put into it? How much weirdness do you want to put into it? And by that I mean, how much stuff are you going to show back to the user, which makes them check themselves and say, hang on a minute, how do they know I’m in France? That’s weird. Those kind of things. I guess you’ve just got to figure that piece of the jigsaw out.

[00:29:44] Paul Halfpenny: I think there’s something there for everyone. That’s the really important point. Personalization’s not just for enterprise. It’s not just for your Amazons. It is for your small sites, it is for your medium size sites, and it is for your enterprise sites as well.

It’s just the complexity grows as your business grows. But I think that there is something there for everybody. You could name any kind of business and you would probably be able to go, well actually, why don’t you personalize in this way for that kind of person? Or, you’re coming from here, you would show them a different message. It’s really useful to think in those terms.

[00:30:19] Nathan Wrigley: In the same way that 15 years ago there was no SEO career, there was if you worked at Google, but if you were an SEO trying to figure out how to best present your web property, that career probably didn’t really exist, and now it does. I’m wondering if personalization might well go in the same direction, you know, if you were to become an expert at this, knowledge of all the different plugins, knowledge of all the different platforms, if it’s a career path that you could possibly develop? Because it is quite a specialist skill, and especially when you described the Cloudflare and the Pantheons and the edge cases for all of that. If the technical barrier is so big that people may want this, but they also haven’t got the time to implement it, and so they would purchase in that skill.

[00:31:06] Paul Halfpenny: Yeah, I think there is an opportunity there to do that. I think people don’t always see the return on investment. Perhaps they struggle to go, well, actually, if I make this change, what was my ROI to do that, and therefore what’s the cost benefit analysis of doing it? But if you look at most big companies right now, they’ll all have a CRM team or a digital team that is focused on this type of activity.

If you go to any e-commerce provider or website online, there are people whose job it is to improve conversion, that’s what they do. And personalization is a part of improving conversion. And it takes in a couple of different skillsets. So there is a skillset, certainly massively around UX. So what’s the user experience? As a user, if I come to this website, what do I expect to see? Where do I expect my users to go after they’ve landed on this page? And am I trying to get them to go and do this? Or am I trying to get them to go and do that? Can I show them this kind of content?

What do I know about them that I can then provide them with some additional value whilst they’re on this website? Or how can I remove friction so that they can complete their journey more quickly? And there’s some design that’s required for how you might do that. So UI interface design. Analytics. So analytics is really important to understand what people are doing, where they’re tapping, what they’re clicking on, and what they’re doing on that site and what their life cycle is as well.

And then putting the content in and making sure that the content is relevant and contextual for that particular situation. So just editing content on a site for different audiences might mean that you need to create different variations of that content that may be worded slightly differently as well. Whether that’s multilingual content, maybe it’s a different way of talking to a different type of customer. We all know that you’re probably not going to speak the same way to maybe a marketing manager that’s coming to your website, as you would do to a developer that’s coming to look for a job.

[00:33:06] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. You mentioned ROI and what have you, and I wondered if a lot of that is built into these technologies, so, for example, in the case of the WordPress plugins, either yours or one of the other ones, whether you have that data inside of WordPress, or do you need to go and hook it up to other tools, some analytics tool or what have you?

You know, a simple AB test, can that be done in these platforms? And does it give you a, well 15 people clicked on the blue variation, but 28 clicked on the red variation. Do you get any of that feedback in here? Or are the WordPress tools simply a case of, look, here’s the technology to do it. That’s what we’ve got for you.

[00:33:45] Paul Halfpenny: So some of the plugins offer those stats and can record it in your own database. And others will do it offsite. So I think Logic Hop is part of this AB testing. I might be wrong. will score your AB testing, on your own site. But I know that Altis uses enterprise analytics that will then it will determine what your potential size of your audience is for a particular segment so that you can apply some rules to that segment? It depends what you are trying to achieve. If you are just trying to show people, so you can do it in a couple different ways.

You can obviously store the data in your own WordPress instance. Most people will probably use Google Analytics or Fathom Analytics, to understand where people might be tapping on buttons and maybe put an event in via Google Tag Manager so that it can register that tap or that click when the content is shown to them. That would be a really good way of doing it.

Again, we come back to the problem that smaller sites are on, potentially on, shared hosting. They might have the resources. And if you are storing stats up in your database, how useful is that and how many resources you are using and is that slowing your site down?

[00:34:57] Nathan Wrigley: One final question just before we knock it on the head is, in terms of the availability for this in WordPress. At the minute, it’s very much the domain of plugins. So plugins in the traditional sense of the word, but also you’ve got things that work with the block editor as well. But my understanding is, forgive me if I’ve got this incorrect, my understanding is that you would like to see aspects of this creeping into WordPress Core?

So if that’s true, I think it’s fair to say that you have a, an impression that most people, or a significant proportion users of WordPress would find this thing useful. It would be a great tool to have in. And you point to the fact that the commercial rivals, so Optimizely and Sitecore and so on, they have this built in as part of their core platform.

Do you want to just speak about that for a minute? Have I misrepresented you there, or would you like to see some of these tools, and I’m guessing you’re not imagining the full monty? Just a subset of simple things built into WordPress Core?

[00:36:00] Paul Halfpenny: I really do think it needs to be in Core. I use WordPress in a couple different ways. I use it for my personal site, for myself and my friends or other small companies that we just do pro bono work for. I use it in my agency life. So we work with mid-market and enterprise companies.

And then I’ve seen how WordPress compares to other content management systems on the market. And I think as WordPress grows, I think this is a feature that kind of needs to be in there and that would be useful to most users. I see value in it from a, a number of different ways.

Even something as simple as having the ability to show content or hide a block in Gutenberg based on if somebody’s logged in or not. That for me would be really useful, based on the device type they’re using, based on where they’re, what country they’re coming from. I don’t think it needs to be to the extent of putting AB testing in.

I think all of that kind of functionality can be done via plugins to extend it. I think there’s adequate scope there if somebody wants to do more, that they could add some plugins to do that. But I do think as WordPress grows and changes over the next decade, I think that personalized user experience becomes even more important.

And I think it’s better for users for WordPress if this stuff is handled and managed and added to Core, so that it’s there for everybody to use as they need it. I don’t think it’s terribly complex in terms of being able to create some rules to show some content or be able to show or hide a block.

And I think there’s also something around working in enterprise that shows us that that is really needed for WordPress to compete as an enterprise platform. And I’m really aware that not everybody that’s listening to this or, you know, the majority of people that work with WordPress don’t work with Enterprise.

And so it’s, it is not really relevant to them. But I think that that’s just what we see in the market and we see WordPress being adopted by enterprise. And it’s one of the things that clients ask us for. They ask us for loads of things. They say, have you got multilingual baked in? No, you need a plugin for that. And there’s a couple different ways to do that, but it’s coming in Gutenberg at some point in the future. And they go, well, have you got workflows? No, haven’t really got workflows. Has it got its own analytics system? Well, no, it hasn’t got its own analytic system.

And then personalization is one of those other big features. So, we are interested in it because we work with WordPress. We like to be able to use WordPress in those situations rather than having to deliver on other platforms, which perhaps we don’t enjoy working with as much.

And also, we know clients don’t enjoy working with them as much. And actually we think there should be a really great alternative to those platforms. It is a personal view, you know, but I think that there’s a growing demand for it. And I think that with Gutenberg and the move to block based content, it becomes a lot easier. It wasn’t really possible in the old classic editor approach. You know, you could do it on the front end, but it’s very code heavy. But now it’s relatively simple to achieve.

[00:39:24] Nathan Wrigley: Paul, if somebody listening to this podcast shares your opinion there and wants to reach out and get in touch and continue this discussion, where would be the best place to do that? It’s up to you. It could be a Twitter handle or an email or whatever you like.

[00:39:39] Paul Halfpenny: Is anybody still on Twitter these days? I do wonder, like I scroll my Twitter feed now and there doesn’t seem to be as many people on there. Look, I would love people to get in touch because I just love talking about this stuff, right? So I think it’s really interesting.

I think the opinions are really interesting. is our agency website. is my personal website. You can email me, paul @ You can find me on Twitter, with a terrible photo that makes me look much younger than I actually am, paulfhalfpenny, I think. To be honest, there aren’t too many Paul Halfpenny’s around, so, you know, typing it into Google tends to give some results. It’s quite fortunate, really.

[00:40:22] Nathan Wrigley: Paul Halfpenny. Thank you very much for chatting to me on the podcast today. I really appreciate it.

[00:40:27] Paul Halfpenny: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be invited on.

On the podcast today we have Paul Halfpenny.

Paul is the CTO at Filter, a remote-first digital agency that specialises in open-source tech such as WordPress, Laravel, React, React Native and Ionic with enterprise clients.

He’s been a speaker at WordCamp Europe and has an interest in making websites a more personal experience.

Website personalisation is the idea of amending content served by your website to match the conditions of your current users. It might be that you want to show (or hide) content to people during certain times of the year. Perhaps it would be helpful to translate content if the user comes from a specific locale. Or maybe you would like to offer a product based upon pages that a user had previously visited, or items that they have bought.

All of this falls under the umbrella of personalisation, and it’s an area that Paul thinks is going to be more important in the future.

On the podcast we talk about what techniques you can use to offer up personalised content. That could be WordPress plugins or options within blocks, but there are also more complex setups with a whole range of ‘at the edge’ technologies.

We chat about what kind of information you might want to amend on your website, and whether it’s possible to do too much, and risk users feeling that they’re being tracked wherever they go online.

How can website owners and users benefit from these techniques, and can this be sold as a service to clients in the same way that you might offer SEO or website optimisation?

Towards the end, we talk about whether or not aspects of personalisation should be added into WordPress Core. Have SaaS services which bake this into their platforms heralded in an era in which personalisation is expected by the majority of clients?

It’s an interesting chat with many insights and tips, and so if you’re looking to explore this subject further, this episode is for you.

Useful links.

Filter agency website

WordPress VIP partners



Block Visibility plugin by Nick Diego

If So plugin website

Logic Hop website

Experience Blocks website

WP-DXP plugin

Google Tag Manager

Fathom Analytics

Paul’s Twitter account