What is adaptive content?

20th September 2012

There used to be a time not so long ago when websites were only accessed from computers, and a rigid, static design was absolutely fine. The advent of web-enabled mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets heralded a new era for websites and highlighted the fact that user behaviour is different when accessing a website from a mobile device than from a computer, and that websites generally needed to be able to adjust to various circumstances.

In the case of screen sizes, responsive design has been the answer, but the new kid on the block as far as responding to user behaviour is concerned is the aptly name “adaptive content”.

The terms “adaptive content”, “adaptive presentation of the content” and “adaptive websites” all refer to how a website can be programmed to adjust its structure, content and even its navigation based on user behaviour patterns.

It relies on collecting and analysing data held on webservers, and although it is possible for it to be done by a person, using software and various applications are a better solution, be it only because of the sheer volume of information to be processed.

Yes, but concretely, what does it mean?

More often than not, websites are designed according to what a webmaster assumes the logical journey of a visitor will be.

ut suppose they have different goals? The path that was so lovingly crafted is never used, the visitors’ experience might be less straightforward and the success of the website compromised. An adaptive website will learn from access patterns and will improve itself accordingly, providing users with a better experience.

Let’s say that your company sells CDs. The data from your webserver indicates that customers viewing salsa CDs also tend to view tango CDs. An adaptive website could, for example, create a page on Latin music, or display links to Latin music CDs.

Not only can it lead to more sales but it also provides your customers with a more personal shopping experience and increases the chance of turning them into regular customers. For non-commercial websites, presenting tailored information can increase brand loyalty and traffic to your website.

What makes an adaptive website “adaptive”?

There are two main approaches to designing an adaptive website: customisation and optimisation.

Customisation is the modification of pages in real time to offer visitors personalised content. This can be done manually by the users themselves by presenting them with options and displaying content based on their choices, or it can be done automatically through “path prediction”.

A simplified version of this process would be that if most users visiting Page A then visited Page B, anyone visiting Page A from now on will, for example, automatically be shown a link to Page B displayed prominently in an attempt to facilitate their journey by “promoting” its predicted next step.

Whereas customisation focuses on the individual, optimisation tries to improve the website on the whole and more permanently, by altering its structure and navigation. The adaptive website will learn from all visitors and offer a better design based on past behaviour patterns.

Designing adaptive content and websites is a vast and complex subject but it is clear that, while this technique poses many challenges, it also offers endless possibilities and it will revolutionise the way websites are conceived and grow.

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