Once upon a time, the internet was the same no matter where you lived or your personal circumstances. In recent years, however, the means to personalize and tailored websites to different users has increased exponentially. Today, we’re on the edge of a huge shift in the way we experience the internet. From geo-targeting to micro-advertising, new technologies spell the end of the internet as we know it. Whether good or ill, we’ll explore of few the features of this new online experience below.

Geo-targeting, in particular, has taken off in a big way in the last few years. Using the information that’s freely available through your browser, companies can serve up different content depending on your country, IP address, and even city. This technology has been in place for some time and can be seen in action on any one of a number of streaming sites, such as BBC iPlayer, Netflix, or Hulu, which restrict content on the basis of digital rights management. The next step in the development of this technology will be its use as a means of personalizing the online user experience and micro-targeting adverts.

However, there is at least a logical reason for the personalization boom. According to a recent Epsilon study, over 80 percent of online consumers are more likely to purchase products from a company if it offers a personalized browsing experience. Personalization, in this sense, offers businesses and marketers increasing opportunities for one-to-one advertising; targeting that goes beyond simply a specific group and straight to the individual. Given the amount of information we generate and hand over to companies, it’s hardly surprising that this personal data, from hobbies and interests to daily routines, is used to personalize the online user experience. These data insights, to use the analytics term, afford content providers, be they companies or solitary WordPress bloggers mucking about on Google Analytics, the opportunity to tailor the websites to their intended target audience in a way that was unthinkable even five years ago.

Furthermore, as companies retain more information about the purchases made by visitors to their site, they will be able to target the products themselves more specifically at users. This means that the range of items on offer at a consumer site that one user sees will differ from those that are displayed on another user’s browser. This change won’t simply affect large business, but will also have an impact on smaller organizations. As we’ve written elsewhere, it’s never been easier to sell your products quickly online. The coming technological changes to the fundamental user experience of the internet will increase that even further.

Personalization requires a lot of data – the right kind of data at that – and technology to process it. The actual process of personalization can be roughly mapped into four different areas: identifying customers, building profiles, using data to make decisions about the ads to deliver or products to display, and then measurement. In some senses, this reflects the classic optimization model, as the process is circular; you use what you’ve learnt from the first time to improve on the next. Using this process, we can expect to incredibly personalized and effective advertising online in the next few years, to such an extent that it will likely blur the traditional distinctions between content and advertising even more than they currently are.