What Is a Preference Center and How Does It Elevate the User Experience?


Preference centers sit at the intersection of user experience and compliance. Whether you’re a compliance professional, marketer, or engineer, a well-designed preference center can help you make an impact on how your audience interacts with your organization. In this article, we’ll dive into the what, why, and how of preference centers. 

What Is a Preference Center? 

Simply put, preference centers are a method for users to personalize their experience with your brand across channels. 

Different users will have different preferences in terms of how often they want to hear from you, where they want to hear from you, and even what data you can collect from them. Where one user might not mind receiving every marketing, product update, and newsletter email you send out, another might tear their hair out. By the same token, that second user might not mind if your app communicates that information via push notifications, but it could drive the first crazy.  

Ultimately, preference centers allow users to customize their experience with your organization so you don’t have to guess at their likes and dislikes. 

Why Is Having a Preference Center Important? 

Higher Engagement and Retention 

It may seem counterintuitive, but allowing users to opt out of communication with your organization can drive engagement way up. Preference centers provide users with granular control over their experience, giving them a greater sense of ownership over your organization’s communications with them and allowing them to engage with you when and where they want to. 

With a preference center, you gain the best chance of increasing engagement with members of your audience who are interested in your communications and business. Even if somebody is already a raving fan of your organization, they’re unlikely to respond to your organization’s SMS messages if that’s a medium of communication that they hate. 

Sure, people will opt out of communication entirely; but these are going to be the people who never wanted to engage with your organization in the first place. It can be tempting to think that you might be able to win these folks over in time, but the reality is, most communications with this cohort are just going to frustrate them further and create a negative association with your brand. 

Source of First- and Zero-Party Data 

As third-party cookies are slowly phased out, businesses are searching for new ways to collect valuable data on their audience to target advertisements, assess the efficacy of their marketing efforts, fine-tune their outreach, analyze site performance, and more. First- and zero-party data are key paths forward in the absence of third-party cookies. 

As a quick overview, third-party cookies are data trackers placed by another entity onto your site, such as an ad-tech network. This category of data tracker has been coming under closer regulatory scrutiny in recent years, and many browsers are phasing out support for them. 

First-party cookies are data trackers that you place on your own website, such as HubSpot cookies.  

Zero-party data is information that your users provide themselves of their own volition, such as converting on a form to provide their email address in exchange for a valuable resource. 

With a well-crafted preference center, you can gain zero-party data from your users on channel preferences, phone numbers, email addresses, and the like. Over time, you can assess which channels perform better or worse for different cohorts. You can also give users a means of accepting or rejecting different categories of first-party cookies (or even third-party cookies for browsers that still support them), such as marketing, analytics, or personalization cookies. 


Last but not least, preference centers enable compliance with data privacy and communications regulations. Preference centers are an excellent way to facilitate compliance with laws like: 

  • The GDPR, which requires businesses to obtain consent that is “freely given, specific, informed, and unambiguous” before collecting a user’s personal information. Furthermore, users must be able to easily change their consent preferences at any time. Often, businesses will use a cookie banner to ensure they collect appropriate consent as soon as a user visits a website, but a preference center can serve as an excellent place for users to adjust their consent later on. 
  • The CPRA, which requires businesses to provide users with a means of opting out of data sharing/selling and certain uses of their sensitive personal information. The CPRA requires links that facilitate these opt-out requests to appear on a website’s homepage, but a preference center also serves as an intuitive place to keep these links to enable users to exercise their rights. 
  • The CAN-SPAM Act, which requires businesses to provide users with a means of opting out of or unsubscribing from communications. Preference centers are the perfect place for users to make their opt-out requests, or to change their communication preferences in case the given channel wasn’t ideal. 

The Key Requirement For a Preference Center? Clear, Granular Control 

While providing users with too many options is an issue, providing them with too few options is worse when it comes to designing a preference center. A user who goes to your preference center already has an opinion about when and how they want to be contacted; if they can’t achieve that outcome, every follow-up outreach will be a frustrating reminder of that fact. 

Furthermore, some data privacy regulations require you to provide users with granular control over the types of data trackers that are active on your site. Check out 5 Ways to Identify Cookies and Scripts to learn more about the different regulatory categories for data trackers. 

For a better experience, it’s a good idea to provide users with options around: 

  • The content they would like to receive (e.g., newsletters, product updates, marketing communications). 
  • The channel they would like to receive that content over (e.g., email, SMS, push notifications). 
  • How frequently they would like to be contacted (e.g., limiting communications to once per week, once per month). 
  • And of course, what data processing activities they consent or do not consent to. 

Simplify Compliance and Engagement for Your Users 

So long as your preference center provides users with the customization that they want and regulation requires, you’ll be set up to reduce friction with your audience and win engagement. Users need it to be easy to manage their experience; they’re not going to spend the extra effort to make sure that they enjoy their interactions with your organization if they have to navigate to multiple pages and make multiple requests. They want a simple, centralized way to control how your organization engages with them, what data they’re willing to share, and what content they receive. Preference centers serve as that simple, centralized source of control. 

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