Friday, September 5, 2008

Bring psychic powers to your site

It appears that psychics are expanding their reach beyond oceanfront boardwalks and late night direct response television to the online media industry. The latest buzz in the industry is due to a slew of new companies and technologies promising to leapfrog site personalization in favor of site “metamorphosis” -- detecting what you need and want before you even know it --- and transforming themselves based on these assumptions to deliver higher site conversion and engagement. Will this work and if so, why should you care?

Four seconds to save the sale
Apologies for the Madonna reference but as a site owner, you probably have even less than 4 seconds to ensure your visitors self-identify and are motivated to explore your site. Potential customers have reached your site, now it’s your turn to reward them by offering up useful information and cues - so they can accomplish their goals – with or without these new “psychic tools.” In return, you’ll see increased engagement (improvements to pageviews per visit, time on site, etc.) and/or revenue (improvements to add-to-cart rate, average order value, etc.)

If you’re not sure who your users are and why they’re going to your site, this previous post will help you identify your target customers or personas.

Ditch the “unsitely”one-size-fits-all elastic waistband
If your site is a one-size-fits-all experience, then it’s probably time to explore alternatives. While you may not be ready to deploy some of the next-generation tools I mentioned earlier, here’s a framework to help you adopt psychic powers at a crawl – walk – run pace that’s right for your business.

Crawl: Optimize key landing pages
Make sure your key landing pages support the preferences and information needs of your visitors and are optimized for search engines. For example, if you’re buying the keyword phrase “tandem bicycle,” make sure not to send traffic to a gallery page with listings for everything from mountain bikes to road bikes, etc. Send users directly to the content they searched for and repeat the keyword phrase in as prominent a position as possible.

This also applies to landing pages that support banner ads and email campaigns which serve as the gateway to your site. Ensure your landing pages deliver a consistent experience and “pay off” the ads; users should not experience a disconnect from your ad to your site.

Finally, if you’re not running any online ads and aren’t sure which pages to optimize, mine your analytics data to better understand which pages are serving as the front door to your site. Make sure these pages include appropriate images, relevant content, and an intuitive navigation that surfaces underlying information to support user goals so they’re motivated to drill down further.

Walk: Build a “one-to-many” platform
If you’re asking visitors to register on your site and are capturing information on their preferences, etc., why not use this information to shift from a one-size-fits-all to a “one-to-many” customized experience? At a former employer in the information services industry, we made this shift by asking registered users to select a profile (from a list of 20) so we could serve up relevant information to them rather than force them to wade through thousands of research documents each time they visited the site. Site content was served dynamically based on a user’s profile; this was powered by a combination of business rules and content management system.

Run: Mine data to deliver a personalized experience that’s relevant
We’ve all suffered from “personalized” site experiences that missed the mark because they were based on our perceived interests. The hallmark example is buying a baby gift on Amazon and getting barraged with recommendations for baby gear, books, etc. upon future visits. This model clearly doesn’t scale and the industry is responding with new applications that combine historical cookie information and audience segmentation with an analysis of users’ real-time behavior on the site to offer up recommendations, content, etc.

Immediate applications in the eCommerce space are obvious and early tests show promising results. If you’re ready to explore these options, here are products to consider:
* Rich Relevance
* Magnify360
* Aggregate Knowledge

Creating a rich and relevant experience for your users should always be the end game. Whether you walk or run there is your choice.

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