Gartner recently highlighted the importance of analyzing the impact that a website has on user behavior and then applying the concept of a cause and effect strategy to optimize that online experience to achieve the desired outcomes. To illustrate this approach of influencing online user behavior, I've outlined some steps to achieving such a paradigm, using parallels to how retailers build and manage their stores.
Much like a retail store, the web is often the primary place where your customers "experience" your brand. Product merchandising in brick-and-mortar shops has evolved into a refined and tested science that has assisted retailers to grow their revenues through anticipating the needs and interactions of their customers. It's now time for the online world to evolve in a similar manner to create the "ideal customer experience" -- one that not only addresses how to more effectively present and promote your products online, but also encompasses the other goals (like resolving support issues) that your customer would like to complete. A salesperson that is able to "customize" the customer experience for each individual who comes into their retail store will increase revenues and customer loyalty. Similarly, a website that can easily adapt to meet the evolving needs of your visitors and provide a relevant and personal experience will generate business value.
To attain this cause and effect Holy Grail, you need to measure and understand how your audience is actually using your website, and then be able to rapidly adjust the information that you create and present to increase its effectiveness in meeting their needs and your business goals.
So where do you start? Here are four steps to get you on your way:
Determine your comps
Much like a retail store tracks monthly comparables, companies must approach their websites with defined business impact goals. Identify your business objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs) so that you can track the impact: increased engagement on the site, higher sales conversions, fewer calls into your call center, or reduced publishing times. If you need to get broader support for this project, ensure that you choose KPIs that go beyond operational efficiencies and resonate across the organization -- not just with IT department.
Assess your technology needs
Analytics: Offline retailers have the advantage of face-to-face interaction with their customers. Online, we need to rely on analytics to track your objectives and help you get to know your customer. There are myriad technologies that can provide you with valuable information, both implicit and explicit, about your site's visitor. Thus, a first step is to take stock of what you have and determine what you need to do to augment this based on your business objectives. You might have more than you think you do. Many web content management (WCM) providers include analytics that can automatically assess basic visitor information and even deeper context. However, some companies need additional layers of analytics. If you have a huge arsenal of product offerings, you might want to layer product recommendations on top of your WCM. Many of these tools offer a huge database of analytics based on people's interactions online.
Content management: Ask yourself these questions:
- Can my (WCM) system provide me with the flexibility and speed that I need to respond to my visitors?
- Can I empower my business users to design, test, and optimize the online experience for our various customer segments?
- Do I need product and content recommendation technologies to supplement what I already have?
- Do I have enough content to build out a more comprehensive experience, or do I need to back-fill my content and rich media?
Clearly define your "target buyer"
If you know who your customer is, you are more likely to deliver an experience that better matches his or her goals and intent when visiting your site. Retailers develop comprehensive customer profiles and design their store and merchandising accordingly. Technology is able to do something similar, using things like keyword search information, browsing patterns, and historical data from CRM and ERP system repositories; once you've gotten your analytics in place, you can begin to build a better profile of your buyer.
To implement a cause and effect strategy to your web development, you don't need to start from scratch -- some basic changes can make a huge difference. For example, retail stores know that you can make a huge impact on the bottom line by changing the placement of sale merchandise displays, or merchandising items together that complement use, such as showing a belt with a pair of pants. Once you have evaluated your business objectives and KPIs, start testing various business rules and "display arranging" and monitor the impact of the front and back end changes on your business goals, always documenting both the cause and effect of these changes.<
Content recommendations: To provide more content based on segmentation rules, look at what you already have. Will customers solve their issues if you display two support articles when they enter in "phone not working"?
Placement: Media outlets can experiment with placement -- once you know what kind of news your audience is looking for, what happens when you put an article about mobile apps on the left versus in the center? How does this placement impact your mobile viewers?
With the right combination of planning and web content management technology, you can put a long-term web strategy in place that will allow you to continually measure and refine your online assets to meet the needs of your visitors and customers -- and ultimately support your business goals. Technology is just a starting point. Once you're aware that the offline and online environments are more similar than we think, the sky is the limit for your website.
Glenn Conradt is vice president, global marketing and North America, at CoreMedia.
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