Turn Web Visits Into Useful Information
Knowing the demographics of your visitors can help you sell space to advertisers, turn those visitors into sales leads or simply ensure that the content of your site reflects the interest of those who are using it.
Print-based direct marketers are familiar with the challenge of gathering information about their prospects. Survey questions are the most commonly used tool. And two of the methods we've found useful in getting survey responses are transferable to Web surveys: Ask as few questions as possible and give people a reward for responding.
Most folks will take the time to answer a couple of quick questions, but beyond that, each query is likely to reduce response. Make sure that the information you're gathering really is actionable and that it's worth what you are "paying" in terms of lost responses.
Measure the effectiveness by calculating the number of completed forms by the number of page visitors. Each form will be different depending on the design and incentive, but a completion rate of 25 percent is a reasonable benchmark. Over time, you should raise this rate by improving the form and varying the incentive.
Web-based forms provide several helpful tools. You can make it clear which questions are mandatory and which are optional through the design of the fields. Also, you can provide multiple-choice buttons that not only make responding very quick and easy but also give you useful quantitative information. The default values for these should be set appropriately. For instance, always have the "May we send you e-mail" box checked as "Yes," but do not skew survey results by setting opinion boxes as checked or not, keep them empty.
As for rewards, don't expect anyone to complete a survey without a tangible benefit. In business-to-business lead generation where prospects need to gather information, sometimes a white paper or free literature offer is all you need. If you're gathering registrant names for a database, you can offer free upgrades and product news if they respond, no support if they don't. Incentives that can be delivered online are most effective since they deliver instant gratification -- software, online gift certifications and free subscriptions.
Consider holding a regular drawing with the winner drawn from people who've completed survey forms. Or, simply offer them a flat-out bribe when they click that final "send" button. Web sweepstakes are popular for profiling site visitors and growing prospect databases. Consumers have clearly indicated that they are comfortable providing information about themselves in exchange for the opportunity to win a prize.
One resource to consider is marketing-incentives software site www.internetperks.com that allows you to offer Web visitors electronic premiums (customized with your logo) that they can download after they meet your criteria. Among the site's choices are a toll-free directory, a financial calculator and a golf score calculator.
A Web site's log file also is a great source of information and the element most Web sites are relying on as metric. A Web log run through analysis software can provide a wealth of aggregate data including: top requested pages, least requested pages, top entry pages, top exit pages, single access pages, top paths through site, most downloaded files, most active organizations, most active countries, summary activity by day, week, month, hour, Web server performance, client errors, top downloaded file types and sizes, activity by organization type, top directories accessed, top referring site, top referring URLs, top browsers, top platforms, visiting spiders and more.
Page views and visitors are very useful, and remember that hits on their own are useless as a measurement.
For collecting data, any HTML editor can create a form with pull-down menus, buttons and boxes, but what is significant is the database behind the form. An online database provides the ability to quickly produce reports, analyze the data in real time and act on it. Databases designed for this type of work include:
* Microsoft SQL Server -- high performance.
* Microsoft Access -- competent with small-scale activity.
* Alpha Software's WebFiler -- terrific for customizing data views.
* IBM Net.Data -- powerful server for a variety of Web tasks.
Begin evaluating your Web site not by page views and the number of visitors, but by customer demographics, segment profiles, new qualified leads generated and sales -- all requiring effective data-capture techniques.
Robert McKim is a partner of MS Database Marketing, Los Angeles, a database and interactive marketing consultancy.