How ‘Sticky’ Should Your Web Site Be?

This article is from the book “Marketing Convergence: How the Leading Companies Are Profiting From Integrating Online and Offline Marketing Strategies” (Thomson/SouthWestern Professional/Racom Communications, October 2002).

Early Internet marketing how-to articles stressed the essential nature of both community building and stickiness. But as it turns out, these values are mainly important for sites that need to keep Web surfers around to view advertising.

Portals like Yahoo and CNN rightly believe that the longer visitors stay on their sites, the more likely they are to notice and click on ad messages and offers. Thus they build content-heavy sites with “lures” to keep visitors online and get them to return. These include timely facts and news, regularly updated information, humor, puzzles, search functions and contests.

The request of many such sites to “make us your home page” delivers the ultimate in community and stickiness. In choosing that page to pop up every day, the viewer becomes at least a passive participant in its community. And what could be stickier than a page that visitors see every time they boot up to their Internet browser?

When e-commerce marketers first started building their sites, many added features aimed at creating community and fostering stickiness. Some even harbored ambitions of becoming portal sites. But in the past few years most have become jaded about these Internet “shoulds” of community and stickiness and either abandoned them or made them peripheral to the customer’s ability to “get on, buy and get off.”

In a previous article, we noted that online experts charged with selling product on their Web sites consider community goals inconsistent with most e-commerce business models, and not essential to their success. Here, we share some additional comments from executives on the pros and cons of “sticky sites.”

Sticky aspects. Though most executives do everything they can to avoid putting roadblocks between online customers and a sale, some see the value in strategically and carefully adding extras for those who enjoy them.

Though Kevin Giglinto of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra says, “My No. 1 priority is ticket functionality,” he is thinking of adding a subscriber forum to the CSO site. “Along with this would come the ability to log in and see your account and get a receipt for your donation. But even just putting a forum online means you have to monitor it and see what’s put up there. Staffing-wise and budget-wise, we are pretty tight.”

At Spiegel, Rich Burke says every piece of additional content for the site will be tested to ensure it’s a plus before it is added permanently. “We’d like to add some reasons to come back to the site other than shopping so people will be curious what’s new there,” he says. Spiegel’s success offering horoscopes spurred Burke to test information on “women’s health, family issues, styling tips for the home and for her. If it works we will roll it out, if it doesn’t we’ll stick to e-commerce.” Products offered on horoscope pages have had impressive sell-through rates, so Burke will seek similar quantifiable evidence that specific content leads to incremental sales.

Thomas Parkinson of Peapod has learned from watching the successes and failures of financial site Quicken, which he sees as a similar “home productivity package” to Peapod.

“At Quicken they kept listening to their top 5 percent ‘power users,’ and their product became too complicated,” he said. “We don’t want to ‘Quickenize’ our product. In the long run, building community is important and it’s in our plans. We already have a feature that lets people sort in a category by what products are most popular. I can see letting people click and talk, having reviews of products including what others have said about this product. We want to do what’s convenient, not what’s unbelievably sophisticated.”

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