By now, you are surely convinced that hits are a deceptive statistic and pageviews tell only part of the story when analyzing your Web traffic. The target of your Web site analytics mission should be -- first and foremost -- unique visitors. The problem, though, is dealing with the fact that not all unique visitors are created equal.
By unique visitors, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, we mean individuals who come to your Web site looking for information, products or services. Marketers generally look at the number of unique visitors per day, per week, or per month to assess how many individuals are visiting their Web site or online store. These stats help determine whether their traffic is growing, stabilizing, or perhaps declining.
One of the key challenges with counting unique visitors is that some people browse your online venue with a cloak of anonymity -- some more intentionally than others. While your Web analytics software may be able to reveal the referring site and which pages these anonymous visitors have viewed on your site, that could be about all you know regarding these secretive surfers.
Some anonymous visitors hide behind proxies that cover their IP address, while others disable the cookies that would help your Web site recognize them. In either event, their actions make it difficult if not impossible for your Web analytics software to recognize these visitors as repeat visitors. That anonymity, in turn, makes it impossible to target them with personalized offers like Amazon.com does, in order to cross-sell related products that might be of interest.
Other visitors are only partially anonymous. They aren't purposely trying to hide from your Web analytics software, but they also aren't giving you information about who they are, what they do, and what they like, either. That lack of information clearly limits your options for target marketing to those consumers, which can ultimately limit your ability to increase sales.
The trick is turning unknown visitors into known ones.
It's the known visitors that make marketers smile because they can be separated into various segments. Their shopping history is an open book, and you can send them special offers that entice them to return to your site and respond to your offers again and again.
"Driving traffic to your site is a capital expenditure and you should be seeking ways to maximize the financial return from each interaction," says Chris Parkin, senior director of Product and Solutions Marketing at Omniture, an online business optimization service provider. "One of the best ways to do that is by getting them to offer up their e-mail address and other information voluntarily."
Choosing the Right Incentives
Indeed, few would argue with Parkin. But the secret for most sites is not necessarily to collect information from all visitors. Instead, you want to focus your energy on potential customers, according to Josh Carr, director of interactive at Sprout Marketing, a Utah-based marketing firm with mid-size clients like vSpring Capital and Control4. This type of strategy goes beyond getting visitors to opt-in to your newsletter, he said. It means offering an incentive in exchange for qualified leads.
"The secret is to choose incentives that will filter your Web site visitors, enticing potential leads and ignoring the rest. Don't give away the obvious thing like an iPod. Instead, find something that only your customers would find appealing," Carr suggests.
For example, if your Web site targets lawyers, you may want to give away a Mont Blanc pen or a briefcase. By contrast, a Web site for new mothers may choose to give away a baby monitor or a high chair. Sound expensive? It doesn't have to be if you offer one prize in a drawing on a monthly basis. This type of giveaway will work as a filter to make sure you are not just creating a list but a database of potential leads, Carr says.
You should also give visitors a guaranteed reward for their information, not just a random chance at winning a drawing. That's where educational incentives come into play. That could be something simple, such as a chapter from an e-book on a subject that is specific to their needs, a podcast with some targeted and exclusive content, or a special discount. The fact that unknown visitors want to download the content gives you insights into their specific interests.
"You can make an offer along the lines of 'top five tips' on a particular subject your firm has expertise in," Parkin says. "But use the word 'complimentary' instead of 'free.' We have learned that words like complimentary have a much higher conversion rate because there are value perceptions associated with words. Free has a lower perceived value."
You can analyze the efficacy of your incentive choice, based in part on the percentage of visitors who respond to it. Of course, if few are taking you up on your offer, it could also be that you aren't driving qualified traffic to your site and need to review your traffic generating strategies. (But that's a whole other article.)
How Much Information Is Too Much?
Since an unknown visitor's e-mail address is the gateway to relationship building, Web marketers suggest starting with the simple goal of obtaining this bit of information. If you ask the unknown visitor 20 questions in hopes of generating more qualified leads, the leads you get may in fact be more qualified but you may get relatively few of them because of the barrier of answering 20 questions.
"Not everyone is going to complete a long form, even for what they perceive as a valuable white paper," explained Pelin Wood, senior vice president of corporate marketing at WebSideStory, one of the leading providers of Web site analysis software. "You need to understand your target audience and decide what type of offer they would be most likely to respond to in exchange for giving up their e-mail address, which is really the most important piece of information."
When visitors opt for a discount on a specific product, enrollment in a webinar with a special topic, or some other incentive, your marketing department gets clues as to the interest of those particular visitors. That information then allows you to send future e-mails with product and service offers that are in line with those needs. The more your visitors respond to offers in your e-mail marketing campaigns by clicking through to your Web site, the more information you can gather about their desires.
Focus on Anybody and Everybody
It should be noted that incentives don't necessarily breed long-term relationships that open the door to targeted marketing opportunities. Benefits do. With that in mind, another means of transforming anonymous visitors into known visitors is to run a survey asking them to share what they'd like to see on the Web site. Or offering "insider information" to visitors who are willing to share their e-mail address to receive it.
The bottom line is that asking visitors to register and identify their interests or answer demographic questions is the most straightforward way to get the information you crave, according to Jeff Greenhouse, president of Singularity Design. His company, a design and Web development firm, recently won four Davey Awards for outstanding interactive designs.
Greenhouse explains their approach: "We urge our clients to think about every visitor interaction on their Web site as a transaction. Even if all you want is for a visitor to click through from your homepage to another page on your site, that visitor is weighing their time and effort against the myriad of alternatives that are available to them," Greenhouse says.
When visitors actually clicks through, they have decided that the potential value they will get outweighs the effort they are committing. When you want something more from them, such as personal information, the perceived value on the other side of the transaction must increase accordingly. In addition to white papers, webinars and the like, Greenhouse recommends topical newsletters, e-mail alerts, contests and access to value-added Web site content as benefit-oriented incentives.
After all, getting to know your visitors is one thing. Getting them to keep coming back again is another. "The best strategies," Greenfield concludes, "will continue to motivate visitors to remain 'known' so they cannot just take the value and disappear back into the anonymous column."
Let's Get Realistic
Now that you've worked up surveys, offered free white papers, created a newsletter -- and created whatever else you've deemed attractive to your target audience -- there's still one more thing you need to do: be realistic. You can't expect your ratio of anonymous to known visitors to increase overnight. Just as with any other Web optimization strategy, you need to give it some time, typically three months, to see how your implementations are panning out.
"Give up on the ridiculous idea that you should be able to consummate the sale on the first visit, as well as on the idea that they will necessarily return to your Web site on their own," says Shel Horwitz, author of "Marketing Without Megabucks." Horwitz suggests developing and implementing longer-term strategies around the idea of relationship building, such as newsletters.
"A newsletter can either sell them directly [or indirectly] -- provided it's mostly about content and not sales copy," Horwitz says. "Be sure the first several newsletters are purely informational before offering a product. And do incorporate conversion strategies, such as a call to action, so that your page does create some buyers."
As Horwitz notes, there is no guarantee that even the most attractive incentives will breed business. But, effective offers can -- at the very least -- offer marketing clues and define more clearly what has compelled unknown visitors to take off their mask of anonymity and give you access to their all-important e-mail inbox.