Optimize Your Site: First-Time vs. Returning Visitors

  |  September 23, 2008   |  Comments

How to tune your site for a visitor who's never been to your site before and someone who's a frequent visitor. Second of a two-part series.

Last time, we looked at how to get started with optimization, including some best practices and two easy places to start: testing landing pages and testing first-time versus returning customers. A lot has already been written about landing pages, so we'll dig in deeper on the power of testing content, calls to action, and other approaches for testing first time vs. returning visitors.

Before digging into that, let's recap some tips from last time. If you're just getting started, make sure you do the following to get the support and momentum you need for your company to be successful with site optimization:

  1. Find a sponsor -- ideally an executive sponsor.
  2. Focus on what matters to your business.
  3. Monetize the impact.
  4. Place multiple bets.
  5. Spend the time.

Meanwhile, landing page testing is a great place to start your testing. If you aren't doing it, you should. You can greatly increase the ROI (define) of paid media, search, and more by testing the ideal landing pages for your different campaigns and audience types. Once you have had some success, one of the next best places to look is tuning the experience for first-time versus returning visitors.

Let's step back and think about this for a minute. Does a visitor who has never been to your site before have the same needs as someone who's a frequent visitor? Does she need the same type of information? Are the same calls to action going to work for both groups? Clearly the answer is no.

There are many ways to segment your audience. You could look at testing what works best for first-time visitors versus those who have visited two to four times in the previous 60 days versus those who have visited five or more times during that period. You will most likely find significant differences between what works for each of these audiences.

Remember, don't expect 100 percent accuracy in these groups. People delete cookies and use different device/computers to access the same site, so the site may still recognize a return visitor as a newcomer. Don't get too caught up in that concern because the testing will account for that factor and you'll still be able to increase your site's effectiveness. It would be a shame to throw away the opportunity for better targeting (and thus conversion) because it can't be 100 percent accurate for every visit session.

Also, remember to give the audience the ability to locate all content. For instance, banking sites that are trying to get people to sign up for online banking may show a promo for online banking for first-time visitors to sign up. But those who are already signed up (and may be using a different computer) still need to be able to find the login pages to access the online banking.

Sitebrand, which has tools to personalize digital marketing campaigns, recently released a white paper, "First Time Here? A Marketer-Oriented Approach to Optimizing Online Conversions." Sitebrand, in the white paper, says that focusing on the first-time visitor versus the returning one makes sense because a first-time visitor "represents a conversion problem area for all websites, and will provide an initial quick win for any marketer looking to showcase the impact of in-site conversion initiatives." It also notes that first-time visitors:

  • Are the most expensive type of visitor on your site, as reflected by your traffic generation spend.
  • Are the largest underperforming segment of your traffic, representing on average 60 to 80 percent of all visitors, with a conversion rate significantly lower than site average.
  • Have unique information and messaging requirements.

The Sitebrand white paper outlines four key steps on better converting first-time visitors:

  1. Use data to build an understanding and framework for first-time visitors.
  2. Build the messaging required to grow the engagement and the sales of a first-time visitor.
  3. Map the real estate on your site toward your messaging.
  4. Launch your cycle, watch results, and plan for re-optimization.

Experiment, take the time to understand your audience, and try different things. Start with landing page testing and testing first time visitors versus those returning and see what impact this has on your conversion and ROI. More than likely, you'll be pleasantly surprised.

While the white paper focuses heavily on converting first-time visitors, in most cases you'll also be able to better target (and thus convert) those returning visitors who are accessing your site. Higher conversion, higher ROI, and a chance to improve your audiences' experiences on your site!

Please let me know about other areas where you have used testing to start your optimization process. I may add a third part to this series if you send me some more interesting ideas.

Join us for a new Webcast, High-Touch Personalization, The Successful Marketer's Secret Ingredient, September 29 at 2 p.m. EDT.

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Jason Burby

As President of the Americas at POSSIBLE, Jason is responsible for leading the long-term stability and growth of the region. With more than 20 years experience in digital strategy, he is a long-time advocate of using data to inform digital strategies to help clients attract, convert, and retain customers. Jason supports POSSIBLE's clients and employees in driving new engagements and delivering great work that works. He is the co-author of Actionable Web Analytics: Using Data to Make Smart Business Decisions.

Follow him on Twitter @JasonBurby.

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