Guiding Customers Through Your Site With Profiling

When people go back to a web site, they typically look for different information from what they sought on their first visit. Most web marketers want people to return and move closer to making a purchase, but they don’t do anything to their sites to encourage this. Automatically recognizing return visitors can provide an opportunity to guide them toward making a purchase. And putting profiles to work is a good way to help you achieve this goal.

The things people look for on a web site vary according to whether they are just starting to learn about a company and its products, or whether they are returning to the site to focus on learning more about a particular product. Many web users bookmark interesting pages so they don’t have to repeat the search process when they return, but we don’t have to rely on users remembering to bookmark pages… We can prompt them to do this.

In a traditional business setting, whether it’s a retailing or a business-to-business concern, people who make frequent purchases are usually treated differently than one-time-only customers. Sometimes the customer service system used is built on the customer having an established account with the company. Other times the salespeople simply remember those they see frequently. Of course, customers enjoy being remembered by the people who serve them, but knowing that the company appreciates their business enough to treat them as special can generate loyalty, too.

Have you noticed how few web sites give special treatment to people who return numerous times? Fortunately, many of the portal sites allow users to go directly to a customized page by typing a URL different from that of the normal home page, such as my AltaVista.com or My.MP3.com. Frequently, however, the user must choose to use his or her customized page rather than being served it automatically.

Recently, I mentioned that people go through different stages of information gathering as they move toward a purchase, and that we should treat people differently at each stage. By using various profiling techniques, it is rather easy to recognize people when they return to a site, then move them through the purchase process without asking them to click on anything special.

We are using profiles on our site to change the appearance of the home page based on whether it’s the person’s first visit or a return visit. The home page for new people presents an image-oriented look and feel, while the version of the same page seen by returning visitors is more like a portal page with descriptive links to the information on the site. The idea is that newcomers are looking for an overview, while people returning to the site are looking for something specific.

Of course, drastically changing the home page may not be appropriate for a company wanting to project a consistent image here, but there are other ways to move people along through the information-gathering process. For instance, we have started providing people with a list of the pages they have seen, along with a recommendation of other pages to see based on what they’ve looked at so far.

The server traffic reports created by software companies such as WebTrends and Accrue can be helpful in learning which paths through your site are the most popular. This can help you create ways to guide people through your site.

If your site can relate the order of pages viewed by each customer with the individual purchase history data, then take a look at whether customers tend to view pages in a different order than non-customers. You may find that people who make purchases usually view one or two specific pages that non-customers never visit.

If your customers typically look at the features and benefits pages before clicking over to the pricing pages, then use a person’s actual viewing pattern to choose a “featured link” to display in the navigation area. For example, newcomers would see a link to the features and benefits page, but people who have visited that section would see a different featured link, such as pricing or customer service.

Guiding web visitors through a site without requiring them to follow a certain path makes it easy for them to take the next step toward making a purchase.

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