How to Figure the Value of Research Conducted on Your Site

The other day, I got a follow up question about my column, “Assessing the Offline Impact of Online Research,” which examined understanding the offline impact your site may provide as it’s used for research. While the column focused on manufacturing sites, the concept is relevant for businesses in many other sectors.

Tony, a reader from Buenos Aires, Argentina, asked, “How do companies associate an offline sale (in store sale) with a previous online information search about the product the bought?”

This question gets asked a lot. Even on a hardcore e-commerce site, we all know that not every visit is by someone who’s looking to buy right then. In many cases, the person won’t even buy online, but is interested in finding out information about something. Think back to the basic marketing funnel: awareness, interest, intent, and purchase — and then, of course, repurchase.

To answer Tony’s question, there are a few ways to determine this. Most often, it’s based on educated assumptions, but there are a few cases where you can track it through. For example:

  • Coupons/Special Offers: Coupons from site or special offers that are only available on the Web site and redeemed in a physical store. These don’t work all that well and obviously only catch a small percentage of people.
  • Match Backs: If you request information online (and tell me who you are), then buy the product somewhere else and register it, you may be able to match that up and see that you were on the site and ultimately purchased. This can be easier or harder depending on your industry, products, etc.

But again, many cases are based on studies and educated estimates. One effective way is to survey visitors on your site and ask them about their likelihood to buy offline. Have them choose along a range from “not likely” to “extremely likely.”

Once you have this information from a sampling of your audience, you can use it to make broader assumptions. You will find that depending on the type of content they view, how they interact, and what segment of your audience they’re in (however you define it), they will behave and convert differently offline. This is a great way to understand what content or experiences on your site get people to convert above or below the average conversion.

By asking about the likelihood to buy, you’re able make a much more accurate guess into what percentage of your visitors are going to convert offline. You will want to be conservative on making that estimate, but now you have data to make that estimate from.

Another approach: conduct post-purchase surveys. Again, if you register a product after the purchase, I can survey you and ask if you visited the corporate or manufacturing Web site before your offline purchase. You can ask what role the Web site played in the decision-making process: what they got out of the Web site, what was easy, what was hard, and what convinced them to go forward with the buying decision?

The key is doing a number of these things. Then, as a team, determine what assumption you’re comfortable with and then revisit them over time.

The impact of off-site behaviors based on on-site visits and experience is grossly underestimated today by most companies. Too many people try to look at these behaviors and experiences as well defined silos. That just isn’t the case!

Take the time. Understand the value the Web channel really provides to your site visitors and the impact it has offline. More than likely, you’ll be very surprised at how much you’ve underestimated the offline impact your corporate Web site has.

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