Loyalty and ROI: A Beautiful Bottom Line

Last week, I discussed how sites with online communities have a stickiness factor. Many online media planners seek and buy media on these sites. What’s the appeal?

For me, the loyalty factor of a community site’s user base is its unique selling attribute. Gone are the days of the build-it-and-they-will-come mentality. Sites such as Amazon.com realized this years ago. In addition to OEMing content and products from affiliates/vendors, Amazon engaged and personalized its site. A user can log onto the site and search for local movie theatres and read movie reviews posted by other users, for example.

A recent McKinsey Jupiter Media Metrix study indicates that users of Web sites’ community features are more valuable than nonusers.

Other findings include:

  • Users of these sites generate two-thirds of the sales, despite accounting for one-third of visitors.
  • Users who contribute product reviews or post messages visit these sites nine times more often than nonusers, are twice as loyal — and buy nearly twice as often.
  • Even users who don’t read or contribute to community exchanges are more frequent visitors and buyers.
  • Only 1 of the top 10 apparel sites and 2 of the top 10 general merchandisers currently offer community features on their sites.

How do community features bring value to publishers and advertisers alike? They offer advertisers a more targeted audience and mine valuable market data when they incorporate elements such as email, maps, weather, chat, news feeds, message boards, and shopping.

Through a variety of focus groups and research, coupled with experience, I have uncovered data regarding top Web site complaints. A recent study by Vividence is of particular interest. Visitors to 60 sites were asked about their major complaints while visiting the sites. This is what they said:

  • 53 percent: poorly organized search results
  • 32 percent: poor information architecture
  • 32 percent: site was too slow
  • 27 percent: “cluttered” home pages
  • 25 percent: confusing labels
  • 15 percent: “invasive” registration
  • 13 percent: “inconsistent” navigation

As buyers and sellers, we need to scrutinize these findings. Not only should we look at complaints, we should also look at the appeal of a site to a visitor or potential visitor. Which factors build loyalty? Consider the following:

  • Does the page load as efficiently on dial-up as broadband?
  • Is the user interface visually compelling?
  • Is the content easy to read and up to date?
  • Is there search functionality?
  • Is there a registration process? If so, is it easy to input, with clearly stated privacy standards?
  • Are community features blended with content?
  • Is there a feedback area? If so, does the site respond in a timely manner?

Which publishers have the stickiest sites? Media Metrix reports time spent per domain per month:

  • AOL: 5 hours, 34 minutes
  • eBay: 2 hours, 3 minutes
  • Gamesville: 1 hour, 32 minutes
  • Hotmail: 1 hour, 22 minutes
  • Yahoo: 58 minutes
  • Money Central: 45 minutes
  • Excite: 34 minutes
  • ESPN: 30 minutes
  • MSN: 30 minutes
  • Netscape: 25 minutes

Now I’ve overloaded you with stats! Don’t let the metrics overwhelm you. A site with a short user session can be just as effective as a site with a longer one. It depends on the business objective of a site. If a user frequents a site and is familiar with its navigation, it will take less time to find and purchase a product.

My top-line goals in writing this column are to save you time and maybe provide you with useful information you may not have heard. As we move out of a year filled with industry fallout, lack of consumer confidence, tragedy, and economic downturn, most of us (myself included) remain confident. Many sites remain standing. Content flows. Users remain loyal. Please, treat this loyalty with the utmost care when implementing ads.

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