Seven Degrees of Internet Surfing

There’s yet another study that attempts to classify Internet users by putting them into categories. This time, the study is by Booz-Allen & Hamilton and Nielsen//NetRatings, it’s seven categories and it’s based on market segmentation by occasionalization.

According to the study “Seize the Occasion — Usage-Based Segmentation for Marketers,” Web usage patterns fall into seven categories of online behavior. In some categories, consumers are more likely to buy, in others they are nearly immune to traditional online marketing pleas.

The study also introduces “occasionalization,” a new form of Internet market segmentation that identifies consumer segments based on online usage occasions rather than on user-based characteristics, such as demographics or attitudinal data. By exploring users’ session characteristics — how long a user stayed online, how much time the user spent on each page, site familiarity and the category concentration of sites visited — the study uncovered seven types of sessions, and found that three — Information, Please; Loitering; and Surfing — are more likely to involve shopping than others. These sessions are the lengthiest, ranging from 33 to 70 minutes, and page views are 1 to 2 minutes, so users are likely to linger on a page and be exposed to different messages.

Here, without further ado, are the seven segments, according to Booz-Allen & Hamilton and Nielsen//NetRatings:

  • Quickies
    Typically short (1 minute) sessions that center around visits to two or fewer familiar sites. Users spend about 15 seconds per page extracting specific bits of information or sending email. Users in Quickie sessions may not notice any type of message as they scoop up the needed information and log off.
  • Just the Facts
    Users seeking specific pieces of information from known sites. At 9 minutes, these sessions are longer than Quickies but share the aspect of rapid page views. These occasions are less likely to involve sites best enjoyed at leisure, such as entertainment. Users in Just the Facts sessions have a low propensity to buy.
  • Single Mission
    Users want to complete a certain task or gather specific information, then leave the Internet. During these visits, generally lasting 10 minutes, users venture into unfamiliar sites to find what they need, while concentrating on sites within a single category. Users in Single Mission sessions are only open to messages related to the purpose of the session, but a well-targeted banner ad may provide a good return.
  • Do It Again
    These sessions are 14 minutes in length and are notable for lingering page views: 2 minutes, tied with Loitering for the longest of the seven types of sessions. Ninety-five percent of the time is spent at sites the user has visited at least four times in the past. Users in Do It Again sessions may be willing to click through banner ads that are strategically placed on their favorite sites or react to site sponsorships that bring real content directly to the consumer.
  • Loitering
    At 33 minutes in length, with 2 minute page views, Loitering sessions are similar to Do It Agains: leisurely visits to familiar “sticky” sites, such as news, games, telecommunications/ISP, and entertainment sites. A company undertaking a brand positioning campaign would focus on Loitering sessions, where the consumer spends more time on each page and is more likely to absorb the marketer’s message and develop the necessary brand associations.
  • Information, Please
    These sessions average 37 minutes in length and are used to build in-depth knowledge of a topic, perhaps for a research report. They differ from Single Missions because users gather broad information from a range of sites. Users in Information, Please sessions are mostly going to familiar sites, but are willing to cross categories and linger on a page that piques their interest, giving marketers an opportunity to expose them to different messages.
  • Surfing
    Surfing sessions are the longest, averaging 70 minutes, with few stops at familiar sites, as users hit nearly 45 sites in a typical session. Time per page is a minute or more, suggesting wide, but not deep, explorations. Surfers usually spend time on sites with lots of content, giving marketers opportunities to build branding awareness, since during these occasions users will be exposed to messages for a relatively long time. Sponsorships of content are another good approach, encouraging users to associate their favorite content with a specific brand name.

Not only is this information supposed to be useful to marketers, but Booz-Allen and Nielsen//NetRatings claim that successful e-tailers will change their approach from one size fits all to a series of parallel sites targeted to appeal to multiple usage occasions. The challenge for e-tailers, they say, is to use available technology to detect which occasion a user coming into the site may be in, and to use that information to trigger an interface geared to that occasion. For example, users engaged in Quickie or Single Mission sessions can get a rapid, no-frills self-serve experience marked by text-only pages and no pop-up ads, while users in Loitering and Information Please sessions can be steered toward the full-service option, with video pop-ups and personal shoppers.

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