Digital publishing has given publishers more information about their readers than they ever dreamed possible. Yet, many publishers have been swamped by it and have struggled to derive the full commercial benefit. The key, says Kate Mayfield, is to pause, plan, and then appoint someone responsible for delivering it.
Websites seem to create as many problems for publishers as they create opportunities and now more challenges are arising.
Firstly websites brought new repositories of contact records for publishers who historically had kept this information in their fulfilment systems. For many publishers, this created problems around data proliferation, which I wrote about in a previous issue of InPublishing.
But now, those some websites are creating further data challenges, in the form of website analytics and web behavioural data. This sort of data can be churned out faster than you can digest it and publishers need to find ways to harness and leverage this new type of data, cost effectively.
But what do we mean by web behavioural data? Why is it so valuable? And how can you leverage it?
What is website analytics and web behavioural data?
I expect most people reading this article will know what website analytics means. Most of us are used to statistics about visitors, exit points, bounce rates and so on. However, the behaviour of those visitors is valuable data and you need to be capturing it and using it in a meaningful way.
It is challenging for many publishers, especially those without registration or paywalls, to achieve the level of demographic detail that was known for print subscribers and collected via the subs card. But now, you can also know which content interests certain sections of your target market the most, where they spend most time and what engages them.
This is web behavioural data. Whether you can drill down to an individual’s behaviour rather than identify general trends depends on many factors, such as: whether you can identify individuals (via cookies, registration pages and other means which are variously controlled by you and your users); the web analytics tools you have; the website structure and layout; and the way you use your content. So when you plan your website development, you should include plans for obtaining the behavioural information which is most valuable to your business.
What is its value to the business?
Whatever your business model, behavioural data is very valuable to publishers in lots of different ways:
* Advertising and Visitor-Data Sales. Advertisers are getting more sophisticated and if your competition can provide more useful detail about visits, articles of interest, time on site and, particularly, who is behaving in which way, this will give them an advantage over those who only have general usage statistics. If you have information about the online behaviours of individuals, you can target them off-site too and sell very time-sensitive advertising promotions to 3rd parties. For example, if the government announces a tax break for small business owners, you could publish an article on that topic within 24 hours and for example, get 1000 visitors. You can then sell one of your advertisers a promotional email that you will send to that list on their behalf, that week, offering their services as tax advisers for small business owners.
* Content and Web Design. Of course, this only works if your users behave in a way that is appealing to advertisers and this is where the analysis is important for your content team and your web team. Both these teams need to know what people are reading, how long they are staying for and produce the content, and design the sites that keep people engaged and online for longer.
* Product Sales and Marketing. Here, product means any non-advertising sales and marketing. If someone reads an online article on aluminium production for over ten minutes, more than once in a month, they can be sent an email promoting your latest report on steel production. Someone who keeps reaching the basket page and not purchasing Aluminium Production Monthly, should get a sales call.
In fact, why stop there – send them an email, change all the adverts that they see online to adverts for Aluminium Production Monthly and if they’ve not bought by the end of the week, give them a call. Then things start to get very interesting and if it sounds prohibitively complicated, bear in mind you can automate this activity using marketing and email automation software.
* Retention. Many publishers are already wise to the fact that online subscribers need to use their content and get value from it, if they are to renew. It is common to monitor web usage statistics and then call low users, offering further training and advice, drawing attention to articles of interest. Furthermore, if your subscriber to Metals Monthly rarely logs in and only uses the steel production information, perhaps they’d be better off with Steel Production Monthly instead?
Over time, for customers and even for prospects, you can learn a great deal from web behavioural data and develop your content, retention, ad sales and marketing programmes accordingly.
Who is responsible for it?
Once you’ve decided this type of data matters, it helps to decide who in your organisation is responsible for web behavioural data so that you can make effective use of it. If you’re churning it out and distributing it generally, that won’t work. Both its capture and its use must be the responsibility of a team or individual.
It needs some input from your web technology provider because they’re the people who need to make the analytics work and do a lot of the legwork. Marketing need the data for targeting, segmenting and triggering campaigns. For advertising sales, some publishers have given the responsibility to circulation or a sales analyst to package the data into sales-team useful information. Perhaps in a traditional media kit but updated more frequently, perhaps even in real time, online if your information is time sensitive.
How can I use this data efficiently?
Many people understand the potential of this information and want to explore it. But they are faced with apparently insurmountable challenges. They may already be struggling to harness the contact data they have and struggling with incomplete data sets. They may have analytics tools that are unwieldy and produce unstructured data. They may not have the manpower to do the analysis and planning.
All these issues are surmountable. Your competitors are unlikely to ignore this data, so you shouldn’t either. Many small businesses consider web analytics, API-linked software and web-based applications, simple tools that you just grab and use and don’t consider themselves publishers. This approach is part of their DNA and one of them may be sneaking up behind you...
Connect this behavioural data to your CRM and marketing databases, in real-time, so that it can be used in your sales and marketing process. If the behavioural data is disconnected from your demographic data and only reviewed when the marketers and sales people have time, it won’t be working well for you.
There is good software out there and access to a raft of skills from the service-as-software vendors. Don’t underestimate the value you get from these types of software vendors compared with old-school, installed software. Now you can get the tools to do the job but also exposure and advice on new ways of doing things and many of these vendors will help you get your business to where you want it to be.
In the near future, you should be considering whether to use marketing automation to churn out campaigns across all your direct-selling channels, with each piece of collateral tailored to the prospect profile, created from both demographic and web behavioural data. Then your marketers can become analysts, analysing and tweaking campaigns while the machine churns on.
Process is your friend.
In all of this, remember process is your boring but reliable friend. While the rise of multi-channel marketing has already added complexity, the rise of additional types of data is making it unfathomable.
Fundamentally though, the sales and marketing pipelines of your business are still the same: someone shows interest in your products and you work on them until they buy or go away. It’s the number of ways you can communicate and influence them and the information you can use to profile and segment them, which are growing.
All this data and all these channels can be made to connect and link as long as you know how you want to communicate, with whom and when. When you first start to plan these connections, processes and links, start with a simple picture, perhaps only segmenting your data into three or four segments. Think about the ideal pipeline you’d like to push each segment through. Give them free information in return for more data, send a promotional email, call them then mail them. If they still aren’t buying, call them again. From these simple multi-channel process designs, you can start to add complexity and test the many variables that these processes contain. But be wary, test too much and you’ll learn nothing. In time, you’ll have optimised the trigger points, found the best time to call someone who drops a basket and much more.
It is impossible to marshal all this information effectively without the right technology. If you doubt that investment in the technology will be justified, creating that process and carrying it out manually is also the way to build or disprove the business case.
In every business, knowingly or not and with varying degrees of rigour, your business pushes each new prospect through a process with the intention of making them buy something. The better you define that process, analyse its effectiveness, test improvements and then incorporate them, the better your results will be. Aspire to have multi-channel processes, good technology supporting those processes and capable people who can analyse and modify them in a continual cycle of improvement and you’ll have found the gold in that data.