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Source: Dotcom.com

Posted on August 8, 2000

      Web marketers today are increasingly talking about making their sites "stickier." What does that mean?

      Some define stickiness as how long people stay on your site during a visit. The theory is: the longer Web surfers stay on a particular site or even a particular page, the more engaging and effective it must be.

      Others gauge stickiness by how many times Web surfers return to the site. If they revisit five times in three days, obviously there's something that piques their interest.

      Thomas H. Davenport, professor of Management Systems at Boston University School of Management, offers a better definition of stickiness. Writing in CIO magazine (February 1, 2000, page 58), Davenport defines stickiness as "a measure of how much attention a Web site gets over time."

      The metric, then, would be overall number of minutes a viewer devotes to your site over a given time period, e.g., a month. The total time is increased both by length of visit as well as frequency of visits, but it doesn't matter which is the prime contributor.

      However, what's obvious is that if we can increase either of these factors, or both, we can improve our stickiness.

      The benefit? The more time a visitor spends on a site, the more likely he is to buy something.

      This is the "Barnes & Noble" theory of retailing. Barnes & Noble put coffee shops in its superstores not to make money selling coffee but to get people to stay in the store longer. And it worked: The more people browsed, the more they bought. Web site stickiness operates on a similar theory.

Getting them to come back

Web marketers often speak of the "3 C's" of Web sites -- commerce, content, and community.

      Commerce is the ability to take orders over the Internet. Content is the information available to visitors on the site. Community means the site provides a forum, chat group, bulletin board, or other mechanism for visitors to share thoughts, opinions, and information about the subject of the site.

      Network Solutions has registered domain names for more than 10 million Web sites. So why in the world should anyone take the time to see yours? Strong content can lure people to the site, and plenty of it can keep them coming back.

      Despite the rapid growth of e-commerce, the Internet still has somewhat of a "gift culture" mentality. When people visit a site, they might expect products for sale, but they also expect something free -- and that something is content.

      Be sure your site is packed with lots of special reports, white papers, an articles library, links to relevant resources, and other useful content. The more you have, the more visitors will stick.

      Conversely, when people visit your site and find only production and promotional pages, and no free information, they are disappointed. The Internet was originally a computer network for scientists to share findings and ideas, and the notion that one deserves to learn something in exchange for bothering to go on a Web site persists.

      Free content is an expectation on the part of the visitor. If it is not there, they will not see your site as a resource, and will be less likely to bookmark it and return.

      Content on the Web does not have to be static and two-dimensional, as in print. Think about sharing your knowledge and data with visitors as an online tool or capability.

      At www.edithroman.com, marketers can use an online search engine to get instant mailing list recommendations for direct mail, including list counts. At www.studebaker.com, visitors can instantly calculate monthly payments for leasing computers and office equipment for leases of different length and dollar amounts.

Getting them to stay longer

Of the 3 C's, "community" is the one most able to get visitors to stay longer on your site, with content being a close second. If you can moderate a discussion on welding, cryogenics, gardening, or whatever your site covers, people will stay for minutes at a time to participate in these discussions.

      The third C, commerce, can also get people to stay longer and return more often, especially if it's targeted to your visitors' preferences.

      For example, National Geographic surveyed its online gift shop to determine the most popular item, which turned out to be greeting cards.

      They then sent out e-mails featuring html images of four of the cards. The e-mail encourages the recipients to go to the National Geographic site, view the full selection of cards, and then e-mail them to friends.

      The click-through rate -- the number of e-mail recipients who clicked on an embedded URL in the e-mail to go to the viewing page on the site -- was 32 percent. And National Geographic added 25,000 new names to its opt-in database within 3 weeks.

More tips for getting stickier

Another technique that increases site stickiness is a bonus point program, where site registrants build bonus points toward future discounts or gifts based on purchases.

      Show visitors their points via a counter on the screen. Load the counter right at the start -- before they have even made a purchase -- with some free points (100 to 500 to start). Once people have a bonus "account" already loaded with points, they will be more inclined to visit and use the site, to check and add to their point total -- people hate the idea of wasting bonus points once they have them.

      Post the rewards (discounts, merchandise, other incentives) you offer for different levels of bonus point accumulation. Change the rewards monthly or more frequently. This encourages frequent visits: Bonus point customers must check in periodically to see what new offers they can get.

      Special e-commerce discounts also work in bringing repeat visits to the site. Send out an e-mail and post a banner on your home page offering the special of the week or month at $10 to $20 off. ToyTime.com offered as its Christmas promotion a $20 coupon good for the next purchase when the customer spent $75 or more at the site. The marketing objective: to motivate the customer to return for a second visit and purchase.

      To encourage purchase of more than one item, you can offer a free gift for purchases over $40 or a similar dollar amount. Free shipping and handling also works to stimulate e-commerce sales.

      Periodic contests and events can train people to check in at your site regularly, and notifying them of these specials by e-mail will increase traffic even more.

      One site promised a sale day with an unusual twist: For a brief period during that day, anything you bought would be free -- your credit card wouldn't be charged. Of course, the exact time was kept a secret. The marketer reports that site visits tripled that day and for the next several days even after the event was over.

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