Get to Know Your Users and Increase Engagement

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BEST PRACTICES SERIES

Article ImageCreating and disseminating content is getting easier every day. There are countless free and premium tools ready to help you get your information on the web. As the volume of web content continues to grow, however, users are becoming more selective about the sources they rely on-and engaging an audience isn't nearly as easy as putting out content.

Making sure your readers come back day after day is more complicated than just picking a new content management system, and it's a problem that confounds publishers and advertisers alike. If we want to grab eyeballs and get users to click on ads, we need to harness the power of the particular.

To engage users, dare to be narrow. Brian Clark of Copyblogger writes, "To engage your readers you share all kinds of great ideas. Sharing just one concept would be dull. Wouldn't it? Wrong."

Clark's emphasis is on the importance of the singular thought: "Each article should have only one big idea. Each argument, each story, and each example should support it." Content for the web, the phone, the LCD screen, or the iPad must come in individually wrapped morsels of thought. 

Mobile: Content Where You Are

"Content cannot be consumed in all-purpose, monolithic documents," says Robert Carroll, CMO of web content management solutions in North America for SDL, PLC. "The content has to answer a specific question in the user's mind like, ‘How do I sync my Bluetooth?'" So thanks to an SDL implementation, automobile owners will be able to find content in the manuals displayed on the LCD touchscreens inside their cars. Carroll explains that manuals, a neglected region of the customer experience, are a hot area for his company's content management business now. His system is able to break up these monoliths by using XML to separate the information into task-oriented pieces of content.

All this technology ultimately culminates in the gratitude of a driver who has a question about his car and who finds an answer. In that moment, he is relieved and grateful. The moment when content is able to convert frustration into joy is the experience that content must strive to achieve. And in light of proliferating mobile devices, delivering the right content at the right time when a user needs it, is becoming more important than ever.

For Zumobi, a mobile application and advertising company, a key element of strategy is giving readers a way to engage. Zumobi got its start within Microsoft Research and has created the apps for large media brands such as msnbc.com, The Motley Fool, and PopSci.com. The mobile segment requires a fundamentally different approach to content development. First, the user will spend considerably more time experimenting with a tool than he might anywhere else. Marla Schimke, VP of marketing at Zumobi, explains, "On these devices, we have the captive audience, and it is really captive. The phone becomes your friend." People spend an average of 6 minutes on the Consumer Electronics Show coverage on the PopSci.com app for example.

Schimke says that one of the most common mistakes in using mobile is taking digital content and shrinking it to fit a mobile screen. She advises clients to "think about a whole new way of engagement: How can your audience participate? How can you integrate photos and experiences? How can you have various touch points, so you can tweet something and still remain in the app?" The ability to tweet or share content without leaving the mobile content screen is one of the critical ways to retain readers inside a mobile content app.

In June, American Express Co. launched a campaign that is an app that runs on an iPhone or Android device within The Motley Fool, msnbc.com, or The Week magazine app. The app allows users to create customized panoramas geared toward their interests in shopping, dining, or travel. This ultimately creates a personal travelogue for each individual who chronicles the places she has been and things she has seen. It also gives American Express the ability to send her coupons. It is integrated with Facebook, foursquare, and Twitter.

According to Mark Simpson, one of the founders of Maxymiser, a London-based firm focused on conversion management practices, it's important to get it right when making a foray into mobile. Simpson states that 25% of consumers say that they would never visit a website if they had a negative experience with the brand on a mobile device.

Customized Content Strategies

Experts agree that in this day and age there is no reason two visitors to a website should see exactly the same content. John Kottcamp, chief strategy and marketing officer at Tahzoo, LLC, a strategy and implementation firm specializing in content delivery, is an expert in using business rules to deliver content to users. "One key factor in making content engaging is to source the themes from social intelligence. Using some of the leading social intelligence tools such as SDL SM2 and BLAB!, clients are able to understand what their customers', or people matching their customers' profiles, interests are, and more importantly, what they are talking about. Armed with this knowledge, marketers can source user-generated content, create new content, or simply go to their content library to select the content that is most relevant for their customers."

The growth of tools such as these allows companies to create what Kottcamp calls a reinforcing cycle of engagement, or "a virtuous circle that puts up personalized content that achieves greater customer engagement." KeyBank is a Tahzoo client for whom Kottcamp says customized content delivery has proven effective. Data based on the way users arrive at the site will determine content delivery. "If they are coming in from a search result after typing in the word ‘mortgages,' then it may be that a classic hero ad [the top banner on a webpage] for mortgages fills the page, rather than a more typical banner for checking," he says.

In addition to the profile data passed to the site from search, Facebook, or Twitter among other referring sites, there is the behavioral data that can become very useful at targeting content delivery. Repetitive visits to a site can trigger different content experiences. "The second or third time you visit the website, it is learning what areas you are interested in and highlighting those areas for you," explains Kottcamp.

For instance, Fredhopper, an automated tool invented in the Netherlands and purchased by SDL, creates customized online shopping experiences. The system automatically rearranges online store shelves for visiting customers depending on behavior. This sort of targeting exists throughout the internet. The Wall Street Journal reported in June 2012 that Orbitz serves more premium hotel options to Mac users while PC users get the less expensive options. Orbitz CEO Barney Harford realized that Mac users spend on average 30% more on hotel rooms and are 40% more likely to book a highly rated hotel room, so it makes sense to show them a pricier option. Orbitz is not charging Mac users more, it's just showing them different search results based on their computer.

SDL's Carroll points to HP. He says that 90% of HP's customers are buying based on a personalized experience. In addition, he says that when HP launches a new product, "We need to launch it around the world. That means dealing with the cultural elements and pulling in the data stores to create the right cocktail for that profile." This includes a thorough mix of customer support, web content, and sales information, thereby causing customers to engage more and, by their behavior, leave more usable intelligence with the website.

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