Let’s Get Sticky – marketing and site-design techniques – Internet/Web/Online Service Information

Let’s Get Sticky – marketing and site-design techniques – Internet/Web/Online Service Information – Tutorial

Charles Pappas

Don’t just count his–generate hits that count and turn into sales

TOM COX IS THE KIND OF GUY WHO likes sticky situations. Cox, 31, president of the New Iberia, La.-based Golfballs.com (www.golfballs.com), has sold over a million balls to Net surfers in all 50 states and 30 different countries. What’s his secret? He’s got a few, actually. “Be the first type of your business online,” he says. “You can capture an entire market that way. Everyone else is just a bad copy.” His pricing is competitive, too. But neither factor accounts for the 1,000 visitors he gets each day, the 30-plus daily orders he generates at an average clip of $60 apiece, or the site’s 300 percent annual growth rate.

These impressive sales numbers stem at least partially from the extra features Cox has placed on the site-elements designed to encourage visitors to linger long enough to make a purchase. For instance, Golfballs.com includes an exhaustive golf joke area that encourages readers to add to the list, an illustrated history of golf that chronicles the evolution of the game, a registration for free weekly prizes, and a descriptive section that illuminates the differences between balls in precise detail. Spend a half hour on Cox’s site and you’ll feel like an expert on those little dimpled orbs–and perhaps you’ll feel primed to key in your credit card information and make a purchase.

That’s the theory, anyway. The quality of attracting longer and more frequent repeat visits, popularly called “stickiness,” is the latest Holy Grail that Webmasters are seeking to help them grab their share of the e-commerce market, which some estimate could reach $2.1 trillion by 2001. According to the Internet navigation service Alexa, the Web doubles in size every 8 months, with nearly 1.5 million pages added every day. But the market measurement firm MediaMetrix reports that the average home surfer spends just four hours a week online, and RelevantKnowledge points out that most of those minutes go to sites backed up by big bucks–surfers spent an average of 69 minutes at the New York Times’s site last August, 35 minutes at MTV’s, and 19 at Travelocity’s. Even worse, says Evan Schwartz, author of Webonomics, the average time spent at any site is a fleeting “three to five minutes.”

How, then, can you get surfers to come on in and sit a spell at your site? “Provide personalization,” answers Schwartz. “Tell people about themselves. Let them look up their account balances, their frequent shopper points. People ultimately only want to know what’s going on in the world as it pertains to themselves.”

Forrester Research analyst Chris Charron agrees: At one point, “users who personalized the Excite search engine for themselves were five times as likely to come back” as those who didn’t. That’s why Cox will enhance Golfballs.com this year with real-time inventory checks for surfing golfers. He’s also developing one-click shopping, so repeat visitors will just type in their passwords for a no-hassle shopping experience with a system that knows who they are and what they want.

Adding entertainment value to your site is another way to get sticky, says Betsy Zikakis, retail segment director for e-commerce software provider Open Market. “Sell an experience. Get the site to mimic or show your product, so that they can’t really separate the experience from the product they’ll purchase, like Disney and gaming sites do.”

You don’t have to be Disney to provide an experience that makes surfers want to stay, then buy. B-Movie Theater (www.b-movie.com), for example, douses video shoppers with the best of the bad film experience–like Attack of the Giant Leeches.

B-Movie site producer Ron Bonk was shipping only five to 10 tapes a week when he first put up the site. Like Cox, however, Bonk added features designed to glue surfers to their screens, including a free online horror magazine, a free e-mail newsletter, and a massive inventory of films to browse–some 5,000 in all, from Redneck Zombies (the director’s cut) to Female Plasma Suckers. Now, the 29-year-old’s three-employee business receives over 100,000 hits a month and sells 150 to 200 videotapes weekly.

Best of all, Web site personalization won’t break the bank. Charron suggests that communication services such as instant messaging, e-mail accounts, and a constantly changing newsfeed at your site can involve people enough to keep them returning. And these software tools–counters, chat tools, messaging boards, surveys, news tickers, even databases to search your site–are yours for the downloading from resources such as The Free Site (www.thefreesite.com).

Not surprisingly, Free Site operator Marc McDonald is an advocate of sticky tactics. He ropes in customers with a gratis e-mail newsletter, then gets them to stay by constantly renewing the site’s content. Visitors linger at the site for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour–up to 20 times the average for other sites.

“If you have a simple, easy-to-read site that offers fresh and new content on a regular basis; it will always draw more visitors than a cutting-edge site with lots of eye candy,” says McDonald. The only difference, he adds, is that your customers “will stick like cotton candy.”

COPYRIGHT 1999 CURTCO Freedom Communications

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group