What is your Website Doing for You?

I’ve just returned from a trip to London where I was reminded of some of the more interesting advances in web technologies. As I checked in with my standard US based news and blogging sites (The New York Times, Slate, Engadget among others) everything felt strangely British. From the ads to the content itself my experience was clearly being painted from a UK perspective. Articles about the new iPhones were talking about their availability on Vodaphone and O2 instead of Verizon and AT&T even though the sites are clearly based in the US. Attempting to check the weather in Atlanta prior to my return required me to scroll through London, Cornwall and Ireland before I could find whether the oppressive summer heat had broken in Georgia (it hadn’t).

Finding the Where and When

None of this is any surprise to a technologist. Regardless of your location the Internet knows where you are and when you are attempting to connect. When any computer is connected to the Internet it is assigned an Internet Protocol (IP) address. When you reach out across the Internet to access a site like Google your traffic passes through routing stations that report their location and the time you passed through. Once your signal arrives at the intended website this breadcrumb trail of router locations can be used by the site to make some educated guesses about where you are. You may have noticed that some of the ads on websites you frequent mention areas near you. These ads are checking your IP address and the path you took to get to them to guess your location. Sites have access to an even greater degree of precision if you are accessing them via a smartphone given the phone’s GPS capability but let’s stay out of that rabbit hole for this article. Most viewers of your agency website are likely sitting at their desk so lets put smartphones on the back burner and stick with the good old ‘computer and mouse’ Internet.

Finding the Who and What

To further understand who you are and what you might need websites also use cookies. Cookies have been around since the dotcom days and you’ve likely heard of these little bits of data. In plain English a cookie is a piece of information about you that a website writes on your computer. The data could be your name, what you did when you last visited or items you were considering buying but didn’t. The next time you visit the site it checks for any cookies from previous sessions and uses this data to personalize your experience. Amazon is a great example of a site with effective data use. Anytime you visit Amazon it will custom build the page filled with items Amazon believes you want based on items you’ve browsed or searched for in the past.

Getting to Why

The next iteration of intelligent websites is starting to emerge now. Companies are beginning to aggregate and share their information about you in partnership arrangements. Have you noticed that the ads on Facebook seem eerily reminiscent of items and websites you’ve browsed lately? Conversely have you noticed that websites seem to be attempting to sell you items that are strangely related to a conversation you’ve recently had with fiends on social media sites? If you haven’t you will soon. The combination of these large sets of data will eventually become an effective predictor about why you do the things you do. This will give companies a pretty good guess as to what you might want to buy even if you haven’t thought about it yet.

Does your Agency Care about Who, What, When , Where and Why?

So how does this relate back to your agency? Think of it this way: Do you know how many people accessed your website yesterday? Of that number how many are current customers versus non-customers that are shopping? Where are they from, what is their business and what are they looking at? How many of your visitors yesterday who are current customers were viewing lines of business that they don’t currently buy from you? Wouldn’t you like to know these things?

Has Your Website Evolved?

For many agencies the website a one directional electronic brochure. Their marketing team develops content that celebrates the agency’s unique approach and customer focus. They post pictures of their leadership team (usually without a direct phone number or email address). They add an impersonal email form page that usually sends messages into a black hole and add a buried list of locations with (hopefully) physical mailing addresses. They then forget about it for years while the website brings in a value to the agency that amounts to exactly nothing.

Some agencies go a step further and regularly post content and articles relevant to their customers. But most of them don’t know who is reading this content or if it’s really relevant. How many times has the latest article been reposted or linked to from other sites? Of everyone who read it yesterday how many are customers vs prospects? This step is usually skipped which diminishes the value of the effort.

Where do we go from here?

When I speak to most agencies one of the top three items on their wish list is data analytics but most agencies aren’t even aware of the massive amount of data that’s already there waiting to be used in innovative ways. With proper coding your website experience can feel like this:

“Hello, I see you are visiting from a heavy flood zone. Did you realize that nearly all business owners in your area carry the wrong limits? Here’s an article from our flood experts that you might find enlightening.”

Whether you use internal resources or an outside firm amending your site to behave this way is this is a reality that’s within your grasp. It’s time to look at your website with a fresh set of eyes and recognize the true value it can bring to your agency.