By Polly Pospelova, Head of Search, Delete
A great way to understand who your site visitors really are is to build user profiles. Every time a visitor comes to the site collect information about where they come from, what they do on the site and save it in a profile. This will help you market to each visitor in a much more targeted way. When the time comes for the visitor to convert you will be able to handle the lead in a completely informed and prepared manner.
This will detail how you can build great visitor profiles and quality leads from the information available from many different sources including Google Analytics, Geographical location API and your website.
Identify a unique visitor
First of all, you will need to uniquely identify each visitor and you will need a developer to help you create a few scripts.
There are many ways to generate a unique identifier:
- When a visitor logs on to your website you can use their customer account number to create your own variable. Make sure that the number is modified to create a non-personally identifiable unique ID so that it cannot be traced directly to a named individual in your customer database. The drawback of this is that it requires a visitor to login.
- Use Google Analytics’ own unique visitor ID which is stored in a cookie called __utma. The cookie is used to distinguish users and sessions.
I personally prefer the last option - using Google Analytics’ own unique visitor ID from __utma cookie because it is easy, and Google Analytics tracks users across devices if they are logged in, so you can get more accurate information. Default expiration time of __utma cookie is 2 years from set or update. The cookie is updated every time data is sent to Google Analytics.
__utma : unique visitors cookie example:
- Unique ID - unique ID for Google Analytics.
- Initial Visit - date of initial visit to the site in Unix format.
- Previous Visit - date of previous visit to the site in Unix format.
- Current Session - time when current session started in Unix format.
Create a ‘_profile’ cookie
Once you have the unique ID, you can save it in your own _profile cookie where you will store information about the user. Make sure you create a first party cookie. This type of cookie can only be accessed from the servers of your domain only. It will protect the information from a third party. The _profile cookie will collect multiple records about user activity and location every time a user visits the site.
Detect a user’s geographical location
Start building a user profile by detecting the geographical location of your visitors. There are many free and paid for geographical location APIs, for example Google Gears Geolocation API, Google Maps Geolocation API, HTML5 Geolocation and many more. These APIs detect user's physical location through a network location provider server or mobile cell towers.
One user can access your website from different geographical locations. Tracking different locations can help you build a better picture about the user.
This information can be used in many different ways. For example, if you manage a property portal where you want to display geographically relevant information to site visitors, you can then use a visitors’ geographical profile to customise the Content and User Experience they get when they arrive to your website.
A visitor who previously visited your site from two locations e.g. London and Brentwood can be served featured properties in and around these two places.
Track user site activity
Collecting information about user activity can be even more rewarding. Every time a visitor comes to your site, every page view and time spent on page can be recorded in your _profile cookie. I prefer using page IDs instead of actual page URls, but only due to cookie file size limits. (Cookies are limited to 4KB. UTF-8 characters need between 1 and 4 bytes, therefore you can store between 1024 and 4096 UTF-8 characters in 4KB.)
Let’s imagine a user visited the site on Wednesday 30/10/2013 at 12:27:00 and viewed the following pages:
1. /essex/brentwood (page ID 2108)
2. /essex/brentwood/3-bed-house-xxxx (page ID 2082)
3. /help-to-buy (page ID2107)
4. /essex/brentwood/3-bed-house-yyyy (page ID 2083)
This activity can be recorded in the cookie as follows pvc=4|pv1=2108|pv2=2082|pv3=2107|pv4=2083, where pvc is a Pave View Count during one session, pv1...4 are the Pages Viewed during the visit by page ID.
After a quick analysis we can profile this visitor as one interested in property in Brentwood, who is looking for a 3 bedroom home and is interested in the Help to Buy scheme.
Combining this activity with the Geographical profile, where we can see that site visits originated from London during lunch time on weekdays and from Brentwood in evenings and on weekends, we can assume that this visitor probably works in London and lives in Brentwood already.
The base of all tracking should be clear opportunities that should be considered part of the tracking and user experience customisation. These may be featured content of a particular functionality or features that could enhance the user experience at each stage.
Next time this visitor comes back to your site, you can try pre-populating site search with location = Brentwood, minimum number of bedrooms = 3. You can also feature properties that fit the user’s Geographical profile.
Track the channel that brings visitors to your site
To make your visitor profiling more complete it is worth tracking how visitors find your website and which marketing channels they use. You can achieve this by collecting data from another amazing Google Analytics cookie called __utmz. This cookie stores information about how visitors reach your site, where they come from (search engine result, direct link, or a link from an email marketing campaign).
- Search Engine - search engine that the visitor used to reach your site.
- Campaign - AdWords campaign (or value of utm_campaign URL parameter) or in case of organic traffic it is (organic).
- Medium - medium (or value of utm_medium URL parameter) which can be paid or organic.
You can take parameters straight from __utmz cookie and save them into your _profile cookie. To save characters trim the ‘utm’ bit from each Google Analytics parameter before pasting them into your cookie:
csr=google|ccn=(not set)|cmd=cpc|ctr=(brentwood property help to buy)
Knowing the visit source and medium can help you market to this user much better in future.
For example, if a visitor came to your site twice and used paid and then an organic search engine listing, you can start remarketing to this visitor in search results with a customised ad, for example:
‘3 bedroom houses in Brentwood from £xxx,xxx. Help to Buy scheme available!’
Applying the findings
Implementing even a small number of activities described here collect a wealth of valuable data.
Once the user makes contact by submitting a contact form you can connect the data you have collected in the user profile with the actual person.
Here is an example of site activity information you can connect to your visitor’s record in your prospect database:
Based on the information collected about the user you will be in a much better position to make decisions and define the right approach for processing the lead. The lead can be passed to the most relevant department or branch in your organisation together with an in-depth user background. The sales and marketing representative can then deal with the lead in a much more informed and effective way.
Future marketing activities such as email marketing or direct mail can be tailored to fit the user profile.
User experience on the website can be customised based on this information too. You can display content that is relevant to the user source, user recency, user loyalty, user Geographical location and product/service preferences, etc. For example, using it to show special offers to customers who you know are interested in them could be just what they need to move to the next step on their path to conversion.
Understanding who your users are is critical to delivering great quality, relevant content, user experience and being able to qualify leads.
If done correctly, you will be pleasantly surprised how much user intelligence this piece of work will bring to your business. But remember, it is not about what data you can collect it is about what you can do with it. So adjust your marketing activities and take advantage of what you know about your audience.
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