We have high expectations from our technology. We’re becoming used to have our machines doing digital labor for us, automatically and quickly. We expect our machines to understand us better all the time and converse with us on our, human terms.
Even simple tasks such as needing to fill in a couple of fields in a form can deter us from signing up to a service we would otherwise use. A few clicks to find the article we are looking for makes us sigh. Expert marketers know these seemingly small issues lead to dramatic drops in conversion rates.
Businesses see this trend, too, and on a grand scale. Even at B2B companies, the humans behind the computer screens have grown accustomed to the same levels of service and understanding they receive as consumers. Since the organization’s website is the first digital contact point with potential customers, it is the focal point of optimization efforts in this direction. It needs to communicate in a very clear and personalized way to each visitor what they could gain from taking action.
Visitors are saying a lot about their behavior with their digital body language. Whether they are skimming text or focusing on it, confused or excited – these are all important cues of a visitor’s mood. Marketers have been turning to classic analytics tools to understand their visitors’ behavior, but these tools are undergoing a major revolution. They are now able to predict the future.
The Analytics revolution
The first analytics tools captured and displayed only data. Google analytics, Adobe (Omniture), and IBM (Coremetrics) are some of the central players in this category. The next generation includes companies such as Clicktale and MixPanel, which focus on providing insights but still require the marketer to optimize the website manually.
But now, for the first time, we’re getting to the point where we don’t have to optimize in hindsight. Not only are we able to instantly know what’s happening in real time, we’re also at a point where we can make reasonable predictions of future behavior and make changes to affect them.
Predictive analytics is the name of this game.
Predictive analytics are about using data patterns to make predictions that guide you to where you should go next. Winners in this game will need to combine past, aggregate data with a very granular level of understanding of each individual visitor in real time.
Looking at crowd behavior is the first place to start creating predictions. Behaviors of similar individuals can be clustered and analyzed to provide solid reference points. Similar to the famous proverb “Tell me who your friends are and I shall tell you who you are,” visitors who share characteristics also share behavior patterns.
Armed with behavioral insights from “similar-others,” we start gaining a sense of how to adjust our conversation with our visitors. However, it’s just the start. Looking at idiosyncrasies as they happen in real time is crucial to really grasp each individual visitor’s mindset.
At first glance, this might seem incredibly difficult to do. But actually, there are well studied patterns that could be applied. For example, rapid, erratic mouse movements on the screen indicate confusion. (Mouse and eye movements have a very high correlation > 82%). Rather than observing this behavior over time and on aggregate, we could be answering to any individual visitor experiencing this pattern.
Combining these two types of understandings is key to create solutions that pack the power to move the needle for your business.
Pioneers such as Amazon, Google and eBay have made tremendous progress on this front. Now, powered by infrastructure and software advancements, the technology is trickling down to a larger group of organizations.
3 things you can do right now on your website
Shift of perspective
Looking back at mountains of data stored in your database is a good place to start, but it will only get you part of the way to your goals. You’ll need to starts changing your perspective to a forward-looking one. You need to start anticipating what your visitors are going to be doing next. You can start by adding simple scripts that look at basic scrolling and skimming patterns on your site and use basic reactions to these scenarios. (See point 3).
Think of your most critical content nodes
Your website is not just a simple grid of content. Each page and each element on a page is a piece of a large and intricate puzzle. Right now, there are paths on your website that get visitors to your goals. These are specific elements on your site that, combined, get most visitors to act on your offering. Make sure to Identify and nourish these paths.
Static content does not cut it anymore. Think about pages that end without a clear “call to action,” or times when a visitor is looking for a clear-cut answer and can’t find it. Content needs to constantly adapt, however subtly, to what the user is doing. Create dynamic parts of the site that leverage content you already have. It can be as simple as a button that changes context depending on the page the visitor is in or help content that appears
Don’t miss the future
Websites are undergoing dramatic changes. From static pieces of content that mostly resembled magazines from the offline era, we’re reaching new interactive depth that leverages all the advantages of the digital world.
These changes are happening rapidly and are not going to slow down. Visitors now have higher standards for websites. This poses a major challenge for businesses. Yet, it can be overcome by shifting perspectives from hindsight analysis into predictive analytics. As far as predictions go, it’s clear that these technologies are part of the future. The only question that remains is: will you be there too?
– Jonathan Friedman is CEO of Reactful, which enables websites to engage each visitor with the right content at the right time through predictive analytics and machine learning. With Reactful, marketers can reach their business goals, e.g. increasing conversion rates, lowering bounce rates, and deﬂecting customer support calls. You can also follow him on Twitter @Reactful