The internet is a fast-paced environment. People can come to your website at any hour from a wide range of locations, each of them with different intentions or needs. Unlike physical retail stores, you can’t see who is coming in and browsing around. You don’t know much about the people reading you. How can we develop a rough profile of all these individuals?

You already get a glimpse of them everyday when they interact with your website. Some may register for an account, leave a comment or send you an email. But many are ‘invisible’. They get to your site, see what you put out, click on a outbound link and disappear.

What you currently know about these individuals comes from a combination of visible user actions (e.g comments/emails) and statistics (e.g visit frequency/visit length). Is this knowledge sufficient for most businesses or bloggers? Yes. But I think it would be tremendously helpful to learn even more about your audience.

In marketing and advertising, we proactively define our target audience. We start with our end goals and then structure our website/ads with the right buzz phrases, pitch, style, keywords and angle to appeal to people we want to attract as a consumer/user/reader. Gathering information on visitors to our website makes us more effective marketers.

It is helpful to analyze and construct a general profile of your audience, however shifting it may be, because it provides you with information that will allow you to better improve your content scope, site usability, conversation rate or marketing campaign. Let’s split this process up into two sections: statistical analysis and data collection.

Statistical Analysis: Start Working With What You Already Have


Image Credit: Mint

Depending on the stats tool you’re currently using, you can get a lot of information on how visitors are using your website, where they come from and what they are looking at. There are obviously a lot of different metrics to look at but I’m listing what I think is more relevant to understanding visitors in general:

  1. Visitor loyalty, bounce rate, recency, time on site. These sites measure one critical thing: the level of engagement. They reveal how often people visit your site, the last time they used it and the depth of their visit. While these numbers aren’t a definitive interpretation of on-site user actions, they are a gauge of their enthusiasm.

  2. Visitor Location. This allows you to make cultural and linguistic assumptions of your visitors. If you know you receive the most visitors from a few specific countries, you might want to create landing pages/offers or content with a geographic focus.

  3. Visitor search terms/keywords. This includes both search engines and on-site search boxes. The clearest indicator of visitor interest, search terms tell you what they want to get from your site and it reveals information gaps you can fill up. This is where data collection gets specific. If you consistently get a lot of queries for a specific phrase, you can safely assume that there will be visitor interest in content or offers related to it.

  4. Traffic source. This includes search engines, referrer sites, type-in/bookmark traffic and ad campaigns. Pay attention to referrer sites: it reveals what visitors are reading or using. Traffic sources also tell you where to improve for greater visibility.

Take some time to look at these statistics. Instead of only looking at them at each single point in time, it makes more sense to regularly study them to see how they trend over the lifespan of your site or the course of a marketing/ad campaign. On the whole, they will give you a good idea of what users want and what draws their attention.

How to Get More Audience Data: Using Polls, Surveys and Features

Now for the fun part: the active solicitation of user information. Instead of simply monitoring web statistics, you create opportunities for visitors to voluntarily reveal personal data and opinions. These can be achieved in several ways:

  1. Polls. An excellent and informal way to get information on user preferences, they are very easy to set up and maintain on any website. The questions asked can be diverse and they are a good way to gradually accumulate a lot of information without being too invasive. Run a poll for two weeks and change the questions to pull in more information. They can be integrated on a regular basis alongside articles or they can be left alone on a visible corner of the website.

  2. Surveys. Depending on their length and how they are created, surveys may be more labor intensive. Some visitors will avoid them if they are too long. They are ideal when bundled with competitions or special offers which provide incentives for completion. Short surveys can be used for exiting visitors or as a follow-up after a user completes a specific purchase or opts-out of your payment plan/subscription.

  3. On-Site User Features. If you’re running a community, social media service or even a blog, you can get more information by simply offering more user features (ways users can interact with each other and your site). For example, allow users to input more biographical info in profiles or give them the option to favorite/rate your blog posts and the contributions of other users. Features also add value to users and increase their engagement with your site. Think strategically about what data you want and create a feature that allows users to indirectly reveal it. Facebook is a good example of a site with features that generate a lot of mineable data. Of course, it is always good to have an appropriate privacy policy and allow users to opt out easily from their side.

  4. Audience Feedback. To understand your visitors, its useful to ensure that you monitor your feedback channels. Comments, emails, incoming blog links, mentions on online communities and even tweets allow you to get an intuitive feel of what people think about your website. Subscribe to the right feedback channels (Google alerts, blogsearch etc.) and track them daily. Either do it yourself or get someone to be the official feedback/community coordinator. Audience feedback is often unsolicited, although you can easily get more comments/emails by specifically asking for them. This provides you with clues on how to better cater to your target market.

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, some of these methods can be applied online and offline simultaneously. For polls and surveys, you should be able to find some plugins or software available for your site platform. Alternatively, you can always use external online services like SurveyMonkey, PollDaddy, 4Q and Wufoo.

After obtaining this data, setup a system which allows you to segment and compare your findings over a period of time. This can be a simple spreadsheet or something more sophisticated. When combined with the visitor statistics you already have, it’s easy to understand your audience, allowing you to to better accommodate their needs or interest.

Can you think of any other ways to get more audience data?

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How to Understand Your Audience: Data Collection & Analysis

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