No matter what your Web site's goals are, your visitors have goals of their own. They might be figuring out why their geraniums keep dying, or choosing which cell phone service to buy, or checking their doctor's advice about their high cholesterol. You must start with an understanding of what visitors to your Web site are trying to accomplish before you can help them reach their goals.
For some of you, thinking about visitor behavior is second natureyou might be a product marketer, or maybe you are responsible for voter research in a political campaign. If you are in a more technical role, however, such as a Webmaster or a Java programmer, you might not have thought much about this subject at all. Before we examine how to track visitor behavior, you need to understand some of the basic principles.
Fortunately, all the complex factors that affect visitor behavior have been studied for many years, because before they were "Web visitors" they were just plain folksand research scientists have studied people's behavior for decades. If you are selling something, there is a wealth of information on buyer behavior. Political scientists regularly research voter behavior. No matter who your visitors are, there is probably a lot of information you can learn about their motivations, their beliefs, and their thinkingall of which help predict their likely behavior.
Because many of you are using search marketing to sell something, this chapter focuses mainly on sales examples, but we also examine the behavior of visitors with other goals (such as attracting votes for a candidate) so that you discover the underlying principles.
Each of us buys things frequently, but somehow we forget our own experiences when we start selling things to other people. If your site's goal is to sell something, you need to be attuned to what your prospective buyers are looking for. There is no shortage of terms used to describe buyer behavior, but one important way to differentiate buyers is by the type of information they are seeking.
Some buyers are in the early stages of consideration of a purchase. Some marketing gurus call this primary demand, using the economic term demand to indicate when a buyer feels a need for something. Buyers experiencing primary demand have a problem, but they might not know whether there is any solution for it. Or they do not know which of several types of solution to choose. Contrast this with selective demand, where the buyer wants a particular brand of product or even a specific model.
If this is all you ever understand about buyer behavior, you will still be miles ahead of some of your competitors. You can imagine how a primary demand buyer might need a lot of education about various solutions to his problem before he is ready to hear about different products, whereas a selective demand buyer would be bored by such information and just wants to get detailed product information.
Consider someone who needs the snow shoveled from her driveway, which you can now identify as a primary demand situation. This buyer does not know whether she wants to hire a snow removal service or buy a snow blower, an electric snow shovel, or just a new shovel. How would you pitch what you are selling to such a person? If you happen to sell snow blowers, telling this buyer that your snow blower is the highest rated in the industry and it is on sale this weekend is pointless. She does not even know if she wants a snow blower. An article that shows the pros and cons of the various ways to remove snow, on the other hand, is exactly what the buyer wants to read. Here is where your powers of persuasion come in handy. Does your article point out the benefits of snow blowers as opposed to other methods? Because buyers are distrustful, your article should be sure to point out the legitimate situations in which other solutions are worthwhile, but you can certainly favor snow blowers as the solution of choice in most situations.
Your goal is to inform the primary demand buyer, allowing her to become a selective demand buyer. Notice that only when the buyer is convinced that she needs a snow blower does it make sense for you to extol the virtues of your snow blower over your competitor's. At that point, all the information deemed inappropriate earlier (its high rating and its sale price) might become important to that same buyer.
Human beings are complex creatures, and many different factors go in to decision making. The more that you know about what drives your visitors' buying behavior, the more easily you can tailor your Web site to address their needs.
Maybe your Web visitors are not buyers at all. Perhaps yours is a persuasion site trying to elect the next governor. You need to consider everything you know about voter behavior when designing your site. You need to understand how voters decide whom to vote for and you must decide what motivates voters to go to the polls rather than sitting the election out at home. (It is no use to persuade those who do not actually cast their vote.)
As discussed with buyer behavior, human behavior is complex. Different voters might view the same situation and make different decisions. Some political scientists believe that it is important in close elections to appear to be the front-runner, because "bandwagon behavior" causes undecided voters to go with the apparent winner. Other experts note that the leader often struggles to get supporters to the polls, because of the perception that the candidate is going to win anyway. Do voters look at your candidate differently because he is the challenger and not the incumbent? Regardless of what your pollster is telling you about your voters, you want voters exposed to certain themes and specific messages, and your understanding of voter behavior is a key part of deciding what your Web site says.
The same principles apply to visitors to other kinds of persuasion Web sites. In the medical field, it is increasingly recognized that patient behavior is important to any successful outcome, especially when it comes to so-called high-risk behaviors such as smoking, drug taking, or sexual promiscuity. Understanding the behavior of your site's target audience helps you design the messages that will persuade them to your point of view.