Internet Marketing Outlook
Websites, emails and blogs all offer the opportunity to be interactive, tailoring messages and promotions on the fly. The potential to achieve real, one-to-one marketing online is huge but the old rules still apply. Whether your customer is online or in your shop, brand experience must be consistent. A consistent look and feel is a given, but the same applies to the performance of your website. A perfectly executed campaign with display advertising, print advertising and paid search will be wasted if website pages are slow to load or your site crashes under the weight of traffic you have successfully driven its way.
Website visitors will give you just a few seconds to prove yourself. Research shows that only 55% of online marketers think that online campaigns stand up well to unexpected volumes of traffic whilst an overwhelming 80% acknowledge the damage to a brand caused by website downtime and poor performance.
If marketers are conscious of the potential brand damage caused by a poor online experience then shouldn’t they be demanding more from the infrastructure that supports them?
Significant increases in traffic to any website will impact upon the visitor’s experience without the necessary planning to accommodate it. When an integrated marketing campaign has cost hundreds of thousands or even millions of pounds, the online component has to stand up to the demand. Marketers must start asking questions of the internal technical support or agency they are working with to ensure that this does not occur. Here are some areas to think about when planning your online campaigns for 2009.
An online presence should include the ability to design and deliver a solution that can scale as the campaign or website grows both in terms of content and visitors. Whether you want to grow your online presence over a 24 month period or you are running a 3 month campaign attracting millions of visitors from across the globe, flexible or “burstable” contracts are available with varying bandwidth services. First things first, think about what is going to happen on your website and discuss it with the person or supplier responsible for keeping you online.
If your website has an extensive product catalogue with zoom technology and guided navigation then the chances are your website hosting infrastructure will be split into database servers, web servers and more. To ensure the effective performance of all the features of your website, your infrastructure needs to be planned with servers that pack a serious punch when it comes to processor power. If your website traffic is seasonal then you should also have the flexibility of changing how your infrastructure is being used. For example, using servers for user acceptance testing prior to peak seasonal periods and then placing them back in to the live environment when your campaign is released.
In addition to thinking about what features are built into your website, you also need to think about what the visitors are going to do and when they are going to arrive. Load balancing can help to ensure efficient distribution of visitors but also to ensure that downloading pictures or music is fast and access continuous. Load balancing works by spreading traffic between two or more servers or other resources, maximising throughput, and minimising response times which serves to achieve that ultimate goal of a positive user experience.
A delay of just a few seconds is all that it takes to lose an online customer and the associated potential revenue. In addition to load balancing, another way of improving the user experience is to prioritise your most valuable customers by implementing traffic management policies. Whether you identify high spenders by IP address or predict patterns based upon typical routes through your website, the path through a website can be prioritised for a segment of your target audience. This also works well when the customer has everything in their basket and is checking out. By making the checkout process as fast as possible, you can make sure you don’t lose people at this all important point of conversion.
2009 has seen considerable growth in consumers buying music files, films and books online. Artists and rights owners, who are keen not to lose out on this revenue stream, have embraced the opportunity to sell online with varying degrees of success. A global product launch should provide plenty of opportunity for planning particularly when it comes to the website’s capacity which should allow for hundreds of thousands of customers to download files at the same time. An excellent way of dealing with this challenge is to use a Content Delivery Network (CDN) service. Essentially, your managed hosting infrastructure is linked up to a global network of servers, which are called caching servers. Customers get redirected to the server geographically closest to them so that they can download the file from that server. The pressure on the hosting infrastructure is distributed across the network which improves performance and assures website experience – irrespective of the location of the customer.
The potential offered by digital marketing is huge. It is a flexible medium that allows you to dynamically interact with your audience quickly and easily. However, it also allows the customer to click away from your website to that of a competitor with great ease. With 31.6 million of the UK public using the Internet, the opportunity presented by online marketing is just too big to not take seriously. Don’t risk it going wrong, plan performance properly right from the very start of every campaign.