Is your site sticky?

The dot-com world can be a strange one. It's a world where people wonder what their cookies know about them. It's a world where privacy policies tell you how companies are going to use your personal information. It's even a place where your backend does all the work!

One of the strangest things in the strange world of e-business, though, is the concept of sticky web sites. Why would anybody want their site to be "sticky"?

It's good to be sticky

Companies want to have a "sticky" site, a site that customers visit frequently and even have trouble pulling themselves away from.

Sticky sites are not sites that are slow or cumbersome to navigate. Sites like that may take a while to get through once, but visitors are less likely to return. If they do, they'll look for ways to make their visit short and painless.

Sticky sites are ones that capture our interest and our imagination. They meet all the basic requirements for effective sites: they're functional, they're usable and they're reliable. They also transcend these minimum requirements to draw you in and make you want to stay at the site and to return frequently.

There are good reasons why it's important for a site to be sticky. One approach to identifying a company's most valuable customers is the RFM model, which assigns recency, frequency and monetary ratings to customers. The best customers are ones with high ratings in each category - customers that have visited recently, are frequent visitors, and that have a history of large transactions. Sticky sites increase the frequency and recency of site visits, which creates additional opportunities for customer transactions.

How sticky are you?

If it's good to have a sticky site, then how do you measure stickiness?

There are several ways to look at this.

One approach is to measure time at the site per visit. Web log analysis programs calculate average visit length, which can be used as a starting point for understanding stickiness. This definition may be too basic, though. If you have a slow site that people will wade through once to get something done, your time per visit may be high, but people will be unlikely to return.

Because of this, most people add frequency to their stickiness definition. A site is sticky if people visit frequently and stay a long time. This can be calculated by multiplying the average number of visits per user times the average length of their visits. For example, if your site averages four visits/user in a month, and five minutes/visit, then your site's monthly stickiness would be 20 minutes/user.

This approach can give good results, because it lets you know the average time per users for the time frame that you're looking at. Higher numbers are better, because it means people are spending more time at your site. Active customers give you more opportunities to reinforce your brand, cross-sell, and generate transactions.

While using frequency and time/visit gives good results, it doesn't account for inactive customers. If you have ten really good customers, and a thousand inactive customers, just looking at frequency and time/visit can give you a false measure of your site's value.

Accounting for inactive users is as easy as multiplying by the percentage of active users, or the number of active users divided by the total number of users. If only half of your site's users are active, then the 20 minutes/user number is cut in half, to 10 minutes per user. This is a more realistic measure, because a small number of very active users will not skew your results.

If you take this approach, stickiness boils down to the average time per user. You can calculate this easily if your web analytics software keeps track of the total number of hours spent at your site. Just take the total number of hours and divide it by the total number of users. If people spend 1,000 hours per month at your site, and you have 1,000 total users, then stickiness would be 1 hour/user for the month.

How important is stickiness?

None of this tells you much about the bottom line of your site. Stickiness is valuable, though, as a measure of the value of your site's content.

Stickiness gives you an idea of how effectively your site is capturing the interest and imagination of your customers. This makes it useful for understanding the effectiveness of areas that don't directly generate revenue, such as pre-sales information, product documentation, public relations content, and self-help areas. Stickiness also can give you an idea of the opportunities available for advertising on your site and generating sales.

Finally, stickiness can be tracked over time. If people are getting bored with the content at your site, or if the site doesn't get updated frequently, the average time per user may go down. Stickiness can also let you know if site changes or additions are increasing the amount of time users are spending at your site.

That's why your web site is one place where it's good to be sticky!

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