Cross-selling content on your website

Suggested content presented on a standard Publishing Site built with Microsoft SharePoint 2010
Every single e-commerce website out there uses cross-selling to expand their reach and help visitors get familiar with as many products as possible. So why not we apply the same idea to the content on our websites?

Getting more of your content to people

How can I help my visitors become familiar with as many products as I offer? – this question has been around for quite some time now. If you’re offering a single service, it’s not a question you would be quickly asking yourself. However, if you’re offering multiple services, you’re a shop selling products or even if you’re running a blog, I bet this question crosses your mind once in a while.

For quite some time now, e-commerce websites have been applying the concept of cross-selling. How often do you see suggested content such as “people who bought x, bought also y”? Although the whole point of using cross-selling is maximizing the profit, the idea behind is to expand the reach of the content on your site and help your users discover content they might not see otherwise.

Bind not bounce

With the increased effectiveness of search engines, it’s easier for people to find what they are looking for. If someone is not a member of your community, they will get what they came for, and likely never come back. Unless once again they will be looking for something and it’s your site that will appear high enough in the search results. As you can see this gives you a very small window of opportunity to get the attention of your visitors and turn them to becoming a member of your community.

It’s personal

Expanding the reach of your content is not the only benefit that suggesting content to your visitors is offering you. Internet gives us access to countless communities and lot’s of information. The one thing that many of us are looking for is the feeling that the information that we’re looking at have been tailored specifically to us and our needs. Using content suggestions based on what other – “similar” people have looked at, could help you give your visitors the idea that they are not alone on your site and that people with similar interests are frequent users of your website.

So if e-commerce websites have been using cross-selling for expanding the reach of the content in their stores, why not use the same idea on a non-e-commerce website?

Cross-sell your content

The idea behind suggesting content to your visitors is very simple. All you have to do is to keep a list of pages that people visit, and the next time someone comes to a page, pick some other pages from your list, that have been visited by people who previously visited this particular page. And while this idea seems very simple, there a few things that you should consider.

There is no past

The list of visited pages is the backbone of content suggestions. The better you keep the track of which pages people have visited, the more accurate content suggestions you can deliver. But how should you deal with content suggestions at the very beginning when no historical information is available and people visit your site come from search engines, read the one page they have been looking for and leave your site?

One way of how you could prefill the log list is to use personas. By defining specific scenarios, relevant to your website and your audience, you could define paths for what you think would be relevant content for specific kinds of visitors. The only challenge here is, that unless your visitors have accounts on your website, it will be difficult for you to determine which type of visitor the current user is and what suggestions should be surfaced.

Valuable means relevant

Content suggestions are only as valuable as the suggested content is useful to your visitors. The way you analyze your logs and pick suggested content is very important if you want to keep the relevance high.

Relevant over time

One of the dimensions that you could take into account is time. On one hand it’s obvious that older content is more likely to get more visits, but does it mean it’s more valuable? Ideally you would want your content suggestions to contain a mix of old – proven content and fresh content: both relevant to the current visitor.

Stay away from the complicator gloves

The more information you have about the current visitor, the easier it should be for you to suggest relevant content. When suggesting content you could take into account not only this particular page, that the current user is looking at, but also other pages that he has visited in the past. You could go as close as 1 page back but you could also analyze his visits from the last week, the last month or even all of them to try to discover specific patterns.

While you definitely want your analysis to produce as accurate and relevant results as possible, the one thing you definitely don’t want is to overcomplicate it. You are very likely to discover that at some point adding more data to the analysis will have little effect on the results and will add nothing but noise and complexity. So when designing the analysis model for your site, keep in mind that while it should produce valuable results, it should also be understandable and easy to maintain.

It’s all about logging

Presenting content suggestions to visitors who you already know is half as difficult as to suggesting content to visitors who you don’t know. If you have a website which presents content to anonymous users, the only way for you to determine relevant content is simply to log every single visit and to hope for the best.

Out of the box SharePoint 2010 doesn’t offer any mechanism that would allow you to easily log every visit and map them to specific visitors. So if you are interested in suggesting content on your website, it’s definitely something you should take into account.

And if your site has a mix of authenticated and anonymous visitors, don’t forget to respect their privacy and keep your visits logs anonymous.

Design for scale from day 1

Depending on how busy your website is, your log list containing information about every single visit might get very big very quickly. When designing a solution for logging information about visits on your website you should definitely take the scale into account: using a SharePoint List is not really a good idea!

Summary

Using content suggestions can help you expand the reach of the content on your website. By suggesting relevant content to your visitors you can increase the value of your website to your visitors and turn them into members of your community. In my next article I will show you a simple solution for presenting content suggestions on websites built on the Microsoft SharePoint 2010 platform.

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