How to Use Data Driven Marketing to Recognize Customers Online

Data driven marketing can be used to recognize customers online. In a perfect world, every time a customer visited your website, they would log in and therefore identify themselves. But you know from your own web browsing experience that this is the exception and not the norm. In fact, the vast majority of web browsing is done anonymously, or at least without the user being logged in to your website.

But unregistered browsing sessions aren’t completely anonymous. There are a number of ways of getting at least some information about users that visit your website.

Whenever a user initiates a web session, the web needs to know the location of the machine requesting access in order to route content to it. This location information is known as the machine’s IP address. (IP stands for internet protocol.) When a user visits your website, their IP address is available to you. This means that (theoretically) you know where the user is located.

Location data can be quite useful in customizing web content. If a customer is shopping for pizza delivery, you may be able to use their IP address to point them to locations that are close by. If your business is selling college logo sweatshirts, you could serve up images depicting the logos of nearby colleges.

There are a number of ways to use geographic data. These strategies apply equally well to customizing the web pages and images that you serve up to users of your website.

Location information is often used to aid in security and user verification. Whenever you’re away from home, if you try to log in to your online banking account, you have to go through an extra layer of security. You get asked one of your security questions before the site will let you in. The website recognizes that you’re not where you normally are (home) when you typically do your banking.

You theoretically know where your user is located. This last example points up a subtlety that you should be aware of. Actually a lot of subtleties surround the subject of IP addresses and how data is routed around the World Wide Web.

Subtlety, IP addresses do not actually reflect the location of the user’s machine. They reflect the location of the device that’s actually accessing the internet. If you’re accessing the Internet from home, this means your modem. For example, if you and your wife are both browsing the same site at the same time, both sessions will be associated with the same IP address — that of our modem.

There are a number of situations in which IP addresses can provide misleading or just plain wrong location data. One has to do with web sessions that are initiated from work rather than home. Many — in fact, most — companies make use of internal networks to connect computers, printers, and other devices. All the computers attached to these internal networks may not be in the same place.

In the case of large companies, they may be spread out all over the country or even the world. But the Internet access devices that they’re using may not be nearly that spread out. Users may be remotely accessing the Internet devices, and so their actual locations may not be reflected by the IP address that shows up at your website.

When users access your website via mobile devices, IP addresses are particularly untrustworthy. As if directing traffic on the web weren’t complicated enough, mobile devices that use a cellphone network throw a whole other level of complexity into the mix. Mobile devices are just that. And they do move.

Even when they’re stationary, the cellular network may be routing and rerouting calls through its system of towers, fiber optic lines, and various other network components. This means that the actual Internet access point may wander around during a session. Depending on traffic patterns, the actual IP address associated with a smartphone may be hundreds of miles away from the actual device.

Luckily, you have another location option for mobile devices. Virtually every mobile device is equipped with geolocation capabilities. Typically, the user has the option of turning those services off, but many people leave them on because they’re critical to a number of popular apps. Maps, searches for nearby restaurants, even keeping track of the local time while you’re traveling all depend on the mobile device knowing where it is.

Customer privacy is a sensitive issue. It’s particularly sensitive when it comes to collecting location data from mobile devices. The legal environment surrounding geolocation data is evolving quickly. You need to stay abreast of the legislation that’s coming down the pike. An example of such legislation has been proposed by Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

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