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Getting Real Demos From Your Anonymous Searchers

Hearst leverages online sweeps to build its customer database.

Achieving a laudable scale for your Web site’s traffic, or reach, is all well and good. But getting that consumer who lands on your site from a keyword search to convert to a paying customer, or even an identifiable prospect, is another challenge entirely. Chris Wilkes, vice president of marketing and audience development at Hearst Digital Media, however, leveraged online sweeps to pull in an astounding 30 million entries across the company’s Web sites last year, swelling Hearst’s email database to 25 million addresses.

At this year’s DMA Circ Day event, Wilkes pointed out in a session presentation that the value of data on traffic via search is compromised due to its anonymity. To turn that around, Wilkes and his team launched a series of sweepstakes to entice visitors that land on a Hearst site from a search query to engage a bit more with the brands. “It’s the best method to date to build the databases,” said Wilkes.

Promotions for the sweeps were sprinkled among high-volume entry points; the home page is one obvious candidate. But other fruitful placements include e-newsletters and periodic, interruptive “layer ads” on the sites.

One sweep that has pulled particularly well is Good Housekeeping’s “Pay Off Your Mortgage Sweeps.” It’s the best-performing so far, said Wilkes. Country Living and House Beautiful each have a “Room Makeover” that have also done well.

Entering the sweepstake, however, was step one. By signing up, the customer is also automatically “registered” with the online brand. This allows Wilkes and his team to effectively target that customer with custom messaging online. Behind the scenes, that registration is captured in an online database and then merged with the offline database, which then allows for an array of targeting opportunities.

“Targeted ‘active subscription related’ ads are made possible on our sites through our effort of connecting our online and offline databases and making a key slice of it available through our CMS in real time,” said Wilkes.

“The most compelling and responsive of these ads are directly related to an upcoming renewal or an outstanding balance being owed for a subscription. We’re in the early stages with these efforts but are happy to see click-through rates on these targeted ads jump by as much as 10-times the normal, untargeted ads we’d been showing in these spaces.”

Beyond that, Wilkes said that conditional, “if-then” functions can be programmed into the database. And as users visit the site more often, content, promotions and advertising can be refined, targeted and matched according to interest.

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