Collecting info from your users

Firms are often told that the information they collect from users through their websites, especially email lists, is extremely valuable. But most of the companies I have worked with over the years really have no idea how to use this information to boost business. I think this stems primarily from the fact that most give little thought to why they're collecting information, what information they collect and how they collect it. In this post, I'll touch briefly on these three topics. Purpose Collecting information from users for collection's sake is a poor business strategy. Before you ask a single user to provide you with any information, you need to answer a simple question - why am I collecting this information? I have worked with companies that take the "collect now and figure it out later" approach and in many cases, this leads to a situation in which the company eventually determines that the database it has built is incapable of being used effectively because the wrong information was collected. This is extremely frustrating and counterproductive for obvious reasons. Thus, start with the most basic step - determine the purpose for collecting information from your users. The Information Once you have established a purpose for collecting information, you should have a rationale for every piece of information you ask users to provide. This rationale is best determined by giving thought to what information is truly valuable to your business and what information will help support your purpose. Whether it's collecting information to generate leads or to provide updates to existing customers, answer the following questions:
  • What information is absolutely required?
  • What information is nice to have?
  • What information is unnecessary or redundant?
For instance, when it comes to contact information, there is usually no reason to ask for a physical address or phone number if you never plan to make contact by mail or phone. On the flip side, not asking for information that you reasonably need is a big mistake. For instance, if you are collecting information from prospective customers, consider what information would ensure that when you contact the prospective customer, you already have some clue as to what the prospective customer is looking for. Not only will this help ensure that you collect useful data, it will usually increase how many users provide information. In my experience I have found that the best results are achieved when users are asked for information that they perceive to be relevant to the reason they're providing the information in the first place. Collection Method Where and how you collect information from users is just as important as collecting the right information because users are usually more likely to provide information when they see that doing so will provide them with some benefit. In my post last week about white papers and case studies, I noted that many companies ask for users to provide information before they allow the white paper or case study to be downloaded. This is one example of an ideal collection method for a company looking to develop leads. Not only is the user incentivized to provide information in exchange for something of value, the method provides a "filter" which will minimize the amount of information collected from users who probably aren't prospective customers. Whatever the collection method, making it easy for the user to provide information and giving them something in return are important factors in how many users will provide information. Conclusion Whatever you do, don't just focus on collecting information from you users - give some real thought to why and how you're going to collect information in the first place. It will pay off.

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