What Do We Do Online? Loiter, Surf

Booz-Allen Hamilton and Nielsen/NetRatings have released a groundbreaking study on online consumers' behavioral patterns, as well as recommendations on how companies can improve their online marketing messages.

Instead of focusing on demographics, the study identified seven types of online sessions — dubbed "quickies," "just the facts," "single mission," "do it again," "loitering," "information please" and "surfing."

It also highlighted how users in each of those categories behave. For instance, users involved in information-please, loitering or surfing sessions were more likely to be shopping, as those sessions tend to last longer. Users in other categories were unmoved by any marketing messages.

Forty percent of consumers have engaged in all seven sessions at one time or another, said Gerry Bollman, a senior associate in Booz-Allen's consumer practice. Sixty-seven percent have engaged in at least five of the seven types of sessions.

"People exhibited a wide range of behavior," Bollman said.

Here's how the session types break down:

  • Quickies:
    Sessions that last one minute or less and include visits to one or two sites. Users spend 15 seconds on each page, extracting information or sending electronic mail, and exhibit little or no retention of marketing messages.
  • Just the Facts:
    Sessions in which a user logs on to a known site for specific information and typically remains online for about nine minutes. Page views occur rapidly and users have a low propensity to buy.
  • Single Mission:
    Such users want to complete a certain task or gather specific information, then move on. Sessions last about 10 minutes. Users may go to unfamiliar sites in search of the information they are looking for, but usually stay within one general category.

"Users in single-mission sessions are only open to messages related to the purpose of the session, but a well-targeted banner ad may provide a good return," the report stated.

  • Do It Again:
    This segment's users spend up to two minutes on individual pages and 14 minutes online overall, visiting sites they've been to before. These online users may click on banner ads or react to site sponsorships that deliver additional content, the report said.
  • Loitering:
    Similar to "do it again," loitering can last 33 minutes and tends to center on news, games, entertainment and telecommunications or ISP sites.

"A company undertaking a brand-positioning campaign would focus on loitering sessions, where the consumer spends more time on each page and is more likely to absorb the marketer's message and develop the necessary brand associations," the report said.

  • Information Please:
    These sessions, which last 37 minutes on average, are used to build in-depth information on a single topic. Users gather information from a broad range of sites.
  • Surfing:
    These sessions last 70 minutes or more, as users hit 45 or more sites. Time per page is a minute or more, suggesting an exploration that's wide, but not deep. Surfers spend time on sites with lots of content, offering marketers brand-awareness possibilities. Marketers who sponsor such sites could benefit from associating their message with content that keeps surfers engaged.

Taking these patterns of Web usage into account, the study introduced a new marketing term: "occasionalization." It identifies consumer segments based on online usage "occasions" rather than traditional demographics or attitudinal data.

There are many ways cable networks and MSOs can benefit from this occasionalization research, said Booz-Allen media group partner Jerry Freulinghuysen. For instance, advanced digital set-top boxes can record clickstream data from both Web and interactive program guide usage.

Marketers can then gear their IPG-based promotions or advertising to the types of sessions the guide's users engage in — whether frequent and quick or long and deep — Freulinghuysen said.

Electronic retailers should also examine the development of parallel sites targeted for multiple-usage appeal. Text-only ads may be most effective for quickie or single-mission users, but video pop-up ads and personal shoppers would work better during loitering or information please sessions.

The Booz-Allen/Nielsen study was based on an analysis of clickstream data from 2,500 users late last year.