Customer retention

Keeping your customers when changing urls

Exec sum – or similar

In researching this subject I spent many hours on the internet looking for the words: keeping your customers when changing url/retention of online customers. Surprisingly, I found nothing that gave any practical advice. Through contacts in Google, in the dark arts of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and in the National Archives, I have found that the answer is:

1. not simple or singular and

2. relies heavily on user input.

The two things that strike fear into the heart of all professional communicators.

In this blog, I have tried to simplify those principles that are imperative to the retention of customers. I have also attempted to provide an action point(ed) list of things to do to complete a diamond, bronze and tin version of customer retention – but would welcome all thoughts… please!

The rest is down to you, your comms team and marketeers.

This blog should also help you avoid time-consuming pitfalls.

Point one: start with your customer behaviour

Any online communicator worth their salt will have sat through hours of customer insight/research – in other words, watching people using your website. This is useful for gleaning individual insights, but also useful for an exercise of this kind.

Our issue is: how are we going to keep our online customers/consumers/users when moving from one url to another?

What becomes blindingly obvious when observing real-life interaction with the web, is the lack of patience vs. loyalty to brand. As this is being written with a public service in mind, I am going to disregard the loyalty to brand. With government there is no choice – except on election day.

So, we have an impatient customer, who is used to coming to a url to get information or interact with the host.

Point two: Assumptions that must be made with the online customer

Increasingly, the online customer is sophisticated in expectation of immediate information/response from the web. To clarify, the person looking for the information provided by your current url has adapted to getting all they need, and if they do not find it with you, they will happily look elsewhere. However, brand loyalty buys you a few precious seconds.

Do not assume that your online reader is going to remain loyal to you regardless, and come back tomorrow. They won’t.

Point three: practical stuff you can do

So, your problem of changing url needs to meet the need of your customer: to get the information they require – immediately, or if your brand is strong enough, within a few clicks that pick up and carry the information scent.

Simple checks you can do

  1. Check all rss feeds (if you have them) – send a personalised message to your rss subscribers giving them warning of the date of migration and new url. This message needs to be personalised, if you have no time/money use a CRM system to manage the message, if you can hire a temp for two days, email them all with a personalised message about how they use your site, and can continue to do so. This will reap benefits in spades.
  2. Use the reverse feeder in search engines to see who is linking to you – most search engines provide this service, just write it into ‘help’ and you will find out what you need to do. Again, private message all people linking to you and warn them of the change, give them the date, the new url and include a message that is personal to them explains how they can benefit from continuing with the link to your service.
  3. Utilise any stakeholder information that you have, speak to the Press Office, everyone in comms, senior management… it is unlikely that the audience you seek to retain is managed through any central database – go on an information drive and gather as much information as you can on key stakeholders. Once again, personalise the message if possible, if not – write an alert that will be read by the audience you are reaching out to, so try to do a ‘catch-all’ communication. Ideally you should micro-manage the stakeholders and if you have any cash, spend it in educating your stakeholders on the importance of retaining the service you are providing. If you are using a third party to manage your migration, see if they can help with this
  4. Possibly the most obvious – but hardest to manage – is to have a permanent redirect on your old url ( SEOs will tell you to do this). OK this will point your impatient reader to the Home page, or deep link (if you have been fastidious in your linkage – more later). Points to remember here:
  • It seems like an easy out – it is, but with consequences
  • This is the first *sigh* that you will get from your reader
  • Have you redirected them to the page they need? If to a generic Home page of the revamped site – unlikely; take some time to walk through a few customer journeys from the old site to new. If you are keeping the old site live but not ‘visible’ the least you can offer your loyal customers is a chance to revisit the pages they use – if you take this option you MUST provide updated instructions on each page to let the reader know how to get this information in the future. (Bear in mind that they will already have sighed at least twice and you are testing their patience – the final instruction on the page needs to be simple, directed and reassuring – or whatever you value as important to your brand).
  • Perhaps you have managed to maintain all redirects to the new location of the information they require (fastidious linking) – in this case fabulous (but in most site rebuilds the information is re-scattered and it is not as simple as replacing one page with another). This is where it gets complicated. The easiest thing to do is to re-direct to the Home page, with explicit instructions on how the new Information Architecture (IA) works, with perhaps a helpful link to the site map. Again, if you are managing this change with cash, give the reader an opportunity to ask you for help – and assure a 24 hour response time (but this is a risk to customer retention, given the 20 seconds or so of attention that you have managed to attract).
  • Social media – blogs/wikis/twitter – easy. Put up a clear message at the end of every blog post, on the Home page of all wikis and Twitter once and leave it up for everyone to see. Be simple in your instruction, remember point one, your reader is not an idiot.
  • Finally – it is imperative that you herald the upcoming move. Banners, flashing text, large text – anything that you can implement on each page of the website that allows regular readers to know that you are moving – helps. This is retention of customers 101, but is often left until the last minute, do it now, even if you don’t know the date of the switch over, communicate the imminent move, and update your customer as you would your line manager.

Offline comms: all printed matter has the old url/we communicate mainly offline/how can we explain to the rest of the dept/business how important this move is?

Herein lies the rub and the reliance and collaboration of your team, be it comms/policy/press etc. Any change of url should carry the same implication as cultural change, or at the very least: change of logo/brand. This is a brand shift and in an ideal world would be supported by the equivalent funds. But in reality that is not the case. So… the only option is to educate.

In most url shifts there is immense interest/pressure on the technical applications – granted is important! However, useless if it sets you back to square one with the customer base that you have established.

It is your collective responsibility to ensure that your customers know what is going on. It is easy enough to highlight changes – through simple headers on pages. If you can, try to ensure that the management applies some time and funds to this education as well as the technology. If this is not possible all is not lost. Refer to the ‘tin’ version of moving urls.

Point four: the conclusion

Tin: this is the very least you can do with little cost and effort

  1. Put a notice on your home page which explains that you are moving, with a link to instructions on how to update bookmarks
  2. Put a redirect in place for three months that has a splash page to explain why the customer is being redirected

Bronze: if you have a bit of cash – do this

  1. Put a notice on your home page which explains that you are moving, with a link to instructions on how to update bookmarks
  2. Put a redirect in place for six months that has a splash page to explain why the customer is being redirected
  3. Complete a reverse linking exercise with all search engines – mass mail each of them with information on what you are doing, why and how they can find you in the future. (Be explicit in your instruction).
  4. Check with key stakeholders, inform them of what you are doing and seek advice on how to retain them and any associated stakeholders. Be humble but firm – and clear on the implications of not keeping SH up-to-date.
  5. Ensure that all printed material is up-to-date with the new url – look to see where you can get some offline awareness of the move – interviews with CEOs etc.

Diamond: If you can spare the expense – do this

  1. Put a notice on your home page which explains that you are moving, with a link to instructions on how to update bookmarks
  2. Put an eternal redirect in place that has a splash page to explain why the customer is being redirected
  3. Complete a reverse linking exercise with all search engines – individually mail each of them with information on what you are doing, why and how they can find you in the future. (Be explicit in your instruction).
  4. Check with key stakeholders, inform them of what you are doing and seek advice on how to retain them and any associated stakeholders. Be humble but firm – and clear on the implications of not keeping SH up-to-date. Keep a record and individually email each stakeholder with detailed information on the move, and provide a communication that they can copy and send on to their contacts.
  5. Establish an offline awareness drive. To be truly diamond, you need to tie all marketing/comms with an emphasis on the new url, and associated blurb on why the re-vamped online service will continue to service the customer need refer back to point 1).
  6. It is always valuable to establish a value of the customer retention/visitors to the site. In the e-comms team. If possible, put up a screen in the e-comms office that tracks visits, preferably breaking this down into repeat custom vs. virgin visitors. Always a good idea to set target/values by this to encourage team enthusiasm. For example, when we hit the first 1m visitors, we all go home early – And such like.

    Do NOT:

    • Waste time trying to retain all of your customers

    Do:

    • Ensure you retain those you value

    Do NOT:

    • Assume your customers do not know how to use the resources available to them on the web

    Do:

    • Educate, inform and make things simple to achieve

    Do NOT:

    • Undervalue your brand – you are providing a service and as such, the responsibility is yours to continue to provide that in accordance with your brand values

    Do:

    • Spend time working out how you can best serve your current customers, and take them with you into your new journey of communication

    7 responses

    1. Pingback: Education » Customer retention

    2. One other thought: plan for eventual redirection from the off. There are a good few things you can do to futureproof yourself – one of which, ironically, is not to start blogging on a third-party service’s domain (eg wordpress.com🙂 ). The day will undoubtedly come when you want to move away… and if you own your own domain, it’s a simple redirect. Otherwise you’re reliant on what someone else wants to offer you.

      Google’s ‘Apps for your domain’ is a great place to start: you get to use Gmail, plus Calendar, Documents and a custom start page, all free, and all within your own domain. If you ever need to migrate or redirect, the power will be in your hands.

    3. Thanks Simon, I will get there eventually! This post was actually generated with the public sector in mind – moving a .gov.uk url whilst retaining customers is a big challenge, and is something that needs to be amanegd carefully as website rationalisation kicks in.

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