Identifying Your Web Visitors by Name: Creepy or Caring?

Web analytics have been around since the Internet was invented. They simply have gotten a whole lot better over the years.

Still, unless you are driving traffic to specific PURLs (personalized URLs) designed to make personalized offers to specific individuals, most analytics tracking today is completely anonymous: it cares about individuals only in the context of their role as a group performing group behaviors. In other words, it doesn’t really know who you are – and it’s therefore a level of tracking that keeps privacy advocates sleeping relatively well at night.

However, new technologies are emerging that go another level beyond this sort of traditional, anonymous web visitor tracking. With Visitor ID tracking, we are able to identify and tag specific visitors and follow them through each “touch point” of the marketing life cycle – from initial e-mail click or web visit, to follow up visits, to phone calls and more. The technology is even “persistent,” which means it tracks users even when they have logged off and log back on. For example, with Visitor ID tracking you know when John Smith visited your site, which pages he visited, and for how long. Even if he comes back a week later. You also know which of your eblasts he clicked on or how long he stayed on your pricing page before abandoning the site.

Now, if you are a consumer, you might be saying, “Well, that’s just plain creepy. I don’t want Big Brother spying on my every web action.”

When stated like that, we would tend to agree. However, in context, the feeling goes away. Case in point: this level of spying has been going on in the brick-and-mortar world for over 50 years. Retailers compile huge databases on what you have purchased, when, and where. They can track you aisle-by-aisle with their hidden store cameras. They know what you ordered online. While “creepy” is a subjective term open to interpretation, if you can handle shopping at big box retailers like Target, Wal-Mart or your local chain grocery store, you can handle on-site visitor tracking as a consumer.

In fact, you might even say that tracking consumers through a site is a form of caring. That’s right, caring. Why? Because the results is that retailer cares enough about you to tailor her messages and offers specifically to you – to your tastes, habits and interests. The result: more of the kinds of goods and services that you care about most are sent your way.

Sure, in the right contexts, visitor identification and tracking on websites could be considered a little creepy. But, the huge and myriad benefits of these techniques to marketers and consumers alike makes them more than a little caring, too.