Especially for You

Smart Cookies

Site customization, or dynamic content customization, is a two-step process. The first step is to gather information on the visitor. Secondly, display content that will result in a positive experience for customers.

Data-gathering takes two forms. You can ask users what they want, or you can try to figure it out by tracking their movements. The first method requires users to fill out a form. The second involves tracking sales records or logging mouse clicks so you can guess what the visitor wants. Each approach has its limitations. "If you present some users with a form, they'll back right out of your site," warns Mark Joyner, CEO of Aesop Marketing Corp., an Internet marketing consultancy based in Los Angeles.

Identifying users by Internet address rather than passwords, on the other hand, probably won't scare visitors but is unreliable-you can't be sure who is on the other end of the mouse. Says Joyner, "You could be profiling someone [while] using someone else's behavior." And then your system is shot.

Planting cookies on users' computers offers more reliable identification, but this practice offends many surfers. Seeking the best of both approaches, some sites mix active and passive data-collection styles. Others add non-Internet information bought from market research companies. "If you get some demographic data, you can begin to put together a more detailed picture of your customers," says James Tenser, a retail analyst with Nexgenix, a Westport, Connecticut, e-business consultancy.

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This article was originally published in the April 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Especially for You.

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