Even Billboards Are Dynamic - Why Is Your Website Set In Stone?

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Dharmesh Shah
Dharmesh Shah



I attended a funding presentation recently from a startup company this week as part of my angel investment activities. It was a great presentation, but one thing jumped out at me that was so obvious that I had to actually write it down. (Normally, I eschew note-taking in meetings because I like to stay fanatically focused on the presenter).


In any case, here’s what jumped out at me:
In the advertising world, advertisers pay a premium for being able to reach a targeted audience.


Yes, indeed, for those of you that don’t know me yet, I have an uncanny knack for the obvious.


For example, lets say you had a “generic” sports magazine with broad appeal to a reasonably wide audience Lets also say it had a 1,000,000 circulation (I’m making this up). The total advertising revenue for this magazine is $X. Now, there could be a much smaller magazine that only had a 100,000 circulation (but focused instead on fly-fishing in Canada. In theory it is possible that the narrower magazine makes $Y (where Y > X). The reason is simple. The smaller magazine has a narrower audience that advertisers are willing to pay a premium for. This may explain why we have so many niche-market magazines and trade journals. In any case, the point here is this: The reason targeted magazines make more money is likely that advertisers are willing to pay more per subscriber/reader/impression for a narrower audience that is more relevant to them than a bigger, wider audience.


So, let’s stipulate that advertisers, given the choice, would rather focus their marketing dollars on where they can find the most relevant, targeted customers. This should be obvious enough and probably does not warrant debate.


Now, on to the article that caught my attention this morning in the first place. It’s from the New York Times and is titled “ Pushing The Industry To Learn How To Count ”. The basic premise of the article is that many non-Internet marketing industries (like billboards and posters) are trying to become more and more “accountable” (i.e. measurable). The Internet has set the bar for what is possible in terms of targeting and accountability. One of the beauties of Internet marketing is that it has an immense potential to be highly targeted and supremely measurable. Technology is being introduced so that billboards are “smart” and can vary their content based on time of day, weather conditions or other factors.


So, why is it that billboards on the side of the highway can show dynamic, targeted content – but most websites can’t?

Most small business websites have static content that rarely ever change. The reason is simple – it’s too hard and often involves a designer or “web guy”. That’s not the problem I’m talking about here. That problem can be solved relatively easy by a content management system of some sort.


The problem I’m talking about is that we need to go a step further and make the content targeted and dynamic


This website (and probably your website) shows the same content to all visitors. It doesn’t matter that you’re a long-time user and repeat visitor of this website, it’s going to show you the same list of articles on the left. It doesn’t matter that you may have searched on “internet marketing for lawyers” and wound up here via that search term. Still the same content is shown. It doesn’t matter that you came over here from the other blog I author, on the topic of startups – which likely means you’re involved in a startup. You still see the same content. Why? Wouldn’t it be more effective to show you “featured” content that is more likely to be of interest?


Here are some possible factors that might influence what you show a web visitor:

1.  The phrase they were searching for before landing on your website.
2.  The website that referred them to your website.
3.  Whether they've been to your site before, and if so, what their interest was.

Finally, and most importantly, which pages and articles have been the most popular for other visitors like this one ?

We’re working on this very problem for ourselves (and ultimately our clients). We think there’s a significant opportunity to do some simple things related to dynamic content delivery. The goal of this kind of functionality should be simple: Increase the likelihood that the content you show any given user is more likely to be useful and relevant to them. If you do that, then the likelihood that they may be interested in what you have to offer also goes up. The problem is that this type of capability has been out of reach for most small businesses both in terms of price and complexity.

Warning:  Static marketing message below.  Feel free to stop reading now.

At  HubSpot (the startup behind this website) we are working furiously on the problem. Stay tuned and we'll keep you posted on our progress.  Or if you’re really, really curious, sign up for the HubSpot beta  


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