Case Study: Web Analytics Helps RSN Create Happy Trails for Outdoor Types

RSN, a national cable television network launched in 1986, delivers daily information on more than 100 resorts at destinations such as Vail, Colo., Stowe, Vt., and Key West, Fla. RSN.com also enables vacationers to plan their trips and to stay in touch with other vacationers. RSN.com garners $1.2 million to $1.3 million in annual national Web sales, which is about 15 percent of RSN’s total revenue.

The network launched RSN.com in 1996 and then revamped the site in 2000, making its first foray into Web analytics in an effort to personalize and customize the site for visitors. RSN implemented Vignette’s Web development platform and later SPSS’ NetGenesis Web analytics software, coupling customer profile data Vignette gathered with customer behavior data NetGenesis collected. In the process of implementing the software, RSN “realized one of those great organizational myths,” says Richard Bilodeau, vice president of marketing, research and technology for RSN. “The customer we thought we were serving was actually different from what we were serving,” he says.

RSN believed vacationers, who, say, traveled to Killington, Vt., would want information about similar resorts such as Stowe and Sugarbush, Vt. The reality was visitors to Killington wanted more information about the area and only occasionally checked out similar sites, Bilodeau says.

RSN tuned into its customers’ needs and changed its Web strategy, nixing its personalization plans and focusing entirely on content for RSN.com. For example, RSN expanded information on Killington to include a dinner guide and a forum to post restaurant reviews.

RSN.com switched to NetGenesis in 2002 because Vignette proved to be too “cumbersome” and “labor intensive,” Bilodeau says. Vignette is a “sound environment” for a site similar in scale to Amazon.com.

NetGenesis’ analysis of traffic data played a significant part in RSN.com’s overhauling the site in 2004. RSN.com believed a majority of user traffic entered via the site’s home page and then linked to community and forum pages. It turned out, users went directly to community pages, bypassing the home page. In addition, only 20 percent of RSN users were repeat visitors, not the 70 percent RSN believed. As a result, RSN.com streamlined its site navigation and improved content design.

RSN.com also redesigned its home page, removing a rotating image from a resort’s Web cam. The image took up a significant portion of the page, pushing more important elements to the bottom of the page.

“You know that old adage, ‘Bigger is better’?” Bilodeau asks. “Well, that wasn’t true in this case. Users have a tendency not to scroll below the fold. They look at what loads first.”

RSN.com wanted to make the image 25 percent smaller yet still rotate, but it was concerned the reduced image would distract visitors. It tinkered with the image size, and NetGenesis reports showed the change didn’t have any impact on what viewers looked at.

“We have more advertising, which we love; we have more room to sell, and there’s more above fold,” he says.

NetGenesis also highlighted where links should appear on a page, as well as helped RSN.com analyze how user groups responded to design changes. For example, RSN.com contemplated adding dining information and activities for children to its online insider’s guide. Based on total page views and other information culled by NetGenesis, RSN.com found visitors were more interested in dining information than in activities for their kids.
RSN’s marketing and sales staff use NetGenesis to access reports on-the-fly. For example, a sales rep can request information on how much traffic goes to the Vermont page, and receive a report that details where site visitors are coming from. RSN’s senior management, Web team, content developers and resort partners can also receive reports especially configured for each group.

ILLUSTRATION BY SCOTT POLLACK

About the Author

Kathleen Ohlson is senior editor at Application Development Trends magazine.

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