Multiple ‘home runs’ from Web 2.0 efforts, says Cisco Web marketing exec

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Las Vegas—Cisco Systems’ executive team wants to demonstrate innovation on the Web, a directive that has sent Michael Metz, senior director-Web marketing and strategy, on a wide-ranging hunt for technologies that boost customer interaction, personalization and engagement. It’s a quest that has made the networking company’s massive Web site “the single most innovative proof point of the brand,” Metz said.

The old model of Web sites using static content as “bait” are over, said Metz, who spoke on the first day of the Business Marketing Association Annual Conference. (The annual conference attracted 225 attendees, besting last year's attendence of 147 in San Jose, Calif.) Increasingly, it is user-generated content that creates the value of Web sites, Metz said, referring to such popular consumer destinations as and YouTube.

Last fall, Cisco launched a major redesign of its Web site, which features 7 million pages and attracts 8 million to 10 million visitors per month.

Metz detailed many enhancements on the site, such as 360-degree product views and customer-generated product reviews.

He declared a handful of specific new features “home runs.” For instance, he said, customers who watched some of the four dozen embedded, two-to-four-minute videos on the site “stayed longer and viewed nine times as many pages [as those who did not].”

He was equally excited about the ballooning access to statistics around the pages optimized for mobile devices, which in a three-month span saw visits soar from 10,000 a month to 75,000. He said the company was beginning to offer SMS addresses to customers in its TV and outdoor ads.

Metz was most enthusiastic about new “click to chat” functionality, which was added in November. “We started on 15 low-traffic pages,” he said, noting that customers who engaged a live call center agent in a “Chat with a Cisco expert” chat window had a conversion rate of 43%.

When Cisco targeted the chat window with business rules—for instance, only offering it to customers who visited the pages three times in a week, made product comparisons or spent more than 45 seconds on a page—the number of sessions with the same high conversion rate doubled.

Cisco has also been exploring personalization, starting with targeting banner ads based on Web visitors’ activity. Not surprising, Metz said, the targeted ads outperformed generic ones four to one. “And just last week we added the ability to personalize any kind of content—a URL, a video, a podcast,” he said. Recently, Cisco pulled all its Web 2.0 tricks into one area of its site devoted to commercial solutions, Metz said. The project, code-named “Oreo” because the technology relied on the use of cookie data, quadrupled traffic and increased engagement and page views, he added.

All these changes, he said, were subjected to “pretty significant usability testing” before being turned on.

Metz strongly implied the Web work was a strategic pillar for Cisco, necessary as the company branches out from its historical roots in enterprise markets to small-business and even consumer products.

For instance, Cisco’s decidedly nonproduct-oriented “Human Network” campaign is drawing millions of visitors, “80% of whom have nothing to do with Cisco gear,” Metz said. Reaching these consumers, he said, will require new tools and approaches. “You cannot do that with an enterprise sales force,” he said.

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