June 30, 2005, 12:00 AM

Different strokes: how managed-content targeting improves site performance

Managed-content targeting programs enhance site performance by ensuring site visitors can automatically see merchandise based on users` own characteristics.

To better maximize site performance and deliver text and images in speeds that shoppers can handle, retailers are adding a new component to their e-commerce platforms: managed-content targeting programs.

The programs, which are based on XML rules platforms, which retailers can build themselves or purchase from a third-party such as Mirror Image Internet Inc., help web merchants deliver content in ways that automatically route shoppers to the right content based on how they are accessing the site.

The primary component of a managed content targeting program-an intuitive user interface-recognizes how a shopper is coming to the site then automatically routes the shopper to the right combination of text and images. For instance, if a managed content targeting program recognizes that a shopper is landing on the home page from a broadband connection, the program will automatically route the user to shopping pages with rich media-enhanced content. If the shopper comes in via a dial-up connection, the user interface will send the visitor to a home or product page with more straightforward text and images.

Five years ago when some retailers began adding streaming media and other highly interactive components to their web stores, the effort in many cases backfired and hurt site performance. Dial-up users, frustrated with slow load times and page speeds, clicked away from highly interactive e-commerce sites because it took too long to get to and find the merchandise.

But managed content targeting programs are meant to enhance site performance by ensuring that site visitors can see and search for merchandise based on such factors as their geographic information, language preference, time of day, connection speed and the type of device they are using for access such as a wireless handheld unit or a personal computer with a broadband connection.

Mirror Image, for one, offers a managed content targeting program as part of its hosted services for web retailers and others. The program, which enables content targeting using a Java-based rules engine architecture and an optional XML interface, improves site performance by helping web retailers personalize the shopping experience for individual visitors, says Richard Buck, vice president of engineering for Mirror Image. “Retailers can specify the content based on different rules,” he says.

Managed content targeting programs began appearing on web retailing sites about 18 months ago. While it isn’t known specifically how many web retailers are currently adopting the technology, Buck says many large retailers are becoming aware of the programs and how they work. The applications are also affordable. Mirror Image offers managed content targeting programs to its network subscribers for monthly license fees of $1,500 to $6,000.

“Retailers are looking more at managed content targeting programs,” Buck says. “They make the user experience more personal.”

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