What is a captive portal?

The term “captive portal” may be new to many marketers, yet the experience of using one is probably familiar to them. In the WiFi world, a captive portal is a custom splash screen that the visitor of a physical location is obliged to view and interact with in order to access the Internet over WiFi. Captive portals are usually used by restaurants, stores, transportation hubs, hotels, and other locations that offer free WiFi services.

captive portal

How a captive portal works

When a visitor physically enters a location, the smartphone connects to the SSID of the guest WiFi network and the captive portal is automatically displayed by the smartphone’s browser. The captive portal requests the visitor to provide personal information to access the WiFi service. If the network already knows the smartphone, the captive portal might be bypassed. The captive portal can also be displayed when the visitor first opens any page using the WiFi network, instead of when the WiFi connection is first opened.

The personal information gathered, in compliance with local regulations, depends on the WiFi login option selected by the visitor and may include traditional demographics–such as name, email, phone number, age, and gender–but also the visitor’s preferences.

In this way, captive portals turn anonymous visitors to physical locations into real people that businesses know by name and can reach by text messages and emails – when they collect the opt-in permission.

wifi landing page

Why captive portals are the marketer’s best friend

Not all marketers know why captive portals should be exciting to them.

All marketers are familiar with “landing pages” on a website. Many believe that all web pages are landing pages and it is true that a website visitor can “land” on any page. But, a true landing page is a destination where marketers direct visitors to capture their information to be used in marketing programs.

Captive portals give marketers a place to request, even demand, visitor information and perhaps offer a discount or promotion in exchange for visitor information and consent. That makes captive portals “landing pages” in the sense that a landing page must include a form for gathering visitor information.

That’s why captive portals can be considered the landing pages of a business’s physical locations. Captive portals are often called the WiFi landing page, further cementing the relationship between the online and physical worlds.

How to promote the WiFi landing page

For marketers, it’s a landing page best practice to offer visitors something of value in exchange for their information and consent. The offer, which might include a 10 percent discount on some item, or even the entire shopping trip, can be brought up in the browser’s screen or sent as a URL via messaging. When the visitor goes to a register, clicking on the link could bring up a UPC code–perhaps personalized for the shopper–that triggers the discount as part of the transaction.

A similar approach should be used with WiFi landing pages. Businesses should reward visitors when they access WiFi and provide the requested information. There are many types of offers that can be made, including loyalty programs, free products, refer-a-friend deals, requests for “likes” and references, virtually anything can encourage customer engagement with the business via the WiFi network.

Businesses may already have a WiFi landing page; if not, they should get one

Though the term is new to many, captive portals are not a new concept. Networks have used these landing pages for decades. The social login is one example.

What’s new is how marketers can use WiFi landing pages to get to know on-site visitors. Regardless of how the WiFi landing page is described, it is a powerful tool for turning anonymous visitors into engaged and loyal customers, and can offer substantial benefits when used by savvy marketers.