How to design an effective WiFi captive portal


Aside from helping visitors engage digitally while onsite, WiFi provides opportunities for the visitor attraction to better understand visitors and their behavior. Location analytics from anonymously tracking visitor devices around the venue using the WiFi network are one way (preferably from connected devices, which reveal a cleaner, stronger signal), while data collection during the connection experience is another.

A captive portal is a web page served to the visitor when they request to connect to a public WiFi network. In order to support public WiFi access, this splash screen is technically optional, but provides an excellent opportunity to complement the visitor experience and aid analytics initiatives. Whilst some believe a captive portal to be an unnecessary barrier to the digital experience, their use is commonplace for public networks in most airports, shopping centers, hotels and other areas – where if anything, a lack of a splash screen can be confusing to less technically confident visitors.


To support a high quality, compliant visitor experience, your WiFi captive portal page should:

  • Offer a clean, simple and branded digital experience which is universally accessible (the WiFi network name should be easily identified as the venue’s free public WiFi)
  • Be clear on the WiFi connectivity offer (for example, if connection is free, and if limited, for how long or for what bandwidth of activity)
  • Provide an active acceptance checkbox with a link to WiFi terms of use (documenting detailed privacy terms on a separate page will help declutter for a clean and simple captive portal page), making sure these terms include information on the venue’s use of location analytics
  • Be design optimized for small screens (especially with a large and prominent ‘connect’ button)
  • Provide a branded landing page post connection once the connection is in place

Within the WiFi connection experience, there are two opportunities for data collection: 

  1. Data collected in order to establish a connection (compulsory or optional)
  2. Data collected as part of an optional call to action post connection


The captive portal before connection

Before connection, the captive portal page provides the perfect opportunity to conduct a small number of visitor evaluation survey questions. Because the visitor is likely connecting at the beginning of their visit, these questions are best to focus on the visitor or their decision to visit, rather than asking after the visit itself, which will be largely incomplete. For example, if data cannot be reliably connected via another method, this page is a good opportunity to ask whether the visitor is an international visitor (and if so, from what country), or a domestic visitor (and if so, from which zipcode*).   


The landing page post connection

Following connection, the connected landing page can be used to provide more information to aid the visit, such as an app download, venue map or ‘what’s on’ coverage; or to push a marketing related call to action, such as a request for an email address to support a receipt for a later post visit survey or Net Promoter Score (NPS) pulse, an invitation to join the venue’s email marketing newsletter, or an offer to purchase a season pass or membership product. We do not recommend collecting an email address with no declared purpose, particularly prior to connection simply in order to obtain one, given this practice does not meet privacy best practices and legal requirements of some jurisdictions.


Other considerations

One concern with data collection via this channel is bias, either from its digital nature (preferred by certain age and income brackets), or motivation to get free WiFi (popular amongst international visitors). WiFi data can be used to monitor the connected device penetration rate (which will likely range between 20 – 40% for most venues), then onsite promotion pushed to encourage visitors to connect at the beginning of their visit and throughout their visitor journey. With an increased sample size, bias is less likely to occur. Overall, this sample size is likely to be larger than any intercept survey or app download (usually of 2 – 3% of visitors), so whilst some bias will remain inherent, it will not be as distinct as data collection via other channels. 


Location analytics data provides a unique opportunity to understand where visitors go in the venue, how long they spend there, what trail sequence they take and how often they return. In addition to offering captive portal data collection opportunity, increasing the penetration rate of tethered devices has the secondary benefit of providing cleaner, more stable location analytics data.


*Some jurisdictions determine zipcodes to be personally identifiable and this should be taken into consideration.