Web Metrics | Search Marketing
Site Strategy

"In a nutshell, Jason created our marketing analytics capability. He was able to figure out what data we collect, where it is, what was missing, and hook it all up so we canget meaningful, actionable data. Our marketing efforts have improved leads and conversions in some cases by an order of magnitude. He knows his stuff."
Chris Foleen, Marketing Project Coordinator, TransCore, Inc.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Evaluating Your Current Website

What has your website done for your lately?
One of the most important and overlooked parts of a website rebuild is figuring out the value of what you currently have. Most of the time, when someone wants to rebuild a website, it is because they don't like the current website or feel like it is not serving them well. Maybe the design is a couple years old. Maybe the articles are disorganized and hard to find. There are lots of motivations for wanting to redo/overhaul a website, most of which are usually subjective and emotional.

Even though almost any reason to revisit a website is worthwhile, one part that a lot of people forget during the discovery process is to figure out exactly what your current website actually is contributing. This will become the performance baseline to measure the new website by. Many people skip this step in their excitement to get on to the fun, creative parts. But skipping can very well lead to trading one type of disappointment for another. Then, after the fact, you could find yourself with the huge headache of trying to reconcile apples with oranges to justify the expense and show improvement.

Determining the current status of your website.

These are the things that I have found to be valuable in trying to figure out what the status of the current website is. The best time to look at this information is during the discovery phase of the project, when nothing is planned yet and options are open.

The Value.
  • What makes our website unique? If you are offering exactly the same thing as your competitors, then what is differentiating you from them and why should customers come to your website? Going beyond simple information offerings like product data sheets is a good idea here. Tools and interactive widgets are always a draw and give you a chance to learn more about your web visitors.

  • What value does our website represent to:
    • Our customers? This is closely related to the question above. but looks more to repeat visitors and websites with customer login-type features. This retention aspect is really important because any new work should not alienate or confuse existing users. Infact, it should make things better for existing customers.
    • Our company? Is the website just there for lead generation or something more? Is the website a source of pride for the organization? Or is the website a resource drain and an eye-sore? Figuring this out--the internal value of the website--is critical to getting stakeholder buy-in and approval.

An added benefit to learning about the percieved value of a website, is that in the process you are very likely to hear about all the things people think are wrong with the website. This sense of missing value or missed opportunity can be very instructive. Reading between the lines here, you can get a true sense of what people are really looking for and what their expectations are, and expectations cannot be ignored.

Once value is figured out (and expectations, indirectly), then ideas of what the vision for the project may look like should start floating around in your head. But before we get there, it is important to take a look at who your website audience is.

The Audience.
  • What are the traffic sources? When looking at search traffic, make sure to include keywords and keyword families, including branded search. Review the referring website to see if there are any themes that can give some insight into who the people are that come across. Look at the types of websites too--are they review websites, social networks, industry websites, competitor websites? Look for increases in direct traffic immediately following email sends and off-line marketing.
  • What are the traffic patterns on the website? Look for bounce rates, conversion rates, and pages that correllate with desirable outcomes--these may be having a positive influence. Look for pages with high exit rates--these may have problems. Look for form abandonment rates. Look to see if people are doing things that you want to them to do.
  • Who are the target audiences/markets? Find out what kinds of profiles are available for website visitors. Marketing may have personas developed. Combine this with what information you can put together from traffic sources and on-site behaviour.
  • What feedback has been given by website visitors? Emails that people have written can be very insightful. But remember that that one email is the view of just one person. And that one person may be expressing a view held by many.

Once you have a good idea of the audience for your website and what the value of the website is, you should have a pretty good idea of what the web project needs to do. There is only one more part--learning about the current strategy. Some of this is answered in the "value" section above. But knowing explicetly what the strategy that the current website is based on can be very informative and help you avoid sticking points that others before you have suffered through.

The Strategy.
  • What is the current strategy? Pretty straight forward. There may not have been a cohesive strategy--just a collection of business goals loosely tied together with some HTML. Talking to the people who build the current website will be helpful here. The general idea is to find out what they were trying to do, then look at the information collected so far to determine if they met their goals.
Specific aspects of the strategy that are worth drilling down on are:
    • What were the original measures of success? This is key not only to determining if the current site met its goals, but it also tell you by how much it met its goals or not (which will help with setting new goals). Also, you can learn about how values in the organization have changed when you get around to setting the new goals.
    • How much was visitor "engagement" a factor (beyond simple lead gen and/or sales) and how was it handled? This is key if there are social and/or return visitor goals.
    • What is the content development plan? This is key if search optimization is to be part of the strategy.
    • What is the review and update process? This is key if analytics and active management are in the picture.

  • What does the competition do online? How was that factored into the strategy? Some of this may be covered in the process of determining the unique value of the website.
    • What does the competition seem to be doing right? Copy-catting is lame. Learning from success is awesome.
In the end, you should have a pretty good picture of the current state of the website, and where it came from. You know the value of the current website, both to visitors/customers and internal stakeholders. You know who the people are that are visiting your website and what those people are going at your website. And you know what the strategy of the website is, how it compares to competitors, and whether or not that strategy worked out. All the homework is done. Now you are ready to make good plans that build on the strengths of what worked, retains current customers, and attracts new ones.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Vision Statement

I've been thinking about vision statements a lot lately. I'm in the middle of outlining a large web project with different stakeholders from different business units, each with different agendas and ideas about how the website should fit into the company and what it should do. Each of them are really nice people with honest and good intentions. However, they each are working from their own business perspective. Profits, losses, goals and sales tactics are on their mind--the details of growing their respective businesses. Trying to get them to come together around a common vision is a challenge, and something that may not come naturally. But it is important if this web project is going to be coordinated, serve the common good, and not need to be overhauled in six months.

I absolutely believe the most important first step of any project (after the stakeholders have been identified) is to create a common vision of what the end result should be. Encapsulating it in a Vision Statement that sits right at the front of the project document is key. But, a vision statement can go awry and become divisive if care is not taken.

Aspects of a vision statement

  • A vision statement is not requirements. If the words "should" or "must" show up in your vision statement, you're off track and into requirements land. This is not the time to start sketching features and usability. Keep the requirements and requirement language out.
  • A vision statement does not drag people along. If you write your vision statement and then grit your teeth at the prospect of showing it to the other stakeholders, press delete, not send.
  • A vision statement is not long. If you are doing a lot of explaining in your vision statement, then you need to put aside the laptop and do some more thinking about what it is you are actually envisioning. It does not need to be too short, but it should be an efficient use of language, as my college poetry teacher used to say.
  • A vision statement is simple. Don't over complicate it, even big projects can have simple descriptions. It's the "elevator pitch"--your 10 second explanation of what you are setting out to do. If the vision is too complicated, consider a phased approach or break the project up into smaller bites. Take Google's mission statement as an example: "Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." Wow. A bit grandiose, but you have to give them points for keeping it short and simple.
  • A vision statement is subjective. It can even be, dare I say it, fluffy. It can be abstract and emotional. It's the kind of thing that makes you say, "Yeah, that's right on!". It has nothing to do with check lists.
  • A vision statement is the final gut check for a project. When the whole thing is built and tested and you are on your last sanity-check before launch, sit down, take a cleansing breath and revisit your vision statement. Does it ring true or not? If so, your vision is realized. If not, well...figure out quickly what happened before the phone starts ringing.
  • A vision statement is uniting. This is the single most important aspect. If your team of stakeholders cannot agree on a common vision, your project will fail.