Web Metrics | Search Marketing
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"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, December 30, 2009

Web Metrics Are Not Right for Everyone

In reporting, there is a constant tension between giving too much data and not giving enough.  To tell the story, we pull numbers from all over the place.  Because, as analytists, we need to know all of it, sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that everyone else needs to know all of it too.  This is simply not the case.

One of the most important functions of an analyst is to be a filter.  Knowing who needs to know what is very important.  Not everything is salient to every person.  In Stephen Few's book, he identifies this distinction by identifying different types of dashboards--executive, analyst, and operational.  Even if you are not building dashboards, it is critical to know which peices of the data puzzle to show to whom.  To this end, the most important distinction to recognize is that there is tactical information and there is strategic information.

Strategic information is what you show at a business review.  Strategic information is what you show to the VP.  Strategic information is the support for the direction you want to take.  Strategic information answers the question "I gave you $100, why did you spend it that way?"

Strategic information helps you answer the question "If I gave you another $100, where would you spend it?" 

Tactical information is how to get the most out of your $100.  

Tactical information is useful for optimizing a campaign, not the justification for creating a campaign.  Weekly performance reviews are full of tactical information.  This is where web metrics is strongest.

Web metrics are almost always tactical metrics.  

Click through rate has no strategic value, but it is tremendously useful for optimizing a campaign.

Time on site is only a means to an end.

Ranking #1 in Google may drive traffic, but won't guarantee sales.

These are the metrics that often get confused for strategic information.  Then they get reported up the food chain.  Next thing you know, the VP is editing ad text and dictating landing page design.  This is not a good situation!  These situations can be helped by realizing who needs to know what.  Let's admit it--senior managers can get a bit control-freaky.  There is nothing most MBAs like better than to sink their teeth into a big bite of data and figure it out.  Because of the amount and complexity of tactical data, this stuff is like a big juicy peach to them.  If you show it, they will grab on with both hands.

Analysts must have a backbone
This brings me to my last critical function for an analyst.  Analysts must have a backbone.  I have sat through too many meetings (and have occasionally been guilty of this myself) where someone is called on to present some findings and they show a whole stack of charts and tables, disescting the information from all sorts of views.  It is all very confusing, so a senior person makes some requests of what to see next time.  This sends the analyst off to do more research and at the next meeting they are back with a whole stack of different slides that are all very confusing.  So a senior person makes more requests, and it goes around and around.  This kind of tail chasing can be stopped by the analyst, if they only had some backbone.

Here is what backbone gets you:
  • A concise story to tell that is not full of tangental information--decide what is important and leave the rest out.
  • Meetings that are on time and fulfilling--cut down on confusion and cut down on questions and cut down on time.
  • More room to do your work--if you present with confidence and knowledge, you gain respect and people don't muddle around in your stuff as much.

If you have backbone and you understand the difference between tactical and strategic information, your job as an analyst will get a lot easier.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A SEO Content Development Framework for Every Company

I want to put a few observations out there:

Observation #1:  Everyone is looking for organic search engine rankings.  Is it the down economy?  Is it the hype created by SEO firms?  Is it the odd marketing report with an ambiguous "organic" lead source category and outrageous conversion rates?  Probably all these things.  Maybe other things.  Regardless, at the start of the day, everyone is asking "How can I get my website to #1 in Google?"

Observation #2: Everyone says they understand the importance of written content.  "Content is King!" is plastered into reports and presentations.  Businesses are blogging and posting newsletters on Facebook and tweeting updates.  Everyone is turning to their copywriters and asking for more. 

Observation #3: It is common knowledge that search engines use keywords to categorize and rank their content.  Everyone knows it.  Everyone agrees with it.  Very few businesses understand it.  So they hire SEO firms to come in, recommend keywords, tell them what edits to make, and they get billed over and over again for something they don't understand and don't know how to measure. 

The truth is, more and more I am finding a fundamental lack of strategic thinking which is being perpetuated by SEO firms which keep their clients in the dark about how to develop content in a search friendly way that is designed to meet business critical needs.  This perpetuates a broken system designed to create dependence on SEO firms.

So many times I sit down with a company because they want to rank well in Google organic listings, and they think there is some black box of secret knowledge around keywords and how to use them.  Why?  Because that's what the last guy who was collecting a monthly paycheck from them led them to believe.  The client has no idea where the keywords came from or why they were recommended.  It's all just "SEO", and they are not the experts.  So they pay out lots of money every month to someone to tell them what to do for reasons that are never well explained and results that are usually poorly measured.

It's time to break the cycle.

SEO firms have to start educating their clients on how to strategically develop content that is designed to rank well in search engines.  It is not hard to do.  It is not secret knowledge.  It is something any company can manage.  They just need a little education.  They just need to shift their thinking small amounts.  They just need a slightly different way of seeing.  Any SEO firm out there knows what this looks like.  But so few SEO clients do. 

Every company with a website should have a strategic content development plan that includes keyword relevance.  I starts with this:
  1. What does your company do? 
  2. What do you want to be known as an authority on? 
  3. How do your customers talk about (and search) for your products?
  4. How does your voice in the market place relate to the above three questions?
If a company can answer these 4 questions, then all they need is some discipline in the form of a Strategic Content Development Workflow for Search Engine Performance.

SEO firms should stop charging their clients for monthly keyword updates and help them get a solid content creation workflow in place.  This is the difference between being a keyword vendor and a strategic partner.  It makes good sense for the business and it makes good sense for the SEO firm. 

SEO firms, it is far better to be a valued partner who is an important contributor to helping businesses grow rather than simply being a human keyword look up tool.

Businesses, you will be much better served by having a content plan that is rooted in your strengths and cognizant of your audience's voice rather than sprinkling some keywords here and there because your SEO firm told you to.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Web Analytics Strategy Part 3

Another post for the folks at Amplify Interactive.

Here is an except:

Search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) are two of the best examples of how to use Web analytics to improve your website's and your business's performance.  Search engine marketing (SEM) and Web analytics are made for each other.  Once you understand how search marketing metrics work, you will have insight into almost every key measurement aspect of any online marketing program...

Beyond the Basics: Goals and Conversions
"Goals and conversions" should be included in the basic metrics for every marketing campaign.  Determining how many people become a lead or customer as a result of a marketing program is critical to knowing if your they are successful.  However, I did not put "goals and conversions" in the basics group for two reasons:
  1. It's surprising how many organizations do not have clearly defined goals and conversion points identified in their websites,
  2. and if they do, Many times the Web analytics platform is not configured correctly to capture this information.
Understanding your conversion paths and setting up your Web analytics platform to capture the important information about your visitors as they travel your conversion paths is a key benefit of using an analytics specialist.  When goals and segments are defined and combined, you can find a wealth of information about how to make your website more valuable and profitable.  It is absolutely worth your time and effort to properly implement goal & conversion tracking.

Read the whole web analytics strategy article.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Web Analytics Strategy 2

The nice folks at Amplify Interactive have posted another short article from me about web analytics. Here is an abstract from it:

Analyzing marketing results takes time, more time than most people anticipate. Creating a regular schedule and setting aside time specifically for reviewing & analyzing results will help you manage that time better. If possible, get a marketing analyst to help you with this. You’ll have more time to think through the results and make more thoughtful plans.

You can read the entire web analytics post on the Amplify blog.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Eight Search Metrics You Should Always Look At

Lots of businesses have paid search and organic programs, but not everyone knows how to measure them and how they are different. Because these two types of marketing are so different in many ways, it's good to know what key performance indicators are specific to each.

There are some generic metrics that are important for both Organic and Paid search. Metrics such as keyword conversion rate, bounce rate, time on site, pages per visit, form abandonment, etc. Most of these look more at user behavior patterns associated with a specific traffic driver than the program itself. But when we are looking to evaluate the performance of a particular initiative, there are some additional and unique key performance indicators to keep in mind.

Organic Search Metrics
Organic search is traditionally what people want when they think of search engines. Referrals from organic search are perceived to be higher value and the medium is perceived to be free. But it could take months before you realize the benefits of your organic optimization efforts, which are normally ongoing. Because of this, determining if your organic search initiatives are a success requires looking for metrics that speak more to the idea that your website is gaining awareness. Here are four unique performance indicators to look for in your analytics:
  • Total visitors from organic search. If the total volume of organic search visits is increasing, then your organic optimization efforts are probably working.
  • Percent of traffic from organic search. Combine this with the first item and if you are getting a greater percent of your traffic from search engines after doing an optimization effort, that is a good sign your efforts worked.
  • Percent of organic search traffic from topical phrases. Organic optimization normally focuses on increasing a website's presence on phrases that are topical, rather than brand specific. When you look through your referring keyword report, how many of them do not contain your brand or specific product name in them? This is your topical traffic. One rare example of when this is not the case is if you work for a company with an extraordinarily well-known name. In that case, you may be competing for your own brand!
  • Bounce Rates for Organic topical search vs. Organic branded search. This one is subtle, but important. Visitors who know your company name or the name of your product are generally considered to be higher value. They also tend to have better engagement (lower bounce rates, longer time on site) and higher conversion rates. If you do a good job at topical optimization for your website, you can increase the engagement of visitors who come to your website and know nothing about you. A good first indicator of this is the bounce rate. If your topical bounce rate starts moving toward your branded bounce rate, that is a very good sign. It's a great sign if it does even better!

Paid Search Metics
Unlike Organic search, Paid search is primarily an ad buy. Because of this, there are several performance indicators that are bottom line key numbers to evaluate. One thing to note is that most Paid search key performance indicators require a goal to compare to. Working with a marketing analyst to establish the goals of the campaign is an important first step to having a successful paid search program. Here are four metrics to keep an eye on:
  • Cost per conversion. Conversion will mean different things to different people. In general, I am talking about conversion as the most important action item a visitor can do on a website. I am not talking about the final sale that happens in an office somewhere off line; I'm talking about the web lead that got the person into the office in the first place. Knowing how much each lead/online sale is costing you and if that number is too high is key to knowing if your Paid search campaign is a going great.
  • Total leads generated. A paid search campaign is an investment with expectations. These expectations normally revolve around a desire to generate a particular amount of business. How well your paid search campaign is tracking to meet this end goal is key to determining its success. Failure here could cast doubt on the efficacy of paid search in general for you, your team, and/or your organization.
  • Conversion rate (conversions / visits). This is a generic number, but I'm calling it out here because paid search campaigns normally have custom landing pages that they drive traffic to. Having an analyst evaluate this number can be key to optimizing a core part of the paid search visitor experience. A landing page that turns people off can kill your effort.
  • Percent of budget spent, either daily or weekly. Not a metric people think of first, but how much of the budget is being utilized periodically is important to knowing if your paid search campaign is maximizing its potential. 100% utilization may indicate your ads are turning off earlier than you think, your keyword selection is too broad, your ad text is too generic, or the market demand is stronger than you anticipated. Less than 100% could indicate weak ad text or that the market is not as robust as anticipated. Percent of daily budget spent is one of those numbers that keeps you on your toes and can really help you right-size your program. If budget is fixed, shoot for 90%-95% utilization. If you can grow the budget and your other numbers look good, go for 100%!

Search Metrics in Summary
All online marketing programs share some metrics that are very helpful in determining what is working and what isn't. However, if you are trying to optimize your website for organic search and also running paid search ads, it's important to know what metrics are helpful to understanding each of these efforts. Organic metrics that look at how prevalent your website is becoming to search audiences are very important. Paid metrics that measure your program against predetermined goals are also very important. Having a marketing analyst work through these numbers with you can give you great insight into the health of your campaigns. It can even help you chart a course for your next campaign!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Web Analytics Step 1

Some friends over at Amplify are expanding their service offering and asked me to write a piece on using web analytics for their blog. Here's an abstract:

Building a Web Analytics Strategy
This situation can be avoided, and the first step is to step away from your website analytics tool. Instead, sit down with yourself and the other business decision makers and decide what information is key for you to make a good decision. The services of an analytics consultant can be very helpful in facilitating this conversation. Some people will need the same information, some people will need completely different information, and some people will need similar but not quite the same information...Once you know what the key pieces of information are that you need to make well informed decisions, your analytics consultant can take those generic analytics reports and turn them into very valuable, actionable chunks of information.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Information Dashboard Design Conclusion and Summary

The final chapter Steven Few's Information Dashboard Design is really just a wrap up and final thoughts for dashboards. It is a short chapter and much lighter than the pervious ones. It mostly consists of him giving both good and bad examples of dashboards. I'm skipping his dashboard critiques, simply because I'd have to scan in all the images.

Chapter Eight

Come up with a lsit of questions about how the dashboard should function and ask the user what s/he thinks.

Sparklines show trends when just up or down is good enough.

Bullet bars show aggregate performance to goal.

Text shows actual value and is used to call out particulars.

Line graphs show more detailed info over time when time is especially important.

"To design dashboards that really work, you must focus on the fundamental goal: communication." (p. 201)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Information Dashboard Design Part 3

Chapters six and seven of Information Dashboard Design talk about various considerations when putting a dashboard together--how the elements are percieved, what the best uses are for each, and how they work together to convey information.

Chapter Six

Display data based on the nature of the information, the nature of the message, and the needs and preferences of the audience.

Language is always understood serially--one word at a time.

The strength of written words and numbers is their precision. Numbers draw attention to individual numbers, but don't work good for comparisons of multiples and "bigger pictures".

Tables are good for looking up data.

Text is for values.

Graphs are for patterns.

Effective dashboards combine text and graphics to support meaning:

  • What the viewer needs
  • How the data is to be used
  • What the message is

All of these are effected by:

  • What is the best display
  • What will fit in a small space

Six types of display--graphs, images, icons, objects, text, organizers.

Graphes are:

  • bullet graphs--comparitive to goal
  • bar graphs--start at goal, used for descrete instances, are better than pie charts for showing parts of a whole
  • stacked bar graphs--effectively similar to small multiples, best to show contribution to a whole.
  • combination graphs
  • line graphs--used with intervals, emphasize continuity and progression, patters and change instead of values, do not need to start at zero.
  • sparklines--for historical context only, not values.
  • box plots--show high, medium, low
  • scatter plots--show correlations
  • tree maps--comparisons within hierarchies

Icons have three uses: to alert, to show up or down, to show on or off.

Ogranizers are tables, maps, and small multiples.

Chapter Seven

Dashboards must be easy to use and visually appealing.

Group items by business function and use.

  • Minimal boarders
  • Keep groups together
  • Support meaningful comparisons
  • Discourage meaningless comparisons

"When organizing data on a dashboard, start by learning precisely how the information will be used and how the pieces ought to be arranged to best serve these uses." (p. 164)

"Measures of performance come alive only when you compare them to other measures." (p. 165)

Encourage comparisons by:

  • combining items in a single table or graph
  • placing items close to one another
  • linking items with color
  • use comparitive values (ratios, percents, etc.)

"Anything that means the same thing or functions the same way ought to look the same...aesthetically pleasing dashboards are more enjoyable, which makes them more relaxing, which prepares the viewer for greater insight and creative response...aesthetics, when not in conflict with a product's usability, possesses intrinsic qualities that also contribute to usability." (p. 168)

Keep bright colors to a minimum, except when highlighting
Use less satuated colors, except when highlighting
Use pale background colors
Use legible text fonts
Use consistent action items.

Only the user can judge if the design is effective.