Accuracy in Web Metrics is a Myth. Go for Real Time Analytics

It’s online marketers’ dirty little secret: Web metrics are not very accurate. None of them.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be.

Users can block script and pixel based systems and proxy servers (servers that cache content to reduce bandwidth use on networks, like say, your ISP’s or corporate network) prevent your server’s weblog from recording every page view (I wrote in a little more detail on accuracy issues here). On top of network issues, there are some basic software limitations in browsers and metric packages that prevent every click and visit from being counted.

How bad is it? Somewhere between 4% and 12%. And it’s almost, almost always missing clicks, visits and page views.

So, do web analytics have value? Yes. But despite what you may think, their value isn’t counting every single click you get on your site. It’s for identifying trends. Knowing what is happening and what has happened in aggregate has great value. Even with a 6-12% margin of error.

The problem is, many web metrics solutions are on a time delay (like Google Analytics) that prevents you from seeing what is happening now. On the internet “NOW” means everything. And if you want to see what is happening minute to minute, your options are rather limited.

Here’s a situation that happened with one of my clients:

We had a client who had just started a $90,000, 48 hour advertising campaign for a major affiliate network. We didn’t realize it, but some bad code was preventing people coming to a landing page for step 3 in the registration process. A real-time analytics package allowed us to see the problem and fix it in about 15 minutes, but a once-a-day analytics package would have only pointed out the problem halfway through our 48 hour schedule.

Should we have tested the landing page better? Yes. Reality is that marketing sites are often done on much tighter deadlines than traditional software development and sometimes testing isn’t that great. That means real time metrics are critical.

If we had waited 12 hours for metrics to become available, my client would have lost 25% of sales and 25% of the money they had spent on the campaign.

Real time matters more than you think. If you’re not investing in it, you need to consider it.

The Number One Reason Companies Need to Blog About Their Products

We write a lot of product blogs for our clients. No matter what size, shape, color, or price of the product, we’ve written several hundred blog product posts.

But for all the hundreds of posts we’ve written, there’s only one reason we do it: to win search.

Chris Baggott of Compendium Blogware has long beat the “blogging wins search” drum. (And while I don’t agree about his “myth of the reader” — I believe you should try to get and keep regular, returning readers — he makes a great point about winning search.)

A product blog post is one of the easiest things to write. It’s just 200 – 300 words describing a particular product with a link back to the original catalog entry or product description. Each post equals a backlink back to your website, and the more backlinks you have to your website, the better you rank in a search.

Should I Keep My Blog Inside My Website, or Have a Separate Blog?

We’re fans of keeping a blog and a website together, but there’s no harm in keeping the two separate. After all, the search engines recognize it as a separate website that links back to your original one. However, you’re better off putting your blog on your static website and use internal backlinks to go from the blog to the static pages.

But if you want to boost your search engine rankings even further, create a second blog where you publish your blog posts, and keep it separate from your regular corporate blog where you’re publishing your authority posts, credibility posts, issues posts, and educational posts. This way you can improve search and find first time visitors with one blog, and gain returning readers with the other.

Who has time to do the work today?

Clock - who has time to get work doneThere has been a lot of news lately on how companies are really not hiring right now. A recent report talks about how a companies are hiring temp workers, but they are not hiring them to stay. In the past, a common practice was to test drive a worker then offer them a position. Hiring them as full-time employees is not happening right now.

So, who is getting the work done?

When I joined ATA Airlines back in 1997, George Michelsons brought in Bain and Company to basically prepare the company for sale. The process was to get rid of a lot of people and put more jobs onto fewer people. While this strategy worked around the country for Bain, it usually preceded an upgrade in office automation to ensure the work could still get done.

The office automation phase did not occur at ATA Airlines.

The result was a lot of stressed out people carrying around their imaginary trays trying to figure out how they were going to fit one more item onto an already heavy load. No longer were people interested in teamwork, they were more interested in self-preservation. It created a lot of ill-tempered people in the process.

As some of my clients reveal their corporate cultures, I am finding similarities to what I experienced at ATA Airlines. No one has time to commit to anything above and beyond what their core responsibilities are. According to the Wall Street Journal, it is not projected to get much better – CEO’s are reluctant to hire.

What are the solutions?

The easiest is what is being done by some today. Hire temp workers to get things done. They may cost a little more in the short-term, but allow you to avoid the headaches of hiring employees and their costs over the long-term. There are a lot of companies providing these services.

Sometimes, just hiring a grunt worker is not enough. Sometimes you need a professional person to do the work, you don’t have time to do. There are companies being set up that can act as your Marketing Department, your Accounting Department, or your HR Department. They can do it at a cost that is far cheaper than hiring full-time employees, but are focused solely on getting work done for you.

So, look around and ask yourself, are you and your colleagues a bunch of stressed out grumpy people not really accomplishing much because there is too much to do? There is help out there that can help your company meet its strategic goals for the year.

We actually put together a white paper on the ROI of outsourcing blogging and social media. You can download it here, if you want to take a look.

A Year in Review

Professional Blog Service started a year ago out of Indy Associates to assist companies in generating content they need for most of their Internet marketing activity.

While at Indy Associates, we always recommended blogging as a good Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy. With the popularity of social media sites like Linkedin, Facebook and micro-blogging service Twitter, the strategy has become even more important. The challenge for most of our customers was the blog content generation. Most companies do not have trained content writers that are able to develop conversational blog content, while writing for the search engines. Most important, many of clients have great ideas with no time to share them.

So, what have we learned in 2009?

Most companies still do not have the resources, or the time to write their own content.

2009 saw the unemployment rate hit 10% in November. It was reported that many companies laid off many in their workforce leaving those left behind with more work to do and little time to get it done. The last thing on anyone’s mind is getting blog content written, even though everyone agrees that marketing is still important in a down economy.

Blogging and Social Media continue to evolve from AOL of the 90s to Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter heading into a new decade.

“Two-thirds of the world’s Internet population visit social networking or blogging sites, accounting for almost 10% of all Internet time, according to a Nielsen report published in March of this year, “Global Faces and Networked Places.” These numbers keep rising as the year progresses. By 2012, IBM predicts that globally, a quarter of the global population will be using social media in some form.

Results still matter to most companies.

Learning how to play in social media is one thing. Getting people to interact with you is another. Your clients may or may not interact with you through social media. The challenge for all companies is finding out which ones they should engage. You may be able to sell like Dell, or respond to customer complaints like Southwest Airlines and Jet Blue Airlines have done. (Note to my former colleagues at American Airlines – take note!). Either way, Social Media and Blogging is measurable in some way depending on the strategic approach you take with it.

There are great tools like Yahoo Analytics (shameless plug as we are a Yahoo Analytics consultant). Radian6 and Scoutlabs can track who’s talking about you, and help you decide whether to act on the positive or negative media being generated.

We predict that 2010 will be the year of results with blogging and social media. In a nutshell, you are doing it to build your marketing list, or to generate interest in your products or services. To succeed, you will need:

  1. An understanding of how your market uses blogging and social media, if at all
  2. A plan to participate
  3. Execution and commitment to the plan
  4. Measurement of the results over the course of the year, not a month

If you can learn how to do it before your competition, you win. It will take them 12 months just to figure out what you have done.

Happy New Year from Professional Blog Service

Marketing Plan for 2010? Try the 70-20-10 Marketing Mix

Patrick Spenner at the Marketing Leadership Council presented a great variation on the Pareto Principle (also called the 80/20 rule) when it comes to trying new marketing tactics: (Beat the Social Media Investment Catch-22, November 9, 2009)

Spenner suggests any marketing plan should be follow the 70-20-10 spending rule: Roughly 70% of your marketing budget should be on the “tried and true” marketing channels — areas that you know absolutely have succeeded in the past.

The other 10% should be on experimental or new channels “for which there is no in-year expectation of ROI.” In other words, don’t expect to see an ROI within the fiscal year. Look for growth and results, but don’t expect things to pay for themselves.

The middle 20%, says Spenner, is for the most successful of last year’s 10%. “These touchpoints are incubating — we should manage them to develop benchmarks for success,” wrote Spenner. “These touchpoints eventually move over into the 70% as the organization accepts them.

Where could you find some new traffic? It may not always be on social media (said the social media company). It may be something new like trade shows and non-industry conferences. It may be a new website. Or email newsletters. Or a strategy of participating in discussion forums. Or telemarketing. And it just may very well be Twitter and blogging. The point is that you look at at least one new strategy and give it a year to see what happens.

Take some of the money you’ve been spending on newspaper and radio advertising, and try a new social media campaign. Pepsi Cola just did it, forgoing the multi-million Super Bowl ad buy, and putting $20 million into a social media campaign instead. Toys ‘R’ Us saw some explosive growth on their Facebook fan page. And even the Cincinnati Bengals have joined the Twitterverse and have over 15,000 followers.

Finding new marketing channels is important. Media consumption by your customers is always changing, and they’re going to places you didn’t have in your 70% bucket a few years ago, or even last year. Two years ago, I thought Twitter was the stupidest thing ever. Today, as much as one-third of my personal blog’s traffic comes from Twitter, but the largest portion comes from StumbleUpon.

So what’s your new 10%? What are some new channels you could explore for 2010?

How Can Travel Destinations Use Social Media and Blogging?

For one thing, update your website. Get a new site that makes lets you easily make your own changes, rather than relying on a code warrior to make $100/hour changes for you.

Second, add a blog and write new content at least twice a week. Talk about what’s going on at your place, announce special events, review those events after they happen, do special “Meet the Staff” profiles, talk about the history of your place, and anything else you can think of.

The reason you want to do this is because of search. Ninety percent of all web interactions begin with search, which means they’re searching for you. If they can’t find you, they won’t visit you. So blogging helps you win searches when travelers are looking for you.

Third, join Facebook. Create your own profile, but then create a page for your destination. Upload your email list of all your past visitors (you have been collecting emails, haven’t you?), and invite all of them to become fans of your page. Then you can update them about special events, new blog posts, and other news. Build a fan base of people who love your place.

Fourth, join Twitter. Upload your email list again and start following those visitors. They’ll follow you back, and you can use Twitter to broadcast new blog posts, chat with followers (like a chatroom), and keep in touch with your regulars and fan base.

By jumping in on social media and blogging, you can create a base of rabid fans who love your destination. They’ll not only come back year after year, but tell their friends about it too.

You Can’t Measure Web 2.0 with Old School Expectations

A few months ago on another blog, I talked about the problem with measuring social media through Marketing 1.0. Most old school marketers — Marketing 1.0 pros — are used to reaching hundreds of thousands of people, or even millions. So they tend to get frustrated when their whiz-bang social media campaign is only getting hundreds or just a few thousand visits. They’re spoiled by the big numbers, and think social media should be just as robust.

The problem is, they weren’t really reaching millions in the first place. They were being lied to by ad salespeople, and it colored their perception of who they were reaching.

Here’s an example.

The Golf Channel’s Inflated Numbers

According to the Golf Channel’s website, they have a “global reach of almost 110 million homes,” which makes the Marketing 1.0 pro think they’re going to reach 110 million people.

Not even close. Let’s run through the math:

  1. According to the National Golf Foundation, in 2008, that number was 29.5 million Americans. That’s not even 10% of the entire country. But do 29.5 million people watch the Golf Channel? No.
  2. The Golf Channel won’t even say how many people they get. But Sports Business Daily did.
  3. According to Sports Business Daily, Golf Channel’s average daily viewership is 77,000. Primetime viewership runs around 131,000.
  4. 77,000 viewers divided by 110 million homes is. . . .07%. Not even one-tenth of one percent the Golf Channel likes to brag about. But you can bet every Golf Channel ad salesperson is telling their customers, “We have a reach of 110 million homes.”

But it doesn’t end with the Golf Channel. Newspapers and magazines boast about print runs, but don’t talk about readership (often less than half). Radio’s Arbitron ratings and TV’s Nielsen ratings are based on surveys and estimates, not actual numbers of listeners and viewers.

So how do you know who’s telling the truth? Can they even accurately measure reach, or tell how many people watched a particular program? Not really. They can come close based on statistics. But they don’t know who saw your ad, if they were flipping around during the commercials, or if your commercial caused someone to go to the store and buy your product.

The same is true for PR. If a newspaper has a print run of 500,000 copies but a real readership of 300,000, the PR person will say, “we reached as many as 500,000 readers,” but they’re only counting the print run, not the actual number of people who read that article. They don’t know if anyone saw the article about your latest book buried on page E13, if anyone sent it to others, talked about it over coffee, or even bought the book as a direct result of the article.

Social media is able to measure itself, although not completely accurately. Still 90% accuracy is better than “we have a global reach of 110 million homes.”

How can I measure my site traffic?

Thanks to products like Google Analytics, Yahoo Analytics, and StatCounter, you can measure website and blog traffic. You can see what keywords brought people into your site, what pages they landed on, and if they purchased one of your products. This way, you can see which keywords led to the most purchases, and focus more of your attention to promoting those keywords.

With programs like Radian6, you can see if people are talking about you or your product, and which Tweets, blogs, and websites you’re on. From there, you can follow those links back to your analytics package and measure visitors’ buying behavior.

So what do hundreds of visitors do for me?

More than the millions of people the ad salespeople were telling you about.

For one thing, you can find out which of those hundreds of people truly love your product. Which ones are the raving fans. Which ones tell their friends about your product.

Jason Falls of SocialMediaExplorer tells a story about how Maker’s Mark Bourbon has an Ambassadors Club, a group of raving fans of the high-end Kentucky bourbon. They get cards saying they’re Ambassadors, they have a special website, and get special inside information to help them become evangelists of the product.

When one of the Maker’s Mark Ambassadors is in a bar, and a person next to them orders another kind of bourbon, the Ambassador says, “No, you don’t want that,” and they order their new friend a Maker’s Mark. They tell the story about the bourbon, give them a card, and encourage the person to become a new fan of Maker’s Mark. The program is such a success, because they’re constantly having to send out new cards. (They have other ways of measuring their success too, but Jason didn’t tell me that part of the story.)

Imagine you’ve got a high-end consumer product that will only be enjoyed by a small, but affluent group of people. Where are you going to put your money? How are you going to track the results? How will you determine the reach of your message and which ones are the most effective? What kind of strategy could you build with social media as compared to broadcast or print media?

Do you have any thoughts? What would you do? Leave us a comment.