Are You Tracking Your Social Media Marketing Efforts?

April 13th, 2010 Jeff Lawrence No comments

Recently I was engaged on a project for a client evaluating their web analytics efforts including the dashboards that they’ve established as well as a thorough overview of their web analytics implementation. One common thing that I’ve routinely noticed is the lack of tracking of Social Media Marketing efforts. Most companies today are engaged in some type of Social Media Marketing whether it is a cable company and customer service through Twitter, Facebook advertising, groups, etc. or Linked In you can and should be tracking your efforts.

I should preface that not everything is quantifiable but there are specific things that you can do to gain a better understanding of how to allocate your time and marketing dollars. For example this particular company is in e-commerce and focuses on promoting specials and deals that they have on a daily basis through their twitter account. They utilize bit.ly which is a great URL shortening service but could make a simple adjustment to have data flow into their web analytics application, in this case Google Analytics. In this case they could utilize the Google URL Builder and create the following URL as an example:

http://www.amazon.com/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=tweet&utm_content=4-13-10&utm_campaign=123-linksys-router

That condenses down to http://amzn.to/cZPbd2 but when you place it within your tweet will carry over the information pertaining to the product, the date of the deal, the source and other valuable information. You could utilize a similar method by appending a CID or other code in Omniture Site Catalyst. You can then use this to make informed business decisions about which of your Social Media Marketing efforts are really paying dividends and which you could consider re-evaluating the tactic or strategy.  As always please feel free to comment and share how you track your Social Media Marketing efforts within your web analytics applications.

The Value of Social Media Marketing

September 10th, 2009 Jeff Lawrence 1 comment

social-media-marketing

One thing that I’m constantly asked about by traditional marketers is the value of social media marketing. They have by now all heard of social media and the corresponding big names Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Myspace, Linked In, etc. What is less clear is how to leverage them effectively to meet their marketing goals. Definition of marketing goals followed by business analysis of who your target customer is, where they are, and how they interact online are some of the fundamental aspects that will help drive your strategy.

All to frequently I’ve seen marketers jump into the social media space without understanding the media and just wanting to be on facebook for example. Starting a group without a strategy with a few posts here and there doesn’t add value to your company or your brand. Knowing that a large potential customer base is active on a social media site is a start for you to establish a dialogue with them and find an ‘in’ for yourself and your products. Another mistake that marketers make is coming off as too corporate. A large majority of users are on social media sites to interact with friends, family, former classmates, etc. They are not actively engaged in searching for your product for the most part. This is not search engine marketing where a customer is typing in a contextualized search term in which you offer a corresponding product. You need to establish a value add for them in this medium.Don’t just build a corporate widget or application, toss it up online and expect the masses to come flocking to you.

Perhaps you sponsor a message board or online forum. Maybe you have a member of your staff answering questions with a signature in your post pointing back to your site from groups on Facebook, Linked In, etc. Large brands have been utilizing social media to offer customer service based activities in a new format different than traditional phone and email. Developing a strategy based upon your customer base and then a short term and long term road map for social media marketing will better serve your goals and objectives. After all you want to enhance not tarnish your brand. Anyone have specific examples that they would like to share about the value that they’re currently seeing when it comes to social media marketing? Please feel free to use the contact form to share.

Microsoft To Shut Down Analytics

March 12th, 2009 Jeff Lawrence No comments

Today Microsoft announced that they are shutting down Microsoft Analytics, which in its pre-beta days was better known as Gatineau. We have received quite a bit of traffic over the years regarding Gatineau and Ian Thomas but unfortunately it looks like it is all coming to an end effective December 31, 2009. At that point you’ll have to export your data and go with another provider. This is one of the main reasons why I recommend tagging your site with multiple clients. There are several web analytics vendors out there and for your average small to medium sized business owner pulling out data from one vendor and importing it into another is rather ugly.

Microsoft Analytics offered one key implementation feature which was to automatically go through your sites HTML and append the correct tracking code above the </BODY> tag. This was supposed to improve adoption of the tool, but unfortunately it came years after Google Analytics, and except for web analytics professionals who wanted to see what Microsoft offered it never gained momentum. It’s integration with Microsoft adCenter was also great, but when you only have around 5% market share it isn’t a lot of statistically significant data.

How To Pick A SEM Agency: Part 3 A/B and MVT Experimentation

March 11th, 2009 Jeff Lawrence 1 comment

For the past few weeks we’ve been looking at a blog series entitled, “How To Pick a SEM Agency.” The series is designed to help determine the components that go into The third of five part series will focus on A/B and MVT Experimentation, and how it plays an integral part of Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and should be a major consideration when picking a SEM agency or consultant. The rest of the series will focus on:

A/B and MVT Testing

A/B and MVT Testing in my opinion is one of the most neglected components of online marketing today. Very few individuals, agencies, and companies engage in the practice yet it is relatively simple and cost effective to setup and use. For the sake of this discussion we’ll be discussing testing as it relates to the landing page in which you’re driving visitors to. You can also engage in A/B testing to a certain degree in your ad copy, but we’ll cover that topic on another day. A/B testing is the testing of two variations of a landing page. You can change out any number of variables and variations on the page, but the software directs the visitor to either A or B. As a best practice you will probably want to make a small change of only one variable and one variation to understand what caused the difference in your goal. When do I recommend A/B testing? Simply put if you’re new to testing run an A/B test to get your feet wet. The second use of A/B testing is if you have a small amount of traffic going to this page. Mulitvariate Testing as I’ll discuss in just a minute typically requires large amounts of traffic to see results in a prompt manner. This description is greatly simplifying the concept of testing but in the future we’ll delve deeper into more advanced concepts.

Multivariate Testing is the testing of multiple variations and variables on a single landing page. In an MVT experiment you can change out items like the hero image, call to action, form, colors, etc. and see what the optimum combination is when it comes to achieving your objective. The more variables and variations that you have the greater the amount of traffic that you need. Simply put if you have ten visitors a day coming to your landing page it could take years to see statistically significant results. 

Now how is this applicable to SEM? As with web analytics A/B and MVT experiments allow your SEM consultant or agency to further enhance your conversion rate by tweaking the landing pages in which visitors land to find the optimum combination. You may find through more complex MVT testing that visitors from Yahoo or Google perform differently on different pages. Similar results have been found down to the keyword level. Often times MVT applications can cost $50 – 150k a year or more but for businesses that may not have the budget necessary to make such a large expenditure Google Website Optimizer is a free tool and offers basic levels of A/B and MVT experimentation. If in the future you require more advanced testing options you can look into Optimost, Omniture Test & Target and Site Spect among others.

I’ve personally seen tremendous results and lifts in conversion rates from 100 – 600% increase depending upon the site and the client. Testing is something that your SEM vendor should be aware of and should offer as a professional service. Ensure that as you question any potential consultant or agency that you see if they have experience in A/B and MVT experimentation and what results that they have seen in the past. The concept of A/B and MVT experimentation deserves far more attention, but the concept with regard to this series is to understand the basics so that when you do quiz a potential SEM vendor you know enough to make an informed decision. For more on the concept see Jonathan Mendez’s blog as he is one of the foremost experts on the subject. If you have any questions about this post or any other blog posts please feel free to contact me.

Google Jumpstart Program

March 6th, 2009 Jeff Lawrence No comments
Google Logo

Google Logo

I often times get asked from friends and clients how they can run Search Engine Marketing (SEM) campaigns without having large enough marketing budgets to hire a consultant or agency. Although it is not publicly advertised both Google and Yahoo do offer account managers that can set up and manage basic campaigns for you. Google continues to control at least 70% of all market share and I highly recommend utilizing Adwords for online advertising via SEM. Google has a program called Jumpstart in which they will setup an account, do some basic keyword research, write some ad copy, launch and monitor your campaign for approximately 90 days. I asked one of my Google account managers why they don’t have anything publicly available on the web describing the program and was told:

Sorry, but there isn’t a site or information about Jumpstart on the web since it’s a special service we offer to high-value agencies. Thanks for asking!

So not terribly helpful, but I would recommend Jumpstart as a better than nothing approach when it comes to handling SEM. Keep in mind that Google’s objective is for you to spend money through Adword and to ensure that your goal is achieved so that you can spend more money with them. They are helpful though in setting up text ads, local business ads, etc. I’ve also found them to be very knowledgeable on their product which you would expect, but never the less it was reassuring that they were well informed. If you are interested in seeing if Jumpstart may be a viable option to start advertising with Google give them a call or contact me and I’ll try to put you in touch with some contacts.

Folding@Home

March 3rd, 2009 Jeff Lawrence No comments

This is first and foremost a site dedicated to Online Marketing but one thing that I would like to mention is Stanford’s Folding@Home program. Similar to what you may have read or head about SETI and using clusters of computers to distribute work Folding@Home works by spreading work onto hundreds of thousands of computers to help in part find a cure for some of the world’s worst diseases. Officially Stanford has a stated goal “to understand protein folding, misfolding, and related diseases”.  A better definition is available on their science page but to quote from it:

What happens if proteins don’t fold correctly? Diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, cystic fibrosis, BSE (Mad Cow disease), an inherited form of emphysema, and even many cancers are believed to result from protein misfolding. When proteins misfold, they can clump together (“aggregate”). These clumps can often gather in the brain, where they are believed to cause the symptoms of Mad Cow or Alzheimer’s disease.

How can you help? Essentially you download a small program and while your computer is idle Folding@Home uses it to process work units that are then uploaded back to Stanford. It works for PS3, Mac OS X, Windows, and even high end graphics cards. I have a small army of machines folding 24/7 from my graphics card in my PC to my netbook to my PS3 to my laptop. Where this is applicable is that as Online Marketers we use SEM, Social Media, SEO, etc. to promote products or services, and anything I can do to create some buzz for a very worthy program I will. Folding@Home allows you to either start folding on your own, you can join an existing team or create your own. If there is enough interest in starting an Online Marketing team I’d be happy to set one up. If there are other programs that you would like to see promoted please feel free to contact me.

Interview with Stephane Hamel Creator of WASP

February 25th, 2009 Jeff Lawrence 2 comments

As I have previously written about last August WASP (Web Analytics Solution Profiler) is a web analyst and online marketers dream for providing validation of web analytics implementation as well as a quick reference guide to various analytics tools among other features. It is one of less than half a dozen plug ins that I use on a day in and day out basis. I recently had the opportunity to ask Stephane Hamel, the creator of WASP about his Firefox plug in, the feature sets, costs, and what insights he has gained from WASP.

WASP

WASP

1. I find WASP to be an invaluable Firefox plug in day in and day out but can you explain for our readers why you developed it, and why web analysts and online marketers should use it?

Over the years I’ve been involved in a number of web analytics implementations for sites of varying size and complexity, using tools from all major vendors. Business users sometimes viewed tagging as a trivial activity, often handled by developers who had never done it before, unaware of the importance of tagging. Poor implementation quality sometimes lead to catastrophic results and disbelief and distrust in the value of web analytics, contributing to the opinion that “web analytics is hard”.

Forrester analyst John Lovett said that “42% of web analytics clients surveyed reported data accuracy as an important factor when selecting a vendor”. Yet, a thorough quality assurance of web analytics tags is rarely part of the initial implementation and data quality is impacted as the site evolve and tags are left out of the loop. The “garbage-in, garbage out” adage holds true. While analysts are wary of cookie deletion rates and sometimes doubtful of vendor algorithms and data handling reliability, the primary source of error is in the tagging itself. Tools to conduct quality assurance audits are either too technical or out of reach for most organizations.

2. What feature do your users find to be the most valuable in the feedback that you’ve received?

Web analysts find the sidebar very useful for spot checks. Instead of looking at source code or using technical tools such as proxies and debuggers, the 49$ “WASP for Analyst” speeds up the process, guarantee the tags are firing, and presents their values in a human friendly form. With partners who are helping out, such as Omniture, I’ve started to add advanced tags validation of data types, length and other vendor specific features.

Organizations that are in the process of implementing love the “WASP Pro” crawler, selling at $499 for unlimited number of crawls on any sites. A simple wizard guides you through a couple of options and launch the process of visiting your site pages while gathering specific and precise tagging information. Using the built-in data browser or exporting to Excel makes it a snap to uncover untagged pages or those potentially sending the wrong information.

And lastly, as is often the case when innovating, a couple of companies started to inquire about WASP’s ability to look at several sites and bring back vendors market shares information. At $750, “WASP Pro + Market Research” can be used by vendors and agencies for business development, competitive analysis, or simply to find out what other companies in a specific vertical or region are using (especially handy when a company is doing an RFP process).

3. Costs are obviously a concern, and your packages run from free to $750 depending upon the license and features. What is your most popular license and recommendation for those online marketers and web analysts?

Even though $499 or $750 might seems high to some people, alternatives are much more expensive or simply unavailable. Find a single issue with your tags and you will recoup the cost, stop loosing valuable time checking tags instead of doing analysis and providing insight and WASP will be beneficial within a week. Did I say the cost if a one time fee until v2.0 comes out? I’ve thought a lot about the financial model, ranging from totally free (but I’m no Google!), vendor sponsored (but it quickly became too complex from a negotiation perspective) and donations (which brought only $700 over a full year).

I then specifically targeted agencies and vendors to offer them unlimited use and more advantages, but then again, the economy and sales cycle quickly became too long & complex for a single person business. Thus the very competitive prices and direct sales to end users. With volume discounts and corporate licenses options, I sincerely believe there is no excuses not to use WASP!

4. Can you share with us any trends that you’ve seen recently from your presentation in October with regards to data collected by WASP?

During the fall edition of the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit in Washington I had the chance to participate in the Industry Insight session where I shared the results of the Top 500 Retail Sites. This will certainly be reiterated at the upcoming eMetrics in San Jose and results will be made available shortly after. From a general perspective, Google continues to gain ground and companies are “double dipping” at an increasing rate (i.e. using tags from two vendors, usually Google and a paid vendor). On the high-end, Omniture Online Marketing Suite seems to be a great strategy and they continue to gain ground in the market. General adoption of web analytics is increasing, other top vendors (Coremetrics, Webtrends, Yahoo! Analytics) are also moving, and some vendors, like the European AT Internet (Xiti) is expanding in America. The troubled spot, however, is certainly the smaller players who had historically benefited from a closer client relationship in specific geographic regions (being eroded by Google). Speaking of market research, I will be working with some partners to provide market share information based on the data being collected by WASP.

5. If rumors are true and Google develop plug in capabilities for Chrome would you consider developing for that as well?

Sometimes, really not often, I receive requests to make WASP for Internet Explorer or Chrome. I’m not excluding doing so if there is sufficient demand (and financial incentives), but in the meantime, this is simply not possible because as you mentioned, the plugin capabilities are just rumors for now. Deep within, I’m much more interested in research & education than building up a whole business around WASP. WASP has now achieved a decent stability and I can keep on improving it, gradually bringing new features to make the life of web analysts easier. I have a couple of ideas, but I would love to hear your suggestions. As a Web Analytics professional, what would make your life easier?

I’d like to thank Stephane for the taking the time to discuss with us his plug in. I highly encourage all web analysts and online marketers to try WASP. If you have any questions, or would like to answer Stephane’s question about what would make your life easier as a web analytics professional please feel free to contact me and I’ll pass them on.

Testing Isn’t Just For Websites

February 13th, 2009 Jeff Lawrence No comments

When most online marketers think of testing they think of traditional usability, focus group, multivariate, a/b, and other common forms. Few marketers, except those who specifically focus on email marketing think of all of the testing that goes into the segmentation of email lists, email blasts, landing pages, and a topic that we previously discussed, external factors.  I’m one of those people who sees an industry average open rate of 25% and asks why I can’t get 30%. Why is click rate so low at 3%? Why can’t it be 5%? In short I believe that I can always do better, and testing is one tool that online marketers have to make informed business decisions. Once you have achieved an open rate that is in line with your expectations and exceeds industry standards for your particular vertical you can move onto increasing click rate and subsequently your end goal: conversion rate.

Assuming that you have segmented your email marketing lists into contextualized groups and you’re offering a contextualized email blast then you’ll want to test out at least one other variation. Think of this as being very similar to A/B or MVT testing for your website. Most responsible web strategists and marketers don’t roll out a completely new website without testing it out. The same principles apply to email marketing. If you have a new template, format, personalization, or other element that you would like to incorporate test it out on a subset of your list before you roll it out to your entire list. You certainly don’t want to see a spike in unsubscribes or abuse complaints simply because of not spending a little extra time to create a variation. Most email marketing software applications out there today offer A/B testing and reporting to help you get some better ideas as to how to improve future blasts. In consulting clients some of the primary areas that I like to test include:

  1. Whether personalization inside the email affects click rate
  2. What tagging each link differently with web analytics to see what users are clicking on
  3. What offer or incentive works better in enticing users to click through
  4. Whether bullet points, numbers, or dashes makes a difference
  5. Whether certain creative elements work better than others
  6. Whether size in width plays a role in your template
  7. What is the optimum number of images to include
  8. Whether length of the article plays a difference
  9. Whether users will click to an online version of your email
  10. What call to action works best in getting clicks?

The key thing to note with email marketing is that like websites you can utilize A/B testing but it has the same limitations. You can test A vs. B but you only want to change one element at a time to understand what changes do individually, not grouped together. If you do group all changes together you won’t know if it was the creative, call to action, width, format, etc. that contributed to the change in metrics that you receive. Testing out individual elements will take some time, but will produce the most statistically significant results in which you can make informed business decisions about how to take your email marketing going forward.

John Dvorak Bashes SEO

February 11th, 2009 Jeff Lawrence No comments

john-c-dvorak

For those of you who don’t have techmeme set as their homepage you may have missed a story that popped up recently where PC Magazine columnist John Dvorak dismissed SEO as ‘modern snake-oil salesmen‘. What was the basis for this allegation? Essentially John switched his blog over from standard URL structure to more search engine friendly URLs. This is common practice when it comes to SEO and Google’s engineers have even publicly stated that “Use user-friendly URLs like african-elephants.html, and not 343432ffsdfsdfdfasffgddddd.html” are better for search engines in deriving the meaning of the article from. So when John did his test he reported the results as:

I had a run rate closing in on 1.2 million page views per month when I turned on this supposed SEO trick. Boom! I dropped to 900,000 instantly. It’s taken my site months to recover. I think it’s because these long URLs are just crap and stupid.

Ahh such a scientific test. John didn’t bother to specify if he addressed questions such as:

  • Historically does X month have more/less traffic than Y month?
  • What was the cause of the drop in traffic? Less organic traffic?
  • Were there specific keywords that resulted in the drop in traffic?
  • Did he blog less? Were the posts just not as popular?
  • Did average page views per visit drop or just overall page views?
  • Were there any technical problems as to cause a drop in traffic?
  • Did he not make any other changes to the blog?
  • Were his URLs renamed and did he 301 redirect them?

The answer to these questions is that John probably didn’t look into any of them. He thought that he would make an attempt to be funny, and rip into SEO as if he understood. When a supposedly reputable news source such as PC Magazine allows their writers to bash an industry that for the most part offers transparency into techniques, pricing, and results it just shows how out of touch they are. With people holding onto their computers longer there is only so much that they can talk about with regards to Windows 7 so they get into topics in which they are ill prepared and don’t research. On the plus side for them this article has generated a lot of buzz. Could John Dvorak be smart enough to create a controversial link bait piece of content to generate page views for PC Magazine? Nah.

How To Pick A SEM Agency: Part 2 Web Analytics

February 3rd, 2009 Jeff Lawrence No comments

I apologize for the delay in continuing with this series. It should pick up as I’ve been able to clear quite a bit off my plate lately. In the first part of this series we examined Search Engine Marketing and the components that go into picking a successful agency or consultant. The second of five part series will focus on web analytics, and how it plays an integral part of Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and should be a major consideration when picking a SEM agency or consultant. The rest of the series will focus on:

Web Analytics

Search Engine Marketing blogs, articles, and books have primarily focused on Google Adwords, Yahoo Search Marketing, and Microsoft adCenter when it comes to tips, tricks, and suggestions. All of this coverage is well deserved, but that only covers 50% of the equation. In a future post I’ll detail landing page optimization, but for now I would like to cover web analytics. Web Analytics has taken off in recent years with Google Analytics offering near enterprise level features for free as well as with bloggers such as Occam’s Razor providing insight into analysis and interpretation of the data. In choosing a SEM vendor or consultant you need to ensure that they are fully utilizing a web analytics application to gain insight onto what visitors are doing once they get to your site. They can control the equation before in doing keyword research, writing ad copy, geotargeting, dayparting, destination URLs, etc. What they don’t know beyond what basic conversion tracking tells them is what happens on the landing page without the use of web analytics. Some of the questions that web analytics can answer include:

  • Are visitors bouncing at a high rate?
  • What specific keywords are driving traffic if you have keywords in broad match?
  • What is the average amount of page views and time on site per keyword?
  • What keyword position results in the highest conversion rate?
  • What is the average revenue per keyword?

Web Analytics is essentially the other 50% of the equation in determining the success or failure of a SEM campaign. Without it you are flying blind. My recommendation is to ensure that your SEM vendor either has access to your existing web analytics or implements a web analytics application along with the launch of any SEM campaign. Quiz them on their knowledge of web analytics, and how they use it in conjunction with SEM. This also provides additional transparency for you the client as you can gauge the impact that SEM is having on your business compared to other Online Marketing efforts that you may be engaged in such as SEO, Email, Display, Affiliate, etc. If setup correctly you should be able to see ROI calculated automatically along with any sales data provided that you have an e-commerce or lead generation based site. The great thing about a tool such as Google Analytics or any other JavaScript based application is that once the data is collected you have historical data that can be used in the future. You may not need it now but you’ll have it should you do need it at some point. While Web Analytics is not the primary reason to select a SEM vendor it is a critical component. If you have any questions about this post or any other blog posts please feel free to contact me.