Should you concentrate your homepage content on branding or solution messages? Should you offer a free trial? What information do people need to get from your website in order to buy? Where should you put the blog button?
The most effective way to build a website is not to guess at the answers to these questions, nor is it appropriate to bring in the creative people for a brainstorming session (at least not yet).
Now is the time to design the process by which you will discover the answers to your questions based on the information you can gather from your website. This means designing a system of analytics and intelligence gathering to properly take advantage of the data-rich environment of the web.
It Is a Process of Improvement, Not a Blind Guess
The procedure for discovering the ideal approach for your website is usually quite simple and inexpensive, although it does take time and requires the discipline to continually review the information that is generated by your website. It is work, but it can also be fun.
Once it is understood, this information becomes invaluable to the creative process and can be used by copywriters, designers and marketing planners to vigorously exploit the opportunities you discover through the data that is generated by the operation of your website.
At Ventures Interactive, it is our strong conviction that data-driven decisions almost always win out over “gut” instincts or blind guesses. With this information it is possible to focus creative processes on those things which we already know to be effective and to allow our “guesses” to be incorporated into a process of testing and discovery.
With this approach, your website makes incremental improvements over time because it is constantly being tested, updated, evaluated and improved.
How do we help our clients incorporate analytics and web-based intelligence?
The answer falls into two categories:
- Implementing proper tools and testing plans – To be sure, businesses today can spend as much money as they can afford on analytics tools, but there are a number of free or nearly free tools available to help provide the type of information you need to become more successful with your website without wasting budget you could otherwise reserve for advertising. Whether you implement Google Analytics, develop custom reports, or use third-party software solutions, the goal is to start cheap and then only invest additional money where it is necessary if a particular type of information is required, and you are absolutely sure you will use it!
- Assistance with business procedures and reporting – Knowing which information is most important to track is important, but understanding how to contextualize that information is key. By understanding the relative importance of the various indicators, we can develop the ability over time to identify opportunities in the data. These are the low-hanging fruits which can be exploited via short-term efforts to achieve very long-lasting improvements in your marketing effectiveness.
Want some examples?
While there are many examples of data-driven decisions that have made extremely positive improvements for our clients, there are several which we see again and again, and therefore serve as excellent examples of things to watch out for in almost all website data:
Keyword Movement - keywords driving traffic into a site from search engines are one of the least-appreciated indicators; primarily because many marketers don’t understand that the real gem in the data isn’t the keywords themselves, but how they change over time. When a keyword moves from driving, say, 10 visits per day to driving 40, there is usually a reason for the data to quadruple overnight. Perhaps your website’s rankings have improved suddenly for that term (indicating an improvement in market influence). Perhaps something happened in the news to generate more interest in that subject (indicating an underserved market). Whatever the cause it is important to identify the specific catalyst that caused the change and then take steps to address the new opportunity.
Topic Excitement – if you have a blog (you do have a blog, right?), and you suddenly have an article that generates a substantially larger number of hits than normal, then you have a great opportunity on your hands. What you do over the next 48 hours can mean the difference between a temporary traffic spike and a permanent lift to your baseline traffic level. Following are four steps you can take to immediately leverage the momentum of your blog “hit”:
- Write more articles on the same subject – this establishes your blog as a highly relevant site for the subject that is being covered.
- Promote the blog entry on your homepage – you know people want to read about the subject, because you have a spike in traffic on that article. Promoting it on your homepage will increase the excitement even more.
- Create a “Featured Articles” section in the sidebar – Whenever you write an article that “hits”, add it to the permanent Featured Article links section that shows up on every page. This will increase the Search Engine visibility of the article and also make it easier for readers to find your best stuff.
- Advertise the blog entry – yes, you can (and should) PAY to advertise a blog entry. Focus your advertising budget on those websites and blogs that share similar interests and subjects to that of your blog entry. Also, keep in mind to only promote your most popular blog articles – you don’t want to waste money on a dud.
Branded Versus Non-branded Terms – Unfortunately there is no way to easily automate the development of this indicator, but it can be enormously important in terms of discovering the effectiveness of your PR, Advertising, and Search Engine Optimization campaigns. While this subject is complex, the indicator is derived by counting the number of hits for branded terms versus the number of non-branded terms. The value of this indicator is further enhanced by tracking these data over time.
- A higher ratio of branded terms indicates a highly-effective Public Relations and Advertising operation.
- A higher ratio of non-branded terms often indicates a highly-effective SEO program.
- An increasing number of unique non-branded terms indicate that your site is becoming more influential within your market.
- An increasing number of hits from the same keywords over time indicate an improvement in overall search engine positioning.
You can take advantage of these indicators by doing more of whatever you are successful at. If certain classes of search terms seem to be improving over time, then you can focus your content development on those subjects. If your PR is generating lots of branded-term traffic, then perhaps you could increase the reach and frequency of your Public Relations efforts.