Marketing Optimization: How Referral Traffic confirms a successful website launch strategy

Referral traffic reports can reveal which sites are sending traffic consistently. But checking out those sites can give you more than just the numbers.
Referral traffic reports can reveal which sites are sending traffic consistently. But checking out those sites can give you more than just the numbers.

Although apps and mobile sites are all the rage these days, it is most likely that the top priority for a business, be it small and large, is to launch a new website.  But that launch process sometimes includes now-outdated approaches. Apps, social media, and new blog content that generate customer interest truly dictate the functionality a business must display on its site.

A generic approach I have seen is to release a new website, then create profiles at every site directory possible, as if the website is a flier.  This particularly occurs among small businesses.  The choice is a legacy from the early days when sites were submitted into directories as part of search engine optimization strategy.  The act is somewhat understandable, as a major tenet of marketing is exposure. No exposure is considered more democratic and widespread as the Internet.

The problem, though, is that this approach is outdated, especially over the last few years.  Social media has altered web site development by raising a visitor’s expectation from a website.  As internet users have adopted websites as a primary source of information, they have increased their expectation to take action – a download, watch a video (albeit not at the start of a page load), and make a decision about the information being given, all within a short period of time.

Moreover, search engines have modified their algorithms to focus on up-to-date content, lowering emphasis on links as an indicator of a quality query result.  Google, which its search engine algorithm changes are constantly reported, has increasing weight on page load speed and social media cues. Bing has incorporated several social media cues in its results (see this Mashable post for more on Microsoft’s change).

These significant search engine changes means businesses must monitor and optimize the websites they operate, instead of permitting a site to be treated as a static item.

But many businesses are unaware of these technological shifts, particularly as mobile links offline behavior to online.  The result is treating outdated ideas as if they are state of the art.

So what is a business owner to do?  A business should consider submitting its presence on sites that maintain active communities.  Many directories have realized the aforementioned internet developments and have accordingly enhanced their presence.

Biznik, YP.com, and Manta are examples of question and answer forums meant to encourage networking among forum members and meant to augment the biggest sources of social media profile and engagement – Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest, and Linked In.  Many of these directories provide features that are meant to drive traffic to a website – where Facebook, Pinterest, and Google Plus are meant for participation within a community.  Others provide some synchronization to your site material. Biznik, for a fee, syndicates your blog posts, giving your site another source of exposure.

Once submitted to these sites, businesses can verify the volume of referral traffic in the analytics report.  Examining time on site, pageviews, and recency metrics can indicate the value of participation. These metrics compared for each site shows how much relevant traffic arrives, if that traffic remains onsite, and if that traffic should be nurtured because of its contribution to goal conversion rates.  You can compare one site against another, as well as against your other marketing campaigns.  This approach is a play on the Pareto theory; Your determination of the site traffic contributors is revealing the 20 percent of traffic that creates 80 percent of the result.  (Sidenote: If you have never heard of Pareto theory, read John Barnes’ explanation of its significance in this All Analytic post.)

So to make a significant difference in online traffic strategy, reduce the dependency on static directory submissions.  I once stated about small businesses avoiding mimicry of large business strategy in a post for All Analytics  (see SMBs Need to Study, Not Mimic, Successful Digital Strategies). Optimizing referral traffic is how small businesses can develop their own ways to make a visitor website experience more memorable.

Webtrends Webinar – The Era of Digital Intelligence (and relevancy in web analytics)

This latest webinar from Webtrends features Forrester data and a great overview of how analytic is changing the face of new digital devices. Play the webinar below, and see how any of the concepts can respark your analysis approach. If you’re stuck regarding how to regard your web analytics results, consider how your metrics reflect the digital data inputs or correlate to your business data. How relevant are the results to your business today?

Great webinar by the Webtrends team and wonderful support from Forrester.

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A Comparison List of Website Hosting for Small Businesses

With so many small businesses still struggling to establish a website, the choice of hosting has been numerous – and complicated.  To make the choices a bit simplier and to help small businesses evaluate hosting option, take a look at this excel list of hosting options (with a few other packages thrown in).  The comparison runs the gamut from Intuit (which also offers its web building services to Verizon) to dedicated hosting for Fatcow and, of course, Godaddy.  Click here for a downloadable pdf of hosting solutions.

Keep a few aspects in mind:

  • Some options can limit operational capability.  I have seen one business rely on the now-defunct Microsoft Officelive but because there was no MySQL, PHP, or other backend applications required at the site, the business was limited in creating features for visitors, some of which were revenue generating.
  • For frequent updates, Use a FTP Client to upload large number of files quickly into your website – Fetch Softworks offers an excellent client, as is Filezilla. Filezilla is free; Fetch is an Mac-only client but inexpensive $49.
  • For those using WordPress, include the Add from Server plug in (author Dion Hulse) with your file server. The plugin is especially useful for large image files – once uploaded media files need to be placed in the correct directory to be accessible for post, so essentially the plugin is an additional required tool if confronted with a large number of media files with some larger than the wordpress filesize limit.
  • Consider customer service and support as a factor – many hosting services are similar technological features and benefits across the board.  Good customer service is essential for the hang ups that can occur with a website or blog.

 

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When Custom Variables Are Consistently Useful: Customer segmentation by membership

New York Times ad for subscriptions

Ah, the New York Times. A paper with global stature.  No paper made more significant headlines of its own in the online world when the New York Times announced its digital subscription program (details here). The skinny is that visitors who are not subscribers can view up to 20 post in a month, while subscribers of one of three digital news packages have unlimited access. When non-subscribers click on their 21st article, they can purchase a subscription. The plan was implement in March 2011, and the jury is still out on how well the paywall plan is working. New York Times is noted to be the largest newspaper publisher who has implementing a paywall.

Many online blogs operate like a newspaper, and while many still are not at the scope of New York Times, a financial model for making a profit can be a challenge. So what would a small business do to emulate a paywall, or even figure how to better serve its audience? One analytics feature that would be helpful is developing a custom variable to distinguish subscribers online.

A few words on custom variables. Custom variables are a javascript call out that measure page actions for specific activity, In the case of visitor, measurement can include such as the number of pageviews from members who log in on a members-only site. The variable is typically activated by modifying the analytics code, inserting the following Javascript call out with parameters.

Google Analytics requires that index, name, and value are identified. They are determined as followed method accepts four parameters:

  • index—This is a slot number, with a single value from 1 – 5, inclusive. This is meant as a key for one custom variable, so you can have index 1, and index 2, an index 3, and so on.
  • name— This is a string that identifies the custom variable.
  • value—This ia a value that is paired with a name. You can pair a number of values with a custom variable name, such as a custom variable name gender and supply male and female as two possible values.
  • opt_scope—The scope for the custom variable, usually for an additiona description

Most web analytics solutions have some variation of the callout. Piwik, for example, uses the Javascript callout setCustomVariable( index, name, value, scope ) where scope is named “visit” or “pages” depending on whether your variable is tracking based on visits or pages.

When you decide to implement custom variables, you need to consider your site needs carefully against your budget, since most paid solutions offer more flexibility with variables. Piwik and Google Analytics, both free solutions, limit the number of custom variables, while paid solutions Yahoo Web Analytics and Omniture Site Catalyst permit more variables and offering even more customization.

But custom variables can help track visitors to distinguish traffic patterns between members and non-members. Such an arrangement would help your blog develop what effort would convert non-subscribers to subscribers, as well as may other ideas to maintain traffic onsite and provide unique, nuanced treatment for two separate sets of visitors.

There are plenty of other ways a custom variable can be used. Justin Cutroni offers a unique way of using custom variables for coupons – you can read about his process here.

What other ways can custom variables be useful?

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Groupon gives lessons for effective digital coupons (sort of)

Groupon LaFontaine Deal
Groupon experiments with a new car promotion at LaFontaine Cadillac-Buick-GMC

Groupon created an interesting experiment by combining its coupon service with an auto purchase.  Working with Lafontaine Cadillac-Buick-GMC, Groupon offered members the chance to purchase a $500 discount towards a Cadillac, GMC, or Buick vehicle between July and December 31st.  You can read about the campaign at Autoblog.  The jury is out if the deal has been a successful experiment.

The Autoblog post and associated comments raised some great observations, but I have some other ideas that small businesses could learn and apply:

  1. Consider price sensitivity of a coupon – A coupon should be easy with a price discount clear as a bell. The price sensitivity of a $500 is a token discount, made worse with a $200 buy-in dependent on 100 other people buying a vehicle within 5 months.   While the odds favor gathering 100 people by then, it’s still risky given the economy, which leads to….
  2. Consider the product and brand.  The vehicles in the offer are premium vehicles in GM’s brand portfolio. A $301 discount may be helpful to GMC, maybe Buick, but not Cadillac (The Autoblog post comments raise a good point about how much value the discount really brings)
  3. Consider customer alternatives available  – is the deal appealing in the given economy?  The dealer is located in Southeast Michigan, a region in which car dealers selling brands from the Big Three typically have a captive audience – Big 3 employees enjoy a company discount on the price of a new vehicle purchase. This also means the dealer competition for after-sales service is higher, since an employee can do business at any dealership.  A Groupon program would indeed create a captive audience of 100 customers in a highly competitive market, but given Michigan’s economic condition and the specific nature of the auto employees in southeast Michigan, a coupon could have limited impact.
  4. If you are planning a coupon, consider using an URL builder in a link of a coupon offer — make sure your business is able to track the reach of a coupon for your intended audience.