How to Get Into Big Data Analytics

by Eric Tsai

How to Get into Big Data Analytics

Albert Einstein once said “information is not knowledge” and data without context is just organized information.

In essence, data is just people doing stuff.

The true value of data is far beyond obsessions with key performance metrics.

For most businesses, it’s about extracting insights to create value that has the potential to drive innovation to improve products and services.

In fact, more companies are shifting their focus from traditional business intelligence (BI) to predictive analytics – using historical data to predict future events.

Understand the World of Big Data

To put things in perspective, according to IBMwe create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data – so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last 2 years alone.”

There is so much data coming in at such a high velocity in all types of complexity that this phenomenal we called big data is now a problem for most businesses.

In fact, there are so many challenges in dealing with big data that it’s often hard to process let alone understand.

This is especially true for any business that engages with digital advertising or online marketing.

This is why it’s important to maintain focus on business objectives in addition to all the online marketing tactics because like the author of the book Antifragile, Nassim Taleb wrote, “We’re more fooled by noise than ever before, and it’s because of a nasty phenomenon called “big data.” With big data, researchers have brought cherry-picking to an industrial level. Modernity provides too many variables, but too little data per variable. So the spurious relationships grow much, much faster than real information. In other words: Big data may mean more information, but it also means more false information.”

It’s meaningless if we have the means to analyze the data but the data is wrong to start with.

And of course we also need reliable data which is exactly why Samuel Arbesman, the author of The Half-Life of Facts, encourages us to start thinking about long data.

The point is that whether you’re doing marketing or product development, we need reliable data to help us make better decisions.

How to Get Into Big Data Analytics in Online Marketing

Just like you wouldn’t expect a musician to compose a song without a tune, or a restaurant to open without a menu, you can’t expect to develop a strategy or execute a tactic using data without knowing what you want to achieve.

This is at the core of any data-driven performance marketing – makes decision based on analysis to prove or disprove hypothesis.

It’s about running tests, collecting data, analyzing results to find the story the data seeks to tell.

If we’re going to become better in performance marketing, we also need better tools and processes transform big data into smart data.

Here are 7 ways you can get into big data analytics.

1) Focus on Business Objectives

Don’t collect data because you can, collect data because it’s necessary. Identify the core problems that have to do with meeting business objectives.

Speak the right language to the right people as different stakeholders in business have different goals that they focus on.

If you’re focusing on impressions, clicks, CTRs, and CR, and the person you’re dealing with only cares about ROI, CPL, and CPA you’re going to have a hard time communicating your value.

Learn to translate your data into terms that’s tailored for your audience.

2) Understand Business Infrastructure

Realize that you will need to understand technical infrastructure such as web hosting, data warehousing, and how data flows in and out of business infrastructure.

In addition, recognize that every business utilizes a variety of applications behind the technical infrastructure.

So make sure that you have some basic knowledge of how each of those applications work and what other tools are available to help you integrate more useful t data.

3) Take the Data Science Approach

You need a multitude of skills to stay at the top of your game, but most importantly you need to become a data scientist. This means investing in learning more about statics, analysis, experimentation, and data visualization.

These skill sets are now in high demand as big data proliferates.

Data scientist is about performance marketing, you need to be the one leading the charge in research and delivery of business intelligence.
Ensure your data integrity will be tremendous for segmentation and optimization.

4) Integrate the Entire Conversion Journey

In the search engine marketing world, a conversion means either a sale or a lead. KPIs such as CPL (cost-per-lead), CPO (cost-per-sale), AOV (average order value), or even ROI are typically what SEMs deliver on the frontend.

However; few SEMs talks about lifetime value or backend conversion metrics that enables you to get a clear picture on the full conversion funnel.

For example: if your frontend click-to-lead CR (conversion rate) is 10% at a $30 CPA (cost-per-acquisition) but your backend lead-to-sale CR is 20%, your actual click-to-sale CR is actually just 2% which means your CPA is actually $150.

All businesses want to know their true return on their marketing dollars; this is why if you don’t have the backend data integration, the frontend data can be very misleading.

And if you have the right data integration, you can proceed to optimize towards the most important KPI, which often times is NOT the frontend metrics.

This applies to offline data as well since TV, radio, print, or even billboards can drive traffic to your website, it’s important to take those media cost into consideration. And don’t forget about other cost of sales attributes such as call center or cost from other channels.

5) Leverage Web Analytics

web analytics is a great place to start your data journey. It tells you where people came from, where they clicked, how long they stayed, what pages were visited, and a whole lot more.

Web analytics puts context to your visitors to your site by adding behavioral data that reveals intent. Someone that searched on a branded term will most likely act differently than those that did not. The same applies to the length of the query.

In fact, even Google uses real human raters in addition to its algorithm to rate content because real human experience is what Google’s search engine tries to mimic.

6) Tell a Story via Data Visualization

Human beings are hardwired to pay attention and remember stories more than anything else. And we all know that a picture is worth a thousand words.

So what’s better than translating your data into graphs or diagrams to help you narrate your story?

The idea of you presenting the data is not to confuse your audience but to communicate fully the integrity and the meaning of your analytics so they can understand it, and take action against it.

Storytelling in the context of data visualization depends on how you balance the visual narrative against your target audience’s ability to discover and interpret.

If you’re to produce great data visualization, I highly recommend that you take a look at Edward Segel and Jeffrey Heer’s paper called “Narrative Visualization“, in which they’ve identified three distinct genres of narrative visualization.

7) Start Predictive Analytics

A great example of predictive analytics being deployed can be seen in Google’s Instant Search. It predicts what you’re trying to search before you finish typing to save you 2-5 seconds per search, guide your search, and load search results instantly as you type.

In fact, predictive analytics are what’s powering recommendation engines of companies such as Netflix, Facebook, Amazon, LinkedIn, Match.com, and more!

These predictive analytics are often utilized as conversion optimizing features inside products, such as ad targeting, recommendations, personalizations, and more.

It may sound far beyond our ability to predict the future, but the truth is that predictive analytics is about identifying and exploiting patterns.

The first step is to understand how to leverage techniques in statistics, modeling, and programming.

However; you can start by doing simple projections or forecasting then gradually move into more sophisticated techniques.

You don’t even need anything fancy, just some basic Excel skills will do to get started.

The Take Away: Big data analytics is here to stay.

One of the most fascinating things I get to do at work is to look at data from SMBs to Fortune 50s.

We try prioritize our decisions to spend our client’s investment based on data because it’s what we do – performance marketing.

I can’t stress enough the importance of statistics and its supersets econometrics and data science in solving real life problems.

Great online marketing strategies aren’t just about the tactics on traffic acquisition or conversion rate optimization (CRO); it’s about getting the most out of your marketing dollars.

It requires you to understand the connection between your marketing activities and the broader business objectives.

By integrating rich, relevant business data and powerful analytics, big data allows businesses to quickly assess emerging trends, identify correlations, and take meaningful actions.

Web Analytics Strategy – How to Use Google Analytics to Gain Actionable Insights

by Eric Tsai

Web Analytics Strategy: How to Use Google Analytics to Get Actionable Insights
Effective Internet marketing strategies are built via insights from web analytics strategies. The goal is to abstract insights from web analytics to improve your campaign continuously. A simple way of looking at is to understand how media (or traffic) flow in and out of your website.

In fact, media can generally be categorized into paid, owned, and earned media concept.

Understand Paid, Earned, Owned Media

The idea is simple, paid media is anything you pay for to gain reach, traffic, viewership, or awareness via search, display, television, radio, print, or direct mail.

Earned media is basically PR you get when someone mentions your brand in the public arena which includes word-of-mouth that can be stimulated through viral and social media marketing, conversations in social networks, blogs and other communities. However; it still requires an investment to generate the PR.

And finally owned media is just media owned by the brand. This includes a company’s websites, blogs, mobile apps or their social presence on Facebook, Linked In or Twitter. Offline owned media may include brochures or retails stores.

The bottom line is that paid, earned, and owned media dictates how marketing budgets are allocated and web analytics can help you gain insights to make better informed decisions on budgeting, reporting and investing across all media.

the_converged_media_imperative

Moving forward, these types of media will converge more and more and it’s important to have intimate knowledge of how each media interacts with each other. If you’re interested to learn more, I encourage you to take a look at the latest report by Altimeter Group below called “The Converged Media Imperative: How Brands Must Combine Paid, Owned & Earned Media“.

Web Analytics is Business Analytics

Web analytics are NOT just for the reporting team or the “experts”, it should belong to everyone. This will enable participation from all departments to slice and dice data about their part of the business and more importantly, act on it!

When it comes to web analytics tools, there are many choices such as Woopra, Clicky, Tableau, Omniture SiteCatalyst, and Coremetrics Analytics.

Since I’m not trying to compare the different web analytics tools, I’m going to focus on Google Analytics because it’s simple to learn and easy to use which I personally believe should the goal of all analytics. In addition, there is already a ton of resources out there about how to utilize Google Analytics so if you ever run into trouble, just Google it.

Another nice feature about Google Analytics is that it integrates nicely with other Google applications such as Google AdWords for paid search (PPC), or if you’re doing search engine optimization (SEO) it also provides Google Webmaster tool access.

However; the true power of Google Analytics is the ability to quickly identify your traffic behavior, media effectiveness, and conduct deep dive analysis for actionable insights.

Inside your web analytics you will find data such as keywords that drive traffic to your website, referral sources that sends you traffic, and how your PPC campaigns are doing from a lead and sales perspective.

If you know how to interpret the data, you will be able to understand how your paid, earned, and owned media interacts with each other. This allows you to focus on doing things that work and stay efficient with your time and resources.

Simply put, in today’s online marketing world, web analysis is business analytics.

I’m going to go through some simple way to get you started and for those of you that are already familiar with the basic stuff, I encourage you to go through Google’s own Google Analytics training course, which is the study material for GAIQ (Google Analytics Individual Qualification) certification.

Understand Traffic Behavior

Everyone knows the importance of ranking for certain keywords, but do you know why you should or shouldn’t rank for certain keywords?

How can you tell if you’re getting the right traffic or not when someone links to you?

Do you know why your PPC brand campaigns racked in 50% more sales when you didn’t make any significant changes to the campaign?

Google Analytics can help you isolate and identify what’s going on with your media.

In Google Analytics, there is a section called Traffic Source, this is where you’ll find what channels are sending you traffic. The goal is to have a good balance of traffic acquisition strategy.

Working heavily in the search engine marketing arena, I often see large investments in paid search, and then followed by organic search, then display, email, and content.

The reason is simple, paid search will provide the fastest return on investment, it’s fast to setup, easy to test, and you’ll get results immediately.

Below is an example view under Traffic Source > Overview.

Google Analytics Traffic Source

Typically you want to start by looking at a large time frame from 30, 60, 90 days to 6-12 months. This allows you to add seasonality and shift in budget (media strategies) into consideration.

The goal is to get familiar with each traffic source the website gets and their behavior. As you can see in this particular example, this website gets 72% of its traffic from search!

The positive is that it has 20% from direct traffic source (people typing in the website URL or came back via bookmarks) and I know this client does a lot of radio and TV ads (offline paid media), so it’s good to get some solid data that shows those efforts are paying off in the form of direct traffic. In addition, with increase in brand recognition and awareness offline, there often will be a halo effect that will help fuel brand searches online as well.

However; the downside is that this business is essentially “renting traffic” because if you parse out the different between organic and paid, you’ll find that paid is about 46% of total traffic and organic is about 25% of total traffic. (Go to Search > Overview, then click on advanced Segment and select paid search traffic and non-paid search traffic).

Google Analytics Search Traffic Overview

Why may this be a potential downside?

Basically if you stop doing paid search, you’ll stop getting sales because traffic volume = sales volume. Keep in mind that you should always focus on “relevant traffic” not any traffic because all traffic are not created equal.

In the case of paid search, you’re buying (or bidding) on keywords that are proven to convert.

Another way to view all your traffic is by selecting Paid Search Traffic, Non-Paid Search Traffic, Direct Traffic, and Referral Traffic in the Advanced Segments section since it’s basically PPC, SEO, Direct, and Referrals (people linking your website).

Google_Analytics_Advanced_Segments

Then go to the Audience > Overview section to view the behaviors of each channel.

This is where you’ll find interesting data comparing, visits, visitors, pageviews, pages/visit, average visit duration, bounce rates, and percentage of new visits.

Using the data below as an example, you’ll find that not only does paid search brought in more traffic, the traffic looks to be very relevant because traffic that came in via paid search shows a higher number of pages per visit, stays longer, and has the lowest bounce rate.

Google Analytics Audience Overview

And with the same Advanced Segment selected, you can click on the left navigation area to go to Conversions section to view either goals or ecommerce sales numbers.

Goals are typically used for a set of “desirable actions”, so it can be a sale, a lead, a download, viewing of a page, viewing of a video, etc. It’s commonly used for lead generation clients. And ecommerce is usually for financial transactions typically for retail or anyone selling products or services online.

The example GA account here happens to be an ecommerce business so we can view sales data under Ecommerce > Overview to see if those engagements data above turned into sales (for viewing the data in the chart, I recommend to view it under transaction to see sales volume, default sets it to conversion rate).

Google Analytics Ecommerce Conversion Tracking

Looks like Paid Search’s conversion rate is about 5.33% which is much better than SEO (Non-Paid Search) and Direct traffic, but how come referral has such as high conversion rate at 25%?

Which website is sending traffic to us that’s converting at a rate of 1 out of 4? Can we put more money behind it?

The answer is in the chart.

You can see that there are 4 spikes in the last 6 months from referral traffic (purple), those are actually an internal email deployment which is why you see a spike in conversion rate (select Ecommerce Conversion Rate).

Google Analytics Ecommerce Conversion Rate

Interesting enough, when those internal email campaigns were deployed, there appears to be a spike in direct traffic sales as well.

This is because those that received the email may click on the email (which then gets tracked as a referral), came back to the website via a bookmark or they type in the website address directly (then gets tracked as direct) to complete their transaction. Or they may not click on the email and simply go directly to the website or search on Google for a coupon and gets captured by the paid media campaigns.

And since Google Analytics tracks the conversion funnel you can verify this by isolating the date range and visit one of my favorite features of Google Analytics under “Multi-Channel Funnels“.

The Conversion Funnel (Google Analytics Multi-Channel Funnels)

The conversion funnel basically speaks to the concept of “the converged media”, people don’t just convert on the first time they engage a media because media is fragmented just like our attention online.

This is why it’s important to understand your conversion funnel as part of the pursue to excellence in web analytics.

Inside Google Analytics, under Conversions > Muti-Channel Funnels > Top Conversion Paths, you will get data on how conversions happen from first to last click in a given timeframe.

So for us to verify that this client’s referral traffic has an impact on other channels, we need to isolate the timeframe in which the internal email was deployed versus the same time range in the previous weeks.

Then isolate the conversion types you want to see by typing in “referral” in the search box, it will then reveal all conversions that contain referral clicks in the conversion funnel (see below).

Google Analytics Top Conversion Paths

What you’ll see is a positive increase in conversions across the board for all conversion that contains “referral” in the funnel. And since we don’t expect to see 300+% increases in conversions every week, it’s safe to assume that it’s due to the internal email blast as other channels that came in contact with referral also saw a lift.

You can also track it by tagging the email campaigns correct, just go to “Secondary Dimensions” and select Campaign.

Google Analytics Conversion Paths Secondary Dimensions

Tag & Track Campaigns: Google Analytics Custom Campaign Parameters

If you want to learn how to tag your campaigns, simply use Google’s URL Builder, follow the instructions below and tag all your campaigns to see them in detail in Google Analytics.

  1. Go to Google Analytics Custom URL Builder.
  2. In the Website URL field, enter the destination link you plan to send users to (typically it’s somewhere on your website).
  3. Fill in the Campaign Source to identify the origin of the visit (Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, Email vendor’s name like Aweber or MailChimp, etc.).
  4. Fill in the Campaign Medium to identify the channel for link delivery (cpc, organic, email, tweet, etc.).
  5. Campaign Term and Campaign Content input fields are not required, only use this if you want to identify specific keywords and ads associated with your campaign. (e.g. you can give certain campaign your brand keyword because you want to view the data that way, or give the dimension of your banner to identify which banner was clicked on).
  6. Fill in the Campaign Name to identify the campaign that the link is associated with so it may have multiple links rolled up under one campaign. (e.g. NewYearPromo1 or FebSale3).
  7. Click the Generate URL button and Google will create the URL based on all of the campaign parameters specified above.
  8. Add the new URL in a spreadsheet so you can keep track of the campaigns and be able to see how the various parameters are named.
  9. Use this custom URL when sharing links for your campaigns.

Google Analytics URL Builder

I highly recommend that you do this for all your paid, owned, and earned media as much as possible.

This means when you provide a link in social media, you should tag it. When you provide a link for your affiliates to use, tag it, or have them tag it the way you can identify them. When you’re deploying emails or inputting destination URL for your paid search campaigns, tag it!

Once you tagged your campaigns with Google Analytics URL Builder, you can then go to your Google Analytics, under Traffic Source > Campaigns to locate and analyze your campaigns.

Switch between Site Usage, Goal Set, and Ecommerce to view data for each campaign.

You can see a great example below on how each campaign is identified by the source/medium here.

Google Analytics Campaign Source

And again, utilize the Secondary Dimension option to pivot other data (such as ad content, keywords, geographic locations, or visitor behaviors like visit duration, page/visit etc.) against each one of your campaign for even deeper analysis!

Finally once you tagged your campaigns you will be able to fish them out of the Multi-Channel Funnel by creating your own channel grouping with your campaign naming conversions so you can actually see for example, the specific paid campaign was clicked on after viewing a display banner ad from a specific source.

Google Analytics Assisted Conversions Report

A well-defined channel grouping should contain enough data so you can easily identify how your campaigns are doing holistically from SEO to PPC, from email to display, you should be able to see how your channels interact with each other and utilize that information to optimize for better performance.

Here is an example channel grouping that I’ve created.

Google Analytics Custom Channel Grouping

After you’ve done all of the above, you’ll get a much better view of your campaigns without doing a ton of data pulling or having concerns about piecing together assumptions without reliable data.

Example below showing a report of a conversion funnel that contains 2 or more touchpoints.

Google Analytics Conversion Paths with Channel Grouping

So how can the multi-channel funnel data be useful? Better yet, can it be actionable?

You bet it can!

In fact, to better understand how multi-channel funnel report can be actionable, we need to understand attribution modeling.

Attribution Modeling: Last-Click versus Reality

It’s a known fact that the Search Engine Marketing (SEM) standard for attributing a conversion is measured on the last-click basis. This means that all of the credit of a single conversion goes to the last channel that converted.

Take the below conversion path as an example.

Google_Analytics_funnel

Although display initiated the engagement with the prospect and contains 2 out of the 5 total touchpoints, on a typical SEM report, paid search would get 100% of the credit.

And for many years, the search marketing world has debated many different ways of attributing credit via what’s called “attribution modeling” methodology.

The problem with attribution modeling is that it still doesn’t give you 100% of the picture even though Google works very hard to provide us as much transparencies as possible.

The truth is, there will never be a 100% way to do attribution modeling because true attribution modeling is basically calculating ROI (return on investment) on marketing analytics, not just web analytics. And Google Analytics focuses mainly on web-analytic-based attribution modeling.

This means that the attribution may become more bias towards what’s happening on-site instead of a more holistic approach looking at offline and off-site related marketing efforts. It can be very challenging to attribute offline sales to online efforts and vice versa, not to mention there will often be a disconnect between multiple devices within a true conversion funnel (smartphones, tablet, PC).

Now that I’ve provided some arguments against attribution modeling, now let’s look at the positives of trying to give credit where credit is due.

  1.  By doing attribution modeling, you will at least start to consolidate all your media starting with everything online and on-site
  2. Attribution modeling will provide you a holistic view of your paid, earned, and owned media
  3. Google Analytics makes it simpler and easier with the new Attribution Modeling Tool

Let’s take an example using the Assisted Conversions report below.

Google Analytics Assisted Conversions

This report reveals how many conversions were assisted by each channel (Assisted Conversions), how many were completed by each channel (Last Interaction Conversions), and ratio between these conversions (Assisted Conversion Value and Last Interaction Conversion Value).

The ratio of Assisted/Last Interaction Conversions reveals the strength and weakness of each channel’s ability to assist another channel to convert.

Basically, the higher the Assisted/Last Interaction Conversion ratio is, the more that channel shows up in the conversion path of another channel, resulting in higher assisted conversions than last interaction conversions.

Looking at the above report, you’ll find that the highest assisting channel is Google Display Network (GDN). This can mean different behaviors but mainly it’s a good sign that the display channel (banners or text ads on another website) for this business helps to fuel sales to other channels.

In fact, it doesn’t convert very well within its own channel because it received less total last-click conversions than assisted conversions.
Ok great, so now I know which channel helps other channels but how can this be actionable?

This is the beauty of Google Analytics Attribution Modeling Tool.

If you go to Conversion > Multi-Channel Funnels > Attribution Modeling Tool, you’ll find several attribution models awaiting for you.

These are the default attribution models provided in Google Analytics.

Google Analytics Attribution Modeling

Here’s more information on Google Analytics Attribution Modeling.

So now with the same custom Channel Grouping selected, I can select up to 3 different attribution models to compare and get an idea of the shifts in conversions (and conversion values).

Google Analytics Attribution Modeling Tool

As you can see from the attribution model above, GDN (#9) stands to gain the most with both the time decay model and the position based model.

Let’s take time decay attribution model as an example. The 32% increase shows that GDN played a significant role as “assisting touchpoints” to the time of conversion but not effective as the last-click touchpoint conversion, otherwise it would not have a rather large increase in conversions from this attribution model.

Looking at the position based model, you can see that GDN is supposed to get a whopping 41% increase in total conversions!

This is because position based attribution model often assigns 40% credit to the first, 40% credit to the last interaction, and 20% credit to the interactions in the middle. A simple way to looking at it is that it focuses on both the “introducer” and the “closer“.

And since we know from the Assisted Conversion report that GDN doesn’t convert well as the closer (last-click), this means that GDN is more likely seeing the increase in conversions as the “introducer” (first touchpoint) while other channels were more effective in closing the sale (last touchpoing).

Pretty insightful right?

You can then proceed to down the above data to a spreadsheet, add the marketing cost associated to each specific channel, and re-adjust how you credit each channel and voila: a different way to look at CPA, CPO, CPL, or whatever ROI metrics you want.

You can even drill down to specific campaigns using the Secondary Dimension feature if you tagged your campaigns properly!

Now we understand how channels affect sales through attribution modeling, this means that you are one step closer to what’s REALLY working and what may not be working as well as you thought (like how brand search campaigns are almost always overrated!).

Last but not least, keep in mind that like all web analytics system, there are limitations with Google Analytics.

For example, the look back window is only 30 days. For businesses with longer sales cycle, especially those with high average order value (AOV), 30 days just isn’t enough. And you also need to realize that Multi-Channel Funnels do not take the campaign cookie into account when reporting direct traffic.

Looking at what the industry is doing you can see just how attribution modeling have an impact on marketing budgets according to a study done by Google.

The take away on Web Analytics & Attribution

It goes without saying that data integrity is essential for marketing analytics, not just attribution.

You do attribution because you want to get to the bottom of your marketing efforts. It’s a complex process of giving credit to your paid, earned, and owned media. It’s about translating the value of your marketing programs.

We’re talking about segmentation, media buying, content management, optimization, and a whole lot more!

And don’t forget whatever metrics you’re tracking and measuring, they must align with business objectives, agreed upon across departments (or at least as many as possible).

Web analytics is part of marketing analytics, it requires new process and technology; but most importantly it requires change – you, your team, your management, or your organization must understand and support the adoption of utilizing analytics for it to be effective and actionable.

And ultimately attribution modeling should be part of your marketing efforts to break the department (channel) silos and move towards integration.

Truly integrated marketing campaigns will have great marketing analytics with sophisticated attribution modeling.

I hope you find the above information useful, feel free to share your thoughts on Google Analytics below!

Bonus Google Analytics Resources

Now that you’re totally in love with Google Analytics, here are a few more resources to help you become a GA ninja!

Search Engine Marketing: ROI vs. Profits

by Eric Tsai

Search Engine Marketing: ROI vs. Profits
In SEM (Search Engine Marketing) ROI is a safer metric, at the end of the day, than profit.

The pros of going with ROI outweigh profit in the immediacy.

Profit is almost always the primary goal in the long term, but marketers have a lot more control over ROI so programs are designed around this KPI first.

This is a guest post from my good friend David Chung, who used to work with me in Search Marketing and now works for Google in Korea:

Everyone’s getting smarter. Everything’s getting smarter, too.

I recently swapped out my Android mobile device for a traditional flip phone and it took no longer than ten minutes to feel the smart-ness sinking away into a dumb oblivion.

It took ten minutes to feel the urge to enlighten myself with the latest tidbits of wisdom from my social network.

Just ten minutes, and I was already fumbling around with T9 Word trying to reply to a SMS dinner invitation. Instead of “if I’m home by 7” my phone kept trying to write “he im good by p”. So dumb.

Marketers are getting smarter, too. With best practices scratched on every virtual wall, it’s hard to tell which marketing professional has the true edge. I don’t blame you.

We all look and sound the same lately, flaunting tons of white paper lingo like quality score optimization and ROI focus.

Every article, blog, RSS feed, and tweet I’ve read lately talks about making sure your SEM campaigns are maximizing their return on investment.

Here’s my response: Save the white for summer.

Here in Q2, as we start planning our marketing budgets for 2012, we have a responsibility to jump off our “high level” thrones, and start defining viable strategies that will maximize the one thing better than looking good in person—looking good on paper.

Bottom line profits.

But What’s Wrong With Maximizing ROI?

It’s a fair question.

I’ve been asked about this numerous times, and I found the following analogy to help.

Imagine you’re a soda salesperson. Now, you pride yourself on being an amazing salesperson. You can sell ice to an penguin and run of network display media to a direct response marketer.

Your price for a bottle of soda – $1. Now, you can sell that bottle for $100 (because you’re that good), but the problem is, it’s going to take you a long time to move product.

People are getting too smart, and their phones are even smarter. Just one snapshot with Google Goggles, and they’ll know every soda price within a 20 mile radius and the cheapest gas stations to fill up en route to boot.

So, for the sake of example, let’s just say it takes, on average, 3 months of good ol’ fashioned hustling to sell that bottle for $100.

But hey! You just got a ONE HUNDRED to one ROI! Amazing.

In the meantime, your counterpart down the street is selling bottles at $1.25. He isn’t even close to a 2 to 1 ROI. However, it doesn’t take much to move product at this price, and it turns out that your competitor can easily sell 5 bottles a day.

After 90 days of consistent 1.25 to 1 ROI execution, you meet and compare numbers.

The 100 to 1 ROI sounds good, but at the end of the day, the second salesman ends up netting more profits. The first guy made a profit of just $99.

The second guy finishes the same 3 months with more than 10% higher profit—a handsome $112.50.

The moral of this totally, oversimplified story is even simpler.

A campaign’s success is ultimately dressed in black. Black ink bottom line numbers. Profit.

The Difference Between ROI vs. Profits

ROI is a great KPI for monitoring overall campaign health, but it’s just a rate.

So how do we evolve from an ROI-focused approach to one that’s profit-maximizing?

The first step is to understand the relationship between operational profit and your advertising budget.

Your media spend is essentially one of many line items that add up to COGS (Cost of Goods Sold), or the cost of goods sold. Once you’re able to determine average margin of profit on your goods, then factor in ad spend, you can come up with a rough estimate of what your COGS percentage is.

The next step involves some calculation, using the square root rule to predict when you’ll hit diminishing returns on an advertising buy.

Here is an example:

Assume you spent $1,000,000 on marketing last year, generating $3,000,000 sales.

Your profit factor is 35%, yielding profit of $3,000,000 * 0.35 – $1,000,000 = $50,000 .

What would happen if you cut 20% from your marketing budget.

Step 1: Sales = (($800,000 / $1,000,000) ^ 0.5) * $3,000,000 = (0.894 * $3,000,000) = $2,683,282.

The “0.5” number is the square root … you are taking the square root of the ratio in change of marketing spend.

In this case, a 20% reduction in spend yields a 10.5% reduction in sales.

Step 2: Profit = $2,683,282 * 0.35 – $800,000 = $139,149.

In other words, you’d lose a little over $300,000 in sales, but profit would increase by nearly $90,000.

Using the square root rule enables marketers to model hypothetical scenarios, which then enable senior management or your clients to make informed decisions.

Are you losing out on potential profits by depending too heavily on brand keywords, albeit at a 20 to 1 ROI?

Perhaps it’s time to explore non-brand search terms.

Maybe this is an opportunity to expand your program into other channels, such as contextual targeting or a another search engine.

Even if your expansion efforts, on their own, were to yield an ROI of 2 to 1, this still pads your overall profit margin.

Yes, your 20 to 1 ROI will suffer because of the new “inefficient” campaigns entering your mix.

However, at the end of the day, both top line and bottom line revenue increase incrementally.

9 Keys to Increase Website Conversion Rate and Turn Visitors into Customers

by Eric Tsai

9 tips to effectively increase your website conversion rate

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you might remember a post I wrote recently called Why Attention is the New Currency Online. When I wrote it, I had been working to create a process to audit website conversions.

Ultimately it turned into an article about capturing attention online because without attention there would be nobody looking at your links, images, videos and compelling content.

And without people reading your content, you certainly won’t get any clicks. When people read your content online, links and clicks follow.

However; you don’t want just any click, you want qualified prospects clicking on your links, visiting your website and consuming your content.

Let’s be clear, getting attention is only part of the equation to help you increase conversions but it does not automatically equals to conversion.

For those of you who don’t know why qualified traffic is important, let me just say that if you want to increase conversions of your landing page or your ecommerce store, this is crucial.

What is a Conversion?

How does the value of a conversion relate to the return on investment of a marketing campaign?

Basically a conversion is an action a user takes on your site that has value to your business.

Typically it’s a sale but it can also be a newsletter sign-up, a download of a file, viewing of a video, or a request for more information.

If you know what a conversion is worth to you, and the percentage of traffic visiting your conversion page versus the traffic that do convert (the conversion rate), then it is easy to calculate your return on investment (ROI) for just about any marketing campaign.

Conversion Rate and ROI Calculation

From the calculations above, you may think that if you want to increase ROI, you just need to increase CR right?

You’re on the right track but that’s not the entire story here because conversion rates typically depend on two factors:

  1. Qualified traffic – The goal is to capture only traffic that’s more likely to convert. This is where direct marketing is heavily used to grab the attention of the visitors. A valuable piece of content, a paid search ad or recommendations from social media channels are just a few ways you can use to obtain qualified traffic.
  2. Landing page – A landing page is a specific area of your website where traffic is sent (via links from online advertisements, organic search results, social media or email) specifically to prompt a certain action or result.  And since a visitor usually lands on a page after clicking on a link, it’s important that the links you use to send traffic to your website is relevant to what that person is looking for. Once on your landing page, it’s basically a tactic of one-on-one selling so if it’s not what people are looking for, you will likely get a low conversion.

There are tons of strategies to get qualified traffic (paid search, SEO, email, display, affiliate, etc.), but today we’re going to look at things that you can do to your website to help you improve your conversion rate.

These tips are easy to implement and can start improving your results immediately.

9 Keys to Increase Conversion Rate

I’m going to give you my recommendations, I also want to share a few principles that I believe are crucial in building a website that attracts thousands of high quality links.

The following steps can also be used for your landing page audits.

Use a simple scorecard format to quickly determine what you may need to do to increase your conversion rate.

Here is an example of a score card (you can download the landing page audit scorecard here)

landing page scorecard

1. Know Your Audience

The most important thing that you can do to increase your conversion rate is to know who you’re targeting and tailor your content for that person.

When a new visitor lands on your site for the first time and clicks on a link or goes to your product page, and doesn’t buy anything (or fill out a lead form), then you’ve probably lost them for good.

In my own testing I’ve found that addressing your message to a specific demographic can give you a nice life in conversions.

In fact, when I tried to cover as much features and benefits as possible (thinking that’s just adding value), I tend to get less clicks and low conversions.

2. Focus on Positive User Experience

A landing page is tailored to fit the specific call?to?action (that you designated) and is often the first page a visitor sees when clicking on a link. The challenge is to ensure that you are optimizing an exceptional online experience for visitors and also producing high ROI.

So what is considered an exceptional online experience?

It’s basically providing visitors with accurate, relevant and useful information to meet their needs. But do it in an entertaining and engaging way to differentiate yourself.

None of the bait-and-switch tactics or hype that’s overpromised and under-delivered.

positive user experience ads

A positive user experience usually focuses on a single message with a strong call-to-action that are written in plain language with no more than 7-12 words.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to combine all the features and benefits of your offer, instead focus on the highest value outcome.

Once you have a clean and precise message, you can make it credible with branding elements such as logos and security icons (third-party verifications) or use stories and testimonials. This will give confidence to the visitor which can have a positive impact on conversion as well.

Perfecting, or at the very least improving, customer experience has replaced customer loyalty as the ultimate corporate PR and brand reputation.

Put yourself in your visitor’s shoes and ask: would I scroll down and read this?

Would I fill out this form and give my personal information?

Why would I click here?

3. Develop Your Value Proposition

A value proposition is basically your offer. What are the main selling points? Why should the visitor buy right there and then? It may sound obvious to you but a clear value proposition is the foundation to your conversions.

Your landing page should address the top questions and concerns prospects have about your offer. And it usually goes back to the four Ps of marketing: product, price, place and promotion.

Too often, marketers focus too much on “promotion” instead of combining the other three Ps.

You may find after studying the competition that increasing or decreasing your price is likely to result in better conversions, for example. Perhaps there is a distribution channel, such as the social networks or email marketing; you haven’t fully integrated into your marketing mix.

And with products, developing a new product or re-package an existing product may provide a lift to your overall conversion as well.

You are likely to increase the chance of conversion if you have a clear value proposition that pushes the visitor to take action with your offer.

Ask yourself whether your landing page is helping people to make their decision.

If it’s not, then why should people do what you ask of them? (Purchase a product, sign up for newsletter or request a demo…etc.)

Don’t forget to research your competition so you know how your value proposition stacks up.

The new consumer-led digital revolution is all about exceeding customers’ expectations via influence.

Simply put, influence is conversion rate.

4. Cater to Online Reading Habits

What doesn’t get read doesn’t get clicked on. This is a simple logic that many marketers failed to recognize that there is a fundamental difference between people reading online and offline.

Accordingly to Dr. Jakob Nielsen’s eye tracking studies, “People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences.”

Unlike traditional media or what he calls “linear media” such as print and TV, people expect you to construct their experience for them. Basically readers are willing to follow the author’s lead.

However websites are considered “non-linear media“, where the rules reverse. Users want to construct their own experience by piecing together content from multiple sources, emphasizing their desires in the current moment.

In fact, Dr.Jakob conducted an eye-tracking study and found that people are read in F-shaped patterns when reading web content.

F-shape reading pattern

This is why you should use attention call-outs such as headers, subheads, paragraphs, and bullet points with words that users will notice when scanning down the left side of your content in the final stem of their F-behavior.

The idea here is to layout your content so the readers will WANT to read but keep in mind that the F-pattern should be considered descriptive, not prescriptive.

It’s all about giving you the highest chance of grabbing attention.

5. Create Compelling Copy with Clear Headlines

The first things a visitor reads after landing on your page is your headline. This is when you need to pass the smell test.

If your headline is anything less than clear, informative and compelling, you  will bore or confuse your visitors into leaving.

On the other hand, a well-written headline can drive your visitors to take a closer look even if it’s just text.

Have you noticed how some landing pages are super long?

These landing pages are called “long-form” sales letter that typically consists of a title, subtitle, bunch of paragraphs, images, testimonials and a few buy buttons on a plain-looking page that you have to scroll on and on.

Think about it, if it doesn’t convert well why would there be so many long-form landing pages online?

The truth is people only read what they’re interested in even if it appears to be too long!

The key is to do so in an engaging way that will connect with your audience, it can even be fun and entertaining.

One of my ways to start creating engaging copy is to use the five W’s and one H technique. Here is an example of this:

  • Tell them why they’re about to read the page
  • Tell them who’s it for
  • Tell them what’s in it for them
  • Tell them where they’re at or where they can get it
  • Tell them when they can get it (i.e. limited time offer)
  • Tell them how it works or how it relates to them

The goal is to focus on everything you think will push them one step closer to taking your converting and nothing more.
Make sure you get to the point with actionable content (tell them what to do next) that focuses more on the outcome rather than the feature.

You may want to check out the following articles to help you create compelling content:

How to Create Magnetic Copy to Maximize Your Content Appeal.

7 Ways To Elevate The Perceived Value Of Your Content.

If you know your customer well enough, you should know what they want.

Focus on wants at the beginning not needs.

6. Leverage Image or Rich Media to Direct Attention

Images, videos or testimonials can motivate visitors and trigger emotions. This can have a positive impact on viewers to want to read more about your product and explore the site longer.

Studies have showed that people perceived websites as more “professional” or “trustworthy” when they had images of people on the site.
However; you don’t want to just take any stock photos that relates to your message and load it up on your site.

Instead images can be used to effectively change visitor behavior substantially.

According to a study by Bunnyfoot, subtle changes such as using the right images can direct and guide the visitor’s eyes where you want them to go.

Visual Eye Tracking Study

I thought this was an interesting study and one that you should consider when adding images to your landing page.

When using images and videos, ask yourself whether that piece of content is drawing attention away from your persuasive message or adding to it.

7. Create Content with SEO in Mind – SEO Copywriting

A great tactic that you should put in practice is to integrate your copywriting with SEO (search engine optimization).

SEO copywriting is a technique that tries to optimize your site around a keyphrase that can send you organic search traffic. Done right you can even turn research-intent traffic into converting traffic.

The goal is to get search engine rankings for a relevant phrase around what you’re trying to rank for that can bring you “qualified” traffic.

For example, if someone is looking for “men’s running shoes review” and your online store happens to have a blog with articles comparing all the latest running shoes on the market, the visitor may read the article and decide to bookmark and come back later. Or better yet, the visitor reads the article ended up buying a pair of shoes from your online store.

Obviously you need to know the keywords that your audience uses in order to rank for those keywords.

You can get an idea on the competitiveness of your keywords by using Google’s Keyword Tool to see what phrases are popular and the volume of searches on them globally and locally.

Once you have those keywords, simply remember to use it in your content in addition to HTML areas such as the title tag, meta tags, anchor text in links, and permalinks.

Here is an example of my SERP result, notice the bolded words that highlights the keywords that’s in my title and descreption.

SEO copywriting title descreption

If you use a platform like WordPress (what I use), then all you have to do is install one of those All-in-One-SEO plugins and you’re set.

8. Test, Adjust and Repeat

The golden rule of any direct response marketing is to ensure you evoke a measurable, tractable response.

This means constant testing of your landing page using methods such as a/b split testing or multivariate testing.

The concept is simple.

You want to have variations of the page to be tested on an ongoing basis so you can improve conversion rate.

  • What is an A/B split test? A classic direct marketing tactic, A/B testing is a method of marketing testing by which a baseline control sample is compared to a variety of single-variable test samples in order to improve response rates It’s typically performed to determine the better of two content variations
  • What is a multivariate test?
    A slightly more complex test, multivariate test is a process by which more than one component of a website may be tested in a live environment. It can be thought of in simple terms as numerous A/B tests performed on one page at the same time.

By conducting tests on your landing page, you will be able to determine which headline is more effective or what layout works better.

Here is an example case of an A/B split test that I did on my email marketing.

The objective was to determine if removing the sidebar would result in a better overall performance. I also tested two different email subject line to see which one opens better.

split test email

The obvious winner here is the control version. The result indicated that the new version (without sidebar) has a higher open rate compare to the control version (email with sidebar), but the conversion rate was substantially lower.

Keep in mind that with testing you want to make sure you gather enough data (sample size) to ensure that your tests are statistically relevant.

Sounds complicated?

Well, thanks to Google, you can use their Google Analytics Content Experiments to conduct both of these tests for free!

Or for more advanced folks, you can try Visual Website Optimizer, UnbounceMonetate, or Sitespect.

When it comes to testing, here are some ideas you can use:

  • Test different headlines, sub headlines and ad copy
  • Test different version of the same logo, icons, layout of testimonials and even colors
  • Test different call-to-actions and buttons (i.e. try this vs. buy now)
  • Test different images or videos (swap image for video and vice versa)
  • Test different forms (embed in different areas of the site, reduce required fields)
  • Test different offers (use incentives to see how discounts or coupons work differently)
  • Test long versus short sales page
Checkout WhichMVT for a full list of reviews and comparisons on testing tools.
And for case studies and test ideas, visit WhichTestWon.

9. Track and Analyze Your Landing Pages

One thing that you can do to benchmark your landing page is to install Google Analytics. If you are using Google Analytics you will know that it’s an invaluable tool that’s again – totally free!

By using Google Analytics you will know the sources that deliver traffic to your landing pages from pay-per-click (PPC), email marketing, social media, organic searches or even offline advertising channels.

Knowing the source of your most profitable traffic is the key to increase ROI.

The more detail you get with where traffic comes and goes the more clear you will see how visitors reacts to your offer.

There are many ways to aggregate your website data from Google Analytics but if you want to focus on conversion rate, start by looking at the following areas (just to name a few):

  • Traffic source – where are people coming from? This is your channel acquisition strategy.
  • Visitor loyalty – How long do people stay? How many pages do they visit and how many times do they visit between two or more times.
  • Bounce rate – How relevant is your landing page? Bounce rate measures the percentage of single-page visits or visits in which the person left your site from where they landed on. The more relevant your landing pages, the more visitors will stay on your site and convert
  • Keywords – This shows you what queries (keywords) are mapped to your landing pages that sends you traffic. This is a good indicator of what keywords your website is ranked for and how search engines interpret your content.

There are so many important variables to consider when tracking your pages, you can also track clicks or heatmap on your layout and navigations via Google Analytics (In-Page Analytics section) or something like Crazy Egg, Click Density, Click Tale or Attention Wizard.

heatmap analytics

Last but not least, listen and learn from your customers to make sure what you’re tracking matches to the story your data is telling you.

It’s as easy as picking up the phone and call the customers yourself!

If you aren’t able to do that, try conducting regular online surveys or implement some type of post-sale customer feedback system.

The Take Away

In the era of engagement, consumers no longer separate marketing between in-store or online experience—it is the experience.

Whether you’re making a sale in person or receiving a conversion online, conversion rate is the vote of confident that creates personal relationships.

It is trust, likability, authority and ultimately, influence.

Nothing prevents you from trying to increase your conversion rate. If you do nothing, your conversion rate will normalize over time (stays the same).

However; while conversion is an important factor to the profitability of your marketing, you shouldn’t lose sight on the big picture – that’s building your brand equity.

When you have brand equity, you have top-of-mind recalls.

This means you command attention and your message will have a higher chance of cutting through the noise of the increasing irrelevant landscape of “push” advertising.

Conversion rate will eventually reaches the point of diminishing returns – when your investment yields progressively smaller profits.

That’s when you need to take your budget and put it into a higher ROI marketing vehicle.

Until then, keep testing.

 

Integrated Marketing Strategy – How to Integrate Search, Social for eCommerce

by Eric Tsai

Beyond Search: Social Customer, Social Commerce, Social Media

It seems as if all the talk in web marketing these days center on algorithm updates, social signals, mobile and display opportunities. Marketers and brands are eager to make adjustments trying new strategies to drive sales and increase profits.

I think it’s important to know the difference between a sales channel and how sales are made.
Search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO) and social media are all channels to engage and carry out your message with prospects and customers.

Simply put, the medium is not the message. It’s a venue for you to generate demand and drive qualified visitors to your conversion funnel.

And we all know what conversion funnel is all about – getting those sale!

This is why it’s important to figure out how these channels work together (and independently) to help drive qualified traffic to your web properties.

Not only will this increase the chance of converting that traffic into sales (higher conversion rate), it will also bring clarity to your marketing investments.

The key is to realize that social media is turning customers social as a result transitioning eCommerce to social commerce.

The Social Customer: More Research, Less Impulsive

Today, if you want to find a restaurant or buy a product you can start by getting opinions from your social circle on Facebook and Twitter or read reviews on public venues such as Yelp and Amazon. In addition, you get to compare prices across multiple deal aggregators and coupon sites.

It’s indicative that consumers are no longer buying based on impulse but cold hard facts.

According to a recent survey conducted by Yahoo! and Universal McCann to help marketers understand the new dynamics in the path to purchase, “The abundance of online tools has evolved shopping, empowered consumers and ultimately renewed passion and excitement within the path to purchase…Consumers have learned what information sources to filter and what sources they can rely on. And when it comes to media, Internet comes out on top as 2 in 3 people stated they trust the Internet for researching their purchases.”

How consumer uses internet for shopping

I particularly like the recommendations under “Implications for Marketers”:

  • Marketers should contribute to the social ecosystem by becoming part of the conversation. Leverage your brand as a contributing member of 3rd party communities (e.g., fan page, micro-site, etc.) to create a more personal and authentic relationship with your customers.
  • Create reward systems that deliver the “consumer win” by making the consumer feel special — such as tailoring deals to their expressed interests and encouraging viral sharing.
  • Marketers don’t necessarily need to be considered a consumer’s “friend,” but should leverage the right media to aid consumers — like expert reviews. Trusted sites perform better.
  • Online sources influence purchases just as much as, if not more than, offline sources so it’s important to make sure your brand is integrated in the online experience.
  • As shoppers use digital tools to gather info and narrow down options, your presence doesn’t need to be purely rational. It can and should delight emotionally.

If we can identify the potential “decision path” and buying landscape of our prospects then we can build better campaigns to truly engage in a relationship that brings value to both sides.

Social Commerce: Why Consumers Connect with Brands

Whether it’s through social media, organic search or paid search, it helps to understand why certain types of consumers elect to go down a specific path that ultimately led to a purchase.

Once you figured out the complex scenarios of a purchase funnel, then it’s time to craft a campaign that can effective in gaining your prospect’s attention.

Why attention?

Because more attention means higher chance of clicking, and more clicks brings in more traffic. You may want to read the post on Why Attention is the New Currency Online.

The important thing about traffic is that we want convertible traffic not media with strenuous acquisition costs.

Social media is a complicated media where customers are willing to interact with brands but it’s difficult to track and measure.

According to a joint research project by Shop.org, comScore and Social Shopping Labs, “42% of online consumers have “followed” a retailer proactively through Facebook, Twitter or a retailer’s blog, and the average person follows about 6 retailers.

Here are the top reasons shoppers follow a retailer:

Shop Social Media 2011 - How Shoppers Interact w/ Retailers

As you can see from the data above, most people connect with brands with some level of transactional intent in nature.

The key is to realize that this type of digital relationship is built on mutual benefits.

For brands, this means being creative with incentivized-advertising that leads to trial, trial to purchase, and purchase to become a regular customer.

And it’s very likely that some if not the entire process take place online.
Each contact point may be discoverable by search forming a contributing factor to influence the purchase experience.

This is a high level way of viewing social commerce. And it requires careful planning beyond marketing.

This is why for example, customer service, sales and marketing needs to stay connected. It’s about linking different part of your business to help optimize the social commerce experience.

And to do making each department social is a great place to start.

Social Media: Turning Search Social

In order to combat Facebook, Google decided to counter with Google +, a social network that mimics many social features of Facebook. (I’ve just started using this and will keep an eye on it as it grows.)

The value of SEO and the success of Google is undeniable but the fact is Facebook has become the central hub of the increasingly social web.

Accordingly to ComScore, time spent on Facebook nearly doubled compare to Google even though Google continues to attract the greatest number of unique visitors in general.

average minutes spent per visitor on google and facebook, june 2011

What this tells me is that there is a fundamental shift in how we fit the Internet into our lives.

This also means that search is evolving from a utility-focused function (of finding information) towards a more connected engagement environment.

The initiate discovery builds meaningful relationship that’s based on the human network.
This is the reason why all social networks are gaining traction, not just Facebook.

For example Twitter is also becoming a force to be reckoned with according to Compete:

  • Twitter is the preferred platform for learning about new product updates. While those who follow a brand on Twitter and “Like” a brand on Facebook do so to learn about discounts and available “free stuff” to a similar degree, the Twitter followers are much more likely to use the platform for “updates on future products” (84% to 60%). Clearly Twitter is viewed as a medium in which consumers can directly communicate with the stewards of the brands they are most interested in. See chart below for details on why consumers choose to follow or Like a brand.

reasons for follow-like a brand

And the next interesting insight was shows that Twitter has the potential to drive sales.

  • Twitter is more effective at driving purchase activity than Facebook. 56% of those who follow a brand on Twitter indicated they are “more likely” to make a purchase of that brand’s products compared to a 47% lift for those who “Like” a brand on Facebook. This is further evidence that marketers can drive ROI with Twitter by engaging followers through compelling content. See the chart below for more details on usage outcomes across Twitter and Facebook.

social media usage outcomes

Of course, not all engagements are created equal and this is where online marketing is changing.

Consumers will decide which channel to use for their own benefits so as marketers, you need a approach these venues with meaningful engagement in mind aggregating valuable conversations over time.

It only make sense to start your engagement strategy by understand today’s consumers. Once you gain an understanding of the larger trend, then it all comes down to narrowing your target audience and tailor your message to fit the medium.

The Take Away

You can now purchase or bid on highly targeted media to carry out your ads that gets distributed instantly.

The result can be tracked and analyze through various attribution models.

Although there are still limitation to data transparency across all channels, one thing is clear, modern marketers now must try to understand all the touch points prior to conversion (making the sale) to get an idea of the impact of these channels.

It’s time we realize that social media provides significant influence across the social web.

It’s not just about page rank with SEO or ad rank with PPC; you now must consider measuring the depth of engagement as a competitive advantage within your marketing toolbox

What are you doing beyond search?

Learn to Extract Marketing Insights from Data

by Eric Tsai

Learn to Extract Marketing Insights from Data
In working with many smart business people and analysts in the past few months, I came to appreciate the ease of accessing web analytics.

Who knew that math and data would become a main revenue driving force for businesses big and small?

Every business is fast becoming a data-generating machine.

From upstream to downstream, data rewards us with actionable insights to make profitable decisions via controlled experiments allowing us to advance our business models.

And yet, this is just the beginning as the number of people connected to the web continues to grow, so too does the vast amount of information about those individuals.

According to McKinsey Global Institute, “collecting, storing, and mining big data for insights can create significant value for the world economy, enhancing the productivity and competitiveness of companies and the public sector and creating a substantial economic surplus for consumers.”

 Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity

Collect and Analyzing Data for ROI

We can’t mine data we don’t have, so now is the time to focus on data gathering.

Simply put, data will produce new value for businesses whether it’s setting up web analytics, collecting email addresses or compiling transaction data, the ability to turn data into actionable insights equals the ability to make money on the social web.

In addition data is the foundation for business return on investment (ROI) that enables predictive analysis to explore highly targeted and optimized marketing campaigns.

ROI-centric businesses focus on maximizing the lifetime value of a customer, which in many cases refers to customer retention and the cost of sale.

That means leveraging weighted algorithms and attribution models to target and re-target the “next-best” opportunity.

The key is to put data in context and “translate” them into meaningful key performance indicators (KPIs).

For example, a controversial topic that I often come across is the concept of social media ROI.

In reality, social media analytics and engagement data do not have a transparent cause-and-effect ROI so analyst Jeremiah Owyang of Altimeter Group came up with a simple formula to look at social media ROI.

Social Media ROI

By focusing on business goals, he recommended companies to develop a standardized way to measure first based on objectives, a fundamental starting point to put ROI in context.

An important aspect of reporting ROI is to put data in perspective for everyone involve. It’s indicative that social media ROI requires mapping the right data to the right role because different data sets mean different ways of measuring, segmenting and analyzing.

The Increasingly Social Search: Social Media Data

Although search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo have provided tremendous insights into customer behavior, the rise of actionable social media data is adding fuel to the explosive growth of digital information.

Now that Search engines are integrating social signals into their algorithms, social is going to play an important role to increase efficiency in targeting.

Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter can help generate even more granular, multifaceted customer segmentation from profiles, posts, click histories, and usage logs by identifying influencers and leaders within social groups, as well as their followers and outliers.

Not only can Social media distribute marketing messages out faster, they allow companies to gain deeper insight into customer behavior in much more detailed than it has ever been.

In addition, social media enters into early majority phase of adoption according to a recent survey by Regus, more firms are using social media to engage with existing customers than a year ago, with the following highlights:

  • 50% of businesses in the U.S. use websites such as Twitter to engage, connect with and inform existing customers
  • In the U.S., 55% of firms encourage their employees to join social networks such as Linkedin and Xing
  • 38% of U.S. companies dedicate up to 20 percent of their marketing budget to business social networking activity
  • Globally, the survey reported a seven percent increase in the proportion of businesses successfully recruiting new customers through social networks such as Facebook

Geolocation: Adding Space and Time to Data

Local data is one of the most valuable forms of data because it can put local business in touch with potential customers while they’re in the vicinity of the business.

Do you wonder why all of a sudden people are “checking in” on Foursquare, Yelp, Facebook and Twitter?

According to IBM Engineer Jeff Jonas, “With roughly 600 billion data transactions from cellular phones on a daily basis, adding space and time to traditional data objects can help predict where someone will be on a given day and time with up to 87 percent accuracy, for example. Adding space-time works because, oddly enough, of physics.”

Watch live streaming video from gigaombigdata at livestream.com

The Take Away

The bottom line is that it is about giving youself the highest chance of marketing success by targeting customers that fit your business model.

Needless to say that it is important to collect the right data (context counts!), but the intrinsic value is in your ability to extract actionable insights beyond trends and patterns that reveal profitable opportunities.

The only question that remains for you is this – what data are you collecting, why, and how does that fit into the big picture?

I recently gave an interview to Adobe’s CMO.com about this topic.
Check it out: McKinsey Report Calls For New Generation Of Web Marketing Analysts

A Holistic Approach to Marketing: Integrating Social, Search and People

by Eric Tsai


As the dust begins to settle on the endless possibilities of social media, marketers are gearing up for the next wave of digital growth.

From Google’s report on mobile is finally making an impact on search to how social media is used by 25% of the companies worldwide, I’ve always focused on opportunities that align with business objectives. Especially if there is a win win situation for both consumers and brands.

As the demand for businesses to be more transparent and social media becomes mainstream so has the technology that supports it. This is happening both in B2C (business to consumers) and B2B (business to business) verticals creating a massive disruption to challenge traditional business models.

It’s also the reason why the future of marketing will require media channels to integrate into a dynamic attribution model that supports business intelligence.

Information influence learning and learning = behavior change

Today, consumers demand quality services, accountabilities and value for money.

Whether you’re an agency, a consultant or a business owner (trying to do your own marketing), marketing now demands you to back up your assumptions about your customers with data and actionable insights.

Effective marketers are already using direct response tactics to abstract data  for re-targeting and segmentation.

As the adoption curve is changing how consumers engage brands online, the value proposition is changing.

And if the value proposition is changing, can you sell in the same way?

Your marketing strategy should emphasize on getting more insights on your target market to help you improve your value proposition. (what does your customer want today vs 3 years ago?)

Besides the ROBO (research online, buy offline) and TOBO (try offline, buy online), you now have social influence, digital word-of-mouth and public reputation records.

This is why I’m a big believer in a balance portfolio of media acquisition from search, social to SEO.

Paid search: Google, Bing and Facebook

If you want to get immediate, relevant traffic, I invite you to check out paid search such as Google Adwords, Microsoft AdCenter (Bing) and Facebook Ads.

If you don’t have any affiliates or email lists but you want rapid result, there is nothing better than putting some money to work for you in terms of testing your hypothesis on where to get your traffic.

Especially with Google and Bing, you will be able to target those that are either doing research or those that are ready-to-buy but just fishing for the best deal. People submit a search query and you display your direct response ad copy to see if they click on your link.

So why would Facebook ad qualified as paid search?

Well it’s because Facebook is the latest hybrid of search and social.

Although Facebook users are passive, it offers mass reach with hyper-targeting opportunities based on a user’s profile, “likes,” and interests.

You see if you’re logged in to your Gmail while searching on Google, your search results are ‘personalized’ for you. On the other hand you friends’ recommendations show up in real time when you’re logged in Facebook while searching on Bing.

The search engine is becoming more tailored towards user interests and the influence of their social networks for even better direct response and behavioral targeting.

Although Google is still the dominant force in search engine marketing, I must say that Facebook is facilitating a new kind of marketing online leveraging social interactions.

An easy way to look at it is to understand that in Google you’re targeting people that are further down the sales funnel while Facebook targets the entire conversion funnel that includes demand harvesting demand generation.

I see the viral potential via the social factor in Facebook as a good enough reason for brands to start building a fan base while the cost is still low.

Like Adwords, the cost of Facebook ad will only going up as it’s already been reported by Efficient Frontier that the CPC (Cost per click) has gone up 40% from last year’s Q1 to this year’s Q1 as competition heats up.

I will go into more detail on Facebook marketing in upcoming post.

Content marketing: Social media and SEO

Content marketing has long been about creating quality content as leverage for SEO to build and raise an online profile. This is why content distribution and syndication tactics were widely used in the past few years to create inbound links that build authority in the eyes of the engines.

Although seemingly low cost compare to paid search, SEO isn’t just about links or quality web content because you pay on the backend in the form of time and up keeping of your links.

Think of it as getting a really good deal on an expensive car, there is still the cost and risk of ownership and maintenance.

In fact, generally SEO is a far more profitable strategy for long term lead generation especially if you can corner a niche with little competition for certain keywords, you will be able to show up on the first page of Google with little effort.

And now, the search engines are adding social signals to the mix as an additional measure of quality and relevance.  Social content such as images, articles, video, tweets and even comments directly correlates to search queries are now inbound link in organic search results.

Let’s look at an area that I think are widely overlooked by marketers.

For example, explore local searches via social profiling (name, address, phone, site, social links, etc.) to boost the visibility of your local site on the web.

Start with Google Places Listing if you want to be listed locally then go through other categories on the side bar of Google searches.

From my observations in Adwords and SEO, geo-local keywords aren’t yet as saturated compare to general keywords which presents a lower barrier to entry if you combine it with your “brand” keywords.

Identify the keywords you want to rank for in top search engine results page (SERP) and often you’ll find low-hanging fruits in longtail keywords that aren’t as competitive especially in niche markets.

And finally, search Google with keywords that your customers would use in another state to see if you can tie localized keyword in there. You’d be surprise on how different the search results may be.

Don’t forget the social factor in SEO. The fact that Google and Bing organic links can display peer recommendations is another attribution to conversion.

The take away: Advertising online is easy, you place an ad on Google or send out a tweet on Twitter or even leaving a comment on a blog can bring you traffic.

Acquiring quality traffic that will help you achieve your goal whether it’s to build your email list, sell your products or call you for a consultation, it simply has to be relevant. Combine search, social and SEO is the optimal way to get the most out of your Internet marketing efforts.

For short-term validations, pay per click (PPC) in any form is one of the most cost effective online advertising methods to test out your hypothesis.

For short-term campaigns, add social media to your targeting strategy will help you abstract more data about your target audience.

For long-term sustainable ROI, I recommend incorporating SEO strategy to help you reduce affiliate leverage and take control of your overall marketing costs (think diversification).

It’s indicative that marketers should incorporate a holistic approach to gain full visibility of the marketing funnel.

This meaning to attribute the proper “assists” across all the touch points from social to search.

At the end, it’s all about having the right data that tells you what people actually do so you can make better business decisions to optimize and engage.

The Two Essential Elements for Online Marketing Success

by Eric Tsai

Much has been written about Internet marketing strategies and how marketers can leverage techniques to get the desire outcome. What isn’t discussed enough, at least from my perspective, is the need to go beyond techniques, tools and analysis to get a long-term sustainable ROI (return on investment).

To be success in Internet marketing, you need to have the ability to see the big picture strategically and zoom in to the details tactically with your execution.

It’s what Steven Schussler calls the “helicopter view,” so you gain enough mental altitude to see the overall objectives while still be able to descend, hover, and see the details, too.

Sustainable ROI goes back to the roots of direct marketing and direct marketing focuses on measuring, iterating and never stop testing.

But where do you start and how do you know what you’re doing is right?

Well, I’m going to share some tips that have guided me for years.

Understand Significance vs Success

The key to online marketing success isn’t just about getting the ROI, increase conversion rates or fascinating content that gets viral social media sharing.

It’s your ability to identify the significance and success of what you do.

Let’s get into more details here.

Significance: This is about making the most impact with what you can do. This is also an area where you select the weapon of your choice whether it’s SEO, email marketing, social media, paid search (PPC) or content marketing.

Think in terms of how to get the most value out of the tactics you choose with the least effort. This requires you to further question your objectives and dig deeper to ask the question why and how.

Success: This is about achieving your goals. Sustain high ROI in PPC, be on the first page of Google organically, receive thousands or retweets and Facebook likes and finally delivering the sales target for the month.

It’s the satisfying aspect of your marketing that keeps you going and bringing you money. It’s also a confidence booster to keep measuring and testing your hypothesis.

You know you’re doing something right to attract the audience you want and your strategy is working.

Not only does this give you more motivation to be even more successful, it also aids in elevating your credibility and authority as a marketer.

Find what’s significant

Many marketers and business owners are used to the way they approach their business that often they forget business is a living, breathing thing. It requires constant innovation to develop a business model that’s sustainable for the short-term.

I’d argue that the same applies to marketing strategies.

The point is that when you do marketing, you should keep questioning yourself on what’s important and why.

Perhaps you have a goal to increase traffic by 200% but how significant is that to the business?

Does more sales equates to more profits?

How do you gain top line profits?

Are repeat customers buying high volume, low margin items?

The point is that you need to translate the value of your marketing objectives to a long-term business value. It’s not just about translating web and social analytics to business data. It’s looking at for both short-term and long-term impact of your actions.

How does social media fit into my media acquisition strategy?

What does the number of Twitter followers, Facebook fans, RSS subscribers mean to a brand?

How will it change in 3 years? 5 years?

Clarity matters but more importantly, it’s about developing a framework around the strategy you’ve developed to achieve business goals for the long run.

Define meaningful success

It’s true that you can get clients with a proven ROI, to the point that it becomes your marketing (reputation is marketing).

But ROI is really only half of the story.

The truth of the matter is, you can’t have really good ROI without really good data. And since businesses are using data as the top performance metric, it’s really important to know what to measure and how to measure success with data.

Why? Because there is an oversupply of data and there is a growing demand in manipulating and extracting meaning from large data sets. We simply don’t realize just how fast and how much data is being created that may help us make better business decisions.

Simply put, you need to define meaningful wins and back it up with data that supports your success.

In fact, I couldn’t agree more with the statement “data is the plastic of the 21st century” made by Om Malik of GigaOm said during the Structure Big Data Conference.

Business models evolve with human behaviors so why wouldn’t KPI (key performance indicators) evolve too?

This is especially true with disruptive technology that creates the perfect storm like the one we have now with social, search, mobile and cloud computing.

And to keep up with these changing landscape you need evidences to support your decisions.

The take away: If you find that your Internet marketing strategy isn’t delivering the result you want, maybe it’s time to go deeper to identify meaningful success and tie-ins that are significant.

Don’t be satisfy with the data you have on hand; simply look for new ways to access data that can help you define success once you understand what’s significant.

Check and see if the strategy fits the objective by examining the business from both high-level and granular-level to ensure your success is truly success

Although online marketing will depend on these two critical elements, it’s also important to know that this applies to our lives as well.

As Michael Josephson of Character Counts, also talked about the difference between success and significance.
He says,

Why is it that as they get older, highly accomplished people often feel a need to measure their lives more in terms of the impact they have rather than by what they have?

Management guru Peter Drucker called this the shift from success to significance. Success is achieving your goals; significance is having a lasting positive impact on the lives of others.

The irony is that living a life focused on the pursuit of significance is more personally gratifying than one devoted to climbing the ladder of success.

As author Stephen Covey warns, it’s no good climbing to the top of a ladder that’s leaning against the wrong wall. Not many people say on their deathbed, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.”…

Success can produce pleasure, but only significance can generate fulfillment.

I encourage you to go deeper to define your win (beyond profits) on the meaning of success and significance for your online marketing strategy.

Why Attention is the New Currency Online

by Eric Tsai

Like many digital marketers, I consume and create large amount of content daily. Whether it’s doing research or analyzing data, I’ve come to realize the economic value of attention.

It’s relatively easy to create and publish content nowadays because technology has made it cost-effective and efficient.

This isn’t the case when it comes to consuming content because our attention simply doesn’t scale. Just like our personal values have to be sorted and ranked in order for us to make wise and consistent decisions, so do our values for consuming information.

As more and more businesses and individuals continue to produce digital content, one trend is starting to emerge as the explosion of content proliferates – the role of curators.

Moving forward, it’s important to look beyond the value that content creates but also how it gets consumed.

The gatekeepers to quality: Content curators

Unlike traditional media authorities such as The New York Times or Wall Street Journal, new media curators are the barometers of quality content that help harness our inherent need to consume personalized information.

Think of it as a filter for personalized content from trusted sources.

This is different than competing for page ranks in search engines or displaying authority in social media.

This is about access to audience and the ability to be heard.

Content curators rank and decide which information offers the most value and enriches you in the process of indulging your curiosity.

And the idea of curation isn’t focused on individual pieces
of content, but the ability to piece together cohesive patterns that contribute to a larger trend.

The challenge is not just in grabbing attention but also maintaining it until the content consumption process reaches its peak value.

This is why popular blogs continues to be popular because of original content curation that follows a narrative.

You need to deliver high value content regularly instead of just sharing the same content as someone else.

So how do you differentiate yourself in a space full of re-hashed content?

First you need to understand and optimize your content for online browsing and reading.

People read more online than print

People only want to spend time online with content they find valuable but if they don’t read it, how would they know if it’s valuable?

Let’s look at an eyetracking study by The Poytner Institute (excellent study) to see just how different we read newspaper content online vs. in print.

  • Online readers read an average of 77% of story text they chose to read
  • Broadsheet readers read an average of 62% of stories they selected
  • Tabloid readers read an average of 57% only.

When measured whether a story was read from start to finish:

  • Online readers read 63% of stories from start to finish
  • Broadsheet readers finished 40% of stories
  • Tabloid readers, 36%

Here is an interesting data from the perspective of people that read online: When looking at story lengths, online readers still read more text regardless of the length.

These findings shows that people have different habits when reading online and it could be because websites are viewed as real-time with up-to-the-minute content.

Another key to point out is that in print, headlines and photos were the first visual stop while website navigation was the first stop for online readers.

Web layout and design plays and important role in how your content gets viewed.

Web browsing habits matter

Web browsing habits affects how users absorb and internalize online content, especially when your declining digital attention span is sliced between multiple browser tabs.

Parallel browsing is like multitasking splitting your concentration in different browser tabs.

Microsoft research Ryen White and Information scientist Jeff Huang recently studied the behavior of 50 millions web surfers and habits regarding tabbed browsing on 60 billion pages.

They found that instead of users viewing more pages with tabs, it simply leads to multitasking cutting user’s online attention span!

  • Parallel browsing with different tabs occurs 85% of the time
  • Viewers often view 5-10 page per tab
  • 57.4% of the browsing time are used for parallel browsing with tabs
  • Most web surfers do not create tabs (branch out) from search engine result pages, but more from non-navigational queries
  • Users open new windows and tabs because they’re waiting for a page to load

Now ask yourself these questions.

How are tabs being used by your customers?

How does this affect the time spent per page on your site?

How attention span affects content decay

So how do you overcome the challenge of maximizing the value of great content?

You need to first understand what Steve Rubel calls Attentionomics (of social media platforms) – the fact that content is infinite, but your attention is finite.

Let’s look at some examples on how attention spans works in social media.

First up: Twitter.

According to a research by Sysomos:

  • 92.4% of all retweets happen within the first hour of the original tweet being published
  • 1.63% of retweets happen in the second hour
  • 0.94% take place in the third hour

So much for the longtail in attention even with 110 million tweets per day!

Next we’ll look at how video content gets consumed on YouTube.

According to research by TubeMogul:

  • A video on YouTube gets 50% of its views in the first 6 days it is on the site
  • After 20 days, a YouTube video has had 75% of its total view
  • In 2008, it took 14 days for a video to get 50% of its views and 44 days to get 75% of its views.

The proliferation of video content is setting new standards in both reach and speed. However; at the same time most online video viewers watch mere seconds, rather than minutes, of a video.

According to another study by TubeMogul, “most videos steadily lose viewers once ‘play’ is clicked, with an average 10.39% of viewers clicking away after ten seconds and 53.56% leaving after one minute.”

And finally let’s check out Facebook.

The thing to keep in mind is that Facebook has their EdgeRank algorithm which determines what content users will see from the pages they “like.”

Basically it’s like the organic links in Google. If you want to grab attention you need to first format your content so it’s Facebook-friendly and then send it out at the right time.

For the optimize time to market on Facebook, I’ll turn to Dan Zarrella’s infographic on the “5 Questions and Answers about Facebook Marketing.”

I’ve seen studies that put the percentage of posts that make it through to users’ news feeds at less than 5% while post feedback ranges from 0.01% to 1.5%.

The bottom line is that Facebook is more relationship-focused than push-focused so it’ll take time for marketers to come up with a standardized metrics that measures something meaningful.

The other interesting development is Facebook’s own CPC network (like AdWords) called Facebook ads that has the ability to deliver quality traffic on a comparable volume scale.

The difference is that Facebook ads tries to look less like an ad and more like an editorial that’s of interest to the user. (I’ll be going over this soon)

The value of social

For now I don’t have the answer to the intrinsic value of social media, but I do know that it’s not just about increase advertising impressions or click through rates.

Still, as Facebook continues to roll out new products and revise its algorithm, it’s best to monitor and allocate small amount of time and resources to do your own testing.

And finally, keep in mind that the content decay data provided above are on logged-in users “actively” engaging each social media platform.

What does this mean?

Social media is just one channel and a user may engage in multiple channels (email, search, offline ads) and within each channel he/she may have different accounts for different purposes so treat each platform autonomously.

For example:

  • A per who uses email may have two email – one for personal, the other one for work. Personal email usually don’t get checked as often so time-sensitive content needs a clear segmentation and different engagement tactics. Or a use may only check personal email on their mobile device so optimizing for mobile experience would be a priority.
  • A user may have multiple social network accounts but choose to engage each at different time for different purposes. This requires tailored content for for each social network in order to deliver the optimal experience. You may use similar content from a content strategy perspective, but the ad copy or marketing message must fit the context within the social network.

Here is an overview of how often people use social media from a combination of comScore reports and research by Wedbush Securities.

Clearly Facebook is the dominating platform with a huge distance between itself and the rest of the social networks in terms of unique visitors.

In fact, Hitwise has been reporting for months now that Facebook had passed Google in terms of time spent online!

There is also further data to show that people are using Facebook more frequently than did on a daily and weekly basis compare to sites like Twitter and Linkedin.

When it comes to social media marketing, keep in mind that each social network has their own unique user experience and habits thus size may not always be the most important factor.

There is no one-size fits all strategy.

The take away: As the “gold rush” to producing content continues, the need for curators will increase disproportionately to the number. The value of content on social media will continue to evolve bringing new challenges for your content to stand out in the digital realm.

Simply put, if content is currency, then attention creates leverage by serving up the right content at the right time.

Do not shortcut your best ideas for easier consumption, instead, focus on your desire outcome with measurable ROI.

As Seth Godin has said, “We don’t have an information shortage, we have an attention shortage.”

Here are some of my recommendations:

  • Tailor your content for each social media platform in relevancy. (short-form goes to Twitter, medium-form goes to Facebook, long-form goes to blog etc.)
  • Reiterate content for behavior change with an emphasis on quality not quantity. (repeat is ok but there is a fine line between consistency and spam)
  • Focus on optimizing your content so users can consume them in the least amount of time.
  • Make it simple but not simpler and as straight forward as possible.
  • Run experience test to see how your content performs  at different time frames, 10 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds…etc.
  • Use your Google analytics to help you identify what visitors are doing once landed on your site. (How long do they stay, how many pages do they read, when do they return again…etc)
  • Use engaging call-to-action without been pushy or salesy.
  • Conduct an usability audit on your website user interface. (what got clicked, where do people go, bounce rates…etc…use In-Page Analytics from Google Analytics)
  • Balance your design with function that support each page’s objective.
  • Run simple A/B split testing, multi-variant testing and user experience testing. (mix and match images, graphics, headlines, copies and layout)

If you made it this far, why not let me know what you think?

Or if you’re just scanning, I hope you go back and re-read this post again!