in Search Marketing

The State of Search Analytics

This post originally appeared on Search Engine Watch, where I will be a (semi-regular) contributor

You can’t make money in web analytics just by looking at reports.” With that, SES Advisor and New York Times bestselling author Bryan Eisenberg set the stage for the state of analysis in search marketing.

As budgets flow from offline to online, they’re moving disproportionately to search. Search has always excelled at accountability, but as the spend increases the bar is being raised.

We all have and know what web analytics are. Data quantity isn’t the issue, action quantity is.

Matt Bailey (SiteLogic) summed it up perfectly with the word “velleity”. It means “the desire to do something, but not enough of a desire to take action.” It describes the feeling of marketers who have been burnt by reporting that isn’t actionable.

Over the course of the Analytics, Conversion and Attribution sessions during the first day at SES Chicago, the speakers each addressed three of the core challenges in fighting velleity and taking action on your data:

  1. Prioritization
  2. Segmentation
  3. Process

1. Prioritization
Web analytics has come a long way from the days of log file analyzers used by the IT department. Naturally, people tend to want to make tools bigger, faster and more complicated, however “if you have a tool, everything looks like a nail,” says Jim Sterne of eMetrics and the Web Analytics Association.

The problem is “what should I look at?” and “what do you actually analyze?”

Jim suggests you bucket and prioritize 4 ways

  1. Revenue that is at risk
  2. Anything the boss’s boss’s boss asks for
  3. Requests that do not overwhelm the department
  4. Analysis that requires an analyst rather than simply being self-served

Your job is to find a specific process and optimize that, for example a shopping cart, experience from a search campaign or lead generation page. Go to your data and ask “How can you help me optimize the process?”

In another session, Jim reminded us that traditional web analytics tools tell you “where the problem is and which one is most significant at the moment.” To really understand why, you have to augment those tools with usability testing and surveys.

In a nod to his upcoming book, Jim also shared a framework for prioritizing analysis for one of the most discussed topics at the conference–social media:

  • Reach – How many people could possibly see my message (blog mentions x blog readers)
  • Frequency – How often is my message being discussed, ex: comments on a blog post
  • Influence – The more authority the author, the bigger the halo effect and potential viral spread
  • Sentiment – Having lots of people talk about you is great… unless they say bad things. The tools aren’t great yet, so hire interns.
  • Outcomes – Did they take the action you wanted them to?

2. Segmentation
Of course, even if you prioritize your analysis, there is no such thing as an average user. People who come to your website aren’t looking for the exact same thing. They all have different needs and wants. We can’t treat visitors the same. Unique visitors aren’t all the same. Segmentation matters. We have to look at what people wanted when they came to the site.

But, as Matt Bailey (SiteLogic) says “analytics dashboards tend to be as usable as Ikea furniture instructions.” The cure for dashboards that suffer from average-itis is to segment.

Matt shared his 7 favorite tips:

  1. Create Keyword Buckets “Segments” – Start with the big buckets, e.g. digital cameras and then develop smaller buckets, e.g. digital cameras, professional digital cameras, etc.
  2. Segment Based On Acquisition (Channels) – Ask “which source is bringing the best traffic?” Matt shared an interesting a pattern that drives engagement: the more engaged a visitor was with a message about your company or product before they got to your site, the more likely they’ll be engaged after. Twitter is at the bottom of the this inverted pyramid: Blogs & Articles, YouTube, Forums, Search, Social News and Twitter.
  3. Segment Your Bounce Rates – Typically if it’s high, it’s a word that means something totally different in another industry. You have to look at the context. Sometimes it’s not just their intent, sometimes it’s your design (ex: Fluid width design on a large screen monitor)
  4. Segment Your Content - Divide your analysis by Persuasive pages (which ones drive conversions), entry pages, time on page and search behavior
  5. Segment Behavior – Divide the behavior on your site, but make it more accessible by giving the data friendly names for the audience your presenting to (ex: someone with “O” in their title would understand)
  6. Segment Entry Points – You could have the right ranking on the wrong page
  7. Take Action – After you segment, take some action!

In his 21 Secrets of Top Converting Websites (which he will deliver as the keynote of SES London), Bryan emphasized how important it is to also analyze trends by segments in search. For example, focus on “what’s changed” reports of keywords that are rising and falling the fastest by CPC or Revenue, instead of just analyzing the top 10.

3. Process
Of course, prioritization and segmentation are both part of a larger web analytics process. As Bryan reminded us, “to do web analytics correctly, you have to make a to do list regularly.” An actionable list addresses:

  • What marketing efforts or parts of your site have challenges
  • What you think needs to be improved
  • What things you want to test
  • What efforts you should do less of
  • What efforts you should do more of

The core of an actionable web analytics process is data driven decision making. Nothing does that better than testing, using the tools that fit your questions and budget:

Part of a successful process is optimizing for your conversion rate, which often hovers around 2%. Dr. Phil Mui challenged us to expand by process by asking “How do you measure success for the rest of the 98%?”

First, map out the micro-conversions that fall into that 98% for you business type, for example:

  • Ecommerce – product research account signups, contact us
  • Non-profits – volunteer leads, promotion of the cause
  • Video Sites – Account registration, newsletter signups, premiums account signups
  • Blogs – Links to your blog, comments on your posts

It’s also important that you optimize holistically in your process. Don’t just test elements on your landing page; also test which landing page choice makes sense, for example: a category page vs. a product page.

You can’t forget to test what people see before they get to your site. Optimize search creatives for conversion. Test multiple ads and measure which one drove conversion.

Regardless of the tools and process you use, the message every speaker conveyed is that more action is better than more data, so measure, focus, optimize and repeat.

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  1. Great analysis Alex! I feel like I was just got “the best of SES” without having to endure the freezing cold in Chicago. And thanks for including Monetate in your list of tools.

    Two phrases really resonate from your analysis: data-driven decision making and actionable data. As we work with our clients we continually emphasize the importance of basing marketing decisions on real data, preferably data that is as close to real time as possible.

    Of course, it can be tricky to convey that point without appearing to discount the value of good-old fashioned marketing instinct and creativity. In fact, the trick is to focus those marketing smarts and creativity on solutions to the problems that your data has pin-pointed. For example, analysis can tell you sales in the Northeast lag behind other regions. The data may point to possible reasons why this might be, but marketing smarts are still needed to come up with the copy and campaigns and strategy to turn those numbers around.

    Unfortunately, what we find when it comes to actionable data is frustration at companies where Marketing does not have the tools needed to quickly deploy or fine-tune customer-facing content. As you know, we’re working hard to put those tools in the hands of marketers (and keep them out of the I.T. department).

    I look forward to more of digital alex insights here and on Search Engine Watch.

  2. Hey Stephen,

    Great point: data tells you what, analysis tells you why and smart marketers figure out the how (to fix it).

    We’re pretty lucky as marketers these days to have tools to shorten that process.

    -Alex