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Test and Measure

September 2, 2009

I’m finding that in the current economic climate many business people are re-evaluating costs that are deemed to be non-essential. Owners and managers alike are questioning what value they receive from any expense that is not absolutely essential. Fair enough too; I’m no exception.

So when I talk to business people about gaining new business via their website, they are often enticed by the possibility of winning new business, but at the same time are sceptical that spending money in the current economic climate is a good idea. It is the same always, great potential versus uncertain outcome, just with a more pronounced inclination towards financial conservatism at this point in time.

In this post I’m not going to focus on design tips, writing relevant content or other similar elements that result in a good website. Instead I want to highlight the need necessity of being able to test elements of your website (even comparing, for instance, one type of contact form with another), and be able to measure the results.

Why is this important, especially in an environment where businesses are scrutinising every expense? In a basic sense, you can track to see if your website is providing the results required to justify its existence. Or to put it another way, you can accurately track its return on investment. But there is much more! Instead of passively accepting whatever results are forthcoming, you can use the information to maximise the usefulness of the website to both the business and the customer. But before delving into some of the specific ways you can test and measure the results of your website, lets consider briefly some background.

Before the web was widely used for commercial means, business still had just about every other means for promotion and advertising open to them: print, television, telephone directories, direct mail, signage etc. None of these have disappeared, and can still play a useful part in the marketing mix. There are two problems with these traditional forms of advertising:

1. The results gained from these efforts were basically near to impossible to track in a meaningful way
2. The audience of most traditional advertising has been diluted, sometimes offering very little value at all.

Think about the telephone directories. You spend lots of money for an attractive, decent sized advertisment to be printed in the annual telephone directory. How do you know that it is working? How do you know if new business you are gaining is from this investment, or from another source? Sure, many people set up a dedicated phone number to track incoming calls to a specific number, and you can always ask the client how they found out about you. However, it is easy to see how this fails to provide complete, in-depth and vital information on how your customers are finding you. Importantly, it provides absolutely no information on customers who nearly bought from you, or even nearly contacted you.

To continue with the example of telephone directories (but I’d suggest this applies to varying degrees to television, print etc), we can also see that it doesn’t have the audience it once did. A recent survey revealed that “…one-third of people aged under 29 never used the printed version of Yellow Pages.

Furthermore, the same survey highlighted that “…58 per cent of Australians would stop having the Yellow Pages delivered if given the choice…” (incidently you can opt out of receiving the printed Yellow Pages; details are here).

So, where does that leave us today? Well, we are all familiar with the many success stories of businesses that have experienced increased profitability, better customer interaction, and enhanced reputation by developing a really great website. But we are also very familiar with the stories of lacklusture performance, tepid results, frustration and wasted money by many when they’ve dipped their toes into website marketing.

How does one replicate the positive experience of the first group, while avoiding the pitfalls encountered by the second? While there is no single ‘silver bullet’, there is one part of the website process that is consistently included in the success stories, and often overlooked in the failures. It is:

TESTING AND MEASURING. Access to a Webstats package is an essential first step. This gives you the ability to see how much traffic you are getting, where you are getting the traffic from, what people are clicking on and much, much more. You can identify trends, negative design elements and specific behaviours that most often result in a desired outcome, such as a purchase or filling out a ‘Contact Us’ form.

Google Analytics is a great stats package, that has some really nice graphics to make everything easier to understand. It also happens to be free, which is nice. I work with Google Analytics a lot.

Three of the common problems that are easily identified by using a webstats package are:

1. Low traffic
2. High bounce rate (people who navigate to your page, only to immediately navigate away)
3. Poor conversion of of visitors from ‘observers’ to ‘participants’

Traffic is the number of unique visitors to your website. By being able to gauge if enough people are actually visiting your site or not tells you if you need to focus on generating more traffic (how to do this is a whole other topic).

You can have all the traffic in the world, but if you have a high bounce rate you are not going to benefit from it. You need relevant and compelling content, intuitive navigation and clear calls to action to ensure the people visiting your site stick around for a while. Just like a regular store, the longer a person stays in your store, the more likely it is they’ll find something they want to buy.

This leads into conversion – is the person just browsing, or are they going to engage with you? This can be a purchase, but often it starts out as filling out a contact us form with a question or request, leaving their email address to receive email newsletters, or even downloading some free information (often leaving an email address in the process).

The great thing is that you have hard and fast numbers for all of this.

Another way to maximise your website with the power of actual stats is testing different variations of your website to see what is most effective. Once again, Google have a product that allows this and it is the Google Website Optimizer. Yes, it is free too. I have not used this much at all, but it has fast become a favourite tool for web professional all over the world.

I hope this has been informative. I really believe that taking the time to assess the performance of your website, and tweaking it to make improvements is a beneficial activity.

I’ll be posting more in the future about this topic, and I intend on providing some real examples and giving some useful tips on how to make it work for you.

Need help with your website? Contact Stephen on 0438 999 911, or stephen at hamilton dot id dot au.

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