Test and Measure

September 2, 2009 Comments off

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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Now playing: Paul Simon – Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes
via FoxyTunes

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What is Your Plan to Ensure the Price is Right?

August 20, 2009 4 comments

Paul Hassing was today agonising over pricing – one of the most important decisions a business must make. He gives some simple, real life situations and then asks some very simple, yet thought provoking questions.

I’ve commented, and some of the other comments are interesting also.

I have often been surprised at the haphazard manner in which many small businesses treat their pricing. Often there is little or no research, it is reactive, and there is rarely a plan. Without a plan the pricing decision is a one-off event rather than a process, and this means it will always be reactive.

Pricing is often considered part of the “marketing mix“, and this makes sense. But having a plan for developing your pricing can greatly help in the financial management side of your business also. In a very basic sense, a pricing plan answers questions like “What is the price now, and where do I want it to be?”, “Why is the price what it is now?”, and “What do I have to do to increase/decrease my pricing?”. Of course, you’ll also want to try to determine how your clients will react, and what they will expect as a result of any change.

By having a plan, you can do things like developing strategies to tie in customers payment performance. This would seek to improve profitability and also cash-flow. Of course, this needs input from both the marketing and financial types in your business.

This is all kind of obvious when you think about it, but without a plan to develop all aspects of your business, including pricing, you’re always going to be reacting to what other people – clients, competitors etc – are doing, rather than getting to where you need to be.

So, have you got a Plan?

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Now playing: Pink Floyd – Money
via FoxyTunes

Categories: Business Tags: ,

List of online social tools I use

July 2, 2009 Comments off

A client asked me the other day what social networking services do I use. I rattled off some of the usual suspects, including this site here.

I was surprised that later there were many more that I kept thinking of. So I decided to make a list. This is just my list, and certainly isn’t a comprehensive list of all the social media tools and services available. I know lots of people who use far more than I do, but most people use far less. Where do you fit in on that scale?

  1. My website/blog right here, where you are now. This is the central tool of my online social toolbox. Perhaps it is my online social toolbox.
  2. LinkedIn In my opinion, an essential way to keep in touch with people in a professional capacity. Do it.
  3. Twitter This has fast become the most frequently used tool at my disposal. Real-Time blogging. Valuable in many ways – chat, track news and topics of interest, make online notes of things to look at later, link to interesting sites and more!
  4. TweetDeck Since it started integrating my use of Twitter across my PC and iPhone (not to mention FaceBook) it has become a valuable social tool to me in its own right.
  5. FaceBook For me personally, a time-sink (more on my use of it below). For many others, indispensable.
  6. Delicious Live bookmarking. Sounds boring, but actually very useful indeed.
  7. Technorati Tracks blogs – a good source for hot topics and interesting conversations (incidentally, I need to claim this blog: ayncsk9rdv ).
  8. YouTube I use this a lot, but I don’t really use it much at all (confused? See below).
  9. Friendfeed Just started using this, and the jury is still out. Sure looks fascinating, but will it be useful? (Update 26-08-09: Friendfeed has been aquired by Facebook; I personally won’t be using Friendfeed in the future.)
  10. Bloglines Currently, my RSS Reader of choice, but I am constantly looking for something better.
  11. iGoogle I am using this a great deal with my work at the moment. Useful for collating various online sources of information (I use it when talking to clients to be able to easily find information quickly)
  12. Google Talk Currently my IM client of choice. It works well, but I wish it did video.
  13. Skype Skype is becoming a ubiquitous communications tool, not just voice. Cheap, useful, works well – love it.
  14. Gmail (including Google Chat) It is better than just email – the search rocks and the IM client is good too (it has video!). Can’t wait for Google Wave though…
  15. Google Apps Lots of hype around this product. I’m not sure it will be a Microsoft Office killer, but it is having solid uptake. I think this revolves around the fact that Google are not pitching it directly against MS Office, instead promoting the ease of online, real-time collaboration.

Some I use a lot more than others, but this doesn’t mean they are less important. For instance, if you discount my viewing the funny stuff and interesting tutorials on YouTube, I actually use (i.e. contribute to and interact with) YouTube very little. However I do regularly link to video’s I think are interesting, so I do direct some eyeballs that way.

I personally get little value from FaceBook, other than seeing up-to-date photo’s of my loved ones, so I try to avoid it. If they switched to flickr I’d be there in a heartbeat! Come to think of it, I should get that ball rolling myself. However, despite my ambivalence towards FaceBook I still update there reasonable regularly. This is an interesting example of convergence – TweetDeck gives me the ability to post my tweets as FaceBook updates. Therefore I do update my FaceBook page reasonably often simply because it is so easy for me to do so through TweetDeck.

Interestingly, one third of what is on the list above are Google products. Without actually writing this list, I wouldn’t have guessed that. I feel surprised, yet I also feel I shouldn’t be.

A few other services worth mentioning that perhaps don’t quite fit into the list above:

  1. Wikipedia I use this heaps – from reading up on things of personal interest to checking what certain acronyms I use everyday actually mean!
  2. eBay I don’t use this personally, but my good wife does, along with millions of others.
  3. GoToMeeting I have only used this recently, in a fairly limited capacity, but from what I’ve seen it works very well. Remote conferences, meetings and demonstrations work well with this.
  4. Google Maps I LOVE Google Maps. especially on my iPhone.

Not every service is for everyone – some things are quite specialised or detailed in what they will do for you. But there is a plethora of tools out there to use. The big question is: Is this tool/service really just going to waste my time, or will it give me a measurable benefit that outweighs the cost? (note that cost is not only money, but time also)

So what do you use? What does your list look like?  And what cool tool do you love that I should know about?

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Now playing: The Breeders – Huffer
via FoxyTunes

Welcome!

June 24, 2009 Comments off

Welcome to all, especially if you’ve arrived here from my old site topicalhuman.com.

As I mentioned over there, I’m not going to posting there anymore – here is my new interweb HQ!

I have a few reasons why I’ve decided to start afresh here, but the real catalyst for this decision was an excellent post over at CopyBlogger on when is the right time to ‘shoot’ your blog’.

Stay tuned, there will be lots of interesting stuff coming soon on subjects I am either involved with in my work, or that I am learning about. These include the following:

  • Cloud Computing and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and how this is changing the way business gets done
  • Web Design & Development
  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Copywriting
  • Podcasting
  • MYOB Accounting Software
  • Sales & Marketing

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Now playing: Jamiroquai – Black Capricorn Day
via FoxyTunes

What’s been happening

June 22, 2009 Comments off

I have had lots and lots going on recently, which is one reason why I’ve not really started posting here. The other reason is that I’ve been thinking a great deal about what I want to do here, and what I don’t want to do here.

I want this site to be far more focused than my previous blogs on subjects that interest me from a professional perspective – that is things that have some application in what I do for work. Most importantly it needs to be interesting for both you and I. If it is a little fun too, that would be great!

So what have I been doing?

I have recently started doing some work for SiteZero Internet and that has been going great. If your business needs a new website or a refresh of your current website, I’d be deeply grateful to have the chance to talk to you how SiteZero can offer you a fully supported, results-driven website. I can be contacted on 0438 999 911 or at stephen <at> hamilton <dot> id <dot> au. I will be posting lots more about the cool things I am getting to do at SiteZero in the near future.

I’m in the process of getting some certification for the MYOB Bookkeeping course I did a couple of months ago. Not terribly exciting, but extremely useful!

My brother Ben and I are starting a Podcast! It will be focused on Australian Small Business and will feature interviews with some really clever people who will be giving great advice to the listeners to help them reach their business goals. It will have a strong technological perspective (which is not surprising given our backgrounds), but will also have some really practical advice from experts in all areas. We don’t have a date yet for the release (in fact, we have yet to record a single thing!) but this will be happening soon. Looking forward to this – it will be fun, and we’re looking forward to interviewing lots of really interesting people.

I am, mainly for my own curiosity, reading up on some subjects related to my work. I am reading the Head First: HTML with CSS and XHTML, which I’ve just started, but am very impressed with so far. I have been reading up on Copywriting – Paul Hassing is an Australian copywriter I find interesting, although I’ve found CopyBlogger has more of the practical “how-to” information I’m after at present. I have also found some interesting posts on becoming a SEO and Adwords expert here and here.

I am looking forward to developing this site, and hopefully this includes you participating in the comments, contacting me with ideas, criticism, or praise. I guess that is my challenge: Make this site interesting enough for you to visit and participate in. Wish me luck!

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Now playing: Kaiser Chiefs – Time Honoured Tradition
via FoxyTunes

Links 25/03/09

March 25, 2009 Comments off

I hate just dumping links like this but I’ve been very busy, and I want to keep track of a couple of several posts.

Deepfreeze.

Tips for taking profile photo’s here and here.

Courier Mail article on passwords.

The Napoleon Dynamite Guide to Social Media.

Guide to separating personal and business online profiles.

Doc Searls is always posting about Project VRM – I don’t fully get it, but it looks very interesting.

Microsoft supporting PHP in their web platform – how well does that work? If I wanted to use php, why would I want/need to do it in a MS stack? Is it to use Silverlight and the like? DG might be able to answer that…

I’m enjoying going through the (free) web programming tutorials here. I wish I had more time to get through them a bit quicker!

Categories: Uncategorized

Hello world!

March 20, 2009 1 comment

Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

This is a work in progress, but should be up and running within a week.

Categories: Uncategorized