Paying For SEO Is Like Paying For An Oil Change

There are those who say that say SEO is a con and those that defend it saying it helps many, many people.

I think the debate is summed up well with the following analogy. Just replace ‘oil change’ with ‘SEO’ and ‘your car’ with ‘your website’:

I pay to have the oil changed on my car. Of course, I could do it myself. It would be cheaper, I should know my own car and working on it would give me the best results since it’s my car. But I choose not to, and so do many other people – 7 billion dollars a year worth. Am I and all these people stupid? Don’t we not know we could do it ourselves? Is the oil change industry a huge con?

Of course not.

People choose to not change their own oil for many valid reasons:
They don’t have the technical (albeit simple) know-how and have no desire to learn it
It’s time consuming
Its dirty

Is it possible that the workers in an oil change shop take advantage of their customers by selling them things they don’t need? You bet they do. It happens every day. That doesn’t make it right, but unfortunately that’s what happens when there is an imbalance of information.

Web Analtytics Increases Uncertainty As Much As It Does Confidence

With so much data available with web analytics tools, one would think that businesses would become more confident in their understanding of themselves and their customers. But more data leads to just as much uncertainty which is described with a perfect analogy in this New York Times article.

Here’s the analogy:

“The larger the island of knowledge grows, the longer the shoreline — where knowledge meets ignorance — extends. The more we know, the more we can ask. Questions don’t give way to answers so much as the two proliferate together. Answers breed questions. Curiosity isn’t merely a static disposition but rather a passion of the mind that is ceaselessly earned and nurtured.

Mapping the coast of the island of knowledge, to continue the metaphor, requires a grasp of the psychology of ambiguity. The ever-expanding shoreline, where questions are born of answers, is terrain characterized by vague and conflicting information. The resulting state of uncertainty, psychologists have shown, intensifies our emotions: not only exhilaration and surprise, but also confusion and frustration.”

Exhilaration and surprise on one side, confusion and frustration on the other – as any web analyst would attest – sums up web analytics perfectly.

Attention Is Monetizable But Shouldn’t Always Be

The reason apps that don’t have any revenue but millions of users are worth so much is because “attention is monetizable”. The assumption is that once advertisers are able to access all of that attention they’ll pay a lot for the privilege for putting their ads in front of it. But money shouldn’t always follow where the most eyeballs are. It’s possible that all the attention in the world can’t make up for a medium that is just bad for advertising.

I really like Bob Hoffman’s idea that the best mediums for advertising are those that are entertainment mediums like TV and Radio because you are accustomed to entertainment media carrying advertising. The internet is part communication medium, part information medium, and part entertainment medium. Meaning that when you are using it for any reason other than entertainment the advertising gets in the way, is ignored and is ineffective.

From Bob:

“What if you picked up the telephone and instead of getting a dial tone you got an ad?

What if you picked up a dictionary and instead of finding a definition you found an ad?

In both cases you’d be angry. Why? Because the telephone is a medium of communication and you don’t want to be slowed down. The dictionary is a medium of information and you don’t want to be sidetracked.”

Those high value/high attention apps are more like telephones and dictionaries. This isn’t to say that advertisers won’t spend a ton of money on ads in front of that attention – the ways advertising budgets are squandered are infinite – I’m just saying it could have been better spent elsewhere.

The Biggest Threat To Success In Omni-Channel Marketing

For retailers the omni-channel approach is to let the customer decide how they want to shop – whether it be online or in store, mobile or desktop, or any other combination – and then accommodate those preferences in the most frictionless way possible.

The biggest reason an organization struggles with developing an omni-channel approach isn’t as much about technology but misalignment with incentives within the organization.

The ecommerce team is incentivized to reach a revenue target within it’s allocated budget. Therefore, it’s also incentivized not to promote omni-channel behavior from it’s customers. Any visitor that the ecommerce team spends money on driving to the site is considered a waste of money if they don’t buy on the web site. The revenue targets that the team is held to are completely derived from sales on the website only. So they have every reason to not promote the idea that the customer could go in the store. The same goes for the retail marketing team. Their advertising efforts are designed to draw visitors to the store. Every sale that happens online is one that doesn’t happen in the store and affects their bottom line.

As a result, many marketing tactics are left unrealized – especially the efforts of using the internet to drive in-store sales. This is why no online marketing department wants to spend money on search ads on mobile – those people aren’t buying on the website, their buying in the store. Hence Google’s preoccupation of educating advertisers about all the different ways that customers use Google to decide to buy – instead of just focusing on when customers decide to buy on their desktop computers.

The solution here is to put both offline and online store teams on the same budget and revenue target. Easier said than done.

How To Come Up With Questions To Ask Web Analytics Data

It’s said that the successful use of web analytics requires asking the data the right questions. So where do you get the right questions to ask? Some questions start with data and some questions end with data.

Recognizing a trend or change in the data can lead to a good question. This requires creating key performance indicators and watching them as time goes on. You may notice that the amount of purchases that include a sale item is increasing year over year and you want to answer the question as to why – which may lead to an insight that then leads to a change in how your marketing dollars are being spent, how product is merchandised or a page is displayed.

Or a question might first come from outside of the data. Looking at a competitor’s site causes you to wonder what it would be like to do what they are doing. Or something bothers you about the old looking design of your product detail page and you wonder what would happen if you changed it. Those questions then lead you to look at data to validate your questions.

A healthy combination of both approaches – watching your data for trends and watching the competitive landscape for trends, can and should be employed to get the most out of web analytics to improve your online business.

Content Marketing Quality Versus Quantity

You want to create some content (videos, info-graphics, blog posts, podcasts, social posts & tweets, etc.) in hopes that it will drive traffic, improve search rankings, give utility to your brand in the mind of the customer and sell stuff. But you have a limited budget. You had to decide between a little content that has a lot of polish and high production costs versus more content but lower quality.

I say go for quantity over quality every time.

The first reason to put quantity over quality is that there’s no correlation between how much something cost to make and how interesting it is. A hundred million dollar movie can bomb and a video made for free can go viral.

You’re also competing with 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, 2 million blog posts published a day and more than 3 billion Facebook posts a week. In other words, there is a lot of other content vying for attention. The more content you can make with unique titles, different perspectives and varied angles the better chances you have at finding the people looking for the content you make.

So, if there’s so much competition and money isn’t related to interestingness, why do brands choose quality over quantity nearly every time? Over-the-top production values are a place to hide. It’s easy to cover up boring with something pretty, but it rarely works.

Unintended Consequences Of Key Performance Indicators

Narrowly focusing on key performance indicators can have unintended consequences,
optimizing for the wrong things at the expense of something else.

For nearly every metric that an organization can focus on with web analytics, there is potential for backfire. Here are a few:

Engagement is a buzzword these days that refers to making an experience “sticky”, or that the user finds content so compelling that they develop a stronger relationship with a brand. Metrics like average time on site and page views per visit are often used to measure engagement but these metrics can be wrongly translated as frustrated visitors who can’t find what they are looking for.

Increasing visits to a site can’t be wrong can it? Not unless in an effort to reach a certain level of visits you engage in spammy tactics like click-bait headlines or spend lots of marketing dollars that in the end produces lots of unqualified traffic. Why praise increased visits if none of it takes the actions on the site that make you any money?

Measuring your advertisements reach refers to how many people are seeing the ad. The more the better is not necessarily true. In the age of precise targeting online, who sees your ad is more rewarding than how many.

Increased conversion rate is every site owner’s goal, but an unhealthy obsession can lead to marketing that only targets people who are the most likely to buy, and the most likely to buy are those people who are already familiar with your brand. Left unchecked, you never gain new customers as your marketing preaches only to the converted.

A high bounce rate is never good but continually changing content to decrease bounce rate can turn into an inverted curve – bad to better to bad again. Content goes from irrelevant to more generally applicable to banal and watered down.

Increasing revenue at all costs is the most obvious short-sighted metric and the result is what you see in many failed business: lower quality, less return customers, decreased goodwill, lower customer satisfaction, decrease in perceived brand value, the list goes on.

Finding The Real Source Of Website Traffic

With web analytics you can see sources of traffic via your traffic sources report, but it’s not really the sources of traffic.

With this report you can see the different sources of traffic like search, direct, email, etc. and their associated metrics like revenue, visits and conversion rate. This is beneficial to be able to optimize spend so that more money goes towards sources of traffic that have the best return. But there is an inherent limitation here that is often overlooked: the reason behind the user’s decision to access the site.

You know that a user came from paid search, but why did they decide to buy something to begin with? Did the product they were using wear out and they need a new one? Did a new life event happen that required them to make the purchase? Did they decide to buy after seeing the product used by a friend?

I think it’s important to remember that the ultimate motivation behind the user’s decision to come to the site is unknowable. Data from traffic sources is a blunt instrument at best to figure out how you can generate more sales. Directionally, it’s beneficial to invest marketing dollars to the extent that return on ad spend is efficient at the highest volume possible.  But don’t be deceived because you can (sometimes) see what keyword they used in a search engine, what device they used, what the email offer was, the coupon code used, the product they purchased, ect.; trying to replicate winning scenarios doesn’t always return like a math problem does.

Online marketing is still marketing, not a math problem that can be solved if you could ‘figure out the data’. Customers are irrational and make purchase decisions based on reasons that web analytics data can’t explain. You can see what happened and as a result improve the site’s usability and marketing investment, but trying to increase why people buy is not as easy as web analytics makes it seem.

Zach’s Best Of 2014

Best Movies/TV:
(This year I watched 103 movies, a 17% increase over last year & 123 episodes of TV, a 43% decrease over last year)
Prisoners
Grand Piano
Cuban Fury
Edge Of Tomorrow
Lego Movie
True Detective Season 1
Silicon Valley Season 1
Newsroom Season 3

Best Books:
(I read 40 books in 2014, a 14% increase over last year)
Down There by David Goodis
Clockers by Richard Price
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
The Fifteen Lives Of Harry August by Claire North
Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan

2014 Best Music Playlist:
Mariachi El Bronx – Everything Twice
Swingin’ Utters – Fistful of Hollow
Chris Staples – Dark Side of the Moon
Lagwagon – The Cog in the Machine
Rancid – Back Where I Belong
Tweedy – Low Key
The Copyrights – Slider
Reaganomics – Bite Your Tongue
Jake Bugg – Lightning Bolt
Masked Intruder – Saturday Night Alone
Cheap Girls – Slow Nod
The Menzingers – In Remission
toyGuitar – Words Between Us
The Thermals – You Will Be Free
The Methadones – Murmurs in the Dark

Most Exciting – Publishing my first book, This Side of the Dirt

Proudest Parent Moment – Training wheels came off my daughter’s bike

Proudest Husband Moment – Seeing my wife crush it as a realtor

Most Painful – Sliding across a hardwood floor in socks getting a huge sliver jammed deep into my foot

Happiest – Adopting my son

Scariest – Hiking over Pawnee Pass in Indian Peaks Wilderness at 12,500 feet in a storm

The Future Is Now Moment – Streaming movies uploaded to Google Drive to my home theater using Chromecast and the LocalCast App

Most Exhausting – Buying a house and remodeling it

Most Stressful – Travelling to California with three kids, three car seats, two strollers and 5 bags

Most Fun – Playing on the beach in California with my kids

Most Sad – Four chickens dead from raccoon attacks

Most Annoying – Stupid mice traps don’t do crap to catch mice in my house
Runner up – Missing turn on road trip that cost me an extra three hours in the car

Best Purchase – Presto PowerPop microwave popcorn popper
Runner Up – Teach Me Time! Kids Alarm Clock (if your kid constantly wakes up too early you can train them to sleep in with this (most of the time))
2nd Runner Up – Shorai Lithium Iron Motorcycle Battery

Adobe Analytics: Hierarchies vs Site Sections

On the surface in Adobe Analytics, the hierarchy variable and capturing site sections with channel and traffic variables seem to accomplish the same thing, so why do both? It’s smart to do both because the reports look very different to the analyst and can help them achieve different goals.

First of all, the hierarchy variable (“s.hier1=”) records site structure and is used to determine the location of a page in your site’s hierarchical page structure. It allows the analyst to start from the top of the site’s hierarchy and drill down through it. Once you start drilling down, you can’t see other groupings of pages at that same level outside of the hierarchical chain.

Site Sections are very horizontal in nature. They show you metrics for groupings of pages at a particular level across your entire site. The channel variable (“s.channel=”) is used to identify a section of your site. When sections have one or more levels of subsections, you can use additional Custom Traffic Variables (“s.prop=”) to identify such levels.

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You could opt for only implementing the Site Sections via s.props and then correlate the different levels using the correlation function to drill down between levels. The only drawback is that the Page View metric is only available when breaking one Traffic Report down by another. If you wish to see Visits and Unique Visitor metrics at each level, use the Hierarchy variable.