Into the Pits: Time for an E-Marketing Tune-Up

As we head into the holidays, now is a great time to ensure your campaigns work the way they are supposed to and to bring good cheer in the process. In this column, I’ll focus on measurements and how they can be used to tune campaigns.

As a physicist and motorsports fanatic (I have a pit in one of my garage bays), I approach most problems the way you’d expect: I take things apart and look for clues as to how they really work. E-marketing is no different. To measure e-marketing efforts, I look at three key areas: user experience, the conversion process, and conversational indicators that follow conversion. In practical terms, this translates into the Web interface and landing process design, Web analytics and conversion indicators, and ratings and reviews.

Branding aside — an important element in its own right — the first step to getting your campaigns to work is to ensure that your online processes work. Let’s assume you’ve attended to fundamentals such as avoiding checkout processes that require registration. Dive into subtler factors: do you provide too many choices or are searches going unanswered because potential customers are looking for a “widget” but you’ve called it a “gadget”? Surprisingly, these types of issues can confound the best e-marketing efforts, and they don’t always show up as an obvious cause.

Suppose while using the Omniture platform, you see a high abandonment rate on a particular page. Is it because the page content isn’t relevant, or because the desired content that would make it relevant isn’t being found and presented? You can look at exits via on-page search versus pure abandonment, but even that doesn’t tell the whole story. You need more detailed information, including what it is that people are searching for in the context of what your site has actually presented to them.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could watch the process, looking over a shoulder as the conversion process unfolds? There are tools that can help you do this. Tealeaf offers one such platform. Tealeaf — which you install on your system — watches the data stream as requests and responses, including those handled via AJAX (define), flow back and forth. Tealeaf also supports increasingly popular mobile browsers. You can see, in summarized form, what your customers are doing and exactly where they are stumbling. You can see popular onsite searches that return “Nothing found that matches your request. Please try again.” While for the most part your potential customers will try again, many will do so on someone else’s Web site. According to a 2008 Harris study, 41 percent of potential customers move to a competing site after experiencing a negative checkout or commerce issue. Who can afford that kind of breakage?

How do you save a potential customer who’s about to abandon ship? Conversion Sciences’ Brian Massey reminded me of Be Greeted, an application that facilitates chat with customers. His clients use BeGreeted to offer a chat with potential customers who’ve spent a longer-than-normal amount of time on a given page. Think of this as the digital equivalent of walking over to a customer and politely asking, “Can I help you?” Want to dig deeper? Take a look at a recent Conversion Rate Experts post on 14 free tools that can help you understand why potential customers abandon your site.

As a part of your overall Web analytics effort, pay attention to the step-wise conversion process. You’ve optimized your landing pages, but what happens next? Who converts and who doesn’t? Which pages or views hold attention (engagement) and which let potential simply walk away? Getting the overall site right can be accomplished through a disciplined process of trial and testing.

In “Always Be Testing,” author and ClickZ Experts columnist Bryan Eisenberg walks through the evaluative process while tuning a site using Google Analytics. Small changes evaluated and vetted over time can lead to substantial improvements in your conversion pipeline. “Always Be Testing” is a book that is well worth the time spent reading it. Another excellent reference is Avinash Kaushik’s “Web Analytics,” part of Wiley’s “Hour a Day” series. Avinash walks you step by step through the process of setting up, measuring, and evaluating your Web site’s performance.

Finally, let’s talk about sealing the deal — the actual conversion of the “I’m just about to click ‘buy it'” customer. Regardless of the economy, but all-the-more important in challenging times, is the degree to which your e-marketing process instills confidence from beginning to end and assures a potential customer that the purchase she’s about to make is a smart one. A 2007 eMarketer study found a 30 percent trust factor for peer information versus 10 percent trust in that provided by advertisers. Another eMarketer study, taken from Edelman’s January 2008 Trust Barometer, found 60 percent of those surveyed considered information from “people like me” to be credible, well in excess of any other source studied. These two findings clearly show the power of onsite ratings and reviews. When your potential customer can validate for herself that she’s about to make a smart choice, through reviews written by people like her, more often than not she’ll click “buy it.” Cha-ching.

One of my favorite add-on ratings platforms is Bazaarvoice’s Ratings and Reviews platform. Turnkey, comprehensive, and in widespread use across the top 100 online retailers, Ratings and Reviews is a great platform for many applications. Outside of turnkey platforms, there are rating-and-review modules available from Drupal, Joomla, and other frameworks that make it easy to build ratings and reviews into your commerce system. Whatever approach you take, providing on-the-spot, self-directed assurance to your customers that they are about to make a smart choice builds consumer confidence. That means not only superior conversion rates but also an enhanced likelihood that the conversations about the purchase will be favorable because your customer actually purchased the correct product given her specific needs. This social factor pays big dividends when you account for the impact of the social media within your overall marketing program.

As you head into the final stretch of 2008, take the time to measure, evaluate, and tune your platform. Position yourself now for real market share gains in 2009. Add solid measurement to your arsenal and make the most of it.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies Chicago December 8-12 at the Chicago Hilton. The only major search marketing conference and expo in the Midwest will be packed with 60-plus sessions, multiple keynotes and Orion Strategy sessions, exhibitors, networking events, and more.

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