The gradual building of context …
Man, it seems like I just cannot get away from Gary Angel lately. He and I are engaged in some kind of crazy mutual-admiration society thing, which would normally worry me, but I know few people as into all this as Gary. He recently posted about “that darn engagement metric” where he expanded on some of my ideas and his response to my ideas and my response to his response to my ideas, etc. One thing Gary said really stuck out in my mind. Regarding my use of the visitor engagement metric to tell a story about the traffic that Marshall Sponder sends to my web site, Gary commented:
“This gradual building of a context around a measure is exactly how I think reporting actually works – and how analysis drives to actionable understanding.”
Exactly! The gradual building of context is what this is all about. The reason I’ve defined a visitor engagement metric is to provide another firm basis for the establishment of said context, another indicator on which we can draw to better understand a dimension or set of dimensions of data we collect.
Much has been written about the value of bloggers to business; it seems like you can’t open Business Week, Fortune, or even Newsweek anymore without having to read about the next big thing that bloggers and blogging are doing to change both business and society. But what can we know about the traffic bloggers send us? And what actions can we take based on that information? Let’s have a look …
Here I’ve rank-ordered the folks I list in my blogroll by percent of sessions they drive back to my web site. No great insights here based on my KPI “percent of sessions” but I suppose if I wanted to I could add Clint, Steve, Tim, and Eric Butler to my holiday card list.
Now I’ve added the session conversion KPI to my list of bloggers. Immediately I see two sets of actions I could possibly take: The first would be to send “much love” to Steve, Mike, Gary, Xavier, Manoj, Aurelie, and Tim for helping me pay for my children’s college education (all book proceeds go to my kids’s Fidelity 529 plans). The second would be to see what I could do to get the rest of the bloggers to say something like “Hey, go buy Peterson’s books, they’re great!”
Still, I should probably check to see first that these folks aren’t referring me traffic that later returns to the site and makes a purchase, right? I need to roll in a visitor-based conversion metric:
Ah ha, now I can see that I owe some serious thanks to Steven Jackson and the folks at the Blackbeak Blog! Better than one in ten people Steve has sent my way have made a book purchase, which is awesome. But it looks like I have a problem with bloggers like Anil Batra, Matt Jacobs, Robbin Steif and even Marshall Sponder. Zero percent visitor-based conversion to purchases on my site … must be some problem with how those folks are talking about me, right?
Oh, or maybe not, at least not in every case. I added a KPI for percent buy path sessions, basically the percentage of sessions in which a visitor at least starts down the book purchase path. Now I can see that Anil, Justin, and Robbin are all doing a pretty good job of getting people into the purchase consideration process, but for some reason those folks aren’t completing the purchase on my site. It’s not their fault, it’s my fault!
But hey, maybe it’s still not my fault. Maybe even though the bloggers are sending me traffic that hits the buy path, maybe those folks aren’t really all that engaged with my site and content. Maybe the visitor’s they refer me are just looking at one page in the buy path and leaving, never to return.
Okay, or maybe not. Anil, Matt Jacobs, Marshall, and Clint are all sending me visitors that I consider to be “well engaged” with my site (my site-wide visitor engagement average is 30 percent.) Now I can see two clear action items:
- I need to reach out to Anil and see if he and I can work out a deal to help further encourage his readers to completing the book purchase on my site. Anil, if you’re reading this, call me, we need to talk.
- I need to reach out folks like Matt, Marshall, and Clint and see if there is some way I can get them to more passionately advocate for my books in their weblogs. Given that their visitors are more highly engaged than the “average visitor”, I have to believe their is an opportunity to sell more books.
But wait, I’m not done. In fact, I’ve only just begun to mine for the true opportunity here. But hopefully you can see, this gradual building of context is well-supported by each of the key performance indicators I keep in my arsenal, both simple metrics like “percent of sessions” and the more complex “visitor engagement”.
This post was a really long way of saying I agree with Gary about no one KPI driving a specific and easily understood action. All of our efforts are ultimately designed to help the online business better mine for opportunity and understand how that opportunity might potentially be leveraged. There are no easy answers, there are no silver bullets, there is no magic, nor mystery, nor puzzles …
There is only the gradual building of context …