Six Steps to Successful Online Analytics and Measurements

January 27, 2009

MeasurementDespite all the advancements in technology and newer, smarter metrics tools available in the market, measuring the effectiveness of online marketing and advertising is still a tricky business. There are many complex issues to consider beyond impressions and click-throughs to decipher and understand the dynamics of gaining a true conversion.   Furthermore, the continuous addition of new digital jargons, methodologies and possibilities increases the complexity of analyzing and measuring results that translate into actionable next steps and improvement.

While some marketers can afford sophisticated software, tools, dedicated internal teams and outside partners to analyze their efforts, most are still trying to get the basics of measurement right—the fundamental steps and process. In many cases, the following six steps can create sound marketing and media plans that repeatedly deliver results.

1. Develop and agree on the measure of success based on the campaign objective. As simple as this sounds, campaigns are often launched without a clear definition of success metrics. No matter how complex and outrageous your business plan may be, from 30,000 feet every aspect of advertising can be broken down into a combination of four primary marketing objectives:

  • Driving sales (online, offline or both)
  • Getting leads
  • Creating brand awareness
  • Fostering relationships / engagements

Establishing your campaign and conversion goals in advance will save you from many costly mistakes.

2. Benchmark. Based on your past initiatives, place a value (scoring system) against your success metrics—a number that will differentiate success from failure. For example, is a cost per sign-up of $100 a success or not?  If you do not have historical data to benchmark, initiate a small test program to gain insights prior to fully investing your budget.  See Step 4 for testing options.

3. Establish reporting standards and processes. Often times the most critical component of an online initiative, reporting, ends up getting the least attention or even completely ignored until well into the schedule.  This may result in making costly mistakes and/or missing out on valuable insights.  As Robert Blakeley from WebMD puts it…,

Analytics helps your team understand how well your online investment/campaign is doing and how you might be able to do better. But that understanding is not useful to the business if the insights are not shared in a way that the rest of the organization can focus on and get behind. Getting their attention usually means making Web Analytics part of your regular business process. Part of that regular process is the reporting.

Blakeley’s An Approach to Reporting offers valuable suggestions, tips and examples on reporting best practices.

Based on your goals, success metrics and benchmark, the variables you measure and your KPI will vary, as no two organizations and/or campaigns are alike.  Below are links to industry standard analytics definitions and online advertising terms that will help you select which variables should be incorporated into your measurement and reporting.

4. Select the right tracking tools. A key factor in analytics is to find and use the most accurate and consistent data to monitor and measure your online performance over time.  Online measurement and tracking breaks into two areas:

  • Website Analytics: If you do not have good software and tracking tools in place, Brian Gilley from Social SEO has an expanded list of web stat applications that are available in the market.  It’s free, easy to use, scalable and offers high-end analytics tracking to understand your visitor’s path and their usage of your website.
  • Online Ad Serving and Tracking: There are a number of ad management solutions on the market offering integrated ad serving, tracking and reporting (search, display, site sponsorship, etc.) as well as various targeting features to help you measure, monitor and optimize your campaigns.  For ad serving service, iMediaConnection has a great post on How to Pick an Ad Server.  Although this article is from 2006, it still offers excellent tips and suggestions.

5. Test. When and where possible include a portion of your marketing/advertising/media budget and plan towards testing creative execution, sizes and media placement— especially if it’s going to be a long-term and/or ongoing program.  Again, there are no two similar situations in online marketing and even the most seasoned marketer cannot predict a consumer’s behavior and actions regardless of how brilliant and flawless the campaign/execution may be.  There are many ways to test your online components and here are two of the most commonly used methodologies:

  • A/B Testing: As its name implies, pits one version of variant against another. Used to test simple alternatives, such as color, copy, and position of an image to see which converts better.
  • Multi Variant Testing: All elements of a web page or online ad are interrelated; images, colors, headlines, copy, call to action, etc. Multi variant testing determines which combination of elements work best together.

A rule of thumb with research is to keep it simple. We often see tests failing because people make it unnecessarily complicated and become overwhelmed with the sheer number of variables.  Instead, focus on measuring one or two variables at a time to keep things manageable.  Additionally, create an action plan before testing. Consider in advance the potential outcomes and the steps you will take for each, as this will prepare you for immediate action.

6. Be flexible and ready to respond. Numbers are wonderful and no one loves them more than we do. However, they are just numbers and can have many disadvantages. Numbers unfortunately do not explain the qualitative human factors and at times the conclusions may not make sense.  Additionally, it is easy to get trapped at a granular level and become distracted from the bigger picture.  The bottom line is that all the data in the world won’t do you any good unless you use it as a means to learn and improve upon it. So be persistent, open-minded and tackle each element one at a time.

What’s outlined above is by no means conclusive, but a list of basic steps and practices to help you map out a road to a successful Analytics and Measurement process. Although these are fundamental steps, getting them right is much more difficult than it appears and without them, all the sophisticated and exciting new measurements will amount to nothing.  Whether you’re considering implementing your first online ad campaign or your 100th, working through this basic checklist can be an invaluable tool for your organization.  Make sure you’re asking the right questions at each step to ensure you integrate the solution best suited for your unique needs and business challenges.

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