Turning Web Analytics into Nonprofit Success

Non-profit web analytics success?!? I know, I know. You think I’ve gone crazy with the heat. But today, I’m talking about how web analytics can set you up for success, even if your tax status is a bit different.

Sarah from Seattle tweeted the other week, asking for advice on how to use web analytics, and specifically “goals tracking” to help her with a nonprofit website supporting the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. I thought it would be good topic to explore a bit, so I’ll start with the basics.

Even the most “nonprofit” website still has digital goals, and let’s face it, they’re still “business” goals. Keeping that in mind, I’m going to try to label some different types of business goals one could track in web analytics, and more importantly, how to measure success.

  1. Memberships & Donations – I won’t spend much time on this one because it’s pretty obvious. Most nonprofits’ main digital goal is to solicit memberships or donations. And tracking them using web analytics is no different than ‘for profit’ sites. The only caveat is that (unfortunately) human nature seems to dictate a longer consideration cycle for donations than, say, buying a fancy new smartphone. Knowing this, it’s wise to track the content and micro-conversions that might lead to a donation (micro-conversions). Think about downloading brochures and visiting particular pages about the mission statement, leadership, whether donations are tax-deductible, etc.
  2. Logistics – For physical spaces like galleries, museums, and parks, there are goals related to logistics that indicate a strong likelihood of a visit. These should be tracked as goals, and optimized on an ongoing basis. Some examples here are downloading a map, visiting a page that lists directions and hours of operation, or even interacting with content related to “events.” For maps, it would be great to track that a visitor had mapped from their location to the nonprofit’s location, as that indicates strong intent to actually visit. For events, some sort of “add to calendar” micro-conversion would indicate strong intent. Another great goal to track regarding events is getting prospects to sign up for time-sensitive reminders via email or SMS.
  3. Opting In to Content Pushes – That’s an odd phrase, but it’s my way of saying that nonprofits should be tracking goals where prospects allow you into their lives a bit. Anytime a prospect opts to become more than an anonymous site lurker you achieve a portion of your business goal! The Burke Museum has lots of great options already, so it would just be a matter of tracking goals related to: subscribing to their blog, signing up for their email newsletter, taking action to follow them on Twitter, and taking action to friend them on Facebook. If you can’t track with 100% certainty that a conversion has occurred, track the action taken (e.g. clicking a Facebook icon) that shows strong intent.

Note that most web analytics programs won’t necessarily allow you to track all of these things as goals “out of the box,” but with some technical knowledge (especially JavaScript), perseverance, and creativity, they’re all quite achievable.

Calling all NPOs! What else are you tracking (or wishing you could track) as goals in your web analytics?

[A version of this post was originally published July 29th, 2009 on GrokDotCom.com, an award-winning, but now defunct, Marketing Optimization blog.]

4 Steps To Optimization Success

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about why certain organizations succeed with Optimization, and why others succeed “less.” To use the exercise regimen metaphor, many people start exercise programs with goals of losing weight or a better physique, but not everyone sticks with it and achieves their goals.

I thought I’d share some insights so that if you’re thinking about an optimization program, you can avoid the pitfalls and reap the rewards.

There are many nuances of course, but I’d boil it all down to 4 basic steps.

Step 1 – Get Help

Those who get a personal trainer are more likely to accomplish their fitness goals. In the world of online marketing, those who get expert help are far more likely to achieve their business goals than those who try to “DIY.” The help you need is cross-disciplinary: you need expert eyes looking at aesthetics, usability, copywriting, marketing strategy, A/B split testing, personas, pay per click, search engine optimization, and more.

Step 2 – Get Out of Project Mentality

There is a tendency to think about improving a website, or any marketing, as a one-time project with a beginning and end. I believe this is the wrong approach to optimization. You may think you can join a gym for 3 months, lose some weight, then cancel your gym membership and still maintain your improvements. But only a true lifestyle change can help you accomplish fitness goals. Same goes for Optimization, also known as Continuous Improvement. The shift out of project mentality needs to be addressed within your organization (culture), with your vendors, and especially with those who are going to “own” the implementation of your continuous improvements.

Step 3 – Budget For It

Closely related to Step 2, Step 3 is to budget for a process of ongoing optimization. Since it’s not a project that ever should “end,” it should always be in the budget, right? If you join a gym and see improvements (you drop a few pounds, keep them off, and feel better in general), why wouldn’t you budget that gym membership for at least the next couple years? Also keep in mind that “budget” doesn’t just mean a line item in a spreadsheet. Budgeting your internal resources’ time is important, too.

Step 4 – Celebrate the Wins, Learn From the Losses

I’ve already written about celebrating the wins, even if they’re small. Part of the celebration process is stepping back from the day-to-day process of Optimization and acknowledging that the process as a whole is effective. And publicizing wins is probably the most effective way to make sure Optimization costs stay in the budget no matter what! As far as losses go, I define a “loss” as a tested optimization change that decreased a KPI. One of the great things about digital changes is that if they don’t work, un-doing them is pretty quick and painless. But, too many clients back away from testing, changing, and optimizing because of a loss or two. Again using the weight loss analogy, weight fluctuates, and just because you gain back a pound that you lost, doesn’t mean you quit exercising. The key is to learn from the failed change, and inform your next round of optimization. That way, it just feeds back into your cycle of continuous improvement.

Hope this is helpful, and would like to hear your thoughts in the comments on if you think there are other Steps to Optimization that deserve a future post.

[Originally published May 27th, 2009 on GrokDotCom.com, an award-winning, but now defunct, Marketing Optimization blog.]

 

For Every Optimization, There’s a Hierarchy, So Get Started

I sometimes wonder why more companies aren’t busy optimizing their websites and digital marketing. Or why those who are “on board” with the concept don’t always commit the right amount of resources towards the effort.

I’m not a mind-reader, but I think it’s due in part to an all-or-nothing mentality where nothing short of a full optimization ‘project’ is worth putting effort into. Most companies are more interested in redesigning their websites all at once instead of incrementally, even though incremental optimization is far less expensive, less risky, and more accountable!

Maybe you’ve heard the expression, “Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One bite at a time.”

Sometimes, I tell clients to redesign and optimize a small design element of their site; their call to action buttons, for example. And they seem tentative and slow to implement the recommendation. Why? Maybe because they think it has to be 100% optimized right away, or they want some sort of guarantee that it will be perfect in order to devote resources to the task.

A useful model to get past this mode of thinking is to use the Hierarchy of Optimization. It’s a great mental framework to think about a roadmap of how businesses should be optimizing their digital assets, and with what priority. I learned a ton of great concepts from working with Bryan Eisenberg, but the Hierarchy of Optimization might be my favorite.

Take a quick look at Bryan’s hierarchy video linked above, and then I’ll apply the model to real-life design elements that most sites should be taking a look at. Note that the Hierarchy has 5 levels:

  • the Persuasive
  • the Intuitive
  • the Usable
  • the Accessible
  • the Functional

While you can apply the 5 levels at a “macro” level on your entire site, you can also apply them at the “micro” level on a single landing page or even small design elements.

Example 1 – Call to Action Buttons

  • Persuasive – Do all the layers of the pyramid work together as a cohesive whole? Are you actively testing your buttons? Do all your calls to action pair an imperative verb with an implied benefit? Do they answer WIIFM?
  • Intuitive – Do your buttons look like buttons? Do they look “clickable”? Do they feature 3-d effects, shading, or rich surfaces?
  • Usable – Are your calls to action always located in a consistent position on pages? Do they follow the prospect’s eye path as it travels down the page? On your forms, do the buttons line up with the “scan line“?
  • Accessible – Is there alt text behind your calls to action? If you use graphics, do they load and render in all your supported OS/Browser combinations?
  • Functional – Do all your pages even have a primary call to action button? Are any of them broken? Is anyone responsible for occasionally testing them?

Example 2 – Testimonials

  • Persuasive – Are your testimonials architected to answer questions and overcome objections throughout the prospect’s buying process? Are your testimonials as ‘real’ as possible, using pictures of the customer? How about video testimonials? Are you constantly testing to find the right testimonial content/format for your business?
  • Intuitive – Do your testimonials follow common design patterns for displaying quotes? Are relevant testimonials placed on key pages to answer your prospects’ unanswered questions? Do you attribute quotes with name, location, and other relevant information?
  • Usable – Are your testimonials readable? Are they an appropriate font size and contrast? Do prospects have to go hunting for them, or are they spread throughout the site?
  • Accessible – In this case, Accessible and Usable can be thought of as essentially the same layer of the pyramid. See Usable.
  • Functional – Do you have testimonials? Are they legitimate? Do you have permission to attribute the author with at least a first name and last initial?

Besides what I hope are useful questions to ask yourself, the point of all this is to encourage everyone to start today on optimization, take baby steps, and work your way up the Hierarchy. As the old saying goes: You can’t eat an elephant in just one bite!

[Originally published June 29th, 2009 on GrokDotCom.com, an award-winning, but now defunct, Marketing Optimization blog.]

The Shopping Cart: Are You Answering These 5 Silent Questions?

The ecommerce shopping cart is a great place to run tests because simple changes (layout, copy, color, etc.) often yield fantastic results. But once you’ve hit a point of diminishing returns with “easy” A/B tests, you’ve got to dig in deeper and find out if you’re answering customers’ silent questions. I call them “silent questions” because customers don’t ask them of site owners directly. They simply buy from you if their questions are answered, and buy from your competitor if they go unanswered!

There are unanswered questions in the minds of our customers that we think are obviously answered on the page, but guess what? We’re blind to the truth that our customers miss things that we put in front of them. We’re too close to our own designs and user experiences to be objective. (If you’ve ever witnessed a usability test, you know the pain I’m referring to).

If you’re not sure about what those unanswered questions are, specific to your business, you can back up a few steps and use personas or user testing to uncover them. Personas help you empathize target customers (not you) and imagine their specific shopping questions. User (usability) tests can be designed to uncover customer questions by assigning a shopping task and asking the subject(s) open ended questions and encouraging them to “think out loud.”

For example, here are 5 key, unanswered questions (beyond shipping costs) of the shopping cart:

  1. Do you offer alternate forms of payment (aside from credit card)?
  2. Are you safe and secure?
  3. Why are you asking for this information?
  4. Do I have to set up an account to buy?
  5. Do I get to review my order before we transact?

I recently bought a Father’s Day present online from a gift retailer, and their overall shopping cart process was “OK.” I would give it a “B-” grade; it was good enough to get me through the purchase without bailing, but not nearly good enough to earn brand loyalty. But, they did a good job of clearly answering the 5 Questions, and it was enough to help them “Get The Cash.”

Are you adequately answering the 5 unanswered questions? You won’t know unless you’re doing customer research and experimentation. Whether your confidence level is low, high, or somewhere in between, I know you could run some interesting tests to validate your assumptions about how well you’re doing, and you might increase your funnel conversion rate in the process! Want help? Let me know.

[Originally published June 22nd, 2009 on GrokDotCom.com, an award-winning, but now defunct, Marketing Optimization blog.]

6 Stages of Developing an Optimization Culture

One of the things that makes being a Digital Marketing Optimization expert/consultant fun is watching clients » partners » friends grow as professionals within their organizations. Many start off skeptical about the process of site optimization, or unrealistic about what can be gained in a given time frame. But after working through some of the challenges, it’s great to see them thinking about their marketing and their businesses in completely different (read: better) ways, and subscribing to a culture of continuous improvement.

Here’s my breakdown of 6 stages in developing an optimization culture:

  1. Acceptance – this is the stage where a business realizes that Optimization has value, and in order to reap the rewards, the status quo isn’t going to work. Something additional has to be done, which calls for some combination of the following:
    • shift in focus
    • additional resources
    • new tools
    • working with outside experts
  2. Testing the Waters – this is the stage where the business starts testing and optimizing, and often gets some big wins just by making minor changes to their site, or removing basic conversion roadblocks.
  3. Infatuation – after getting some wins from “low hanging fruit,” clients sometimes become fixated on testing and optimization. They check their test dashboards multiple times a day, they cheer when they see green in their testing tool’s dashboard, and they wring their hands when they see any yellow or red indicators. The less-disciplined business will often lose focus at this point and miss out on all the fun (and profit.)
  4. Thinking About Resources – after things have settled down, there have been a few wins, and a few inconclusive tests (inconclusive changes still give you incredibly valuable data and piece of mind), the business starts to think about how to support an optimization process long-term. They realize that this process isn’t free; it takes hard work and resources to create, administrate, and analyze tests. It takes even more work to take action on the findings of all those tests. They evaluate their current teams and whether they can properly support a culture of continuous improvement. This is a magnificent stage to witness, and once an organization knows their resources, it’s much easier to stay on target.
  5. Getting Analytical – once in the habit of optimization, I start to see clients question their assumptions, their vendors’ assumptions, and generally why the data is the way it is. This is when things get fun! Often, clients write me with test ideas or analysis of their very own, and I know that the “training wheels” have officially come off. 🙂
  6. The New Way of Doing Business – this stage shows clients becoming calm and nonchalant when a site change gives them double or triple-digit improvements. More impressive is that they are equally happy when a test has a negative or inconclusive impact, because it’s all part of the continuous improvement process. They realize that even single-digit increases achieved on a regular basis will have incredible effects on their bottom line, kind of like compounding interest in a financial investment!

I hope this proves helpful in developing an optimization culture within your organization. These stages are ones that I’ve observed occurring naturally. You could of course try to “encourage” a different course of development if you’re up for more formal organizational change management. How are things developing for you?

[Originally published March 19th, 2009 on GrokDotCom.com, an award-winning, but now defunct, Marketing Optimization blog.]

B2B Warning: One Persuasive Video May Not Be Enough

I was reviewing a usability test of a B2B site recently, and I heard two very different reactions to the same video. I’ll paraphrase:

  1. That video was a waste of time. They could’ve conveyed the same information in way less time. My questions aren’t answered.
  2. That video was awesome! I feel much more educated about their service now, and it was very professional-looking.

Scary, right? The video was professionally shot, edited, and produced. It conveyed good information, but it did so in a style that started to persuade one test subject, and didn’t remotely persuade the other test subject.

It got me thinking about how important video can be for persuading B2B site visitors, but also about how different types of videos are persuasive to different types of visitors. Video is just another type of content, so the rules of content (different content persuades different prospects) still apply!

I think a lot of B2B and SaaS lead generation sites go out and get themselves a video to stick on the homepage and think that they’re “done,” and that their conversion rate will start doubling every week or so. But, I propose that one video may not be enough, because you’re trying to persuade people in very different personality profiles. Further, I think the truly optimized B2B site can benefit from multiple videos, in multiple styles, in multiple sections of the site, from multiple video-production vendors!

I’m sure I’m not making any friends with budget-constrained site owners, but hear me out. The real budget-waster is investing in one video that tries to be “all things to all people.” You’ll end up with a disjointed video that’s too long for anyone to tolerate.

Let’s take a minute to review some common types of videos featured on B2B sites:

  1. The “Get to know us” Video – these videos are great for showing the people behind the website/business. Humanistic customers will love them. Methodicals will probably hate them.
  2. The “Make the complicated more simple” Video – these videos help explain complicated concepts in ways that web copy and static visuals can’t do as well. The Competitive and Spontaneous will appreciate this kind of high-level content.
  3. The “Product Demonstration” Video – perhaps the most common video on B2B sites, this one takes visitors through the benefits and features of a digital product using voice overs, animation, and screen recording. Depending on how detailed they are, these videos might resonate with Spontaneous or Methodical customers.
  4. The “Testimonial” Video – these videos add a human touch to the standard, text-based testimonial. These again will be attractive to Humanistics, but the added layer of “realness” can help move the skeptical Competitive decision-maker. They can be testimonials about the working with the company, or about a particular service.

So before you start putting makeup on your CEO and rolling the cameras, I advise that you spend some time thinking about the scenarios your visitors are acting out on your site today, what questions or concerns aren’t being addressed, and if or if not video is the right medium to educate (and begin to persuade) them. You may find that several short, less slick videos that answer your personas’ un-answered questions, placed strategically throughout the site, are more persuasive than that super-slick, Hollywood-style video.

[Originally published April 2nd, 2009 on GrokDotCom.com, an award-winning, but now defunct, Marketing Optimization blog.]

Buying Stage Mismatch In Your Customer Experience

Every visitor comes to your site in their own “stage” of their individual buying process. The buying stages are actually a wide spectrum, but I generally break them into Early, Middle, and Late buying stages:

  • Early stage means that the visitor has a problem, and is looking for a solution. They may not know who you are, or that your product/service solves their problem.
  • Middle means that they have an intention to buy a product or service that solves their problem, but not necessarily from you.
  • Late means that they’re persuaded to buy from you, and intend to “close the deal.”

Sometimes, websites seem to be doing everything right, but the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) just aren’t as high as everyone expects. Their sites are functional, accessible, usable, and intuitive. Their look and feel is credible, and their content is high quality. So why do their visitors not behave as we expect? Why do well-planned and well-executed scenarios (e.g. PPC ad → landing page → lead generating form → thank you page) not always convert?

You guessed it: Buying Stage mismatch.

Buying Stage mismatch is when your selling process doesn’t jive with the visitor’s buying process. It’s when your conversion funnel is designed for a buying stage that the visitor isn’t in. Take a look at your site’s conversion funnel…it’s most likely designed for Late Stage buyers, right? Take a look at one of your PPC campaigns…are you showing Early Stage searchers a Middle Stage ad that sends the visitor down a Late Stage funnel? Poor visitor 🙁

The key point is to be aware that multiple buying stages are traversing your designed scenarios. It’s fine if your funnel is fine-tuned to Late Stage buyers, but do you have easy navigation paths to let an Early or Middle stage visitor branch out and get more information? It’s fine if your PPC landing pages are perfect for a Middle Stage searcher, but can an impatient Late Stage searcher “Buy Now”?

How do you identify buying stages to improve your scenarios?

A few ways, using basic analytics tools and skills, are:

  • Look at your keyword lists (in-site search, organic keywords, and paid keywords) and start segmenting by buying stage. Guessing is OK.
  • Look at click paths and navigation (which pages would be attractive/informative to the various stages?)
  • Look for those who bail out of conversion funnels (it could be that they’re not ready to buy)
  • Look at entrance sources (organic vs. PPC vs. referrals vs. direct visits)

[Originally published February 18th, 2009 on GrokDotCom.com, an award-winning, but now defunct, Marketing Optimization blog.]

 

Offline Reps Need to Care About the Online Experience

I finally tracked down that hard to find item online. It was the right size, the right shape, the right finish, and a tolerable price…and free shipping!

I clicked the nice, big, obvious “Add to Cart” button to dive headlong into the conversion funnel. ERROR. Some jargon written by a software developer. No phone number. I did what anyone in the mood to buy would do – I clicked the back button and tried again. ERROR. I clicked back again, and luckily for this eTailer, the toll free number was prominently displayed in the active window, AND I didn’t have any of their competitor sites top-of-mind.

Rep: Welcome to [store with error-ridden website.com], how can I help you?

Me: Well, I’m trying to buy [Item X] on your website, but I can’t, so can you start by checking whether it’s in stock?

Rep: OK, I can help you buy [Item X] no problem.

Now, let’s imagine that conversation as it should have been…

Rep: Welcome to [store with error-ridden website.com], how can I help you?

Me: Well, I’m trying to buy [Item X] on your website, but I can’t, so can you start by checking whether it’s in stock.

Rep: Oh no, I’m so sorry to hear that! What happened? Can you describe what you were doing when our website failed you? Did you get an error message? What browser were you using?

Note the difference? A little empathy would’ve been effective and memorable…maybe even blog-worthy. Don’t sound matter-of-fact that your website blew up, or I’ll never use your online channel again, and your brand has been damaged.

And I’m sure the technical team behind that website would’ve LOVED to get their hands on the error code that I’d written down and done some tinkering. And they should’ve, because that website was bleeding money yesterday.

[Originally published September 18th, 2008 on GrokDotCom.com, an award-winning, but now defunct, Marketing Optimization blog.]

Are Your Digital Experiences 2017…But Your Forms 2007?

[Originally published September 16th, 2008 on GrokDotCom.com, an award-winning, but now defunct, Marketing Optimization blog.]

I was recently reminded, for the millionth time it seems, that forms are the “bread and butter” of almost every website, app, and digital experience. Whether it’s the Contact Us form on a B2B site, the Sign Up form on a social networking site, or the Checkout of an eCommerce site, they all have forms in common. And in every case, forms are what stands between our site visitors and the action we’ve persuaded them to take.

The irony is that companies spend thousands, sometimes millions, on making their sites functional, accessible, usable, intuitive, and sometimes even persuasive, but don’t always spend enough on making their transactional experiences (forms) as optimized as possible. Add to that the money spent starting a relationship with customers via online or offline marketing. And when it’s time to take that relationship the next level and close the deal, online forms have the responsibility.

So like the title of this post, I have questions:

  • How much have you spent on your homepage and landing pages in the last 12 months? (Design, UX, Content, etc.)
  • How much have you spent on your forms?
  • How many resources work on your homepage and landing pages? (Design, UX, Content, etc.)
  • How many resources work on your forms?
  • Do you A/B and Multivariate test your homepage and landing pages?
  • Do you A/B and Multivariate test your forms?
  • Do your homepage and landing pages employ the latest technology, code, and standards?
  • Do your forms…?

If you’re like most companies and marketing organizations, and answered honestly, there was a heavy skew towards focusing on digital experiences, yet oddly little focus on forms, the places where the “rubber meets the road.”

Of course homepages and landing pages are important, and deserve lots of attention. But don’t forget that the bottom of your conversion funnel is where all the serious action is. It’s where dollars either flow into your bank account or…elsewhere.

So what can you do to start to rebalance the focus and give your forms more love?

  1. Start a “Forms Task Force” within your company–make it cross-disciplinary–and take a good, hard look at your forms.
  2. Conduct User Tests that prompt interaction with your forms.
  3. Look at every question on your forms. To paraphrase Web Form Design by Luke Wroblewski, consciously decide to “keep,” “cut,” “postpone,” or “explain” every question you ask your customers.
  4. Once you’ve revisited your forms, begin (or revitalize) the ongoing process of form testing and optimization.

Don’t Dismiss the Base Hits

[Originally published September 3rd, 2008 on GrokDotCom.com, an award-winning, but now defunct, Marketing Optimization blog.]

Readers of my blog, and especially those involved in testing, know that conversion rate optimization is the goal we’re after. It’s a great feeling to know that a test you worked on increased conversion or some other KPI, especially when it’s a “Home Run.” I define Home Runs as triple-digit increases in conversion rate.

But one of the dangers of early testing efforts is the problem that some baseball players have: “swinging for the fences.” (Apologies for the baseball references, but it’s getting to be that time of year.) What if your test, or series of tests, doesn’t appear to raise conversion rate? Do you dismiss the tests as failures because they’re not home runs?

Of course not!

Worst case scenario is that you’ve learned something about executing meaningful tests, and about what does or doesn’t resonate with your customers. But more often than not, you are affecting your website in more subtle ways. Remember that conversion rate is often a blended, averaged, blunt instrument. Especially when it’s averaged across large volumes of organic search traffic, SEM traffic, email house list traffic, different product lines, etc.

Here are some things you can monitor when your tests aren’t having huge impacts on your overall conversion rate:

  1. Micro-conversion rates – If you’re testing product detail page layouts and “Add to Cart” buttons, check if those test variables are having an effect on the micro-conversion rate of adding products to the cart.
  2. Funnel conversion rates – If you’re testing lots of minor copy changes to your shopping cart, check for changes in your funnel conversion rate.
  3. Bounce rates – If you’re testing images, copy, or other changes designed to build up the credibility of your site, watch for changes in bounce rates.
  4. Conversion rate by segment – If a key traffic source’s conversion rate goes up in a test, but is “averaged down” by other less important traffic sources, that may in fact be a successful test.

These types of incremental improvements are test results to get excited about! If your micro-conversion rate increases, and your funnel conversion rate stays the same, that’s still more money in your bank account. If you reduce the bounce rate, you’ve gained the chance to convert that customer later, instead of your competitor.

So don’t dismiss the base hits because you’re disappointed about not hitting a home run (this time.) Take it from a patient analyst who’s favorite baseball player was famous for lots of base hits and not all that many home runs 🙂