Measuring Conversions: The Bane of Vapor Marketing
Conversions. I’ll think I’ll have that word on my headstone. Something like “He really knew how to convert a lead” would be nice. Well, that and something about being a good father and husband if there is room left over. All kidding aside, when it comes to being an effective search marketer, there are few things that we can do that are more important than teaching our clients the importance of driving and measuring conversions.
What is a Conversion?
A conversion occurs when a visitor to a website is convinced to take a specific action. A conversion may be triggered by the visitor downloading a file, filling out a “contact us” form, making a purchase, etc. I have many clients that have no sales capability on their websites and have no intentions of ever selling directly from their websites, but hang on every conversion like grim death. For example, one of my clients, an industrial manufacturer, considers any time a visitor fills out their “contact us” form a conversion as this is almost always a request for a bid. I can tell you as one who compiles the lead data at the end of the month, there are some impressive opportunities in those conversions, though not a single one of them is a direct sale from the website.
So many times I’m asked by clients “How many hits will this get me?” or “What position will I get in the search engines?” I always reply “If this campaign gets you the number one position in all the search engines and a billion hits a day, yet your sales don’t increase, will you care?”
The point of this question is that the client generally first asks about traffic and later complains about sales. This is perfectly understandable as it is the expert’s job (me and you) to educate site owners about the purpose of search marketing. Our job is to set reasonable objectives using proven tactics as part of an orchestrated strategy. This often means being part coder, part strategist, part cheerleader, and part accountant. There are many ways to go about defining the objectives of a particular campaign, and we’ll explore some of them later in this article.
Conversion Measurement and “Meat Grinder” Marketing
In his book “Your Marketing Sucks”, Mark Stevens really brings the point home when referring to his concept of “extreme marketing” – a quotation from the book states: “Scrutinize everything you are, and are not doing. Put it all under a microscope. Be a skeptical S.O.B. about every dollar you are spending. Keep those programs generating the highest returns; eliminate everything else, no matter what” (Reprinted with persmission from the author). His point is that so many companies buy into marketing campaigns that do not generate a positive return for the investment, and sadly, don’t bother to measure whether the campaign is working at all.
Marketing must be measured. I don’t take on a project without “baking in” the performance tools necessary to measure the effectiveness of the campaign. Measuring hits and traffic can usually be accomplished with a fairly simple set of tools, but again, we’re not that interested in hits and traffic, we’re interested in conversions. Phrases like “raised awareness” and “increased visibility” mean nothing to the small business owner who just spent what seems to them like a small fortune on something they can’t touch or see. Any time a campaign is based on non-measurable objectives, I call this “Meat Grinder Marketing” – money goes in, and you’re not quite sure what will come out, but it generally doesn’t look good. This is a horrible way for any business to spend their marketing dollars – especially for small businesses who cannot afford to fritter away money on campaigns that do not produce measurable results (i.e. sales).
Often you will find that your client is their own worst enemy when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of a campaign. They may come up with a million reasons why it’s impossible to track the metrics of a given campaign. I have heard most of them:
- The customer service folks don’t have time to record any info
- The information won’t be accurate enough
- Our business doesn’t work that way (regardless of industry or tactic)
- Don’t worry about the measurements, I know this tactic will work
This is often a result of the client with a desperate need to “Get Something Going”. They are more concerned with showing that initiatives are moving forward than with the actual effectiveness of such initiatives. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the “let’s do something, even if it’s wrong” plan, but let’s measure it, so we actually know if it’s wrong. The objective is to make the tracking system simple enough that the client won’t have any reason to dismiss it. Granted most clients will bend over backwards to help track the effectiveness of a campaign, but there are some who don’t perceive the value, or don’t see a high enough value to invest their time/money into it. Sadly, it is often this same type of client that tells you what horrible results they had from their last marketing endeavors and will enjoy a repeat performance of the same disappointments if you don’t give them the incentives necessary to convince them to measure.
Bottom line – make measurement as pain-free as possible and an inextricable part of the campaign.
Yogi Berra said it best – “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there”. In order to effectively measure the quality of a campaign, we must set firm objectives, otherwise – what will be measure?
First, we can suggest to the client what an acceptable conversion might be. Some examples may include:
- Downloading a file
- Registering to the site
- Viewing a webpage
- Filling out a “Contact Us” form
- Purchasing an item
You’ll find your customer may have their own ideas as to what conversion may be appropriate for their site, and in many cases their instincts are correct, but again, they will rely on the search marketing experts to determine what objectives are practical for their site. Also, the client often wishes to impose excessive restrictions on access to the conversion objective. In the case of a downloaded file, they may require too much information from the visitor than what the average visitor might feel the download is worth.
These issues must be weighed carefully as it will do no good to define a conversion that no visitor will ever bother to pursue. By the same token, certain information will be critical to the client for the conversion to be of any value. Again, it will be left to the search marketer to determine what the best compromise will be here.
When it comes to evaluating your website’s ability to convert a prospect, it helps to look at your website like it’s a salesperson. We all know that no matter how good our marketing is, an ineffective salesperson or sales system will drop the sale in its tracks.
I have a friend who once equated their sales process to a football game. He said that as an order came into their firm, it was like the quarterback running the ball. If the quarterback made it past the marketers, the sales folks would be there to stop the sale, if they dodged past the sales folks in a blind bid to make the purchase, the customer service folks would lunge mercilessly at him. If he somehow made it past marketing, sales, and customer service, their antiquated primary business system would be guaranteed to stop the sale at the ten yard line, so no worries.
In short, defining the appropriate conversion will be dictated by many variables: the site’s ability to produce the desired conversion affordably, the actual ROI gained from the conversion, and the likelihood of the conversion taking place on the site.
For example, let’s say your site sells blue widgets, and your conversion objective is the sale of a widget. There are many factors that could throttle the site’s capability to reach that objective:
- Poorly designed site
- Poorly designed shopping cart
- Dropped orders/dropped tracking through site errors
- Uncompetitive product pricing
So while your marketing efforts were spot-on, the site failed to close the prospect, thus making your efforts to appear to be in vain. This is all being said to stress the point that we must first determine if the system is ready to make the conversion before we even begin to determine how to drive traffic to the site.
With the plethora of ROI tracking, web analytics, and metrics software available today, where do we turn when the time comes to measure our campaign’s effectiveness? Unfortunately, I have not found a single reporting/tracking tool that works for everything, so imagination must be employed with each situation. I personally often fall back to in-house software to track the campaigns as I find that the packages out there are either prohibitively expensive or lack the expressiveness needed to track effectively.
In a future article in my series on conversions, I will outline some simple yet effective tracking methodologies that may be helpful. You may land on a product that takes care of 90% of your needs; if so, you’re doing pretty well, so stick with it. The key is to be able to go to your client on a regular basis and report to them on the effectiveness of your efforts (with recommendations) before they begin to wonder if “it’s all worth it”. More importantly, use your reporting as a marketing tool to sell more of the services that are working. Since you have already attached a positive net result to the efforts, increasing the efforts should increase the results.