Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Better Website Interaction Metrics for Economic Development

For the purposes of local or regional economic development, Internet exposure of marketing material is incredibly important. However, understanding whether the Internet exposure is actually supporting goals and objectives, and to what degree it's generating useful interaction, isn't easy, and certainly takes more people, time and expertise to work out than this simple blog post describes. But enabling simple visibility of high-level metrics can be very useful, very quickly.

The term "Internet exposure" is used here to encompass all types and methods used by persons to interact with marketing content, from seeing display ads or using a mobile app to browsing a website or providing feedback through a related social media channel. At the very highest level, there are several measures of Internet exposure and subsequent interaction that can be reported with easily-accessible metrics - following are two of the most important for strategic economic development planning and reporting, and ones that can very quickly demonstrate real "wins" to stakeholders and prospective benefactors.

1) Reach and Influence of Message

The message needs to get out, to the right people at the right time, in a way that piques their interest and harnesses the power of earned media, online dialogue and feedback - and beats the competition to it. Therefore, many variations of the message are likely needed (display ad, video, microblog, press release, etc.), the message should be meta-optimized (i.e. accompanied by tags, links, metadata and other information helpful to the channel hosts), multiple channels should be used (website, email, social media) and the message requires amplification and "shepherding" as it propagates and reactions occur.

At the most abstract level, aggregate all messages as a "campaign" for a period of time, and the following metrics are very useful indicators of progress (or not). Note that the metrics are MOST useful if a multi-month trend is shown, and that these high-level measures are just indicators to further validate and explore, not necessarily to solely base tactical decisions upon.

Search Engine Rankings (SERPs) for primary keyphrases - (i.e., search for "Loudoun office space" or "Loudoun commercial zoning" in Google, Bing, Twitter, SocialMention, YouTube, etc.). The rankings should be reported for BOTH positive (intended or unintended) results, as well as very negative (i.e. if a phrase is showing up within a negative context, that result should get lower over time). Focus first on Google, and on keyphrases that are competitive vs. the "sure thing" (i.e. searching for "Loudoun Economic Development" isn't a competitive phrase). Be sure that your SERP counts INCLUDE sites where your content is routinely syndicated, i.e. your content as summarized or posted on someone else's blog or site.

Legitimate Reach - if the marketing is effective, more and more influential people will experience it across more and more sites, social communities and on different devices. Assuming your marketing content originates from a core site, use the website traffice metrics and multiply the monthly number of unique devices * the monthly number of unique referring sites * the monthly number of absolute unique visitors * number of phone calls + emails generated from Internet visibility (that's right, ask 'em how they found you when they call). This is a number that should consistently grow.

Good Social Currency - if the marketing is effective, you'll gain social currency - those are signals (hopefully positive) generated by social media users across their channels, like "likes", "favorites", "retweets", "shares", "+'s". Active, rising metrics here are much more useful than simply tracking number of followers or fans, since many of these so-called fans are probably just lurkers, bots, spammers, non-useful or otherwise - and it's hard to weed them out. Social currency can be tracked per content item and per campaign - to start, simply collect the aggregate (these can be collected individually through their respective services, or tracked by adding Google analytics parameters to the link code)...for example:

# likes on the Facebook page
# retweets of marketing Tweets
# Google +1's generated for your site content
# shares via LinkedIn
# comments via the Blog postings of your content

It'll take a little skill to figure out the most efficient way to collect these, but it's not very difficult, and Google Analytics makes it pretty easy.

2) Goal Oriented Traffic

Are site visitors effectively getting funneled into your macro or micro goals? (Thanks to Avinash for this approach). Are they doing what you'd like them to do, more and more of the time? Are they "converting"?

A "macro" goal is one that pretty specifically generates the right kind of absolute value - for an Economic Development organization, this could be a commercial lease commitment, an event commitment or an application for land use permit. It could even be landing an unpaid celebrity endorsement of the area. It's very hard to directly correlate Internet user activity with these macro goals, but it is more feasible to correlate Internet user activity with "micro" goals - that we agree are contributory predecessors to the "macro" goals.

Taking "biz.loudoun.gov" for example (Loudoun County Department of Economic Development), there are a few micro goals that we can immediately focus on, that very likely are great indicators of intzent and favorable interaction (besides the use of social currency or feedback tools). We'll assume that most site selectors or businesses considering Northern Virginia and therefore Loudoun County already understand that (A) the power/network infrastructure is going to be good, (B) the traffic infrastructure is going to be bad (until the Silver Line!), and (C) Loudoun is pretty close to DC and the Dulles Airport, with very livable, desirable communities and education options.

The highest priority micro goals, that indicate "real" progress towards a macro goal might therefore include:

- Click-throughs from the "Site Selection" page, including the "Site Search", "Incentives" and "Contact our Team" links;

- Clicks (downloads) of the "Workforce & Demographics" document, from the "Workforce Development & Training" page;

- Click-throughs from the biz.loudoun.gov site "Development Process" page to the Loudoun.gov site for subdivision/zoning permits and applications;

- Supply of an email address on the "Notify Me" page (and click of the "Create Profile" button);

- Click-throughs on the Small Business "Quick Start Guide", with time spent on the subordinate pages;

- Clicks (downloads) of the "Fast Track Form", under "Development Process";

- Clicks to the "Cost of Doing Business" page - which appears to be a very important set of data that should be fairly dynamic (i.e. the rates should change frequently); and

- Any click of the "print" button (this probably means more time to be spent considering the content later).

Without digging into the mechanisms of setting and reporting funnel goals and objectives in Google Analytics (or any other metrics tool), just start by adding up the metrics described above and track month-to-month.

So, we could end up with 2 sets of high-level metrics to report out to the general stakeholder community and strategic leadership - this exercise will take a little effort each month, but probably only a couple of hours:

Important Stakeholder Website Success Super Report

A) A brief table of well-known and interesting, but rather useless data that's expected - like total number of website visitors, number of Facebook fans, etc. "Brag Stats" (or perhaps not...)

B) The summary metrics (reported as a weekly/monthly trend) discussed above:

B1. Message Reach and Influence

- Average Search Engine Rankings for top 5 Keyword Phrases = (5 numbers)
- Legitimate Reach = (a number)
- Social Currency = (a number)

B2. Goal-Oriented Traffic = (add up 8 numbers = a summary number)

That's it.

At the very least, running through this exercise as an economic development organization, and then digesting the feedback from stakeholders should result in truly insightful and usable measures and metrics down the road. And here's another nifty benefit - if you settle on the micro goals, these actually can (and should) influence updates to the design of the site! So that more of them get accomplished, as measured both by achievement of macro goals and by the improved "task completion percentage" you're obviously measuring (you do follow up and ask or survey engaged website visitors after they complete a goal, whether they're satisfied or not, don't you?)

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