Stephen Logan

Online Statistics: Which Ones Really Count?

16th Jul 2010 News, Industry News 4 minutes to read

There are so many metrics to measure online success, but which ones really matter? What is it that defines whether your investment has been worthwhile or just a whole lot of empty clicks?

Econsultancy recently published an interesting blog post entitled ‘Brands and the World Cup: who were the real winners and losers?‘ The article itself includes a range of statistics covering online activity throughout the duration of the World Cup. Mixing general statistics such as the 20 fold increase in searches for Vuvuzelas with more brand specific data, like the 155% rise in traffic seen by Qantas, it provided an interesting slice of online statistical analysis.

But like many posts of its ilk, there was something missing. Something more tangible.

As we all know, traffic online can ebb and flow. Not only in terms of quantity, but quality also. Therefore it’s hard not to be a little sceptical when it comes to the value of 155% rise for a particular airline.

Understanding Traffic Data
Without knowing the search phrases used (to help determine searcher intention), comparative bounce rate or the number of conversions, judging it a success is difficult. Ultimately it is the long-term ROI that will measure short-term success, not short term spikes. Unless of course visibility is your sole goal – which can’t be discounted.

Now, as a Search Engine Marketing agency we are used to helping clients achieve greater visibility through Pay per Click advertising and Search Engine Optimisation. We provide monthly reports to chart the changing traffic levels, search engine rankings and conversion rates. Only by analysing all of this collective information can we, and the clients of course, gauge the relative success of the work we’ve carried out.

Take Bavaria beer for example. Their website saw a huge spike following a widely discussed publicity stunt, which saw 36 models arrested and Robbie Earle sacked from ITV, making it the fifth most visited beer site in the UK. Were visitors interested in their beer or their models though?

Brand Awareness Versus ROI

Of course brand awareness has a value beyond short-term sales. For example, in Britain, Bavaria beer is a fairly minor player in what is a highly competitive market. A major television marketing campaign could cost millions and yield only minor results. This one stunt on the other hand was cost effective (if a little ill-advised), it got the world’s attention and has certainly made some people more aware of their brand.

But even this success was more by luck than judgement. They might have expected a little bit of coverage when cameras panned around and picked up the models in their branded attire. But it was only the (accidental) fallout and subsequent Twitter trends/blog posts/news stories regarding the arrests and Robbie Earle’s sacking that gained our attention. Not a targeted online campaign.

World Cup sponsors have already invested millions to have their names beamed around the world and interwoven with official promotions. Therefore it makes sense that they should target all channels to capitalise on this, including the Internet. But what can smaller companies take from all this?

Tapping into Booming Online Traffic Events

Attaching yourself to a massive event can spawn traffic. The online audience swelled during the World Cup, again referring back to the aforementioned Econsultancy paper, searches on June 11th topped 12 million per minute – the highest ever seen. The buying intent of that audience though is still unclear. This leaves a question mark over the value of traffic in such an environment.

Of course you want visitors to see your site, but it’s far more important for most businesses that an audience is targeted, not casual. You could wipe out your PPC budget in an hour by targeting World Cup phrases that had little or no relevance to your site; but what is the likelihood that any of those clicks will actually convert?

Targeted traffic to pages relevant to their search queries is the best way to improve ROI online. A good social media or integrated cross-media marketing campaign can pay dividends for your brand’s presence; but it is hit and miss, as evidenced by Hitwise’s brand sponsorship league, and will cost huge sums.

As we revealed on Wednesday, some of the best marketing creates its own buzz. Rather than tapping into an (artificially) inflated traffic stream, inventive advertising can inspire discussion and involvement. Old Spice nailed it with their ‘Old Spice Guy’ campaign and I would be willing to wager that they have invested far less than many of the World Cup sponsors. Equally, they will probably see more of a long term benefit as a consequence too.

Brand association with popular events has always been big business. But personally I would question whether traffic alone is an indicator of success. Whilst it proves you’re getting seen (half the battle), gauging the effectiveness and motivation of said traffic requires a more thorough investigation of analytics data. You could end up draining your resources to ride on the coattails of successful campaigns, but seeing none of the reward.

That’s my two cents worth anyway, so what do you think? Which are the online statistics that really count for brands (ROI only, returning traffic, lowering bounce rate etc.)? Is traffic alone enough to measure success? Are we too distracted by data anyway?

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