Nov 27

If you’re like us you have a slew of different ad campaigns running at any given time- newsletters, pay-per-click, stumbleupon, download directories, sponsored banner ads, auto-responders, etc. Tracking conversions means being able to identify the visitors to your site who ultimately complete the desired action and know which avenue brought them to you (and it’s useless to experiment across ad channels if you don’t track which ones are working). You can roll your own home-grown mechanism to track conversions but if you have a Google Adwords account, you already have access to their cross-channel conversion tracking system which will do this for you. Here’s how you can take advantage of it:

  1. Signup for an adwords account if you don’t have one already.
  2. You’ll need to add the conversion tracking code snippet to the thank you page on your site that the visitor sees when he/she completes the intended action on your site. Follow the instructions here to set it up.
  3. Next you’ll create a new cross channel tracking campaign for one of your ad channels- let’s do it for your newsletter first. What may be confusing is that even though we’re in your adwords account, adwords could be one channel you can use this to track all your ad initiatives). Follow their 3-step wizard for specifying the details of this newsletter-specific campaign and get the landing page code and the tracking URL.
  4. Put the landing page code snippet in your header or footer so it’s on every page of your site (you only need to do this once and it works across all channels that you track).
  5. Lastly, look at the newsletter-specific tracking URL and grab just the part that says:
    ?gad=xxxxxxxxxxxx” and append that to any links coming from your newsletter. Rinse and repeat for each ad campaign you have running so that they all get a unique tracking URL.

You’re now collecting data on how each campaign is doing and you’ll know exactly which ones are performing well and which ones suck. You can see from our data below that we have a spread of 0% – 38% effectiveness depending on the particular channel – that’s critical info to know if you’re spending thousands on ads! Minor improvements in conversion can translate to huge savings in adspend as I explained here. Happy conversion tracking!

CrossChannelTracking.gif

Nov 04

Wow, the volume of commentary around the OpenSocial announcement last week is enormous. Let me explain why all the doomsday predictions for Facebook are off the mark. Here is an analogy:

Saying OpenSocial will kill Facebook is like predicting that Orbitz will kill SouthWest Airlines.

SWA still has superior value and user experience to any airline in the Orbitz consortium when it comes to reliable, affordable travel. And at the end of the day as a consumer of air travel you’re just buying a ticket and getting on a plane. Twenty-two competitors that have second-rate products don’t unite to form Voltron and having a bargain shopping aggregator doesn’t kill off the vendor who refuses to participate if he still has the best bargain for the customer. Likewise, having “one API to rule them all” is nice for developers writing applications for social networks but it takes more than that to make users of the abstaining network flee the place where all their friends are.

Josh Catone of ReadWriteWeb wrote an excellent analysis. Opening the platform and appealing to the developers to build applications is a tactic Facebook used to amplify their power and deliver the ultimate user experience while offloading the burden of developing compelling apps to external developers. Think of it as the development equivalent to a company’s reseller program only instead of leveraging external sales forces, they’re leveraging external development forces.

I share the same concern that Marshall Kirkpatrick expressed – for all the hype of OpenSocial, it doesn’t sound like it will truly be a 2-way street of open-ness as the name implies. It will be interesting to see how FB rolls with the punches but they shouldn’t have any more fear of OpenSocial than SWA has of Orbitz. They’ll participate when it makes sense. Maybe someone will write an abstraction layer that sits above FBML and OpenSocial XML? Maybe not and instead developers will have to write to both systems (like software vendors that write native Mac and PC installers)… Ultimately users go to the “clean well-lit place” that provides the best experience. As the industry moves inexorably towards open the underlying social network fabric becomes irrelevant (think IM channels – Gtalk, Yahoo, MSN, AIM, ICQ- irrelevant since Adium or Gaim is the interface that masks the underlying complexity). That Adium-equivalent for social networks will be the interesting piece at that point; a single dashboard that gives me one place to manage my digital identity easily in the way that Adium lets me forget what IM services I’m using and talk transparently to my friends regardless of the service they’re on.

Feb 22

If there’s one concept you learn this month that has the single greatest potential to improve the profitability of your site, the power of DIY multivariate analysis using the Web Optimizer is it. Let me explain.

What is Multivariate analysis and why should you care?

Multivariate analysis in the context of web sites is the science of changing elements on a page and studying the effect they have on your visitors’ behavior. If you have a web site, presumably you already have a goal and your site facilitates a behavior from visitors that contributes towards achieving that goal. There is likely a desired outcome you’re seeking on each visit – an action you want that person on the other side of the wire to take such as filling out a contact form or purchasing a product. This desired outcome is known as a conversion.

Improving your conversion ratio even one percent can lead to massive improvements in sales and profitability. This calculator is a simple way to run some what-if scenarios given your current order size, traffic and sales numbers. The easiest way to understand the benefit of improved conversion is to think about it as “miles per gallon” on a vehicle- think how much gas you would save if you doubled the fuel efficiency of your engine? But it’s even better with web traffic. If your current cost per acquisition for a customer is $5 per customer given all your fixed design/development/hosting costs and marginal costs like advertising, converting twice as many visitors with zero additional cost can bring your cpa down to around a dollar. This has a dramatic effect on profitability of your operation – the effect on profitability is non-linear especially if you feed the savings back into targeted promotion.

How GWO works

So now that you understand the value of improving conversion, let’s talk about how GWO specifically does it. Google Web Optimizer is javascript-based multivariate analysis tool that gives you the ability to test different versions of key pages on your site to determine the winning formula that produces the highest conversion. You set up experiments and GWO will dynamically serve different flavors of the same page randomly to different visitors and record the number of resulting conversions. The empirical data is then presented in a graph like the one below. Provided you have enough traffic to produce significant results, the tool reveals the winning combination along with the confidence level of the suggestion (ie. the statistical significance).

GWOExperimentResultsSM.gif

You can see that Graphic #4 outperformed the others and crushed the original graphic by almost double.

And the winner is…

So this is all nice in theory but let’s take a look at a concrete example of how this helped us refine our messaging on the JumpBox site. A week ago I set up GWO on the JumpBox homepage and tested five different versions of the main graphic. Here’s the five versions I tested:

GWO_layoutE.gif GWO_layoutD.gif GWO_layoutC.gif GWO_layoutB.gif GWO_layoutA.gif

Can you guess which one performed the best?

(scroll down for the answer)

spacer.gif

(keep going…)

spacer.gif(wait for it…)

spacer.gif(waiiiit for it….)

spacer.gif
winningGraphic.jpg

This version converted at a rate of 21.2% – double that of the original which performed at 11.3%. The breakdown for all is as follows:

GWO_layoutE.gif GWO_layoutD.gif GWO_layoutC.gif GWO_layoutB.gif GWO_layoutA.gif
Combo 2
16.1%
Combo 3
11.6%
Combo 1
18.7%
Combo 4
21.2%
Original
11.3%

Personally I thought gradients were unfashionable in ’96 but that just proves that conversion is not necessarily about spectacular design. The designers who create spiffy pages and defend their effectiveness from a design standpoint may be completely missing the boat in terms of the effectiveness of the design in converting traffic. Nobody can argue with real numbers from your own visitors – at that point the winning choice is no longer speculation, there is a right answer as confirmed by empirical data.

Anyways, it should be noted that for the purposes of this experiment I counted a conversion as a click through to the about page to read more about the JumpBox technology. Down the road it will make more sense to count a download of our free trial as the conversion but I did it this way for now to get more data immediately on the effectiveness of the homepage graphic for moving people to that next page. I didn’t utilize the multivariate capabilities of GWO either- i used it more as an A/B split test (actually, A/B/C/D/E split). GWO can juggle permutations of headlines, graphics, text, calls to action, and any other displayable element on the page and intelligently report the winning assembly of items. Another aside, we used StumbleUpon advertising as a fire hose of semi-qualified traffic that we could turn on at will to accelerate testing. This worked very well.

What you do if you are interested in using GWO

The video tutorial from Google nails the setup process so I won’t rehash the steps for how to implement it. GWO is in private beta at the moment but it seems they’ve been letting in groups more frequently lately so sign up here and wait for your number to be called. You’ll know you’re in when you see this additional tab appear in your adwords account:

GWOnewTabinAdwords.gif

My only complaints about the tool so far are related to usability – it’s not quite there yet for non-technical users. You will need access to paste javascript code into your web pages as well as the technical ability to do so. I would love to see GWO use a single block of js that you install once and allows you to run experiments serially without having to strip out the old js and re-paste in the new. Google’s best move going forward with this will be to author plugins for the popular CMS platforms and ecommerce engines to simplify adoption and save people from ever having to futz with javascript at all. Other than those gripes, this is an amazing tool for people with web sites. No more speculative argument about “this design is way better than that one” – now there is a definitive answer to which designs and promotions work best.
Have fun with it.

Feb 13
GmailLabelsOpen.png

BAD

Given the interest around applications you use to hide distractions from yourself and reward yourself for spending time productively, here is simple technique you can use that’s already available in gmail:

Create labels and apply filters to non-urgent emails from discussion lists and automated alerts and newsletters. Use the “skip inbox” option to route these communications away from your inbox keeping it reserved for unanticipated communications. Nothing new here – if you use Gmail this is probably how you do it already. The secret: collapse the labels tab so you don’t see these messages pile up while you work.

GmailLabelsOpen.png

GOOD

We are insatiably-curious creatures. We pick at scabs and buy scratch ‘n win lotto tickets because we have to see what’s underneath. But the reverse is also true – out of sight, out of mind.

I was looking for a greasemonkey script for firefox that would cover up the labels section in gmail so I could reduce distraction throughout the day and I discovered that the labels tab is collapsible. Use this technique to put non-urgent communications in their place and handle them on your terms instead of reactively answering non-priority email and getting pulled off course.

Feb 04

Thank you Spanning Sync!

spanningSync.gif

You’ve finally done what no other app has been able to do until now: keep a Treo, Mac and Google calendar in sync. I’ve had the left half of this equation now for a few months using an app called Missing Sync. Spanning sync just re-opened their public beta this morning and makes the right half of the equation now possible. You need to check out their screencast to understand why this is so huge.

This gives us the capability to overlay our calendars in the office and book events for each other. There has always been the webdav server option which we considered for viewing each other’s calendars but that solution only gives you a one-way export to broadcast iCal to a server. Spanning sync means I can add a meeting via Google, iCal or Treo and it will appear in the other locations. And then I can selectively expose and consume other calendars. They’re bridged silently through the Google Calendar interface but I never have to use the Google interface – I can continue to interact via iCal or my Treo.
SpanningSyncspike.png

This should be good as well for working with external vendors as it lets you expose your calendar at varying degrees with anyone else who has a gmail account. For instance, I can consume a calendar shared with an agent booking engagements on my behalf and have those dates propagate all the way into my Treo. 10min is the shortest interval to sync so unless you’re booking at an insane frequency, there should be little danger of conflicts. This is major as evidenced by the traffic spike that temporarily closed the spanning sync beta this past week. Kudos SpanningSync on wonderful piece of software.

Feb 04

This is a genius feature they just added to Gmail:

gmailOpenAsGoogleDoc.png

Sending word docs back and forth over email sucks- it’s messy, you never know who has the most recent version of the document and the potential for overwriting and losing changes compounds exponentially as more people get involved. Google Docs is a great free service we used with our PR agency to collaborate on press releases. It allowed four of us to revise the verbiage without any questions of who had the latest copy. And it tracks revisions so that you can still get back to an earlier state of the document and see what changes have occurred between each revision.

This new feature in gmail seems to actively scan your attachments to determine if one of them is a word doc and if it is, you get a link to open it as a google doc rather than having to download it. This feature alone is reason enough to get a gmail account if you don’t already have one and should helpful for companies that are forced to deal with inbound word docs.

UPDATE: apparently this isn’t rolled out across all gmail accounts. Not sure why I’m seeing it- leave a comment if you have it in yours.

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