Audience, Goals, and Validation
Every web strategy revolves around three key concepts: audience, goals, and validation. First, who is your audience? Can you segment them based on user groups, user types, age, location, skill level, etc.? Second, what are the goals that you want each audience member to complete? Do you want them to spend lots of time on your website, visit a certain key whitepaper, register in your site, purchase something, pick up the phone and call you? And third, how will you keep track of those goals and be able to see how well each target audience is performing?
We've discussed these concepts before in determining whether it's time to pull the plug on your website.
For every change that you make, you need to be able to form a business case for what you hope to achieve (to affect your goals), and you need to be able to record the changes both positive and negative. This is where Google Analytics come in handy; using Analytics you can gain insights into your visitors and their behaviors in your site.
Within Analytics you have two ways to test your hypotheses: you can do A/B testing, or you can simply leave notations for yourself in your Analytics dashboard, notating when you made changes. While A/B testing can be exceedingly valuable, it's also not for the faint of heart. You DO need to have extensive technical resources at your disposal to do it correctly. While the notations method shown below doesn't give requires that you make the change then see the results, and isn't exactly scientific in its method, for most layman it will accomplish your goals.
An example in social media
One of the conversations that we have with clients all the time is how they should be using social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.) to augment their businesses, drive traffic to their business (online and brick & mortar), and achieve their goals.
For a specific example (not disclosing the particular client) the goal was ultimately to monetize their popular blog; all strategic considerations needed to be made with the ultimate goal of increasing the site's advertising revenue opportunities. One of our conversations went along these lines:
Client - Lets talk about Facebook.
CF - Ok, what's the goal of the Facebook page?
Client - To drive traffic to the site?
CF - Well, my concern is you're taking the conversation off your site and onto Facebook. If you want people commenting (and re-commenting) on your blog's posts, you want them doing that on your site, not somewhere else, because if they're on your site they're seeing more ads and potentially clicking on those ads. And if you're wanting your content shared to those services, we already have sharing buttons in each blog post, and judging by your Analytics, we can see that that does drive traffic already to your site.
(creation of a Page in Facebook shelved)
One of the changes we did make to their site that is yielding immediate results is that we implemented a summary and thumbnail script on their index pages. The purpose of this was to improve the site's readability, especially on long index pages such as the homepage, by giving the visitor a paragraph of text and optional thumbnail for each blog post, enabling them to more easily skim the most recent content.
This improved readability, as well as "forcing" the visitor to click to read the full post, has yielded immediate returns with page views increasing substantially, and while it's too early to determine definitively, increased user sessions in terms of time and pages. It's also too early to tell regarding increasing the advertising revenues generated, but with those two other metrics increasing, we believe the advertising revenue should follow suit.
Tracking the changes
When we make changes like the ones mentioned above we encourage our clients to make notations in their Google Analytics, noting the date in the chart along with the changes that were made. Depending on your timeline it is usually good to leave any significant changes running for a minimum of 3 weeks to get a good sense of the impact, 2 months if the changes were aimed at search engines.
Remember, a website isn't meant to be a static entity; it should be updated, changed, and grown so as to continue to provide increasing returns for your business. Using Analytics enables you to make informed decisions regarding the changes that you're making.