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Online Drives Travel Growth

Kristen Lindsey - Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Merrill Lynch today released some heady numbers for online commerce's impact on the travel industry.

It forecast that 30 percent of all travel transactions in 2005 will occur online, up from 25 percent in 2004 and 21 percent in 2003. This number is expected to grow to 39 percent by 2007.

Search marketing appears to be driving much of this growth, and search-related bookings will double yearly through 2007, Merrill Lynch forecasts.

If 40 percent of the total travel market is transacting online, and you are in the travel industry, it is worth it to consider how the Internet and your online initiatives are performing for you. Though it depends on your target audience and product market, it is an interesting exercise to evaluate what role the Internet is playing for your business.

If you have much less than 40 percent of your sales online, ask yourself why. Is it because you have a product or market that is better served with other channels? Or are you possibly missing something?

I would love to hear of anyone's experience with their online business initiatives -- do these numbers showing online travel growth match your own business experience?



Where People Find Your Website

Kristen Lindsey - Thursday, August 04, 2005

Burst Media released a study recently that outlined specifically where Internet users find websites while using the Internet at home.

Not surprisingly, search engines are the biggest source, used by 56 percent of the 13,000 respondents. Typing in URLs or using bookmarks was second at 28 percent, and linking from other sites or advertisements was third at 16 percent.

It is interesting to note that older users were more likely than younger users to use search engines versus typing directly/bookmarking, and younger users were more likely than older users to bookmark versus using search engines.

Is this information useful to you? It depends. Look at the days of the week and times of the day your users are visiting your website. Are they likely to be there nights and weekends? Then they are often probably visiting your website from home.

Also, are you targeting younger or older users?

If these stats match your website visitor behavior, you may want to dig in more deeply to this study.



RSS What?

Kristen Lindsey - Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Forrester research released a report today that only a very small number of Internet users are using the web technology RSS.

RSS is a web application that allows websites to broadcast changes to its website and allows content consumers, via RSS readers, to receive website content updates without having to go from site to site.

Though Internet marketers, bloggers and technology pundits have been extolling the virtues of this technology, it is still used only be VERY early adopters.

According to Forrester, RSS users are predominantly male, are younger than the average Internet user, and they spend twice as much time online as average.

If you frequently publish content to the web, then it is important to consider that RSS syndication of content is not going to drive high volume traffic. Yet. As major players such as Apple, Microsoft and others integrate RSS technology into their products and increase ease of use, RSS use is expected to grow.

Or, if you are targeting that very precise target audience of young male early adopter Internet users, RSS is something to look at more closely.



What is the Best Web Metrics Solution?

Kristen Lindsey - Saturday, July 30, 2005

I love this sort of question, because the answer is "it depends!"

There are two primary types of web analytics solutions for small to medium sized businesses: software-based web analytics solutions and web-based solutions.

Software solutions are programs that are installed on an internal computer and parse a website's web logs. Reports are accessed by running the software. Web-based ASP solutions are implemented by pasting some Java Script code onto each page of a site and are accessed using a user name and password online.

Software Solutions

Though software versions are less expensive, I personally think that if a company's staff resources (particularly in MIS) are not experienced in this area then the purchase ends up being a waste for a number of reasons:

1) Without specific analytics expertise the software is usually not configured correctly to produce the right data.
2) Memory issues of managing the huge log files usually makes MIS departments irate.
3) The marketing department either needs a specialist to effectively run the reports off the software or else they are reliant on MIS to produce reports -- not a top MIS priority, usually.
4) MIS departments usually are the ones with the technical ability to implement but not the interest, which is driven by marketing. You often run into inter-departmental political turf wars. Yuck.

And there are cost investments above and beyond the investment in the software:

1) You will probably need to invest in a server structure to accommodate one to two years of log files  (usually a minimum need is to run current year versus previous year reports, so you need to keep up to two years worth accessible)
2) Someone would need to be dedicated to being fully trained in the configuration side and the reporting side of the system. These are generally two completely different skill sets, so either a full person or part of a person's responsibilities would need to be dedicated to each of these skill sets, and often it cannot be the same person. The technical side is usually an MIS role, and the reporting side is better met from the marketing department.

The biggest pro of software solutions is that, with the right resources, the reporting can be incredibly granular and you can pretty much customize to your heart's content. That is, if you have the people with the ability to do it.

ASP Solutions

ASP solutions are much simpler. There is usually a monthly fee for a set number of page views per month in volume. A code is pasted on all site pages, and once you log in with a user name and password to the providers web site account log in, you are off to the races.

Great things about this:

1) On demand reporting, 24/7. As soon as it starts running, you start getting information.
2) The marketing department has immediate, simple access without much technical knowledge required.
3) Fewer MIS requirements. For companies with overworked MIS departments (know any of these?), this is one less item they have to deal with, especially since it is primarily a marketing role.

Disadvantages of this solution:

1) Less flexibility of reporting. Usually you are more limited in your options for segmenting visitors and sometimes have to pay more for e-commerce capability of campaign tracking.
2) Data lives on the provider's servers. If you cancel your subscriptions, you no longer have any access to that data, so keeping historical reports is a must.
3) Ongoing costs. The monthly fee never changes as long as you are using the service.
4) Potential loss of data. Since this solution is dependent on cookie technology to count visitors, users who block or delete cookies will not be counted.

With most small to medium sized companies I have worked with, I find that the ASP versions of web stats are more adequate to the task -- yes it is more expensive on the surface and some data may be lost, but that monthly fee covers server space and bandwidth, most configuration problems are eradicated, marketing gets on-demand access to reporting without having to rely on an outside contractor or MIS department, and technical staff can spend time on things like permissions versus running reports or managing humungous logfiles. And the detail of reporting available with the ASP models is generally adequate for many business needs.

If the need for much more granular reporting is vital, the human resources are in place to configure and utilize the reports, and your marketing and MIS departments play well together, then a software version is definitely the way to go.



The True Impact of Search Keywords

Kristen Lindsey - Thursday, July 28, 2005

Enquire, Did-it, and Eyetools recently issued a joint study about how searchers interact with Google search results with some very interesting results.

This study reveals that generally searchers look at a Google search results page in a "F" shaped pattern: top left first, then across the top to the top sponsored listings to the right, then gradually down the page and to some degree across.

From here the report digs into more detailed and complex findings. One of particular note is the idea of "semantic mapping," which basically asserts that searchers don't necessarily look for top results based on frequency of keyword use but instead seek a connection between a given listing (keyword phrases included) and a concept in his or her mind.

What does this mean to you? Well, it is very important to think beyond a simple keyword phrase and consider what concept does a keyword generally create in a searcher's mind? By thinking more about the intent behind a keyword search, optimization can be improved to not just focus on keyword density, but to place keywords in a content that matches a searcher's concept.





Numbers Don't Lie - Are Your Web Stats Accurate?

Kristen Lindsey - Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Web statistics are an incredibly powerful tool to determine the success of your online business. But the decisions you make are entirely dependent on the accuracy of your statistics.

How can you be sure your stats are accurate? Generally as you dig deeply into your stats, some funny numbers may reveal that your stats are not configured correctly.

Here are two real life examples of when reports indicate some web stats issues:

  • Monthly pay-per-click traffic is higher than monthly search engine referrals traffic on your web stats. One of the first things to check. This occurred with an ASP version of web stats, and one of the primary traffic-producing pages on the site did not have the web stats code on it. The reports were missing important traffic data, and overall traffic reported was low.
  • A small site was reporting lots of traffic, but the top paths report had paths that cannot be possible. This company had not filtered employees from its traffic and a marketing staff had been making site updates. These updates were recorded as traffic, and in this case significantly inflated reporting.

So if you ever see some statistics that don't seem to make sense, ask why. It could mean that there are some anomalies in your data that can easily be fixed.

Some things you can check to improve the accuracy of your web statistics:

  1. Be sure your employees are filtered out of the results. This is especially important if, for example, you have reservations agents and they use your site frequently when assisting customers.
  2. Ensure that there is a consistent process to get web stats code onto every new page. Pages without code cannot be counted.
  3. Talk with your IT department of web contractor (whoever is managing your statistics) and have them review your stats configurations with you. Knowing, for example, what length of time is considered one session will help you evaluate your stats more effectively. (30 minutes is generally standard for this)

Web statistics are one of the most powerful tools in your online arsenal, but only if they are properly implemented. A few checks can help you make sure.



Broken Links and Load Time Tools

Kristen Lindsey - Thursday, July 21, 2005

Broken Links and poor web page load time can adversely affect your search engine rankings, not to mention provide an unsatisfactory experience for visitors. Thanks to an Internet marketing email group I am a member of, here are a number of free tools you can use to measure these page factors.

Load Time:

NetMechanic - provides a number of diagnostics for web pages. Free trial.
Dreamweaver - Dreamweaver is a website design/development tool. It has a function to check for load time.
Web Page Analyzer -  This tool offers load time measurement and recommendations for improvement.

Broken Links:

NetMechanic - provides a number of diagnostics for web pages. Free trial.
Xenu Link Sleuth - this is a free download. Good for large sites.
Dreamweaver - Dreamweaver is a website design/development tool. It has a function to check for broken links.
Web Page Analyzer -  This tool identifies broken links and recommendations for improvement.

Regular checks for broken links is really important (Google penalizes for too many of these), and focusing especially on your home page and product page load times will make visitors and search engines happier.




The Influence of Internet Advertising

Kristen Lindsey - Wednesday, July 20, 2005

If you haven't seriously considered shifting some of your overall advertising budget to online media, some new statistics from DoubleClick may change your mind.

According to DoubleClick, for the three industry segments of travel, banking, and automotive, the individual online media of web ads, search engines, email, and websites all outrank offline sales tools such as salespeople, TV commercials, in-store promotions, and word-of-mouth. That means that each of those online media are ahead of all these other offline advertising options.

When Internet media is lumped together, it outranks these offline media in all categories.

Convinced yet? There are three good reasons you should consider increasing your online media budget:

  1. If you are very targeted, many online media is more affordable than offline media such as television.
  2. Online media is extremely trackable.
  3. The Internet is a conduit of traditional word-of-mouth, so your online activity can in many ways develop word-of-mouth buzz much more effectively than offline media.


Professional and Education Backgrounds of SEO Professionals

Kristen Lindsey - Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Are you curious about the professional and educational background of your SEO professional? Maybe you should be.

There was a fantastic post last week on the Search Engine Watch forums about the professional and education backgrounds of SEO professionals and a debate on what types of experience are best. This is a very interesting conversation, because most SEO professionals are self-taught; there are very few if any programs training in this area.

Generally, most SEO professionals get started in one of two areas - either they have a web technical background or else they have a marketing background. Here is a sampling of backgrounds that many who posted listed as their own:

  • BS Sociology/Psychology; MS Research, Measurements, and Quantitative Analysis
  • Finance/ Personal Interest in the web and computers
  • Bachelor's degree in Journalism; Master's Degree in advertising; Professional background in public relations
  • BSc in Web Development at the University of Teesside in the UK; Diploma in Corporate E-Commerce Development
  • Bachelor's in Marketing, with a concentration in Information Sciences/Internet
  • Technical education and data/statistical analysis background and have been in web development since the 90's.

Very diverse! Which begs the next question: Is there a better background to product effective SEO results for your organization?

Some of the forum participants assert that a technical background is vital to being a successful SEO professional. Others press that a marketing background with technical support provides increased big picture perspective on how SEO fits into an overall marketing program.

My opinion? I lean towards the latter - a technical background is important, but as online marketing continues to grow and is an ever larger percentage of marketing budgets, SEO must have relevance to the overall program or else it will be de-emphasized. Ideally, a professional with a marketing background and with some technical experience will provide that big picture perspective but also provide technical execution (or the ability to hire someone with the technical experience).



If You Have Just Five Minutes to Look at Your Web Stats...

Kristen Lindsey - Wednesday, July 13, 2005

In just five minutes, what web stats can you look at that can provide you with actionable information? By "actionable information" I mean something that allows you to make an adjustment or improvement to your site or take any other action based on the statistics to improve your web business.

Here are three suggestions:

  1. Evaluate the "Top Entry Pages" on your website. Usually your home page is the top. If it isn't, and you don't have an easy explanation why the top page is so popular, then that is something worth investigating immediately. An example of a good explanation would be if you are paying a lot of money on pay-per-click advertising and you are pointing it to an interior page, not the home page. Top entry pages generally reflect your marketing efforts - pay-per-click, banner advertising, and link building campaigns that may be pointing to pages other than the home page. A quick look at this report will give you a feel for the effectiveness of these campaigns.
  2. Unique Visitors, Most Requested Pages, and Top Exit Pages. If you have some sort of transactional pages on your site like a purchase form or a shopping cart and your web stats do not have all the sales and revenue tracking bells and whistles, these three reports can quickly give you a feel for what your sales conversion rate is. For a given length of time like a month, look at your total unique visitors, check the number of visitors to the form page or first page of your shopping cart checkout, then count the number of visitors on your "thank you" page. (Many stats packages allow you to look at visitors on a page versus page views) Dividing the number of visitors to the "thank you" page by the number of unique visitors will give you a rough percentage of sales conversions on your website. Dividing the number of people exiting your form or checkout page by the number of unique visitors gives your your abandonment rate.
  3. Top Keyword Phrases. This is particularly useful when you are conducting search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click advertising (PPC). If your top keywords are your company name or other "identifier" keywords, then you may need to improve your SEO efforts with product-related target keywords. If those product-related target keywords are on top, this is a testament to SEO or PPC success. If there are a lot of keywords in there that are completely unrelated to your business, you may want to check your pay-per-click program - your ads may be showing for unrelated searches - adding negative keyword terms may make your PPC ad budget go further.

There is such a wealth of information that can be found in your web statistics, but these are just a few quick checks you can use to check in on your web site business.