Clicks are great, but they aren’t everything

Talking about web analytics this week. There’s an increasing number of free and low-cost tools to give you all kinds of numbers about your site and your content. It can be a little addicting. Number go down (sad face) and up and it’s easy to think that you are learning important things about how to make your content more effective. Real-time data on subscriptions, visits, etc. is exciting. But here’s a little secret: your information is only as good as the questions you ask. Here’s how to get more from your analytics:

Match your data explorations to your business questions - What is your real goal in your business? Is it to sell things, get subscribers, improve your reputation, lower calls to customer service? Those are outcomes that you can measure. It’s easy to measure visits, but they don’t answer those questions.

Don’t just rely on clickstream data - Hits are easy to measure, but really don’t tell you all that much. Just because someone visited your page doesn’t mean they read anything. Even if they did, that visit alone may not explain why you made sales.

Keep notes on outside events - One thing you learn in college stats class is that correlation is not the same thing as causation. Data from dashboards is awesome because it is easy to get, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. What lurking variables in real life could explain the effects you are seeing?

Take the long view, mostly - You can get reports on any time frame you like, but measuring and iterating too rapidly can lead to bad decisions. You want to monitor regularly for crises, but for bigger decisions and changes, match your analyses to the times when you need to make decisions.

Stop, look and listen: Cross domains to be creative in your content production

The advice that helped you get across the street as a kid can help you populate your blog. In my class today, we are talking about coming up with ideas for reader-friendly content, and for a lot of people, that is the hardest thing about writing.

I’ve written already about the types of content you produce, the things your audience needs to know and the things your audience wants to know and I’ll be talking today about using variations on a topic to come up with ideas.

Another technique you can try is bringing ideas across media. Here’s how it works:

Stop. Use your reading habit to find ideas in a lot of places. You know you can use an .rss reader to keep up with writing in your area of interest. But do more. What are popular podcasts in your area? Do your YouTube subscriptions bring in new ideas? Keep a list handy in the cloud so you can add to it when deliberately searching and on the go.

Look. Train yourself to attend to serendipity. You are surrounded by content pretty much all the time. Look intentionally at billboards, that TV channel that they plan in the grocery store, the back cover of the magazine that lady is reading on the bus. Snapping photos of things you want to remember and pinning them on a private Pinterest board is a good way to remember this kind of information.

Listen. There’s content that you are interested in, and there is content other people are interested in, too. People talk about media frequently, it is worth it to pay attention to the things they say, both for topics and smaller pieces of information that are interesting. For example, the Superbowl featured a bunch of new ads, like usual, and people have favorites. When they talk about the ones they like, ask questions – what did you like about it? Who was your favorite character? What surprised you? This can give you ideas for both topics and approaches in your own work.

Gamification and media: Thoughts from this week’s iMedia Sampler

A relative of mine is a protein folder. He’s not a scientist, but he does spend his own money on computer upgrades and electricity to donate space processing cycles to a protein folding initiative at Stanford. Aside from the intrinsic good feeling about helping research, participants are rewarded with points and rankings to help keep them engaged.

This week on our iMedia Sampler course, my colleague Derek Lackaff* did the lesson on issues in gamification. Course readings are here and here. Our alumni had various experiences with trying games and rewards in their media industries and here are some of their thoughts.

Gamification positives

  • Alumni have seen gamification used in a variety of ways from traditional contests to quizzes, and see it driving their own behavior, whether that is purchasing at a particular store to earn rewards eventually or participating in our course (which offers a badge at the end)
  • Gamification is also effectively used internally to encourage employee behaviors within organizations. This is one we use in higher education sometimes, as well.
  • Gamification is tricky ethically, but a good practice is being sure that you are forthright about what will happen with data you are collecting.
  • Gamification may work better for some generations than for other. Millennials and Plurals have shown a high need for public validation, which makes it a good technique for them.

Gamification cautions

  • Gamification isn’t a universally good idea. For example, if you are a charity using donor money to buy participation from others, that can be a bad strategic move, because it can upset your donors.
  • Gamification can create its own kind of content shock
  • You can train your users to expect rewards, which quickly becomes a losing proposition.
  • Gamification can lose its impact if you have a small number who avidly play the game and win all of the opportunities.

*Find Derek on Twitter at @lackaff

How to tell if you have a great idea – 2 must-haves

I spent the morning coming up with ideas for content marketing white papers for my students. No matter what you are doing, coming up with a solid idea is half the battle of getting it done. So what are the characteristics of a great idea?

Relevance - Unless you are keeping your own personal journal, you are always writing for an audience. And as Dale Carnegie told us

“Personally I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I have found that for some strange reason, fish prefer worms. So when I went fishing, I didn’t think about what I wanted. I thought about what they wanted. I didn’t bait the hook with strawberries and cream. Rather, I dangled a worm or grasshopper in front of the fish and said: ‘Wouldn’t you like to have that?’ Why not use the same common sense when fishing for people?”

A few things can help here:

Feasibility – A great work is, first and foremost, a completed one. Your idea is only valuable if you have the insight, talent and time to bring it to life. If you struggle with coding, a nifty app is a great idea. If running your business takes all of your time, it will be hard for you to keep a blog up consistently. Yes, you can and should learn new things, but unless you have the time and resources to do that before your deliverable is needed, you may need to be more realistic.

Once you have the great idea, your job is much easier – now you just have to do it!

SEO/Analytics/Social Media: Class is in session

My university is on a funny schedule, so our spring classes just started yesterday.* My graduate class on SEO/Analytics/Social Media gets underway today and here’s what’s on the plate this semester. I’ll be doing posts on these topics over the next few months.

  1. Most things you think you know about SEO aren’t true any more
  2. You have no control over changes to search engine algorithms. Develop an industry surveillance technique and use it.
  3. Online reputation is hard to build and easy to lose
  4. The most important thing you can do is have clear goals for why and with whom you are communicating
  5. The next most important thing is to make it about your audience
  6. Quality content matters
  7. Measure what you value and value those measurements
  8. Dealing with real clients who have real problems and real audiences is always messier than you think it should be. Flexibility matters.

*We have a January term. I spent it with an awesome team of graduate students building this and this.