Volume versus value online metrics

Volume or value? Site visitors or LTV?

Techcrunch today pointed out the declining value of a twitter follower based on some recent eBay prices by service providers here.  How do companies guarentee gobs of twitter followers?  Bots.  Or overseas “farmers” who create bogus accounts and follow the hapless buyer.  Sure, they get thousands of followers – either for their own ego, or with the goal of being paid by marketers based on the volume of followers.  But what good are they to marketers if they’re not real individuals?  They don’t even have to be active tweeters, but at least check in and have some interest in the people they are following.

Marketing Challenges Before the Net.

This is a age old, on-going issue with marketers:  quantity or quality, volume versus value.  Mass advertising versus targeted direct marketing.  See The Problem with Cost-Per Online Metrics post.   

Before, when the mediums limited the levels of interaction, it was a matter of understanding the mediums and leveraging them to drive some sort of behavior (influencing a perception of a brand) or action (calling an 800# and ordering a product or service).

Current Marketing Challenges.

With today’s internet, we have a medium that enables marketers to brand themselves or drive an action or anything inbetween – and it all comes with basic, trackable data on a per person level which is new for brand advertiser who are used to broad, market-level (DMA) media data. 

Data and measurement have always been the biggest hurdles in all campaigns – with one exception below – especially when testing, a basic marketing requirement.  With online data, how do you define success and therefore, how do you measure success?  Any website owner needs to know this.  And every marketer or advertiser should be asking and understanding the very same questions about every online traffic source that they use.

How This Impacts You.

Why?  Because not every person driving the [insert metric name here] is the same and therefore, not of the same value to you, Website Owner, or to you, Mr/Ms Marketer.  Common metrics are:  website visitors; unique visitors; video viewers; ad clicks; page views; time on site; etc.  I am encouraging you to dig beyond the Average stats and to think Differences.  How is a purchaser Different than a visitor?  Why do some sites drive more sales than others – what’s Different about their traffic? 

What You Want.

What you are driving for is the real deal – a purchase or perhaps a registration but with detailed information about that person.  Up until the real thing, all other metrics have some contamination – from very little to a lot – to outright manipulations. 

So the very attributes that make the internet such a level-playing field (global, low barriers to entry, great brand exposure, easy online ordering) makes it also easy for some bad behaviors:  bots to drive website visitor stats, bots that drive up advertisers’ costs with click-thru fraud, fake followers, or real followers for sale.

How To Get There.

Understanding the source of your traffic, purchasers, followers, or whatever, is of paramount importance to marketers.  If marketers assume that all website traffic is the same, then acquisition and retention strategies and plans will be way off the mark, and ultimately, will stagnate growth and you’ll see a marked deterioriation of revenues over time.

Understanding your own data, and the data of your traffic sources correctly will lead to better identification of those people most likely to succeed as set by your own standards – purchase, register, interact, etc. – and avoid spending time and money on the accidental clicker. 

The Metrics Exception – Best Testing Method.

Having a background in research design, test construction, and multivariate analysis, I can tell you that the most successful test (valid/true and reliable/repeatable/consistent results) is when you maximize the control over your variables, and minimize the contaminants.

The cleanest marketing tests I have ever conducted have been direct mail tests.  The reason being is that there is the greatest amount of data and control over every step of a direct mail program.  From the validity of the home address and basic data associated with that residence (unlike email addresses) to segmentation, coding, and tracking of program and tests, to the capturing of complete data and information of the real person that is taking a measurable action with their dollars by making a purchase from you (unlike intent surveys). Direct mail produces the most valid and reliable data.

Testing using mediums other than direct mail has inherent limitations which effect the validity and reliability of the test – and therefore, the strength of the analysis erodes.  It’s important that your marketing and analytics people clearly understand the limitations of various mediums – what you know about the people and what you are able to learn fron them.


By the way, if you’re not testing something all the time, you’re sunk.  Never have a program with just one banner ad.  Always test an alternate something be it copy, graphics, landing page, time of day, day of week, etc.  You can go with your gut reaction to something.  Set that up as your control or standard.  But you’d be very surprised at what works – and doesn’t work.  Include only those elements that produce the highest Lifetime Value (at best), or ROI (but watch those back-end stats like churn, product returns, or credit defaults).

Obviously, you do what you need to do given what you have to better understand your customers, however you define that.  It’s better to at least be in the same ballpark rather than the wrong town altogether.

How have you used website (yours and theirs) data and analysis to improve your own ROI?

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