A good friend of mine runs a very successful retail business and recently decided to focus her mind on improving her website. Retailing must be one of the most complex businesses to manage. Stock, staff, leases, all within a fickle economic environment, must make it a challenge for those keen to take it all on. Ingrid has been up to the task of taming this complexity and her business is thriving. However, when it comes to the online space and everything I write, she tells me it’s all gobbledygook to her.

This tells me I have some way to go in explaining the environment I work in. You see, I believe that running a successful portion of any business online should be no more complex – even less complex, perhaps – than its physical cousin. For instance, just removing the concepts of leases and staff should make managing an online store a lot less complex than its physical cousin. It’s not that the content of online marketing is overly complex; it’s just the industry terms that need translating into some real-world behaviours.

So, with all this in mind, here are my four first steps any business owner needs to follow to make their online presence perform.

Step 1: Firstly, you need to set things up so you can quickly and easily know the numbers of your website. No-one would try running a business without a monthly set of financial reports to track its financial activity – the same applies to the activity of the company website. Unlike your financial reports, the reports from your website will include nice charts that focus on people (your visitors) not numbers, which can make them a lot more interesting to read.

To create these numbers you will need a good website analytics application installed on your website. If you don’t already have Google Analytics installed on your website, go and get your web developer to set it up for you. In prior articles I told readers to ‘consider’ this package. Now, I think people come to me for advice on how to save time, so my advice is to pick Google Analytics – it’s free and is the best of the bunch for that price point.

Step 2: Invest an hour or two to understand what the figures mean. Yes, there is a learning curve here just as there was when you started your business and looked at your first set of reports. And, like then, the quicker you get up to speed with what the numbers mean, the more in control you will feel over what is happening. In your financial reports, there are some figures that are more important than others (debtors, creditors and cash on hand) €” the same applies for website analytics, where terms like bounces, conversions and keywords take on a whole new meaning.

Once you become more familiar with what your statistics mean you will be able to quickly and easily review your monthly reports and deduce exactly what you need to focus on next month during your website ‘hour of power’.

Step 3: Now, with all this new-found knowledge, you need to make your website accountable. Inside every Google Analytics application is the ability to set up four ‘goals’ for the tool to track. A goal is an action achieved by your visitor on your website. This could be a sale, an email newsletter registration, or filling in a ‘contact us’ page.

Now you can not only see how many actions your website achieved broken down by type but also which stream of internet traffic was responsible for driving these actions. For instance, did they arrive from the Google search engine? And, if so, what search term did they enter before they came onto your site? Your analytics tools can reveal this information for you, uncovering rich veins of profitable internet traffic. Once you have these goals being tracked, you can work on increasing their conversion rate by altering the content on your web pages and tracking the resulting changes.

Step 4: Start using email marketing. Now that you have your website all tracked and monitored, you can start to send it good visitor traffic. The best way to do this is to create a list of prospects and customers who are willing to receive your own email marketing, and then send them to your website to have it convert them into sales or leads. As you need to seek permission first before sending emails, the act of building an email list can take time. The sooner you start the better. Bribe staff, prospects and customers to let them receive your emails. It’s one of the top strategies that all good online marketers use and for good reason – it works.

So there you have it. I have mentioned before that website marketing is not hard – but it’s not easy either. There is a learning curve, but it’s not as steep as it seems once you cast away any confusing technobabble. Needless to say, we have a whole range of resources to help you through this process.

How well you use the 95 characters spread across three lines (25-35-35) that are available within your Google Ad Text can be all that separates your campaign from being an ongoing costly expense or a cost-effective provider of valuable new prospect leads. However, knowing what copy to write can be a challenge when you are starting out. How can you distil your core benefit down to so few words? And should you lead with a benefit or a feature? All this can cause unnecessary concern and confusion, and result in the creation of those first few ads being a rather haphazard affair.

But this doesn’t have to be the case. I want to share a simple process you can follow to make this ad creation easier. All you need is a few moments of concentration and the use of a tidy FREE online tool from Google. Combine the two and you should be scribbling down good copy ideas in seconds.

The true power of this system comes from its ability to show you an ‘over the shoulder’ view of your prospects. Remember that your searching prospects don’t see your ad in isolation – it is part of a complete page of results (both paid and organic). Both of these areas can change on a frequent basis, especially the paid area, which can change on a daily basis as new advertisers come into the market. The Google ads that are written with an appreciation of the other advertising and copy that sits around them tend to be the ones that lead onto great things. So how do you ensure you can see what your searcher sees?

Well, if you live in the same area as the prospects that your Google AdWords campaign is targeting then it is as simple as keying in your search keyword and noting what comes up. However, things are a bit more difficult for those advertising in markets outside their own location. Fortunately, this is where the free handy tool I mentioned comes into play.

You can find it here: https://adwords.google.com/select/AdTargetingPreviewTool. You will need to have a valid Google account to make it work, but once you type in the keyword you want to search on, the location of the Google search engine and the location of your searcher, and then submit the form, all will be revealed for you. For instance, see what I find when searching for the keyword ‘laptop computers’ when looking for the .com search engine for those searchers in the US.

If you run a computer store in New Zealand that sells laptops and are wondering what ad text might work you in your Google AdWords account, you could do a lot worse than taking your ideas from those shown in the hyper-competitive US market. Sneaking a look over the fence at others trying to do the same marketing as you but in other markets is just one way you can use this great tool to help make your ad writing an easier task. Here are two other ideas you may want to pick up on.

Look for answers to the problems your prospects have. You may have a strong idea of the key problems your prospects want to solve when they start looking for your product/service. Study the paid and non-paid search results behind your top keywords and see if the true benefits behind these problems are being addressed. For example, people don’t purchase walk-in wardrobes, they purchase storage solutions. I have found that, for some reason, it helps to print out the results page and mark up the areas where these problems are being addressed.

Trick Google into showing you only the high click-through ads. When you are presented with a full page of AdWords ads it can be hard to differentiate which ones are the high click-through winners and as such are worth paying more attention to than the others. You can help yourself here by tricking Google into only showing you the strongest ads. You do this by forcing the Google ad serving engine to show you a broad match result for your target keyword by searching with a term that will always provide a broad match result. For instance, if you are interested in the term mentioned before, ‘laptop computers’, you can reveal the broad match result by entering ‘laptop 8855hyy computers’. See the image to follow for how these results differ slightly to the ones shown previously.

There are many other ways you can use these ‘over the shoulder’ views to further hone your ad copy. By following these few steps this simple tool should ensure that a) you are never stumped for an idea when kicking off your Google Ad text again and, more importantly, b) you produce ad copy with the same view in mind as your prospect sees. Have fun.

In this month’s coaching update I took the group through a great tool from Google (which is, of course, free) that makes the task of testing web pages a breeze. You can now set up a test between two web pages in minutes. Your question is – what should I test, and probably more importantly, why should I embark on a testing program anyway?

So, like most people who only have a limited amount of time to spend on their website, it helps to appreciate the core commercial benefits a successful testing plan can produce before allocating some valuable time to it. The table that follows helps explain these benefits. I have borrowed this from a recent Google presentation I sat in on. It covers what they call the multiplication effect of testing by showing how someone who is using AdWords (Google’s paid advertising option) to generate a lead flow could choose between three options when considering creating more customers: they could increase their advertising spend, raise their conversion rates by 50% or, the best of the three, do both.

  Do Nothing Raise Spend 50% Raise Conversion Rate 50% Both
Prospects 10,000 15,000 10,000 15,000
Conversion Rate 2% 2% 3% 3%
Customers 200 300 300 450
Sales Impact   1.5x 1.5x 2.3x

So, by choosing the third option (remember this was a Google presentation so increasing the ad spend was always going to be part of the solution) this marketer is able to increase sales by more than 2-fold (from 200 to 450 customers) while only increasing their ad spend by 50%. Not bad for just taking a conversion rate up by a mere 1%.

The news on testing is even better with lead-generation websites. Here, unlike a shopping site where achieving a 1% increase in conversion requires a reasonable amount of work, with lead generation you can easily push rates upwards by 5-7% without breaking into too much of a sweat. It all comes down to the level of convincing/persuasion you need to apply. Persuading someone to fill in a form to retrieve a free report is a lot easier than asking them to part with their money and buy something from you for the first time.

So we can now see that testing makes good commercial sense – the question still remains, what should I test?

Well, for lead-generation websites the three ingredients that make up the ’conversion cocktail’ are: a) the headline; b) the image used in the header; and c) the first piece of copy below the headline. When all three are in sync then good conversions follow.

So, we recommend you get the whiteboard out and start brainstorming some options. If the discussion becomes a bit heated over what version is best, then just hand the decision over to your web visitors and let them choose. Your creative folk may have a convincing argument on why their image should be used at the top of the landing page instead of the ’boring’ one that is currently there – just test the two and see which one works the best.

This brings me onto to the types of testing you can use. The header image test example I spoke about before would be set up as a simple A/B split test. This is where the web page traffic is evenly split between the two examples. Multiple versions can be tested against each other (A,B,C,D,E, e.t.c) but to start we suggest you go with a couple of obviously different pages to see what happens.This last point is quite important. One way to decide if the difference is obvious to your visitors is to print each of them out, hold them at arm’s length and see if you can spot the difference.

The next step up from A/B testing is multivariate testing. This is where you test more than one change at a time on a single page. You may want to test three headlines, four images and two different copy introductions. I recommend you head into this territory once you have cut your teeth on its simpler cousin. It’s a bit harder to set up and requires a lot more traffic for the test to run.

The number of conversion actions each of your tests achieves will determine which one is the winner. For lead-generation websites, these conversions are usually represented by prospects successfully submitting a form to receive some sort of report. However, the success of E-commerce websites will be gauged by sales. This last point could be cause for concern. For example, most tests will require about 30 conversions per option before you can start to reliably predict a winner. If you have two options of a shopping cart page running on an e-commerce website that only produces 20 sales a month, you could be waiting three months for your test to run. This is obviously too long. One way to get around this is to test actions that lead towards a conversion action rather than the conversion action itself. For instance, you could test the state at which a person either registers or logs into their account to start a transaction. There will be a lot more visitors doing this than completing sales, and by driving more people successfully through this stage it can only help build your final sales volume.

So there you have it. I hope these few words have gone some way to convince you to allocate some of your ‘website time’ to putting in place a testing program to drive your conversion rates upwards.

The other day I took a phone call from a customer who was helping out a business that was in rather dire straits. My customer called me from a meeting room of the business concerned and in a few seconds they put me on speaker phone and gave me a summary of the story so far. They then peppered me with questions on how I would go about helping them dig themselves out of the problem they were in.

It would seem that over 6 months ago a design company was asked to redesign an existing website to freshen up its rather tired look. A detailed brief was written and within a few weeks some fresh new designs were printed out and pasted onto boards for everyone to drool over. The design presented was an obvious improvement and, with some minor tweaks, some layouts were chosen and the build commenced.

To make the content structure of the design work, the website infrastructure and content management application had to change. Plus, the site was already a successful e-commerce operation, so it there was a bit of work to make the present payment gateway work with the new pages. Neither of these was too hard and didn’t faze the developers involved in the project.

After the usual delays of a build of this size – probably a medium-level site in New Zealand terms – the site went live and those involved in the project bathed in the glory of these fresh new web pages.

The website’s visitors were not similarly impressed. Sales on the new site were slow and way down on the same period last year. The month-by-month reduction fluctuated, but the decrease settled around the 30% mark. At first, this reduction was linked to short-term alterations in the market, linked with marketing promotion failing to fire. But as time rolled on – enough to smooth out any external factors like these – it became obvious to all that, compared with the one it replaced, this new site was a conversion lemon.

The business concerned had spent a few weeks with the problem and were still no closer to solving it before they came to my client, who then introduced them to me. After just 20 minutes on the phone we had developed a list of steps to try to indentify the reasons why the drop-off could have occurred.

A few days after the call, I sat down and pondered the lessons that could be learnt from a situation like this. Subsequently, I have come up with four insights that could help others avoid a similar situation occurring during their own site redesign.

Decide on the conversion metrics you want to improve before you start any site redesign and then gauge the project’s performance against these. Bounces, sales conversion and lead conversion rates are just three metrics that should all show improvements through a redesign process. Knowing what your existing site achieves and which tests gave you the greatest improvements are all facts that you should share openly with any prospective redesign team.

Know where the problem areas are in your sales conversion process and have an expectation that your new site redesign will smooth these out. Frequently, there are a multitude of different web pages a prospect needs to work through when purchasing from your site. Not everyone who starts this process ends as a freshly minted customer. Knowing which pages drive the largest amount of drop-offs can focus your redesign process specifically on fixing these problem areas.

Understand which terms make it onto your ‘golden keywords’ list and know your search performance on each. Some keywords will be more important than others. These are the ones that have a higher propensity to drive new conversions when compared with the rest. Both organic and paid versions of these keywords can be important. Therefore, it pays to track on a regular basis (for most sites this is monthly) how your site ranks for them in the free, organic part of the main search engine plus the minimum cost per click you expect to pay on the sponsored or paid listing area.

As any new site will need to go through a process of search engine re-indexing, you are bound to see some changes in these rankings. Knowing which of these keyword ranking changes are more important than others will help you focus your efforts on any immediate remedial work required.

And finally, if you are not too sure how your new site is going to perform then how about doing an A/B split test for your traffic between the old and new versions? If you have a radically free-thinking design agency, then you may even make your payment contingent on their version out-performing its alternative!

As those who have completed a site redesign and development will know, the process is not without risk. Falling conversion rates is just one problem that can be an unwanted output of a project like this. However, by following these points you should be better placed to a) guide the redesign process so it has ‘improved conversion’ as a measurable outcome; and b) fix any problems that arise quickly and easily.

In previous articles I have commented on how to apply the 80/20 principle when improving the effectiveness of your website marketing. Examples have included Google AdWords, where 20% of your keywords will usually provide 80% of your sales conversions, and landing page copy creation, where a mere 20% of your sales copy will drive 80% of the effects of the page. The principle also rings true when it comes to copy placement, with key copy best placed in the top 20% of your web page.

But when it comes to 80/20 truisms the granddaddy of them all is how 20% of your web pages will be responsible for over 80% of your website’s conversion success. Yep, while you may have a site chock full of well indexed content that does a great job of attracting new searchers, it could well be just one or two pages that do the heavy lifting of converting these visitors into prospects.

In some cases it’s simple to pick out these ‘golden’ pages. For lead-generation websites, it’s usually the landing pages that sit between your visitors and the content they register for. Improving these pages, through split testing the copy and design elements they contain, can have a dramatic effect on improving conversion rates.

However, when it comes to locating the right pages to focus on in a multi-stage e-commerce site, things become a bit more challenging. In this case, there may be several pages a prospect needs to visit during the purchase process. The prospect might pick the product from the selection on offer, add it to their shopping cart, perhaps return to shop some more, and then decide to ‘check out’ what they have. From here, they are asked to either login if they have purchased before or register as a new buyer. Depending on how user-friendly your shopping cart is, they may see any number of pages before finally ending up on the ‘order receipt’ or ‘thank you’ page.

It would be no surprise that not everyone who starts shopping ends up completing the order. In some cases, the drop off can be as high as 85%. Some pages in the process will have a disproportionate effect on dropping prospects from the sales process. Fortunately, when setting up a Google Analytics goal for the completed sale you can register each step as one that you want tracked and reported on.

Once you have a reasonable number of sales worth reporting on (say above 30) you can see which web pages during your sales process are responsible for producing the most unwanted visitor exits. It’s these pages that represent your 20%, and require your focus. It may be only one of your five possible pages that is causing the damage. Here are some examples of pages that I frequently see falling into this group.

Pages that ask for customer information. This is most likely to be a new shopper registration page, where the more personal information you request the fewer registrations you will get. It pays to critically review what you ask for and compare it with what you really need. Is date of birth really necessary to make a purchase? Unfortunately some product categories – say finance and insurance – need more details than others, so if this is the case then employ some clever page design to make things look like they are a bit easier to complete.

One added trick is to place your phone contact details – ideally a free call 0800 number with an image of a smiling person on the phone ready to take the call – in a prominent place. The prospect may look at the form in frustration and prefer the idea of placing a quick call to get the order over and done with.

Pages that ask for money. It’s no surprise that these types of pages find themselves in the top 20%. It’s when your visitors have to find their credit card and enter its details into your page that all their deep-seated concerns can come welling up. They may be thinking ‘What happens if I order the wrong product? Are they going to steal my credit card? Who will help me if things go wrong?‘ Providing copy that answers some, if not all, of these questions will help improve your results.

So there you have just two types of pages that require your focus because they typically fit within a site’s top 20% when it comes to prospect drop-offs. By setting up your own analytics tools properly you will be able to find your own problem pages. Website optimisation work is a lot easier to prioritise once you know which of your web pages are going to provide the most results from your efforts.

I think it was Albert Einstein who defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This statement rings so true with online marketing. You would be insane to expect any changes to your online marketing results without putting in place a whole series of changes. But how does the current economic malaise affect what changes should be at the top of your list? What should you focus on now that 12 months ago you could easily avoiding spending time on?

At the top of most of our customers’ lists over the last few weeks has been the content they are using for lead generation. Specifically, the words and documents they use to tempt prospects who are in the early stages of their decision-making process. Attract prospects who are in these stages and you have a good chance of influencing them during their purchasing process.

Frequently, content offered at this early stage asks the prospect to break the status quo and take some action. This is usually followed with content that overviews the different options available to solve the prospect’s problem. This is all rounded up with additional detail on why your product or service should be chosen above the other options available.

Lead-generation content that challenges the status quo explains in detail the benefits that the prospect will miss out on if they don’t make a decision to progress. A prospect who is pondering the early stages of purchasing a new product or service will weigh up the time and money required to research and find a solution and compare this with the discomfort of doing nothing. If the benefits of finding a solution to their problem outweigh the discomfort of inaction (your content should expose and highlight these discomforts), there is a strong chance they will move one step further along the decision-making process.

However, in challenging economic times, the act of breaking the status quo can prove harder to achieve than would normally be the case. Part of the reason for this is the underlying media commentary that supports the view to sit tight and do very little. A growing level of apathy is your real competitor here. (Also be prepared for a double whammy later in the year, with the election bringing even more uncertainty to businesses.) Therefore, lead-generation content for this stage requires some extra punch to it to make it ‘bust’ a rather resilient ‘status quo’.

One way to add extra power to this content is to have a laser-like focus on the benefits your prospect will receive by taking action and/or the problems they will experience if they sit still and do nothing. You can achieve this level of focus by customising any generic content to be more appealing to your ideal prospect audiences.

For example, say there was a printing and design business based on the North Shore of Auckland. Let’s assume that their website offers a FREE report tasked with challenging the status quo by changing the prospect’s print supplier, called ‘Six ways to shrink your printing costs through better buying’. Let’s also assume that during the last 8 months a number of prospects have downloaded this document and have been nurtured with reasonable success into becoming customers. Everything is looking good so far.

Recently, however, things have slowed down, with the last report being downloaded just 2 weeks ago – and then, by a student researching a project for Uni. What was a reasonably regular online prospect flow has well and truly dried up. One suggestion would be to add more grunt to this content by altering it to better suit certain prospect profiles. For instance, the printing business may research its own customers and find that Motels and Dentists are two groups of loyal and profitable customers that they would like their lead-generation practices to attract more of.

Knowing this, they could then take the report and rewrite it to appeal to each of these niches. Perhaps something like ‘Printing Tips and Tricks for Dentists that Reduce Costs and Drive Patient Numbers’ or even ‘The Motel Owner’s Guide to Profit-Growing Print Procurement.’ In both cases, the core information provided in the report would remain the same but would be supplemented with case testimonials and/or specific print examples that highlight for each segment a) the unique needs of their business; b) the specific problems they experience with print suppliers and the opportunities they are missing out on by not using this business; and finally, c) an understanding that this business has specialist expertise in their industry segment, which is something that they could well will find difficult to locate anywhere else. Any one of these points makes the report itself more valuable in the eyes of those prospects in the chosen segments and therefore has a better chance of convincing them to take the next step and contact the printer for more details.

Yes, winning new business is harder now than it was maybe even just 6 months ago, but with changes like these your online lead-generation efforts can be bolstered to cope with the added demands it is facing. By putting a niche angle to your original ‘status quo’ content, your business can vastly increase the value of this content to your prospect audience and, by doing so, can improve its effectiveness.

Firstly my apologies – this article contains more ‘geek speak’ than normal.

The subject of all this fuss is Google Analytics and the cookies it places on your website visitors’ computers. In these few words I’m going to explain the types of cookies placed and how they are updated and why, if you don’t understand the basics of this system, your Google Analytics set-up could be flawed and your reports full of false data.

OK – let’s get started with a brief introduction to cookies. They are electronic text files that are placed on your visitors’ computers by websites that need to identify these users during their website session to make the site function properly. Each cookie text file provides a specific set of information to make each website that sets them work.

Unless you have cleared or removed the cookies on your computer you may well have dozens that have been set on your machine by various websites as you have browsed your trail across the Internet. Shopping carts are a big user of cookies. Google Analytics needs them so it can see that you are a returning visitor to the website and how long you have stayed browsing. That’s the extent of the quick summary you are getting – if you need to know more, then visit Wikipedia and search under ‘HTTP Cookies’ to learn more (at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTTP_cookie).

Cookies can be set as either first-party or third-party cookies. This status relates to the match between the domain name of the web page that the website visitor was at when the cookie was set and the domain name of the cookie. First-party cookies are set to act only on the website domain shown in the address bar of the visitor. For instance, you visit www.permission.co.nz and Google Analytics sets a series of cookies that relate to it working on www.permission.co.nz.

All OK so far? Here’s where it gets a bit devious. Third-party cookies are set by domains other than those in the address bar. For instance, you visit www.sneakysite.com and a cookie is set for www.sneakyothersite.com. This sounds (and is) quite devious and, fortunately, is not something that Google Analytics does. Google Analytics only uses first-party cookies, which can cause issues when your site spans multiple domains – but more on that later.

So now let’s get stuck into what cookies are set when and why. Once you have properly installed the JavaScript code for your version of Google Analytics on each of your webpages then, when a visitor comes a-calling, they will have set on their computer four first-party cookies.

Here’s a screenshot of them being set on my computer when visiting the Air New Zealand site, which has Google Analytics running on it.

The first cookie is called the true geek name of ’_utma’ – this is called a persistent cookie because technically it never expires. The ones I have seen are dated – in the year 2010. Repeat visits and visits to purchase are just two visitor reports that are derived from the use of this cookie.

The ‘_utmb’ and ‘_utmc’ cookies work as a pair to determine the time your visitor remains on site. The first, ‘_utmb’ is set with the exact time the visitor arrives on your site and then expires at the end of the session. Its partner, ‘_utmc’ is a session cookie that waits for 30 minutes of visitor inactivity before it fades away. The time difference between the two, less the 30 minutes, is used to work out visitor time on site.

The ‘_utmz’ cookie keeps track of where the visitor came from. For instance, if they come via a keyword search, it shows what keyword they used and on what search engine. Unless you alter the way this cookie is set, this attribution is set to expire in 6 months. So, if a prospect arrives via a keyword search on day 1 and comes back in month 3 and makes a purchase, the keyword they searched on will be credited with the sale.

The final cookie Google Analytics can set is ‘_utmv’ (not shown in the Air New Zealand example). This one is only set if the owner of the Google account that manages the website wants it to be. Like its cousin ‘_utma’, this one is a persistent cookie and can be quite handy to set if you want to segment your visitor reports into two separate groups. For instance, you may want to set this cookie after a visitor has logged into a members only area or after they have purchased from your site. This allows you to run reports to see how ‘members’ or ‘customers’ browse your website compared with others. Google has some rules over the type of data you can use when setting this cookie, mainly around the use of identifiable information in the way it is set.

OK – so what happens if the visitor decides to delete these cookies? Well, there’s nothing you can do about this. And when they come back to your website, your version of Google Analytics will treat them as a new user. Best you be aware of this fault in the system and treat your reports as providing you with a strong guide to what’s happening, rather than a totally accurate representation.

Now, back to the earlier discussion on how Google Analytics uses first-party cookies and how, when your site spans multiple domains, this cookie status can cause reporting problems. The key point here is to remember that Google Analytics can only use cookies that are set from domains (and sub-domains) that are shown in the address bar of the web page your visitor is on. So, for instance, if your website visitor lands on your main domain www.shopsiteexample.com, where they find the product they want and then decide to purchase it through your shopping cart, all is well if this cart has an address like www.shopsiteexample.com/cart. Things become more complicated when this cart is hosted on a sub-domain of shoppingcart.example.com or, even worse, a hosted cart environment at Yahoo or PayPal, which may have an address of www.hostedcart.com/shopsiteexample.

To make both of the last two environments work, you will need to modify the ‘out of the box’ Google Analytics JavaScript tag. Just doing this will solve the first issue of visitors moving between sub-domains. When they move to completely new domains, you also need to add extra JavaScript code that will pass the person’s cookie details from the first domain to the other one. For instance, your website visitor may go from www.shopsiteexample.com to www.paymentengine.com and then receive their order confirmation on this same domain. To make this all work you need to be able to install your now altered tracking code onto the domain www.paymentengine.com. (I’m sorry to say that if you can’t do this then the tracking will not work.)

Then you can add some extra JavaScript to alter the URL that links the shopping site to the payment engine to now include the cookie details of the person. The example URL below shows some of the cookie information added.


Now, once all is working well, your Google Analytics account will follow visitors as they move from your main domain to sub-domains and even across to the externally hosted shopping cart pages where, with luck, they will complete the purchase.

Has this confused you rather than clarified things? If so, then just look at the domains your website works on – if a visitor remains on the same one for all their browsing experience, then all is fine. If they move from domain to domain, then give us a call and we can talk you through your options to make your Google Analytics set-up work.

I have written before about how providing visitors with the option of using your internal site search can increase your visitor site conversion rates. Well, if you still need some convincing, Google has recently released some cool improvements to its own Google Site Search product that should finally tempt those still dawdling to put it to the top of their list of website changes.

But first some background details on what Google offers here. The Google Site Search product is a nifty search tool that allows you to own and customise your own version of the Google search engine. You can tell the tool to index only the pages on your domain or those domains you want results to be pulled from and, in a flash, it returns results displayed in the standard Google format. Plus, if you purchase the business edition (starting price USD 100 per annum for up to a 5000 page index) these results can be placed within their own customised page containing your branding and without any Google advertising.

Google Site Search is relatively easy to ‘plug in’ to your web pages. The top right-hand corner of the page seems to be the Internet standard for search box placement for most websites. Others with a mass of content that they want search to tame, for example Amazon, Barns and Noble, and TradeMe, tend to make the search box more obvious, usually by placing it top and centre.

So, once you have decided where the search box needs to go you can decide why you should pay Google for the privilege of using their Site Search tool as opposed to asking your website developers to build you one of your own.

Here are my top six reasons to pick Google Site Search.

It comes with a quick implementation time. Google takes care of the hard part of creating the index and displaying the results, leaving you with the easy work of altering the design of your site to accommodate the new search box and branding the search results page. It should only take your developer a few hours at most for these design changes. Compare this with the task of building a search engine that has the speed and accuracy of Google. Even with our rather weak dollar, I think this would be above USD 100.

You are able to bias the search index. Google Site Search allows you to bias the results returned. For instance, you can tell the search engine to take the age of the documents into account when presenting them in the results – say, with the most recent first. Plus you can ‘manipulate’ the top results to show, perhaps, your most popular product items from certain search terms.

You can cater for synonyms. Google allows you to upload a custom dictionary of synonym terms to help your searchers use their own unique terms when searching. For instance, they may search for ’aerobics’ while you call the product ‘group fitness’, or ‘FD’ for ‘fixed deposits’.

You can customise the navigation shown on the search results page. Refinements can be added to your results page to help users find what they want. Refinements are guide posts for additional search options when users type in broad category search terms. For example, view the page results to follow.

See how these refinements help the user who searched using the term ‘apples’ further refine what they were looking for with the extra terms of ‘Fruits’, ’Juices’, ‘Frozen foods’ and ‘Trees’?

In addition to refinements, you can add links above the search results. Unlike refinements, which keep people searching, links lead people away from the results page to pages you think they may be interested in – say events or promotions.

You can span multiple sites. You may have a collection of e-commerce sites you want your search results to be based on, or perhaps one e-commerce site and a blog. When setting up your index you can direct Google Site Search to include these domains and they will be automatically added to your index.

The tool integrates neatly into the Google Analytics Site Search option. Once you have configured your Google Analytics account to accept Google Site Search data, it will start to populate the handy reports that live in here. For instance, you will start to see on what pages your visitors choose to search, the keywords they use and their behaviour after seeing the results returned. Note: this integration is not unique to Google Site Search – other site search tools will have the same ability – but Google makes it a quick and easy step to get the two working together seamlessly.

So there you go – six reasons to take the easy path to better site search with Google. Why anyone would settle on developing their own application is beyond me. You can buy the product within your normal Google account. From there it is a relatively easy step to use Google’s checkout services to purchase the version applicable to your page count and you are on the way.

Please let us know if you need help setting it up. We can make the easy really easy and manage the changes to your site: the results page design, the set-up of the index customisation and Analytics integration.

For the March 08 quarter Google’s revenue was USD 5.186 billion, with AdWords advertising apparently making up 96% of this. Now, if they were greedy folk, Google would let market forces alone direct the cost of those clicks and therefore the price of their stock. Fortunately they aren’t.

You see, to them, searcher relevance is the name of the game. The quicker a searcher finds what she is looking for, the greater the chance she will come back again and again to the Google engine. This theory has affected the rankings a website achieves in the organic part of Google for a while now. More recent changes to the Google AdWords system are revealing how this same mantra of improving searcher relevance is being carried across to Google’s sponsored listings.

One important gauge of how relevant Google judges your keyword advertising is your Google Quality Score, which is shown as a rating level (on a scale of Great to Poor) that Google places on each of the keywords you bid on.

A poor Google Quality Score can stop a campaign dead in its tracks as it can push your bid price into the stratosphere of multiple dollars from a previous one of a few cents. And likewise, at the other end of the spectrum, those with high Quality Scores can bathe in Google love with a drop to their minimum bids, allowing them to start enjoying traffic at a much cheaper rate than their competitors.

Here are just a few points to work on to help improve your own score.

Firstly, you need to configure your AdWords account so you can see how you score at present. The data is there, it’s just that Google doesn’t make it that obvious to find. To locate the option to add in your Quality Score to your data, view the keywords section of your account under the option ‘Customize Columns’ – see the image to follow.

Once you have allowed the Quality Score column to show (by default it is hidden), you should see an extra column in your results – hopefully similar to the one to follow.

To improve your results, first take a leaf out of your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) manual and ensure that the pages accepting traffic from your keywords are optimised for the keywords themselves. As normally applies, when it comes to SEO the top areas to concentrate on are Title Tag – META Description tag and then the page copy, starting with the headline and then working your way down into the main copy areas.

For those sending their AdWords traffic to a specifically designed landing page with minimal navigation options (a good idea in almost all situations to increase your AdWords conversions) it pays to help Google see that this is not the only page of the website. You can do this by including some links along the footer of the page. They don’t have to be too obvious – just so that they are picked up when the Google Quality Score Bot comes a-visiting.

Another metric this Bot stores when it comes to assess your Quality Score is the time it takes to load the page your AdWords ad points to. Also monitored is the number of times people click the back button from your page and start searching again on Google. Your Website Analytics reports of average page time and bounce rate will reveal your existing results here and chart your progress as you improve your page content.

Improving your Quality Score can take time and, in some cases, when you are trying to improve a ‘Poor’ result you will need to apply all of these changes and more to make some progress. But for most situations these few suggestions should help you improve your standing with Google.

Google Analytics now allows you to anonymously opt in to share your website’s tracking data so you can benchmark its results against similar-sized sites in either the same or alternative industry categories. All this is great news for website marketers keen to see how they fare against others in the same business category. There are a few fish hooks to be aware of, but generally it’s an option I suggest everyone takes up. Here’s a summary of what’s on offer.

Firstly, here is where you find it in your Google Analytics account. You can opt into the system and find your new benchmarking reports as an option within your Visitors menu. When you access this section for the first time you are prompted to start sharing your data. By opting in, your website data will be made available to Google anonymously and with the removal of all identifiable information. It will then share the data with its benchmarking service as well as with other Google products you may use.

If you click on ‘More Data Sharing Options’ you are shown the second data-sharing option. This allows you to share your raw data (not anonymous) just with Google, to help them improve the use of other Google products you may use such as Ad Sense and AdWords. I am not sure why you would want to show Google your raw analytics data – especially if you are using them for advertising – so I would suggest it is best to steer clear of this one for now. The first default option is the one we need.

Once you have opted in, Google states that it should take about two weeks to collect your data and display some meaningful results. But, that said, I have seen reports display immediately for a few smaller sites I have set up. Your first reports should include your last month’s data. If you decide to opt out, your data sharing is stopped immediately. Once you decide to join, the Google bot will trawl your site to determine a) the size of your site; and b) the business category you fit within. The number of visitors you attract will determine which size range your site sits within. And, while you can pick different categories to compare yourself with, you can’t see how your stats differ from those of larger or smaller sites, only those of equal size to your own.

The category options are quite extensive and allow for some reasonably accurate comparisons. For instance, if you own a website that sells lighting products then you are in luck – see the figure below.

To have enough data to make a category comparable, it requires over 100 Google Accounts of the same type. Each account can contain multiple websites, so the final number of websites in each category will be in excess of this. Sites whose data are at the extreme end of the statistical range – either very good or extremely poor – are extracted from the comparing category so as not to skew the results.

So what can you compare against? Well, for now, you have five metrics to work on: visits, page views, pages per visit, bounce rate, average time on site and new visits. It’s not a complete list of comparison points but it’s enough to let you know how you fare. Here are a few pointers on how you can use just two of these five stats to compare different parts of your website marketing.

Firstly, let’s talk about the new visit count. This is shown as a percentage of the total visits – see below

With a figure nearly 25% above the category aggregate, this site looks like a strong performer but beneath this result could be cause for concern. For this website, repeat visitors are obviously going to be less than the aggregate and from what past experience has told us about the category this client is in, it is these repeat clients that make up the bulk of the sales. Now, it may be that a strong marketing campaign is the cause for this rise and things will settle down in the weeks to come. Therefore, on its own the statistic is not something you can act on straight away, but when such a large difference from the benchmark occurs, there is reason to dig further into your results to see the true cause.

However, things are quite different when working with the bounce rate metric. With this you can usually take your results and start working immediately on your pages to make improvements. (This is why this great metric is included in all KPI reports we produce.) Here is a quick recap on what makes a visitor ‘bounce’. It’s not good news – they come, they don’t like what they see and they leave – all usually within 3 seconds.

Poor home page design, confusing navigation, inadequate search engine optimisation and even a poorly executed Google AdWords set-up can all be uncovered through monitoring your bounce rate. Using your benchmarking results, you can see how the whole category compares when it comes to enticing its visitors to stay and linger longer than the few seconds that makes up a bounce. For example, in the figure below you can see that the bounce rate for this site is 40% lower than others in the same category. It uses a rather unique way to help people navigate through its content and, based on this result, it seems to be working well.

So, it is quite easy to see the benefit in comparing your statistics against those within your own industry category, but what about from category to category? Why would it be handy for, say, the manager of a women’s retail shop to compare her websites stats with, say, a travel business?

Well, if she was looking to run some joint promotional opportunities then this may be worthwhile. For instance, she could see that in January, while her visitor traffic tends to fall off as people are just starting back at work, the travel website data are on the rise with people booking their next holiday. And, conversely, during the start of summer when her traffic climbs with the new season launch, the travel site traffic is falling as people think less about a trip overseas and more about being with friends at Christmas. In this case, both businesses could do well by working together with some cross online promotions to even out their respective site traffic.

This brings me neatly to some of the misgivings that I have about the benchmarking system. Firstly, the previous example works perfectly well if the sites being compared are within the same hemisphere. There’s nothing I can find that ensures this is the case. I understand that the data need to include offshore websites to create an accurate aggregate value, especially for some of the niche business categories but it would be nice to know if these sites are in the same part of the globe to make season-based comparisons work.

Secondly, I can’t for the life of me find out what category my website has been placed in after I have opted into the benchmarking system. I have a strong feeling that the Google brains responsible for categorising the site will get it right but it would be nice to see in which category my information is being anonymously placed.

These are just two gripes and minor ones at that. You would struggle to find an easier way to anonymously opt in to a benchmarking solution as powerful as this. Wouldn’t it be great if you could compare your financial results in the same way? Once again, the team has added another must use feature to Google Analytics and still the price remains the same – FREE – loving that!