It’s even more than looking at metrics to see where site performance excels or declines. The most important step, and perhaps the biggest hurdle, in analytics is in the implementation on existing sites. Especially on big sites. What I’m talking about specifically is goal implementation on a live site while maintaining the integrity and continuity of data.
There is a Difference
It seems simple enough; you track the funnel of each goal, URL by URL, and drop them in. Most times it’s never that simple. I’ve implemented analytics on both sites: big corporate sites and small and small-ish sites. No two are ever alike and no two ever do things the same way. There’s definitely a difference between implementing analytics on live big sites and on live small sites.
Small Site Goal Implementation Planning
With small sites, there’s a very good chance the site was never tracking anything to begin with. No analytics period. And, if they did have analytics in place, chances are the only thing they ever saw was traffic volumes because either they had never implemented tracking on goal conversions, or they had no conversion to speak of. In this instance, it’s easy. You implement the goals where there were none before and let analytics go to work.
And, even if the site was tracking goals prior, the chances of the having to track more than one or two goals (outside of creating on-click events or virtual page views) is slim. So preparation will be limited and one-to-one goal match-ups are easy to accomplish, as well as the maintaining the continuity of data on the site. At a cautious level for small sites, you may want to dump all the data as far back as it goes in case something does go wrong. In a worst case scenario, you can piece the puzzle back together.
Large Site Goal Implementation Planning
It’s best to start off this section with being honest. I’ve screwed one up in the past. But it’s that screw up that led me to write this post initially, and was the catalyst to create a game plan of tracking implementation.
Large site goal implementation planning is a different animal all together. They’re complex with lots of spinning wheels and cogs. It’s a formidable task to be sure. But there are ways you can make this project easier on yourself and make the implementation more manageable. Based my own experience (both the failure and the successes) here’s how I like to go about breaking down the implementation:
- Take at least a year’s worth of data from the site for safe keeping. With big sites, a lot things can happen that are simply beyond your control. You might not be left holding the bag should something go awry, but having the data in case something does go wrong, is the only way to be able to stitch the puzzle together.
If you’re entering the game late and you don’t have time to grab that data, I’d suggest that you dive into the analytics themselves. Reverse Goal Path is a wonderful thing to track down all the destination URLs of all the past goals. Moreover, under the assumption new profiles haven’t been created, you can set date ranges to see that past activity and make record of it.
- Make sure you’re talking with the company point-person to make sure you have ALL the goals they want tracked.
Just looking through the site isn’t enough in this case. You may not find all the trackable goals on your own, and you may not know the client wants certain events to be tracked, or you may be tracking something they don’t care about (wasting valuable goals). It sounds like common sense, but when you get into time deadlines and pre-launch mode, things get missed. And the last thing anyone of us wants to do is miss critical trackables.
- Examine all your client’s current goals.
I’ve run into a couple times where clients unknowingly have had been “double-counting” goals. Or incorrectly tracking goals. The sole purpose of doing this is to leave no surprises for the client. When you implement anew, site conversion rates change (for better or worse). What you don’t want to happen is to see the conversion rate for a goal or two plummet and have no explanation. In this way you can prepare a client for what they may be likely to see due to double-counting.
- Map out current goals with new goals and match them up
This is the mistake a made. I didn’t do this. And it’s critical. Because many larger sites will be close to exhausting all 20 goals in a profile (if not utilizing a second profile for tracking), not making a one-to-one match ups where possible will crush the integrity of the data. While you may retain the continuity of the data, it’ll be worthless. Profiles live on forever, and as such, mis-matched goals can, and likely will, wipe out the data integrity.
- Finally, discuss with your client how they want the goals implemented. Do they want new profiles or use existing profiles
It’s a big decision that can affect how reporting is done. Communication is a key here. As the SEO/SEM you need to layout the ramifications of each option. On one hand, to create new profiles, the data continuity starts from the day you create it. On the other hand, if there isn’t much match-up between old goal tracking and new goal tracking, does it make sense to make the data mushy? Every situation will be different, so this is a conversation that should be had.
Hopefully this helps you start putting a game plan together when you are about to implement new goal tracking on both small and big sites. I’d love to hear your suggestions on how you game plan your analytics implementation.
There’s something about the allure of March Madness. A near-perfect tournament platform, no second chances, every achievement or failure highlighted and magnified. Powerhouses can be toppled in 40 minutes and the unknown can slingshot to stardom. I think that’s precisely why we, as a nation, love it so much; it’s what we want life to emulate. Where the only advantages you have is what you came with: preparation, talent, and the untamed will to win. There aren’t many places left where heroes are born from dust in single moment.
In many respects, SEO and Search Marketing are a lot like March Madness. Every one of us comes to the table with different backgrounds; some of us were teachers, some of us biochemical scientists, some of us soldiers, some of journalists, some of us lawyers, and the list goes on. But a majority come to the table with our experience, our talent(s), our will succeed, and our passion for search marketing. And some of us don’t.
Mediocrity as a Function of the Market
I’m thankful people like to make fast, quick money. I’m very thankful people glide on the hem of burgeoning industries and posture skills and knowledge. Sure, those people create PR problems (possibly big ones), but guess what else they leave in their wake? A swath of mediocrity. A trail of website miscues and gaffs so long and wide, professionals can drive a fleet of trucks through it.
Let’s be clear, mediocrity-fixing isn’t a 1-2-3 turnaround. Sometimes it can do irreparable damage if let go for long enough. But, mediocrity is an essential function of the capitalist market. Mediocrity establishes professional baselines for knowledge, skill-levels, and pricing scales. Think of it like this:
As search marketing and SEO have entered a new era where “nice to have” is no longer in a company’s marketing budget lexicon, and as companies become more educated (used very loosely) about SEO and SEM, it stands to reason, that professional SEOs and SEMs will do very well for themselves combating the aftershocks of mediocrity in the coming years.
Without mediocrity the capitalist market doesn’t function (in theory) if you ask Ayn Rand and her ilk. You’ve have to have been living in another dimension the last 60 odd years to see that mediocrity isn’t rewarded. That said, the system (in theory) makes allowances for this in order to create better, more knowledgeable, more profitable ways, which eventually become the mainstay. Until it isn’t. And, who knows, 3-5 years down the road we might be having this same discussion
Too Much Transparency Will Kill the SEO Market
There are only a handful of times I’m ever going to side with a multi-national corporation, and this is one of them. Everyone wants more transparency from Google (and the others, I guess), but mainly Google. I say keep that algorithm so well veiled that it’s practically impenetrable. Yep, I said it.
I said it for one reason: it will keep mediocrity flourishing. Like most, I think the “(not-so) invisible hand” of Google is troublesome on a variety of levels. But for the most part, it’s an evil I’m willing to accept. And, if you take a step back, Google gives away a good bit of information. Enough information to be dangerous. And, selfishly, it keeps what I do at a premium. It takes a lot of work, research, testing, reading, talking, and time to get good at what we do. Even a slightly-open book diminishes that.
Take some time out today to (silently or out loud) thank your mediocre competition. Because the end game, which mediocre care less about, is that their efforts are going to continually keep feeding your pipeline. The mediocre have a “bash and dash” mentality, unless they’ve deluded themselves, they want what they can get now. They aren’t mapping out long-wave strategies, they aren’t interested in creating partnerships, and they aren’t truly interested in making both parties better.
And, if you’ll indulge me for a few moments, I need to get personal. There aren’t many special times of the year for me (save holidays and family birthdays), but this one of them or was. As many of you may know, my brother, Steven, passed away from leukemia nearly 3 years ago now. And, for us, March Madness was a tradition. Not only is this how we celebrated his birthday (March 16th), but it was one of the rare occasions in our adult lives were we our teenage selves again, just for those fleeting hours. And, I just want to wish him a happy birthday. Love you.
Before you get to the end of this post, one of two things will happen: you will curse me (most likely out loud), close this post, and likely never speak/read me again. Or, you will disagree but understand the place this comes from. I’m old enough now that giving a shit about public opinion are of bygone days. To quote one my favorite lines, “It’s not show friends, it’s show business”.
Everyone has something to say about the JCPenny situation and the most recent one at Forbes.com about “black hat SEOs”. I am not going to comment on it. What more is there to say? What I will comment on is necessary clean up of SEO.
What’s Really Best for the SEO Industry
What’s really best for SEOs is a cataclysmic self-implosion of the industry. That’s right, I said it. A full-on collapse from the inside-out. The good SEOs as well as the Pretenders will fall. We’ve put on weight, we’re out of shape hermits that feign individualism when it’s anything but. And if it keeps going this way, the collapse is imminent. Or the industry standardizes. And, no one, including myself, thinks that is a good idea. Creative solutions to incredibly complex situations cannot exist within standardization. Read David Harry’s post on Situational SEO and you’ll quickly see how standards just can’t be applied.
There’s only so much high-powered negative press an industry can handle. We’re not talking about Wired, that serves a demographic that swirls around what we do, we’re talking about the New York Times and Forbes. A lot of potential clients read those publications. A lot. And, a lot of people that have either never heard of our 3-letter profession or are vaguely familiar. Either way, what they’ve read most likely left a sour taste in their mouth, made them more gun-shy than they already were.
Why Realease the SEO Kraken?
As the Tree of Liberty must be refreshed against tyranny, so to must the Tree of SEO. Don’t believe the dime-store novel version of the industry, we weren’t spammers. In fact, I can honestly say, there is way more spam now than in the old days of KW stuffing. And, all of this before there were any guidelines anywhere! Somewhere along the way I wanted my profession to be less about gaming and more about building lasting websites that rank well because they have loaded with great, useful content. Because solidity is something to stand on. Because if everyone games, the web is a much less useful place.
And, I’m of the mindset now, that Kraken must be released by the general public. By the sheer virtue of growth of the industry, like many other industries where evil has seeped into the bloodstream through tremendous expansion, a contraction of providers is coming. Infinite expansion is an impossibility, even in the universe, in our economy, where expansion and contraction constantly happen. Why should the SEO industry be an exception to the rule? It isn’t.
Non-affiliate SEO has become, and has been, big money for a few years now. Cues to tell you that: Search and SEM conferences are sprouting left and right with premium prices. SMBs and Big Corporate are in fully in the game (whether they want it done right is another question). It’s not unheard of for SEOs to be charging lawyer-like prices for work. So it is time to let the house burn to the ground.
From the Ashes
Good people will go down. However, good people will survive too. And, I’m not foolish enough to believe that just because the house burnt down means all the turds will be wiped out. They are most certainly included in people. Probabilities suggest that a larger percentage of the turds will go underground, leave, or be crushed by the weight of the house. But, nonetheless, expunging them. This leaves a golden opportunity.
It leaves those that survive to teach, guide, and mentor those brave enough to stick their toes in the water after the collapse. And, when the situation reaches a fever-pitch again, and it will, we’ll go through this all again.
I was in error saying, “SEO began as gaming the engines[...]“. It simply isn’t the case, as Terry Van Horne pointed out to me. And, because being correct rather than foolish is always a priority, I’d like to update that section as to how it should read: