Thursday, June 24, 2010

Part 1: How to make sense of Google Adwords, SEO, SEM and all that jargon

dotcom.comImage by hober via Flickr

So everyone knows I have for a very long time been a product creator and innovator in the Telecom and Payments space. I have been very comfortable with the technology and business side of GSM, CDMA, USSD, GGSN, MSC, PCI, ISO and what not. I have never run or managed a dotcom and so running homestaysDOS.com has been a new and learning experience for me. I started the website on a lark without major commercial expectations and then being ambitious decided to try and run it as a business. Along the way, I've been learning how to run a pure online business and it has been one hell of an experience. I've just started and so I am sure there is a lot more to learn but I thought I must record some of my learnings as a means of sharing the same with others who embark on similar emarketing initiatives in the future. I will not cover the use of facebook and twitter in this post but I intend to do future posts to cover those in the near future.

So here are some of my learnings:-

Firstly, Overall my major learning is that selling a product online requires a very different mindset from selling an enterprise product or producing a physical product and marketing it. In other cases, you essentially are able to run the company in different silos albeit interconnected at the top but for the most part operating in silos. So typically in other cases, you conceptualize the product, you build it and once you have the product it is turned over to the sales team who then 'sells' the same. The sales team gathers feedback which is communicated back to the product team which then starts work on the new version of the product. There is clear distinction between engineering and the website which is essentially marketing. Now with an online offering there is no such distinction - the product is the marketing and the sales channel and so essentially there is no sense in having multiple departments and hence every individual working in the company has to work closely with each other and their individual functions need to be looked at in a holistic manner. Easier said than done. I am battling daily with having to change this mindset and will try below to share how I have tried to do it.

1. You Should Do It Yourself first: This is the first thing I wanted to emphasize. Today there are a large number of companies who specialize in emarketing and while many of them are very good, it is important that you start off on your own to understand what it takes to run this department and arrive at some key metrics so that you can keep an eye on these providers. The tools and ecosystem were built by many of the bigger players - google, yahoo, facebook etc. to provide a level playing field and enable a small business to reach out directly to customers without the need to hire expensive consultants and agencies. They add tremendous value but beyond a certain scale and I would never recommend hiring them when you know absolutely nothing about emarketing and metrics. Once you have done it yourself for a while, it may be worthwhile to save time and outsource the same to a professional.

2. Google Analytics is very simple yet powerful. Spend significant time playing with it and getting to use all its features. Without doubt, my search has shown me multiple analytics providers but none can compare with Google Analytics. It has its flaws but it is still the best tool there is and I would highly recommend that you use it to track visitors to your website. Some of the points below will emphasize the importance of certain statistics that are shown in google analytics.

3. SEO - how to go about it? SEO is the first real time when you will notice clearly the need for Product Development and Marketing to work together. Search Engine Optimization as the full form suggests is ensuring that your website ranks highly on the results page when someone searches for specific terms on google. I want to emphasize that only someone who knows nothing about SEO will be able to promise you that you will get ranked highly no matter what is typed into google. The best way I have found to improve your SEO ranking is to take an excel sheet and type out all the keywords users who you want to show up on your website may type. Ensure that these are keywords that demonstrate 'intent' and not just that the user is in your target Audience. Now the best way I have found is to go one by one and going over all content on the website ensure that you are using these keywords or are renaming link names and content text to include these terms instead of other words which may convey the same meaning but are not so commonly used. Repeat this process for every keyword and ensure that all dynamically generated pages have the same keywords autogenerated. Also make sure you autogenerate Alt tags for images which make sense. I would caution here against keyword stuffing -i.e. putting really large number of keywords into the meta tags and alt images - these will be ignored and will be penalized by many search engines so avoid the same. Think creative and think from the perspective of an user.

4. Figure out the whole Page Rank thingy:-  Page Rank is at the core of Google's technology and the single most important thing that affects the placement of your page on search results. Simply put, google assigns every page on the internet a PageRank. The more influential your page is the higher your page rank. The more number of people who link to you the higher your page rank. The more influential the person who links to you the higher your page rank. As such, focus on improving your page rank. The ways you can do this:- Be aware what your page rank is. There are nice toolbars which you can install on your browser which will show you the page rank of every page you visit. A good way to increase your page rank is to create original content and give it to other high page rank blogs or websites with the understanding that they will link back to you. The other option is to participate in a link exchange program or submit your website to directories etc. However, I have low confidence in such mechanisms.

5. Assign Dollar Values to Customers and segment the buying funnel into milestones with probabilities but no dollar value. This is another very important aspect to keep in mind with Running an online company. You must be able to say that if a customer gets to a particular point, it is equivalent to making x USD. As clear as that. You have to be clear that the metric must be well defined so that you can go to a crowded marketplace and yell - go to my website do so and so and I will be willing to pay you  75% of x USD. I like to make sure the metric is one which puts money into my wallet and I recommend you do so too but many web 2,0 companies will assign a dollar value to a user and so on and so forth. (I don't agree with this but thats the subject of another blog post). Now that you have defined your metrics, you can assign intermediate steps which tell you the probability of getting the x USD. Remember here you are assigning a probability to the steps but no dollar value. The value of a customer who gets to the final stage and drops off is still zero.

6. Keep tweaking your website to improve the drop off and bounce rate at every step. The bounce rate is the %age of visitors who come to your website and then decide that this was not what they were looking for and move on. The Drop off rate is the %age of visitors who drop off at every probability linked stage of your buying funnel. You need to measure each of these percentages using google analytics and make changes in the website usability to improve steadily and stabilize these percentages. This is an amazing exercise and something that should be done daily and on an ongoing basis.

Since this is a detailed subject, I have decided to break it up into two parts. Watch for the next part tomm.

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