Session time—the number of minutes a visitor spends interacting with content on a site—used to be the primary benchmark for online success. While it's still an important performance indicator, the quality of interaction has become more important than the quantity. The impact of an eight- or 10-minute session time is decreased dramatically if it's been lengthened by confusing design, poor information architecture or visitors constantly hitting the "back" button in search of content they want. Compounding the problem is the fact that corporate information organically expands more rapidly than it contracts; companies must constantly add new products, services and corporate information as well as drive differentiation with consumable market thought leadership.
The solution isn't to limit content, but to empower visitors to customize their experience and quickly access information specific to their needs. Fortunately, new tools are being developed to aid navigation of muddied digital waters. Content tagging is a growing trend that lets visitors add their own contextual tags to Web site content that instantly categorizes it to their needs. Recent innovations in video tagging—such as the ability to search for a specific word or phrase within a video and jump to it instantly—will allow Web sites to quickly serve up the most relevant information, as identified by user-selected preferences, while still allowing them access to the entire site.
Users are becoming increasingly aware of what constitutes a "good" online experience at an instinctive level. As new forms of rich media become more common, they'll expect and then demand more from content delivery vehicles. No matter how large the site, customizable Web experiences will soon become mandatory to reach savvy Web audiences. Companies that ignore this trend will eventually find their appeal increasingly limited.
Leon Papkoff is chairman-CEO of Design Reactor (www.designreactor.com), a provid- er of integrated digital marketing solutions.
Problem: Managing your reputation to improve e-mail deliverability.
Solution: Most Internet service providers have systems in place to scan incoming messages individually for viruses and spam. The messages are then checked against black lists and evaluated along with other attributes. Reputation is a newer criterion that ISPs are using to evaluate mail. A sender's reputation is determined when ISPs request the sender's reputation score from a central, third-party reputation database.
While reputation management can decrease the amount of spam received by ISPs, it also means that senders must be able to implement a variety of specific sending rules to comply with each ISP's requirements and be able to facilitate header markups to incorporate third-party accreditation solutions.
Complying with an individual ISP's "throttling" requirements—the speed and volume at which an ISP will accept your e-mail—is a key factor in maintaining a good reputation. As a marketer, you should know if your e-mail platform (either in-house or through an e-mail service provider) allows control over settings such as total outbound connections, total message volume and volume ramping, and gives senders a way to match their sending practices to each ISP's requirements, which change on a regular basis.
Senders should also be aware that a vast database of reputation data based on the global sending practices of thousands of companies was collected recently and published by anti-spam and accreditation vendors. This report provides ISPs with another way to filter e-mail by producing a "gray list" of senders. ISPs will make judgment calls based on the sending history published in this report to determine whether to send or block e-mail from unknown gray-listed senders.
Establishing a good reputation with ISPs is vital to deliverability. To protect your company's reputation, consider doing the following:
- Use throttling to ensure that you are not over burdening ISPs by sending too many messages too fast. If you use an ESP, make sure it provides you with the reporting to understand exactly how each ISP treats your mail.
- Contract with a third-party accreditation service that certifies sender policies and practices, and makes those certified lists available to the ISPs.
- Depending on the type or volume of mail you are sending, establishing an in-house ISP relations team can help ensure that your mailing practices and reporting are contributing to maintaining a good reputation and relationship with each ISP.
Barry Abel is VP-field operations at Message Systems (www.messagesystems.com), an e-mail software solutions provider for ESPs, ISPs and large enterprises.
Problem: Overlooking valuable benchmarks to evaluate SEM success.
Solution: Frequently, marketers focus on just the point of conversion when reviewing their SEM campaigns, overlooking the rest of the buying cycle. Additionally, most benchmarking looks at search data in a silo, preventing a holistic understanding of how paid and natural search results work together.
In order to fully benchmark and monitor SEM and SEO campaigns, marketers must take a more holistic approach to quantify the total return on advertising spending of their campaigns. To start, you should clearly define goals for each step of the buying cycle (research, engagement, activation and retention, for example).
Once your goals are defined, these often-overlooked tactics will help you gain an accurate picture of campaign performance.
- Create a classification system for keywords that mirrors the buying cycle—a benchmark and baseline for each stage in the cycle. This will enable you to understand the value of keywords that might be on the fence between consumer- and business-facing terms, and will enable you to set unique goals for each stage in the buying cycle as well as evaluate terms and their cost-per-acquisition accordingly.
- Monitor the natural search (SEO) visibility and performance for these terms as well. This can be measured in terms of increase in rank on the engines that are important to the campaign. To accurately calculate the value of an increase for a specific word on a specific engine, apply analysis on the relative importance of the term, the market share of the engine and the rank of the term on that engine.
- Understand the relationship between SEM and SEO. There is a clear, proven connection between the two. If you are in a high natural search position for a term and purchasing this same term in paid search, your click-through rate and your online performance metrics will increase significantly. You cannot evaluate these individually and get the full picture.
Jorie Waterman is strategy director at digital marketing agency iCrossing (www.icrossing.com).