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Tuesday, Sep. 9, 2008 at 7:42 am

Speed! Why Optimization Should Be Sexy

By Bryan Eisenberg
September 9th, 2008

The Need for Speed

How much are you investing in analytics? My friend Mel Carson is asking on the Microsoft AdCenter Analytics blog.

In the UK last week Brand Republic reported that UK spend on search engine marketing would reach £2.75bn this year.

However, just a tiny fraction of that cash – £330m – was spent on the art of SEO or search engine optimisation. The lion’s share of web site owner’s budget went on paid search solutions like Google AdWords or Microsoft adCenter.

SEO is an essential and vital route to improving usability and search engine visibility of web sites. So with what appears to be a disproportionate amount of  time and money being allocated to this fine discipline, it made me wonder how much was being invested in web analytics.

When I say investment, I mean investment in people. Although many web analytics tools cost money to run, some are now free but you still need people to make sense of the data they provide.

Mel makes some great points and there are many reasons resources are not allocated to website optimization. In website optimization I am including search engine optimization, content optimization, making changes to the experience and testing.

Some of the issues are:

  • Advertising is sexy and fixing websites in not.
  • They haven’t yet bought in to how important good rankings are.
  • They haven’t yet bought in to how important converting those visitors is.
  • Web Analytics is viewed as a shared resource.
  • There aren’t enough analysts around to interpret the data collected.
  • Teams haven’t been set up to make changes based on the data received from whatever analysis exists .
  • Budgets for making changes are considered capital expenses not operational expenses (Thanks @timlb).
  • Companies have not realized the leveraged ROI that continuous optimization provides.
  • Many corporate cultures prefer to throw money at a problem than do the hard work it takes to make improvements. Feel free to throw money my way ;-)
  • The fact that many of the web analytics tools are free.  Managers can check off a little box on their list saying they do web analytics.

These are just some of the reasons. What are some of the other reasons? Please comment below.

It was the CEO of Omniture, Josh James, in January of 2005 who said “Web analytics can pay for itself with a single business improvement — so the real question is how quickly can companies make data-driven decisions? This willingness to change will ultimately dictate time to ROI.”

That is the point I will be addressing this week at New York University to the new students entering the Master of Science in Integrated Marketing. How quickly companies and make and act on data-driven decisions will be the main competitive edge over the next 10 years. Should it really take 11 months to respond to a YouTube video by one of your brand advocates?

Amazon has this culture of optimization.  If Borders or even Barnes and Nobles ever truly want to compete then they need to adopt it too. They need to get quick at making data-driven decisions and have a  process for continuous optimization.

What are you doing to change the speed of optimization and communication in your company? I’d love to chat with you about it.

Success on the web involves adopting a culture of continuous improvement. Which means plan (but remember good enough really is good enough), measure (get good at free then invest in more robust tools and analysis) and most importantly improve (transform your thinking from always being right to always be testing).

Let’s try selling optimization as the need for speed.  Moving fast is sexy and very profitable.

Add Your Comments

Comments (31)

  1. We have a love hate relationship with speed. We want things faster but God forbid if we, ourselves had to go faster. Speed is vilified in our world today. The word makes many cringe. Speed kills. Haste makes waste.

    Optimization is critical for speed to be our friend. Stop confusing busy with speed. Busy, bad. Speed, good.

    Busy means overwhelm and optimization can use speed to our advantage. In our office we optimize everything we can.

    The first rule of thumb for us is “single entry.” Second, automate everything that can be automated (without sacrificing connection with our clients and suppliers).

    The kaizen of speed is to ensure routine and mundane activities are delegated to trusted sources so that we find better ways to enjoy the extra time we find in the process.

  2. Vince,

    Thank you for your comments. I know you know a lot about speed being a former Olympian and of course writing about it in your last best selling book.

    Isn’t this the same type of optimization athletes go through to get that edge over their last efforts? It’s this process of continuous improvement to our health that all of us who are not Olympians need to take to eat a bit healthier, exercise, etc. It is not about fast radical change but small incremental ones. Right?

  3. Luckily, our CEO and CMO are a huge fan of testing and testing gets a top priority in many instances as far as the research and planning of tests go as well as the overall interest in testing.

    I find the hardest part (which hinders speed) is getting the resources to get the tests up and results rolled out due to other company agendas that these departments (developers,designers etc.) are working on that are in many cases just as important in their own right. Sometimes this takes away from what we can test (or how in-depth or advanced the tests can be) because we have to consider time restraints and resources available and what ultimately will get completed.

  4. The original report was about budgets in the UK. I work on analytics with a variety of small and medium sized e-commerce clients in the UK, so I get to see this close up.

    There are often less than a handful of people working full time on the site, even if it’s doing something like 50-100,000 page views per day and turning over good money.

    Increasing the PPC spend is one of the simplest things for organisations like this to do. The management of the program will probably be handled by an external agency. All the site has to do is find the money and sign the cheque.

    Finding the money is never easy, but the agency will take care of the analytics and provide nice plain ROI figures. The money will come out of advertising budgets and is closely linked to sales, so it’s relatively easy to get the increase in each round. And the results are almost instant, all being well.

    No wonder that’s where the money goes.

    Everything else is much more difficult both to manage and to get the budget. M/v testing ought to be the number one thing to do, but it involves making changes to the content or structure of the site (even if the technology for testing is free) and getting the budget for that is a whole different ball game. It’s not seen as an ongoing advertising cost. It’s not seen as directly related to sales. It’s a struggle.

    Clickstream analysis? That comes very low on the list. It’s all ‘rear view mirror’ stuff. It takes time to build up the data, even more time to analyse it (nobody has time) — and then what? More changes to the site, which come out of which budget?

    It’s extremely hard for these teams to make progress. They know that money is being left on the table. But without a fundamental change at the highest levels of the company, and within finance in particular, it’s very hard to take action.

    This is where that other famous rule comes into play: if you can’t take action, there’s no point in doing the analysis.

  5. Bryan,

    Thank you so much for everything you publish. Really helpful.

    People pay and pay for AdWords, so they want to get as much out of it as they can.

    My trick is, put a $ amount on organic traffic.

    Just look at the number of visitors that land on a page from organic searching. If you average $2 a click for AdWords, you can use that to tell people how much the organic traffic is worth.

    Now you have to optimize that page, just like an AdWords landing page, so you are not wasting all that “expensive” traffic.

    Ha ha. But true….

  6. Great post and fantastic follow-up points. I just wanted to chip in my two cents because we handle objections every day from firms who concentrate the vast majority of their time and budgets on keyword buys at the expense of optimization.

    Because the industry is just moving into the discipline of website/conversion optimization, many practitioners are sticking with the safe bet of ‘spend a dollar on keywords, hopefully get more than a dollar back in ROI’.

    Like one of the salespeople at Sitebrand says on the issue “No one ever gets fired for buying IBM”.

    It is becoming increasingly apparent however that the concept of treating your website as a source for ongoing analysis and optimization is gaining speed quickly. Based on the growing amount of online dialog (and the fact that Always Be Testing is the #1 book on eCommerce on Amazon right now), website optimization will be gaining some significant traction in the new year.

  7. The balance should be an equal amount of money spent on both specialties, SEO and Webanalytics (cq: conversion optimization) .

    Thanks for the good article (again).

  8. I agree with Josh Baker, the hardest part is getting the resources due to company agendas and departments. I work for an ecommerce company with several websites and our company is always looking for new ones to move forward with and new functionality that needs to be implemented. We never really get to focus as much as we should on the current sites and sections of those sites that could lead to more overall conversions.

    If we did we might not have to keep creating new sites and partnerships because we are getting more revenue out of the ones we have. We are definitely setting up a lot more tests than ever but the hardest part is still getting the time and resources dedicated to it.

  9. So, to return to the question at the beginning – ‘How much are you investing in analytics?’ – Lynchpin and E-consultancy recently published the ‘Online Measurement and Strategy Report 2008′ based on a survey of around 700 respondents.

    Around 5% stated they spend over £200K annually however almost a third of surveyed companies are spending less than £5,000 (five thousand) on web analytics – and this is on staff, consultancy, technology and services…

    It would be interesting to know how much they spend on advertising, just to put these numbers into the context. Does anyone have any data about it – web analytics investment as a % of overall marketing spend?

  10. Bryan,

    there’s so much to say about this I can’t type fast enough, there’s not enough space here, and there’s probably another book in this for you.

    Anyhow, this type of attitude is not peculiar to the online world. I’ve had many “vigorous debates” with fellow marketing managers over the years along the lines of Me: “Why are you still running that campaign when you know it doesn’t work?” Them: “I have to be seen to be doing something.”

    Me: “But you’re losing money!” Them: “It’s better than doing nothing.” Me: “How is losing money better?” [Awkward silence, strange glare, exit stage right.]

    This often called “hope, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Or, as another marketing colleague put it: “They’re confusing activity with productivity.”

    I’ve heard that refrain: “I have to be seen to be doing something” so many times I can’t tell you.

    “Hope” seems to be a terminal condition in many people and organisations.

    As Drayton Bird keeps pointing out, the techniques for successful advertising and marketing were worked out centuries ago, yet people still consistently refuse to do what works.

    What to do?

  11. Check out the discussion at Yoast.com: http://yoast.com/measuring-seo-rankings/

  12. Speed! Why Optimization Should Be Sexy…

    SEO is an essential and vital route to improving usability and search engine visibility of web sites. So with what appears to be a disproportionate amount of time and money being allocated to this fine discipline, it made me wonder how much was being …

  13. A couple obstacles to speed and optimization particulary prevalent at large companies.

    Quality Assurance: QA Departments are often averse to speed. At more than one company, I have seen testing and speed of changes going through get the blame for a defect rolling out to production.

    Budget process: When competing for resources, 20 projects come to the prioritization table to see which 4 will get done in the next quarter. And the one with a concrete business case showing a 40% return always beats the one that says “we are not sure exactly what the site needs to look like, we just believe that we can increase conversion if we try some things like this.” With no approved budget to bill to, forget testing.

    Code base complexity: When working in an environment where there are large quarterly or monthly projects being worked at all times, the coders and configuration managers don’t like small changes starting and completing before the large ones have had a chance to release. It can make it more difficult to keep track of which code line is current and what branch should get applied where. Eventually, this leads to problem number 1 I noted where qa blames the changes on the optimization speed.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am a believer and I know first-hand that there is a solution for each of these, but I wanted to add to your list if helpful.

  14. Bryan, in my experience as an Olympian and competing against the best in the world… It’s the smartest that end up winning. Not necessarily the hardest working. The smart athletes choose their incremental improvements wisely. Effectively, it’s not how much you do but how often you do it.

    The Olympic motto is Citius (swifter), Altius (higher), Fortius (stronger). I’d add Smartius.

    Hence, in the Age of Speed, it boils down to how smart you are when you apply the three qualities of a JET… aligned, agile and aerodynamic. For more info on that… http://www.ageofspeed.com

    GREAT blog. Love it.

  15. This is a great article. Speed is everything! Teach yourself a highly organized, speedy regimen, and you’re nearly guaranteed success. Just make sure to adapt to the growth and changes.

  16. I saved this newsletter when I first received it because there was so much of interest in this article. Reading it again I’m still impressed with the articles and the follow up comments. I agree with Mark, that this could be good fodder for a book.

  17. This is so true. I have an extensive Excel document with all the actions I have to take when I make changes to my site.

  18. Great conversation guys! Possibly the most underrated aspect of website optimization is converting the traffic into paying costumers. While plan, measure and improve is the right procedure to do this there is virtually never a budget available for improving the website.

  19. “While plan, measure and improve is the right procedure to do this there is virtually never a budget available for improving the website.”

    That’s correct. Once a website is completed, the website is completed. That’s how most companies think….. WRONG!

  20. Nice post! It is treu en usefull.

  21. Thank you for posting this helpfull article. Speed is so inportant!
    @Greg Moore: very interesting, I will try it.

  22. When I say investment, I mean investment in people. Although many web analytics tools cost money to run, some are now free but you still need people to make sense of the data they provide. I think MSN Adcenter rulez.

  23. In my Adwords campaign I see that Google generates a lot af pageviews for me. But not so many clicks. I guess less than 2% is a click. So, just like the author of this article [...The lion’s share of web site owner’s budget went on paid search solutions like Google AdWords or Microsoft adCenter.] I guess I need some real SEO advice for my website. Hug, Tiffany

  24. Analytics are an invaluable tool for our business. I’m pleased with Google’s free analytic tools.

  25. Speed is the name of the game. One really has to get some speed going in order to be at the top of this. Making quick decisions based on data can be a big factor towards success.

  26. Analytics is so important. Whats more with the zillions of data moved everyday.

  27. I think the biggest reason for the most companies is that the just dont understand how things work. Or maybe they think its impossible to get top rankings in the search engines.

  28. I would say that it is one of the vitals things of every company to be number 1 in google for their keywords, just my opinion.

  29. Speed should be what every web masters is trying to achieve. It has been shown that visitors don’t endure slowing loading sites

  30. Good post, some fascinating details. I believe six of days ago, I have discovered a similar post.

  31. I agree when you said that SEO is an essential and vital route to improving usability and search engine visibility of web sites. SEO have an important role in search engine.

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Bryan Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark and Always Be Testing. You can friend him on Facebook or Twitter.

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