Multichannel retailers who developed their business via the catalog channel are about to face serious challenges when it comes to measuring the traffic that visit our websites.
In the next few years, we will need new ways to measure how effective our website is at promoting our brand. Our websites will have far more links on other sites than the simple affiliate program links we have today. RSS feeds and the de-centralization of content (customers viewing your site via readers like Google Reader or Bloglines instead of directly visiting your site) will limit the ability of web analytics tools to accurately measure the strength of our websites. This will be a problem all of us have to face.
Today, we can simulate the problems we will face by looking at the blogosphere. I have more than one hundred and sixty blogs that I track in Google Reader (this means I seldom visit the sites of these one hundred and sixty blogs that I am a loyal reader of --- I am loyal, yet these bloggers seldom if ever see me).
Let's look at almost fifty of my favorite marketing, analytics and topical blogs that have enough traffic to allow me to measure visits properly.. A tool called Blog Juice allows us to see three elements of loyalty to a website.
First, the tool measures how many people subscribe to your RSS feed via Bloglines. While there are numerous readers available, this gives directional evidence of loyalty via an RSS reader, loyalty that can be challenging for the website owner to measure. In reality, your most loyal followers will consume your information via RSS feeds. This also means your most loyal readers are the hardest to track.
Second, the tool uses Alexa to estimate how many folks visit your website by typing in your URL, or by clicking on a link to visit your site. Alexa is a proxy for what a tool like Coremetrics measures for the standard multichannel retailer. Indirectly, Alexa measures the effectiveness of your search engine optimization tactics, as these individuals visit your URL or a specific page on your site.
Third, the tool uses Technorati to measure how many sites link to your website. This is a version of "brand recognition" or "word of mouth", if you will. If people like your content, they link to it. The more popular or relevant your site becomes, in theory, the more links there will be to your site. Multichannel retailers do a very poor job of measuring this aspect of their marketing efforts.
In the case of The MineThatData Blog, I have 45 subscribers via Bloglines. I am the 497,000th most popular website according to Alexa. I also have 196 links according to Technorati. This gives me a Blog Juice score of 2.7, a lower-than-average score for most blogs. This is reasonable, given the niche I serve.
Interestingly, I can run these metrics for all of the sites I track. Next, I can compare each site, to understand which area (RSS Feeds, Visitors, Links) are the main strength of traffic generation for a site. Eventually, multichannel retailers must develop comparable metrics. Let's see what this looks like for almost fifty blogs that I regularly track.
I rank each metric from best to worst. Once done, I can categorize each site based on where the site has strengths.
These sites do an above-average job of getting readers to subscribe to RSS feeds: Duct Tape Marketing, Church of the Customer, Brand Autopsy, Jaffe Juice, Blogwrite For CEO's, Data Mining, Marketing Headhunter, Emergence Marketing, Joe Wikert's Media 2020 Blog, Fallon Planning Blog, Management By Baseball, Business Enterprise Management. One can argue that these sites have very loyal individual readers, because they subscribe to the RSS feeds of these sites at an above-average rate. While all blogs fail to capture the true number of real daily visitors, these blogs miss disproportionately more than the average blog.
These sites do an above-average job of getting readers to physically visit their URL: Hitwise Intelligence, Fast Company Now, Marketing Profs Daily Fix, Occam's Razor, Marketing Shift, Converstations, Bly.com, The Viral Garden, Pro Hip Hop, New School Of Network Marketing, LunaMetrics, Rimm-Kaufman Group, Digital Solid. There are several ways to interpret this statistic. These sites may do an above-average job of driving traffic to their site via natural search --- their search engine optimization tactics might be better than the average blog. These sites may have an older audience that is not comfortable with RSS feeds. Maybe these sites do not offer the full post in their RSS feeds (hint: Fast Company). These sites may have so much content that the reader is compelled to directly visit the site to get information. Most of the analytical sites I follow ended up in this category.
These sties do an above-average job of getting other sites to link to their content: Guy Kawasaki, Gaping Void, The Tom Peters Weblog, HorsePigCow, Coolz0r, Logic + Emotion, Diva Marketing, Experience Curve, Christine Kane, Beyond Madison Avenue, Marketing Nirvana, CK's Blog, My Name Is Kate, Customers Rock!. Some of these sites make a lot of sense --- Mr. Kawasaki is unabashed in his zeal for links to his site. Customers Rock! earned this outcome courtesy of the Z-List. Most of these sites are reasonably popular, and the link is in essence a call-out that occurs as a result of having good "word of mouth".
Finally, these sites use RSS feeds, visitors to the URL, and links equally to drive traffic: Seth's Blog, Creating Passionate Users, Scobleizer, What's Next, Make Marketing History, Blackfriars Marketing, The MineThatData Blog, Sports Marketing 2.0, Note to CMO. These sites, ranging from popular (Seth's Blog) to virtually unknown (my blog), tend to get traffic from all three sources.
BlogJuice ranks each site on a scale from 0.0 to 9.9 (most popular). While certainly not perfect, the site allows the marketer to understand if she is making progress growing her audience across three different popularity metrics.
Bloggers --- if you want for me to run a quick evaluation of your site, please leave a comment below, or send me an e-mail, and I will compare your site against the rest of these sites. Each additional site measured improves the overall ranking and comparison system.
Multichannel retailers --- this is your future. During the next two to five years, you will have to find ways to measure the effectiveness of your website activities in ways that traditional analytics tools are currently incapable of doing. You will have to measure those who consume information via RSS feeds. You will have to measure external links, in order to understand how effective your marketing activities are. You will still have to measure visitors to your site. Use the blogosphere as a test case for the tools you will need to implement in a few years.