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If you’re going to measure things, measure the right things

A quick note today to say that if you’re going to measure things, measure the right things.

A guru in this field, Avinash Kaushik has addressed the challenges of measurement and tracking the things that matter many times (Social measurement, Digital marketing) but it bears repeated discussion because all too often we see people continuing to measure the wrong things and build passionate arguments and make million dollar decisions because of them.

One example from the Digital world (Search and Social) I see repeated several times a year in articles, commentary and at the conferences I go to is that Facebook has more user time than Google. The stats vary but it boils down to the journo/author/speaker cooing and ahhing about the amount of time people spend on a particular platform like it matters.

It doesn’t, and here’s why:

 The very purpose of Google and Facebook is fundamentally different. People go to Google to get somewhere else. It’s utilitarian and outcome oriented and you go with a purpose. People don’t ask Google to give them the recipe for a great pumpkin soup, they’re asking to be pointed to the provider of the best pumpkin soup recipe.

Facebook is entirely different, you go because you want to see what your friends and family are doing or to share something of your own. That’s it. That’s the purpose. The purpose is to stay, not leave. If someone is thumbing open the Facebook App without desperately wanting to share something then they don’t really have a purpose other than casual intent to find out if anything interesting happening. People casually thumb through the feed of what their friends are doing and occasionally an ad will be in-between that content.

As an example, if you saw a stat which said people spend 100 hours a month watching television vs 3 hours a month watching at the cinema, would it make you take notice? Does it say which one is more effective? Of course not. But why? In the same way that Google and Facebook are both huge digital companies with global audience usage, television and cinema are both screens and they’re both showing entertainment. Isn’t it the same thing?

Digital Measurement, Time spent on Facebook vs Google

Of course it’s not, we all know it isn’t. A TV can be on in the background 8-13 hours a day while people work, write, sleep, read, text, do chores around the house – but in a cinema you’re a captive audience and you’re there for a specific purpose to watch that specific thing at that time for that outcome. Which is more valuable? Who knows, but they’re not the same thing and using ‘time spent’ as an arbiter of value is pointless.

It’s often an uneven comparison. When authors say ‘Google’ or ‘Facebook’ they can often mean a single, or selectively chosen, platform(s) not all the platforms or products of both companies. When an author means Facebook are they talking about Facebook.com, Facebook’s Apps, Instagram or WhatsApp together or separately? And when it comes to Google do they mean just Search, or Search + YouTube, Gmail, Maps, Drive etc, or Search and all those websites + Google Play, Android, Hangouts, Chrome and the Chrome store? A lot of commentators don’t clarify, or if they do, are very selective about which properties they measure for both businesses.

Today’s note isn’t intended to argue that one platform, Google or Facebook, is better or worse for users, or advertisers or getting traction for your social enterprise, NFP or business. It’s merely to highlight that it’s not the amount of time people spend that matters, it’s the tasks they undertake during that time. When making a marketing decision base decisions on finding the right audience, doing the things that matter to them and you and if you put yourself out there and you matter to them then that’s when you’ll find success.

Now, let’s talk about bounce rates…

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From IE to Chrome in just 6 years.

Way back, long ago, in a time long forgotten by most, Internet Explorer ruled the world.

The year was 2008. The song ‘Low‘, by Flo Rida and T. Pain was the number 1 single the Billboard Top 100 list, it was the year Barack Obama defeated John McCain and became President of the United States of America, and it was the year that Internet Explorer was, according to The Economist and StatCounter, the world’s most dominant web browser worldwide. A few plucky countries were dabbling with Firefox as their dominant browser, but by in large things were good for Internet Explorer. Surely Microsoft wasn’t too worried about Mongolia, Finland and a few other countries shifting their allegiance.

Global internet browser usage, 2008

World Wide dominant browser usage – 2008

But by 2011, just a two years later, all hell had broken loose in the desktop browser wars. Chaos reigned. No longer could Microsoft look out across the globe, like so many mighty Empire’s that had come before it safe in the knowledge that it was managing the world’s browser needs. A plucky young Fox with a firey tale, coldly gripping the world in it’s mighty claws that had shifted the balance…. forever.

World Wide dominant browser usage 2011

World Wide dominant browser usage 2011

Most notably, the formerly conquered British colonies and Commonwealth clung on to their beloved Microsoft Internet Explorer, but Russia and much of Europe had now fallen under the spell of Firefox.

But, the story doesn’t end there…oh no… Google, that tiny company whom no one had really heard of unless they were shopping for a gifts for grandma, or were desperately searching ‘hangover’ after googling for vodka just 48 hours earlier, deployed the big guns, and in a global pincer movement released the internet version of The Kraken, with Google Chrome. It’s taken less than 18 months since 2011, but Google Chrome, as you can see below has now gone from being the dominant browser in just eight countries is undeniably the world’s foremost browser… even the furthest reaches of the globe weren’t immune: Australia’s favourite internet browser is Google Chrome.

World Wide dominant broswer usage 2013

World Wide dominant broswer usage 2013

Below is a chart demonstrating the steady rise and fall between 2008, when Google Chrome was launched, and June 2013.

Global browsers rise and fall over time

Global browsers rise and fall over time

And yes, this was written in deliberately sensationalist language. Check out Digital Optimisation Reports on Google+ for the latest analysis and studies of best practise Digital marketing and optimisation from around the world.

Is Microsoft about to dump Bing?

A piece out of Business Insider today, by Matt Rosoff argues that maybe Microsoft is giving up on Bing. It’s a quirky question, businesses of this size don’t usually give up on products that are growing like Bing is. But nontheless Matt has some decent points, as below.

microsoft bing

Earlier today, Google and Mozilla renewed their deal to make Google the default search engine in the Firefoxbrowser for another three years.

This seems like Microsoft passed up a great opportunity to get more traffic to Bing. Right now, Firefox has about 25% market share and is used by more than 400 million people. According to Comscore, about 75% of the searches conducted from Firefox go to Google. (Users can manually select Bing or another search engine, but most don’t.)

Last year, Google paid Mozilla about $103 million for the right to be the default search engine. (That’s 84% of the Mozilla Foundation’s total $123 million, as per its 2010 financial statement, which were released in October — PDF here.)

That’s chump change for Microsoft. Even if the deal was much more expensive this time around as both companies bid up the price, Microsoft blinked first. Why?

Microsoft had no comment, but here’s one possibility: Microsoft has already reached its market share goal with Bing and is tightening the wallet to bring expenses under control.

The evidence:

  • Microsoft decreased Bing’s marketing spend last quarter. The Online group’s operating loss decreased for the first time in ages last quarter. That’s partly because sales and marketing expenses for the Online group dropped 25% last quarter (compared with the year-ago quarter). That’s a big shift from the previous four quarters, where sales and marketing expenses for Online rose 5% from the previous year.
  • It’s letting Bing talent migrate. Back in April, a former Bing engineer wrote that Microsoft was no longer spending big bucks to retain the best talent — instead, it was paying “far below market rates.” This year, two top Bing leaders — Satya Nadella and Yusuf Mehdi — took jobs elsewhere at Microsoft, suggesting that they saw more opportunity elsewhere (or that Steve Ballmer wanted to shift top talent away from Bing).

While Matt’s points are well argued he fails to address the fundamentals about why destop oriented browser based search may not be as appealing now, for Bing’s future. Businesses don’t make decisions like the size and scale of this one based on today’s conditions, they make them based on at least a 5 to 10 year window.

I’m not entirely convinced Microsoft is giving up on Bing at all. It could be that they’re recognising that desktop based browsers aren’t going as important in the future as it’s going to be – with the rise of mobile and tablet devices and growing search volumes, and it is because of Firefox that more people are willing to check out other browsers like Chrome, Opera etc.

It’s also worth considering that Google gave up it’s Twitter access a few years ago now, but no one seriously suggested that Google wasn’t taking search seriously. I wonder if they’re regetting that decision now?

Finally, it’s worth considering which search engine picked up exclusive access to Twitter, and also has exclusive access to Facebook – yep, that’d be Bing. Social Search – the seamless integration of arguably the world’s two largest Social media platforms and search data will be invaluable for both customer experience and algorithmic learning.

Perhaps it’s not that Microsoft didn’t want Firefox, perhaps it’s that they just think they don’t need it as much – because in the next few years social media sites are going to become even more important desinations than they are today and less people will use Search to get there.

Why doesn’t Facebook optimise their signed out pages?

With all the talk about Google+ and its potential impact on Facebook, there is little disagreement amongst many industry observers that Facebook needs to up its game a bit.

But why wait for Google+ to put on the pressure?  Even basic things, like sign out pages offer huge opportunities for mobile, tablet and other product and service adoption. In-fact Twitter and Linkedin have been doing something similar, but independent from each other, for over a year now.

Namely, they’ve been using their ‘signed out’ pages as ways of driving one final message: mobile and tablets apps and integration. It might sound like a small thing, but when you consider how many tens of millions of users each social network has, and how many times per day, week and month sign out pages would be seen globally, the reason for not using it to push a message is drowned out. The ability to push one last message during the customer experience before they leave is invaluable. Not using it for a purpose, other than to directly sign back in – as Facebook uses it – seems like a lost opportunity.

Even at just 1 percent of Facebook’s approximately 500 million users, seeing the ‘logout’ page everyday that’d equal 35 million page views per week, or 140 million pageviews over a four week period. That’d mean Facebook’s logout page alone would receive more/rival traffic volumes than even the largest media websites.

Three screenshots of Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin’s pages a user goes to once signed out, are below.

Twitter – signed out page

Twitter.com sign out screen

Linkedin – signed out page

Linkedin sign out screen

Facebook – signed out page

Facebook sign out screen

UPDATE, as per a question: So just how many pages could Facebook’s ‘logout’ page be serving each day, week or month?

Back of the envelope guesstimate using fairly conservative numbers:
500 million users, minus 20% of completely non-active accounts = 400 million users.
30% of 400 million users use the site on any given day: 120 million users.
Of 120 million daily users:
@ 30% log out every day: 40 million pages served a day, 240 million ‘logout’ pages every week.
@ 20% log out every day: 24 million pages served a day, 168 million ‘logout’ pages every week.
@ 10% log out every day: 12 million pages served a day, 84 million ‘logout’ pages every week.

It is indeed a pity they’re not using it more effectively.

Is content still king?

Is content still king?

Yes, but it’s no longer a simple question of just having ‘content’.

The internet, and Google in particular, is moving on from simply ‘content is king’ to ‘great content is king‘. The recent announcement on Matt Cutts blog should be heralded by users and genuinely ‘good’ websites and media companies as a great advancement in internet search.

So what’s going on? In short, Google is changing the ways in which is sources which content should be delivered as a search result when individuals search for everything from ‘baby clothes’ to ‘hotels in Vietnam with a view’ to ‘vintage motorcycles’.

The recent change “noticeably impacts 11.8%” of Google queries, according to Matt Cutts blog, and “is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.”

Back in 2009, Randfish wrote a blog piece titled “Terrible SEO Advice: Focus on Users, Not Engines” – and at the time he might have been right, in that the search engine algorithms were easier to deliver to and with just the  right amount of backlinks, and pages of content peppered with just the right amount of specific keywords and metadata, including exact match and close match keywords, as well as short and long tail keyword matching and to get search engines to deliver results that seemed to be more relevent to the user. This, coupled with cleverly optimised metadata that hit all the right algorithm buttons, was often enough to get specific content pages to the top of Google and therefore in front of the eyes of millions.

Randfish, has been at pains to ensure he isn’t misunderstood: he’s not suggesting that SEO should ignore the user, but he does highlight the sheer volume of work required to optimise for both users and search engines:

“I want to issue an apology for that now and set the record straight – SEO is a task that requires paying close attention to the needs of both users and engines. You can’t be an effective SEO without it.

Just think of all the specific tasks we perform that we’d never do if it weren’t for search engines:

  • Title tags: We might still make them, but agonize over keyword usage and positioning, uniqueness and flow? I doubt it.
  • Meta tags: Nope. No reason to even bother.
  • XML Sitemaps: I’m pretty sure no human has ever visited this file in an attempt to sort out the pages on your site.
  • Webmaster Tools Registration: Without engines, there wouldn’t be any.
  • Keyword Research: I think this practice would be more like advertising copy – think Mad Men.
  • Keyword Targeting: Why worry about keyword placement for anything other than conversion rate optimization?
  • URL Canonicalization: No need – visitors are getting the content either way.
  • Accessible Link Structures: So long as you’re not worried about the >2% of visitors who can’t see Flash, go ahead and build rich applications to your heart’s content.
  • Robots.txt & Meta Robots: No engines, no reason to direct engines.
  • Link Building: Unless it’s specifically to draw in relevant traffic, why bother?
  • Creating Vertical Search Feeds: That’s going to be time wasted.
  • Information Architecture: While there’s good reasons to do some of this for users, a significant portion of the accessibility and link hierarchy arguments are made moot.
  • Redirection: Without engines, we can use whatever method is convenient – javascript, meta refresh, 302 – it makes little difference to the user.
  • Rel=”Nofollow”: Internally or externally, it becomes a pointless attribute.”

So where does this leave us, the digital marketer? Well it leaves us knowing that the future – at least until Google changes again – is what most of us always knew is should be, and what we know we should be delivering: better, genuinely useful and engaging content, designed with an editoria-type styleguide and built to suit a target audience. There’s always room for marketing flair and panache, but delivering content that is genuinely better, more thoughtful, deeper, more empowering and usable will achieve your true goals: consumer interaction, bigger databases and higher chances of conversion.

Image source.