Search And Web Analytics--What You Don't Know

I'm the numbers guy. In an interactive agency full of creative, vibrant, idea people, I'm the guy wearing the Coke-bottle glasses and pocket protector who counts all of the traffic to our clients' sites.

I analyze Web traffic, campaign data, and the like to describe and explain users' behaviors and how those behaviors impact business goals. Something not many people do or understand. And when you've done what I do for as long as I've done it (about seven years now), you tend to get a little full of yourself. Well, at least I do. People in marketing are often anxious about math and Microsoft Excel. I do what I can to foster that angst in the name of job security.

However, being the results guy has led me to the often mistaken conclusion that I can get the whole picture using the site data at my disposal. I can tell you what users' needs are by where they go on a site. I can tell you where users run into trouble by where they leave a site, particularly if they leave in the middle of a process. I can tell you about users' expectations of the information architecture by the paths they take, the paths they don't, and by which ones convert better.



But I've got to admit that Web traffic data can't tell you everything. It can't tell you much about users' intent. It can't tell you what users are really looking for or how they would describe what they're looking for. Fortunately, that's where my friends in the search engine marketing department come in.

Of course I believed that I understood search for years. Yes, I understood the difference between an organic and a sponsored listing. I understood what paid inclusion was, how some engines powered others, and why your search rankings may not improve overnight. I even understood what meta tags were, why they were so important in the past, and why they are now so marginalized, poor things.

What I didn't see was the big picture. Understanding how users search, what keywords and engines they use, and how they respond to content within the context of their search peels another layer off the onion of true understanding (I'm sorry for that analogy, I really am). By looking at how users find your site, you can learn so much more about intent and perspective than you can by simply looking at a user's path out of context.

A great example of this deeper understanding occurred while I was working with our search marketing team to develop and measure keyword categories. We took the keyword list we had selected for optimization and created logical groups. By looking at keyword groups, we were essentially building customer segments that gave us greater insight into behavior. We can now track the popularity of searches within keyword groups to see the effect of business cycles, news, and promotion on search behavior. We can also track conversion by keyword group to better understand how our client's site meets the needs of different audiences.

I will resist the temptation to say that after working with our search marketing team, I now know all there is to know. What I think I've learned is that I had better take the thick glasses off before they ruin my vision. And hopefully what you've learned is that there's a lot more to site traffic and search marketing than meets the eye.

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