I would lead clients through their Web awakening, explaining that the Internet is a communication tool and could be used for all contacts with customers from awareness (advertising) to education (marketing) to transactions (sales) and solving problems (customer service). If you can sell over the phone, you can sell online.
During the next few years, the question was, "Jim, how do we make our Web site better?" My immediate response was, "Better at what? What are you trying to accomplish?"
I met their blank stares with a listing of the wide variety of things they might achieve: increase brand awareness, qualify prospects, increase sales, lower costs, open new territories, improve customer relations and so forth. The only problem was that nobody can do all of those things at once. You have to prioritize.
That invariably kicked off days of political discussions exposing me as a corporate therapist who used the Internet as the conversation starter.
Many Web sites were created out of pure joy that a Web site could be created. Many were created because the competition had a site. Many were created because the CEO read an in-flight magazine or had a son learning Java in school.
These days, now that I am focused on online marketing optimization, my clients ask, "What should we measure?" My response is, "That depends. What are you trying to accomplish?" and we're right back to discussions about goals and priorities.
If you want to get the most out of your Web site, you must know what success looks like. Business goals drive Web site goals. Which is the most important business goal at the moment?
There are three tried and true goals of any business.
From a top-down perspective, this is as lean as it gets.
Once you can get everybody in the organization to agree on goals, you can clearly define which Key Performance Indicators (KPI's) best reveal whether you are getting closer to your stated goal before the specific deadline.
Suppose your goal of the moment is to bring in more qualified leads. That's a good start, but it's not enough. You must identify what makes a lead qualified. Then you must set the goal of how many more leads and by when.
If everybody agrees that a lead is considered qualified if they are willing to attend a webinar, then you have a very specific KPI you can work with. With a goal of 20% more webinar participants per week, to be achieved by the end of next month, you are ready to partition your goal into metrics. (Note the importance of a specific value in a specific time.)
How many people come to the site? You can measure your efforts to increase that number through email marketing, banner ads, search engine keywords or handing out logo-laden balloon at the mall. But if you stop there -- focusing only on the quantity -- you've lost the war, let alone the battle.
What is the quality of those you enticed to your domain? How many look at the webinar offer? How many abandon the registration process? How many register but do not attend the webinar? How many stay for the whole 60 minutes? How many ask questions? How many want further information? Which awareness-generating efforts brought in the most high-value people? That's where the money is and where your next spend should focus.
This method of parsing goals onto metrics can be applied to any business or even government Web site. Do you want more sales? More constituents filing their forms online? More people to use your online services? More people to become aware of your position? Start with the big goals and work your way down.
How far down? All the way. Content costs money to conceive, create, proof, link, test, maintain and all the rest. Each paragraph, each page, each bit of Web site content must have a specific purpose. Otherwise, it's a waste of money, a waste of visitors' time and has no KPI to call its own.
Having clear goals is not only the first step in Web site success, it is the only step. If you have no destination, any road will do.
Jim Sterne of Target Marketing wrote an award-winning white paper in 2000 about the possibilities of web analytics and a book on measuring online success called Web Metrics in 2002. He is the producer of the Emetrics Summits and is the founding president of the Web Analytics Association (WAA).