Visualizing bounce rates using brownie charts

Today on Jason Fall’s Social Media Explorer, I discuss my new favorite data visualization technique — one that I’m starting to move into production with web analytics reports I create for clients. Its official name is the Tree Map, but as I mention in that post, I prefer to call it The Brownie Chart.

That post has an example of how I use brownie charts to show a promising new web metric, the content interest index (CII). My example on the site uses a made-up business, Everything Brownies, with a web address of EB.com.

Note: Yes, I know. That web address resolves to a real encyclopedia site. The reason I didn’t just make up a domain name is you never know when one will go live with a site. I didn’t want to have someone inform me, two months from now, that my blog is now pointing to a porn or gambling site! Unless Encyclopedia Britannica takes a surprisingly sleazy turn, I think I’m safe.

Here is another example of how the tree map / brownie chart can make web analytics reporting easier to understand:

Charting Bounce Rates: “I came, I saw, I puked.”

I agree with Avinash Kaushik that bounce rates are a helpful way to measure how well you’re connecting with site visitors. Actually, he’s a little more enthusiastic than I am, with blog post titles such as this model of understatement: Bounce Rate: The Sexiest Metric Ever? Three years ago, on his own blog, Avinash described bounce rates this way:

So what is this mysterious metric? In a nutshell bounce rate measures the percentage of people who come to your website and leave “instantly.”

They’re the one-page visitors. Yes, they might be finding what they were looking for — but more often than not, these people just didn’t dig the neighborhood.

Avinash has refined his description over time. In his recent, truly outstanding book on measuring web traffic, Web Analytics 2.0, he characterizes bounce rates this way: “I came, I saw, I puked.”

Bounces can be reviewed for all traffic to a site, or only for certain important segments — traffic from search engines is a good example. Reporting of bounce rates can also be broken down by page.

The brownie chart becomes particularly handy for this per-page bounce rate reporting. It helps those responsible assess the severity of a site’s problem pages.

You see, you can’t easily be sure that a page with a high bounce rate really is a problem page. Think of it: If nearly everyone ups and leaves when they arrive at a particular page, but that page gets relatively little traffic, there’s no huge emergency. Content management resources are usually scarce, so it’s better to keep looking, for other pages that attract more page views that happen to have comparatively high bounce rates. It’s those more popular pages that require immediate first aid!

To illustrate, take a look at Everything Brownies’ bounce rates on this brownie chart. The graphic shows all major pages of this fictitious site, and shows the pages as more red if they have the highest bounce rates relative to the others. You should know that size represents the relative numbers of page views. The bigger the “brownie piece,” the more views that page gets.

What does this chart tell us? Quite a bit.

The Holiday Brownie Baking Kit, which I placed my mouse over in this screen capture, has an excellent (i.e., low) bounce rate. It also has a ton of page views.

That means this page is doing quite well in keeping visitors from leaving immediately. Well done! On the other hand, Deluxe Baking Pan is not nearly as successful. Its relative bounce rate is quite high, and because it has the most page views of the entire site, it’s clear this page is majorly dropping the ball!

There are plenty more insights, but you get the picture.

As I mentioned on Jason’s blog, what I like about this charting format is non-math types (such as myself!) can understand these statistics immediately, and know exactly what needs to be investigated further — and in what order of priority. As my friend Bob likes to say, “That’s good stuff!”

I hope you find the potential of this charting technique as exciting at I do.

A Round of Applause for BeGraphic and Sparklines for Excel

This example of a fake report for EB.com, as well as the one on Social Media Explorer, was produced using an “Add-on” for Excel called BeGraphic. The Add-on consists of a whole suite of graphic tools — all based on Excel data and rendered within that application. The particular functions I used were part of Sparklines for Excel within the BeGraphic suite. I urge you to support the folks behind these amazing visualization tools.

How standard email marketing metrics fall short

When you’re trying to optimize the profits of your business, most web metrics are unhelpful at least, and deceptive at worst. But what about the world of email marketing ? Kevin Hillstrom, in his excellent Mine That Data blog, gave this example to illustrate how conventional email metrics look at the wrong things:

Say you have a list of 500,000 e-mail addresses.  You send your standard campaign on a Monday. Later in the week, you tabulate your results:

  • 500,000 recipients
  • 20% open rate = 100,000
  • Of the opens, 20% click through to the website = 20,000 visit website
  • Of the clicks, 5% convert and buy something = 1,000 orders
  • Average Order Value = $100
  • Total Demand = 1,000 * $100 = $100,000
  • Demand per Recipient = $100,000 / 500,000 = $0.20 [per customer]

He compares these finding with what you’d get if you did something called a mail/holdhout test. You compare a control group that does not get the email with a test group that does. For instance, he suggests this breakout:

  • Mailed Group = 400,000 Recipients, $300,000 spent = $0.75 per customer
  • Holdout Group = 100,000 Held Out, $45,000 spent = $0.45 per customer
  • Incremental Lift = $0.75 – $0.45 = $0.30 per customer

Much more insightful!

This is why I’m not a fan of open/click/conversion. A mail/holdout test proves the actual value of an e-mail marketing campaign. In this case, we observe $0.30 lift, whereas open/click/conversion yields $0.20 lift. E-mail marketers, why would you not want to know that your campaigns are working 50% better than when measured via opens/click/conversion?

Kevin goes on to provide other interesting observations from his years of doing this sort of testing. You can’t go wrong by following his blog, and trying his approach to data-driven online marketing.

Join the Bum Rush for Charity Water!

I’ve been blogging about the book series Age of Conversation, and its affiliated Social Media Bum Rushes for charity, since the first one in 2008. I’m proud to have a chapter in their latest volume, Age Of Conversation III: Time To Get Busy. Within its pages I’m in extremely good company, with 170 other social media pros. My very brief chapter (really a micro-chapter, with a lower word count than most of my blog posts) is on social media analytics.

I am pleased to announce that we’re staging another Bum Rush today, on Blog Action Day.

Each year any blogger who wishes to participate in Blog Action Day writes on the same theme. This year’s theme is water. So let me tell you about Charity Water. It’s a nonprofit organization that brings safe and clean drinking water to developing nations.

Now, every sale of Age Of Conversation III: Time To Get Busy goes to support Charity Water and help developing nations get clean, safe drinking water.

How cool is that? Please join our bum rush. You’ll learn more about the power of social media, and become part of the solution to one of the world’s toughest health challenges.

How do you join the Bum Rush? Generate more sales of book at Amazon.com. Purchase it yourself and encourage others to as well. If you work for an organization that hands out Christmas gifts, get them to pop for multiple copies. They make great gifts!

One caveat: Please only purchase 1 copy at a time because Amazon.com counts bulk orders as one.

You can buy the Kindle version here (it’s the Charity Water affiliate link). You can get the paperback version here and the hardback version here (the other two Charity Water affiliate links). What else can you do? Here are seven ideas:

  1. Register for Blog Action Day.
  2. Blog about Blog Action Day and mention Age Of Conversation: Time To Get Busy. Use the same affiliate links that are in this post so that Charity Water can get its contribution.
  3. Join the conversation on Twitter. Use hashtags #aoc3 and #BAD10 for your comments about the book.
  4. Trackback or comment on today’s post about the Bum Rush at http://ageofconversation.com.
  5. Digg, Stumble and bookmark on Delicious.com all the posts you see about the event, including yours.
  6. Become a Facebook fan of Age of Conversation 3 (“AoC3“) and interact with us on Facebook.
  7. Send an e-mail to all your friends and get them involved too.

If we all band together and work for a common cause, we can make a difference. Join us in the bum rush on October 15, 2010 and help us raise money for Charity Water.

Check out this archive for some online ad inspiration

Four years ago, when I first started this blog, one of the first members of the “legitimate” blogging community to pay me notice was James A. Gardner. At the time he was a senior director at Aquent. He also had one of the most ambitious “hobby blogs” I’d ever encountered. It’s Adverlicio.us, a site that’s still going strong. Its tag line is The World’s Tastiest Collection of Online Advertising.

Tasty and comprehensive!

It was an impressive site when I first checked it out, a constant source of inspiration and competitive intelligence. It has recently gotten better. I especially like the category of Ads By Brand.

The ads are also tagged well. I clicked on the tag “Films” (found in the tag cloud, in the right column) and saw the ad to the right for The Social Network.

It’s hard to believe James is still at this archive site — all while serving as marketing director for the Boston computer hardware start-up Litl. I know from my work as marketing advisor of HarQen how demanding that can be!

Do check out this useful resource, and me know what you think of it.

Note: My first mention of the site in a post was Ads with prancing cowboys may annoy, but they sure do work

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More proof to test your headlines religiously

Those who have been in direct response already know this, but for the uninitiated, heed this advice: You should spend as much time on your headlines as you do on other creative elements … maybe more!

Below is a terrific example. It’s an A/B test where the only difference in these two pay-per-click (PPC) ads is the headline. One caused 34% more visitors to fill out and submit the lead generation form. The test, conducted over the course of a month to a 99% confidence level, is more evidence to look at headlines as a type of persuasive secret weapon.

With this one set of test results (you can read which was the winner by visiting Anne Holland’s Which Test Won?), the client was able to optimize their PPC lead generation program to a stunning degree. Think of it. They are spending 66 cents on the dollar now for their leads, compared to money spent on the “losing” headline.

So which is it? Find out for yourself. Then remember that every online marketing effort you conduct should be a chance to learn more and reap the savings.

Content Interest Index is the “missing link” in web analytics

Those who have been following me on Jason Fall’s blog Social Media Explorer know that I’ve begun my guest appearances there with a discussion of Content Interest Index (CII). You may also recall from my recent post, Overcoming the treachery of analytics, that I urge web marketers to be ruthless in the elimination of unnecessary metrics from their reporting. That may seem contradictory.

That’s why this post includes a little more information on exactly where the CII comes in handy and how it appears to be unique in doing some important work.

Attention

In a web visit, Attention is measured by Page Views. Each view is evidence of a page commanding user attention. It’s an opportunity to draw the prospect deeper into the sales process. By the way, a “sale” in this instance is defined as any commitment including but in no means limited to the following:

  • Setting an appointment
  • Requesting more information
  • Filling out a request for quote (RFQ)
  • Subscribing to an email newsletter

Interest

Interest is the “missing link,” in terms of what can be quantified within a web visit. Some attempts at measuring this are commonly called engagement metrics. They’re limited in when they can be used. An example of an engagement metric is counting how many people view an embedded video, or tracking how long they stay and watch. Other metrics, such as bounce rates, are better at gauging interest at a session level, not a page level. Content Interest Index (CII) is an attempt to measure interest by tracking a number of user behaviors.

Desire

Desire, defined in this instance, is activity that demonstrates strong buying interest and a high probability to convert. It is the water circling the drain, or — to use a more web-specific metaphor — descent into a conversion funnel. In both online conversions and face-to-face selling, this stage is the answering of objections and a clarification of the real costs and benefits of the commitment. Conversion funnels are fairly easy to configure to track these behaviors.

Action

Action is the fourth and final stage of a sale or conversion, and is as easy to quantify using conventional web metrics as the desire stage. It is the actual transaction. In most analytics systems, conversions are measured when a confirmation page loads, such as a “Thank you for requesting an appointment,” or “… for inquiring,” etc.

Using Content Interest Index to improve content

The primary use of CII is as a content management coaching tool. This is an extremely new metric, but promises to provide insights into raising the “interest quotient” of pages surrounding conversion funnels. In attracting more interest — especially via social media sharing — pages optimized through CII appear to be better at actually feeding visitors into important conversion funnels.

By finally allowing digital marketers to measure every link in the chain to conversion, content interest index has the potential of increasing the number of people entering conversion funnels, and thereby improving the conversion success of the entire web site.

Watch Social Media Explorer for my post early next week on how specifically CII is measured.

Which is better? Google Analytics’ $ Index or CII?

Today I posted my first entry as guest blogger on Jason Falls’ Social Media Explorer. Not surprisingly for those who know me, I kicked things off with a description of Content Index Index — a general description and a case for its use. Posting something in such esteemed company is truly humbling and frankly more thrilling than is probably healthy to admit. (I can hear friends and loved ones chiming in now about all of my work / life balance hoo-hah!)

Content Interest Index — CII for short — forgets for a moment whether a particular user has “converted” in that user session. It scores a page’s content on behavior that takes place on that page only (or offline, regarding that page’s content, in social media). That’s quite different from the scoring of, say, a page in a conversion funnel. Google Analytics (GA) has a Funnel Report that gives value to the pages leading directly to a conversion (Google calls these conversions “Goals”).

Another GA metric that tries to rank based on conversion is its “$ Index.” This can be compared to Google’s PageRank,  but it’s for estimating dollars earned by a page view, not search engine Google juice conferred by the quality of back links a page receives. It confers a portion of the dollar value of a conversion (Goal) onto pages that were viewed in the same session. Here’s an explanation and some examples (the graphic below is from that post):

Those GA scoring systems are all about the conversion, which I’m usually all for.

But as I mentioned in my post on Jason’s blog site, and yesterday, at a Translator Lab Hours discussion, people “snack” on content. They may come back to your site many times before they convert.

That means the session where they convert is likely to be brief, and the pages viewed (the ones given $ Index value) can be unfairly inflated in value.

Follow me here, and on Jason Falls’ Social Media Explorer, to learn more about how CII is calculated and how it can be used to improve the content on your web site that surrounds your conversion funnels.

Overcoming the treachery of analytics

What do these three quotes have in common?

  • “Worship no false idols” — The First Commandment in the Old Testament
  • “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him” — Zen adage
  • “Become a ruthless killing machine when it comes to metrics/data” — Avinash Kaushik in a recent blog post.

If you guessed that they all warn (with increasing violence!) against mistaking the symbol of something for the real thing, congratulations! You won a pipe. Surrealist painter René Magritte painted this particular pipe as a way to get us thinking about the paradox of symbols. Under it he painted a caption, “This is not a pipe.”

To drive his point home, Magritte named the painting, The Treachery of Images.

So how can we know when it’s time to wage war against our own treacherous web analytics? And once the body count has been tallied, what takes their place? What do we use to answer key questions and spur appropriate actions?

Results Simply Summarized

The answer: Show your audience only what they really want to know — not mere numbers and measurements, but the other RSS: results simply summarized. Here’s Avinash’s post for the full story.

And here it is in a nutshell:

He describes a favorite application he downloaded for his Nexus One phone. It’s a cardio trainer. The app starts out just like another popular body monitoring system. I’m thinking of the Nike Plus application for the iPhone. Both give the standard run-down of miles run and progress achieved, compared with past sessions.

The cardio trainer app then makes an elegant attempt at RSS. Avinash, for one, feels that it succeeds. I agree. It refocuses attention past the numbers to the actual workout goal.

At the end of each run, to reflect his level of exertion, Avinash is presented with an award of sorts. The screen shows two pieces of fruit — two pairs. They represent the number of calories burned. The pairs are his to enjoy guilt-free. (Or he can imagine a calorie-laden equivalent, in a mental swap of one food for another. Perhaps the next version of the app will allow users to actually do this; To replace the outline of two pears with a rendering of a candy bar, or a couple of bottles of beer!)

You might think these graphics are the same as Magritte’s pipe — mere symbols; not the real thing. You’d be overlooking a major distinction.

All Magritte was doing was showing the pipe. Avinash’s workout app was presenting the pears — awarding them. It was the summarization of the data behind it, proving to Avinash that this was his hard-won snack. It says, “Here you go. You earned it.”

Connecting On Two Levels

The representation of the pears became something he could connect with — both rationally and emotionally. Unlike Magritte’s pipe, the pears are results, supported by evidence. Consequently, for the recipient, they become so real that person could almost taste them!

Sadly, if most analytics pros were asked to cut out their own distracting and unpersuasive metrics, little would be left. Most metrics talk and talk but never get to the point.

This is precisely what senior management does not want. They want quick and truthful take-aways. Will they be dining on one delicious pear this month, or two? Or will there be none at all?

Of course business leaders wouldn’t want to see pears in their analytics. That would be absurd. So what do they care about? They want to see money of course. Or at least, clear proxies for money. Showing images of people is always good, since selling things to people is the surest path to making money. With that in mind, consider using generic silhouettes of them, shown judiciously, and with data that supports their numbers on the page.

Be bold. Show senior management that their site generated more sales leads this month — as represented by silhouettes of cookie-cutter executives (presumably eager to know more about the product). Count them. How many more are there this month compared to last? Line them up for comparison, month-to-month or year-to-date.

Or, as another example, show how the website is lowering operational costs. Illustrate the success of answering more consumer questions online versus having these people call your pricey phone center. In this case, the graphic could be a string of telephone headset icons. Compared to last month, are there fewer of them shown, or more?

Go on your own metrics killing spree, but first, know what you’re pursuing.

Kill any metric that produces more smoke than light. Allow the remaining metrics to build upon each other and add richness to your story. Then, as a satisfying grace note, find that single graphic which best sums up the current situation. Use symbolic language that is meaningful to your audience, to transcend facts and figures.

Do this, and far from being Magritte’s pipe, this graphic will be your own “Avinash’s pears.”

Does size matter when converting site visitors?

A while back I shared the fascinating “Which Test Won?” case of a former client, Sony Creative Software. Today I played the guessing game with a different type of A/B test. It used Google’s Website Optimizer, an amazing tool for multivariate testing.

The goal of one of the tests, shown below, was to see if the size of a call-to-action influences results.

It does, by an impressive 8 percentage points, but I won’t tell you which was the winner. What I will say is that, this time, my educated guess was dead wrong!

How about you?

The power of consequential strangers

Social network marketing (a.k.a. “social media”) has a mystique that will soon fade. That is both inevitable and a good thing.

It’s an effective technique that will join other similarly important marketing tactics. But hey, it’s not a cure for cancer. In fact, it ain’t even a shortcut to success, fame or riches!

At its best, when combined with hard work and a sure hand, social network marketing can help you sell stuff and improve customer service. (And I would say social media does far better at the latter than the former).

So: It will soon become yesterday’s news. Before it does, let’s remember its humble origins — or become acquainted with them for the first time.

Relationship Revolution

Before the web as we know it today was invented, Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter wrote an influential paper called The Strength of Weak Ties. The ties he described, between acquaintances (as opposed to trusted friends and family, who supply strong ties), are what social media is all about. But get this: Granovetter first described them back when Richard Nixon was still in office.

I was reminded of this when I read a quote from the more recent past, by Michael Schrage.

You see, 13 years ago, while writing in something called the Merrill Lynch Forum, Schrage used the phrase relationship revolution. It didn’t stick as a buzzword, but its meaning and power has only grown.

Schrage was asked in the Forum to analyze how new technologies would transform businesses. His response follows:

Along every conceivable dimension — from the intimate to the institutional — digital media force both individuals and organizations to redefine what kind of relationships create value. [Schrage continued, to paraphrase:] The result of this paradigm shift isn’t about data and information, it’s about the value and priority that people place on the quantity and quality of their relationships.

The emphasis above is mine. Schrage and others wrote about weak ties as the power of consequential strangers — those who provide new value to us in this digital age. The new value can be as simple as helping us find new musical artists we’ll like (as I did in the screen capture above, using Twitter), or something as important as choosing a good school or seeking a reprieve from physically or social isolation.

All of this sounds far more recent than the mid-1990s (or the Nixon Administration!). It’s worth noting. As we all happily experiment in this exciting new medium — and before its bloom of “newness” has faded — let’s take a moment to remember the work of Granovetter and Schrage, and the power of consequential strangers.