Thursday, June 27, 2013

What is a good bounce rate?

This is an interesting question I thought I'd answer, primarily following a series of debates with friends and associates in the digital industry.

For those unsure what exactly is meant by the bounce rate, it is usually defined as those visitors to a site who only view one page of the same site in any one browsing session. The metric is calculated by dividing the total number of visitors by those who only view one page and then expressing this as a percentage. 

But is a high or low bounce rate a particularly good or bad thing? Let's take an example....

Imagine a company has a website that showcases their products and uses both SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) techniques as well as Google Adwords for Pay-per-click digital marketing. When investigating bounce rates from their digital analytics we see that visitors from organic search engine sources have an approximately 40% bounce rate. This compares with a rate of around 55% for those coming from pay per click adverts over the same period.

Surely the bounce rate generated from the organic source is healthier? As less people come to the site and disappear straight away, this must surely mean that they are 'better' users is some way?

Or to flip it around, doesn't it therefore follow that the paid PPC campaigns are delivering less value than those from search engines?

Not necessarily.  

 A different bounce rate from different acquisition sources makes sense if you consider these factors:

1.      The landing pages for paid and organic traffic could be different.
Search engine optimisation is not an exact science and depending upon the search terms used, the page displayed in the search engine results pages (SERPs) might well be different from the one you really want them to go to. This may also be different from search engine to search engine. If this is the case, it is likely your paid efforts are pointing visitors to the page of your choosing and one that may well be optimised for this purpose.
Note: this may well mean that the users’ paths to complete their required goals are different and could affect the conversion rate.

2.      The paid advert copy might be different from your organic listing
Now far be it if for me to suggest that any upstanding company would deliberately mis-represent their site in PPC adverts to potential visitors.. but I have seen examples where the Ad Words copy significantly differs from the content of the target page. Now I’m all for experimentation to understand the optimum copy in each circumstance… but when the paid advert content sets an expectation with the person about to click on an ad, don’t be surprised if they bounce straight out if the page doesn’t meet those expectations.

3.      Different visitors use different searching techniques.
I know that I have differing browsing behaviour depending upon: the frame of mind I'm in, the device I'm using and the amount of time I have. And I'm sure I'm not the only one. Online users also click on different paid placements depending on whether there are other PPC adverts displayed and the quality of the organic listings displayed alongside or below those precious Google Adwords ads.

Whatever your bounce rate, you should always take whatever steps you can, not just to minimise it, but to focus on optimising your collective set of site KPI’s and maximising the commercial opportunities your online presence gives you.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Hilton website shows failed users the door

When using the Hilton hotel website tonight, I had a problem. After entering all my details I waited for several minutes while a spinning icon continued to do nothing. Try as I might, the site wouldn't accept the booking for myself and colleague on our forthcoming room  our overnight business trip.

Instead, and after what seemed like a long wait (although it may have been only a few minutes), I was given the image below:

To some users, this may seem like a well-designed error page, something that shows that Hilton cares about such eventualities. But for me, this wasn't the message I took away. Instead all I saw was a closed door with the handle down and the online equivalent of a 'do not disturb' sign hanging there.

Was this really the message Hilton wants to give users who have already had poor site experience?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Does it matter where anything goes?

I've been meaning to write this post for ages, but never had the chance to pull my collected thoughts together before now. In essence, this article is all about the need to continually optimise your digital presence. But it's also about the bigger concept that change is the only constant in the online world and that anyone not innovating and making mistakes is actually taking a step backwards.

So what do I mean by all this?

Well, as I've mentioned in several posts before, the creation of a website (e.g. an online retailing one) is just the end of the beginning... Not the beginning of the end. Your journey has just started. So if you haven't already begun to use AB tests or Multi Variant Testing tools already, I bet you're at least considering the way you can use them to improve your KPI's.

This does consequently create an interesting debate that you might like to have with your web design / development agency or in-house eCommerce team. Centred around the central premise of "Does it actually matter where you place content and functionality on the web page when you're creating it?"

In other words... if you practice the science of 'user centred optimisation',  then very quickly your iterative process of test & learn will find a better way than you came up with at the beginning of your process.

And yes, if you keep doing it... your site should continue to evolve. Therefore leading to the theory that it might not actually matter how you initially design your website, but that it just matters that you keep evolving it quickly and intelligently.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

It's not traditional media anymore

I've been struggling with the term "Traditional Media" recently.
I'm not sure why... maybe it doesn't sound right, perhaps the term just doesn't cut it in a fragmented communications world or possibly I've lost a lot of my nostalgic view of newspapers, radio and even television.

Some traditions are great and are quite rightly upheld. Traditions not only show us where we came from, but also serve as a reference point to remind us what was good at a given point in time. 

But now we live in a new world.  An always-connected one where media is streamed, stored, consumed on demand and mashed together across multiple channels and devices.  The consumer of media is now in control and there's really no going back. My 4 year old daughter thinks it 'silly' that the TV doesn't show all the programs YouTube does (perhaps only because I've not bought an Apple TV box yet) and she laughed when I tried to explain that we once only had a TV with 4 buttons for our television... and one of those was for the power supply.

But we now live with those old paradigms, albeit updated for a 21st Century life. YouTube still has 'channels' and streamed digital radio is still referred to as 'stations'. 

So maybe we should change to term from 'traditional media' to something more fitting for a hangover from a bygone age? Perhaps we need a new way of referring to the old ways of media consumption?

Perhaps we should now call them 'legacy' media instead?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The rise of Personal Finance Management services

Last year I was lucky enough have a senior role as the Head of Digital for a financial organisation. This got me back into the Financial Services arena, where I could leverage the experience I’d gained from several years of agency-side delivery in this sector.

Diving into this industry again after several years out of it, I was struck by the changes that had taken place. For example: The reputation of banks was lower than it had been nearly 10 years ago (primarily due to the financial crash, but also because of the rise of customer complains brought on by better communication methods such as the Internet and Social Media) and people were eventually breaking away from the traditional and clumsy segmentation models of life stage and age.

However one thing in particular grabbed my attention more than most, the potential for banks not to own the financial interface with the customer anymore and that a service layer could be placed between the user and financial services provider. In other words, the market was far more likely to use personal finance management tools now than ever before.

But why are online personal finance management services now being considered? Especially when banks have spent so much money and time creating their own direct banking channels?

1. Users want independence
Having a product agnostic platform puts the user back in control. Look at the gradual dominance of the aggregator in financial comparison; from credit cards through to car insurance, online now provides a way of comparing and contrasting multiple products in a single place. This independence from a specific financial services provider gives the user a place they can trust and not have cross-sell and up-sell offers from the same company tirelessly pushed to them at every opportunity.

2. Users need better interfaces
All online banking and services sites are playing catch-up with each other, but all so very slowly. Thanks to lengthy development timescales, the need to comply with in-house governance and the very nature of financial brands to be less agile and more risk averse... you then get products that work, but are rarely shining examples of fantastic functionality, user experience and design.

3. Users have more choice
The financial services landscape has changed. These days users not only have the ability to switch providers for their insurance and banking needs, this switching is becoming a legal requirement that all FS providers must support. Add to this the fact that so many financial companies have now all diversified into as many different markets as possible (usually by white-labelling everyone else’s services) and the choice amongst products is bewildering and still growing...

When you then compare these facts with the ability of smaller, digital-first and more innovative personal finance manager sites, you can start to see why some banks and building societies are getting worried. The rest, well they’ll have a nasty shock when they eventually wake up.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Still segmenting financial products by life stage?

Back about a decade ago I used to work for a digital agency and we had one of the UK’s largest Financial Services as our client. Life was fun and the projects were interesting, for example we developed sites for acquiring new student accounts, we created digital marketing campaigns for first-time mortgage products and we built content-rich portals for customers of added-value current accounts.

Throughout all of this, we focused on targeting prospects according to their life stage. This followed the typical life stage breakdown of:
  • Going to university (student account)
  • First job (graduate or regular current account)
  • Wedding / First house (mortgage, home insurance)
Other products, such as savings, loans and insurances were usually either seen as more opportunistic (e.g. Going on holiday? = holiday insurance or travel money) or obvious up-sells and cross-sells (e.g. Got a mortgage with us? = we think you’ll need contents insurance)

However this segmentation, aided by the banding potential customers by age (e.g. Ignore if under 17, try and grab customers aged 18 – 21, market the heck out of those who are under 50 with money) always seemed fairly rudimentary to me.

Now several years on and with more life experience under my belt, I see that these basic categories and product segments are less and less relevant. Why is this then? Well...

1. The customer is more demanding
They now require financial products based around them and not just any old thing that their existing FS company wants to tout. However most typical products offered still don’t provide the flexibility that the modern informed buyer wants (e.g. Could I find an offset mortgage when I recently went looking for one? Nope!)

2. Life has changed
Society is more diverse and multi-cultural, consumer choice has fragmented and so have the niches that went with this. Therefore the life stage someone is at is no longer as predictable an indicator of the propensity to buy a financial product as it once was. Nowadays a person of 55 and 25 could have the same requirements in cars or property (and therefore the insurances needed to cover both), just as they could also have in music, clothes and food.

3. Trust in finance by younger people has crumbled
Just in the same way as you once would have advised a smart young city-dweller to work in a bank but now wouldn’t so much (for fear of getting a slap), trust in products such as savings and pensions has been eroded... leading a lot of the millennial generation to ignore traditional financial institutions and use alternatives (from the ‘bank of mum & dad and beyond)

In short, people and their finance needs have evolved and fragmented over the last decade, with the impact that the old models used are not the new models now needed.

How they should now segment is perhaps the subject of a different post...

Friday, June 7, 2013

Is digital optimisation the only strategy?

In a recent post, I blogged about how modern organisations have increasingly moved their digital strategies beyond the simple (“let's just understand”) to the more mature (“let’s optimise”). But although optimisation may be a worthy online aim in general, it is not necessarily the end game for all companies.

In short… digital operational optimisation is only one side of the story.

Back in 2012 I mentioned that to be a truly effective digital business you not only need to do things better, you need to do better things. This was something I called the Sir Terry Leahy approach, after hearing him speak on the subject:

But how many companies actually include innovation as part of their digital strategy? How many try to bake into their culture and products the ability to create better things?
In my opinion, not many. Most are only concerned with playing catch-up with their peers, with some trying to emulate the trailblazers. Very few major companies seem to want to innovate in the digital space beyond the boundaries of what they've seen others do. This isn't innovation, its playing it safe.

And that's a shame.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The philosophy of content marketing

In a previous post I posed the Content Marketing equivalent of a long-standing philosophical question "if words are written and nobody reads them, are they really content?"

But the creation of content doesn't exist in a vacuum. To succeed at content marketing you don't just need great content... You also need:

100% code:
Just developing HTML that just about qualifies as 'fit for purpose' at the time of testing not only means that you may have issues down the line (e.g. when a specific browser is slightly updated) but may also hamper some of your SEO efforts. For example, some blogging platforms (e.g. WordPress) can take quite a lot of effort to get them SEO-friendly.

Killer UX:
Creating a fantastic user experience helps visitors browse your site with ease and complete tasks you want them to using functionality and content to inform them at every relevant step of the user journey.
So does content marketing include the use of  A/B and multivariate testing (MVT) approaches to optimise the user experience? You betcha! Alternative versions of content can have significant influence on visitor bounce rates and understanding... which can lead to improved conversion.

Exemplary 'white hat' SEO techniques
Forget the grey and murky areas of questionable search engine optimisation actions, your content marketing efforts have to be based on sound and utterly legitimate techniques. Why? Well thanks to the recent Google algorithm updates there is now an the even greater chance that less than honourable techniques could negatively affect your website's organic rankings.

Insight from digital analytics
A good analytical understanding of what your visitors are doing when they get to your website gives you the knowledge to evolve your content (text, imagery , video , animations, etc.) by changing it rapidly to respond to trends.