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December 20, 2012

Thinks Out Loud Episode 11: Does Podcasting Make Sense? A Digital Marketing Case Study

December 20, 2012 | By | One Comment

Where does podcasting fit

Podcasting Case Study

Web Analytics Ideas

Biznology Post and Webinar

HSMAI Roundtable Interview

Contact information for the podcast: podcast@timpeter.com

Technical details: Recorded using a Shure SM57 microphone
through a Mackie Onyx Blackjack USB recording interface into Logic Express 9 for the Mac.

Running time: 13m 13s (How appropriate heading into 2013)

You can subscribe to Thinks Out Loud in iTunes [iTunes link], subscribe via our dedicated podcast RSS feed or download/listen to the podcast here on Thinks using the player below:

Tim Peter

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November 7, 2012

What You Can Learn About Marketing from Nate Silver

November 7, 2012 | By | One Comment

Predicting the futureHere’s an interesting bit of information from last night’s election coverage:

“The New York Times election statistician, Nate Silver, perfectly predicted all 50 states last night for President Obama, while every single major pundit was wrong–some comically wrong.”

Silver uses the same techniques highlighted in the book Moneyball (and to a lesser degree, the film). Silver’s results underscore why I’m such a fan.

Your ability to manage your business depends in large part on how effectively you measure your business. So, with that in mind, here are four past tips on how to measure more effectively:

Finally, I’ve written a whitepaper on Best Practices for Website Analytics for the hotel industry, though the lessons apply across many industries. Contact me if you’d like a copy.


Normally, I use this space to talk about what we do here at Tim Peter & Associates. But with so many suffering the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy, please visit the American Red Cross and help any way you can.

Tim Peter

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October 22, 2012

You Don't Have 50 Key Performance Indicators

October 22, 2012 | By | No Comments

Measures that matterI’d like to take a moment to consider the notion of what exactly a key performance indicator is. Companies often talk about using key performance indicators to measure and manage their business. And, in theory at least, that’s a good idea. But many companies fall short in their implementation because they don’t properly identify their true, key performance indicators. Oh, sure, they track loads of numbers, review lots of data and produce numerous reports. But do those numbers, data and reports mean anything about the current state and future health of the business?

Sadly, the answer for many companies is “no.”

So let’s start over by looking at key performance indicators in more detail.

A key performance indicator is, simply, a number that tells you whether you’re on the right track to achieve your goals.

That’s it.

For instance, a financial services company I worked with tracked “DART’s” as their key performance indicator: Daily Average Revenue Trades. The company made most of its money on transaction fees from trades executed. However, not all trades produced revenue for the company due to internal account management, error corrections and the like. So simply counting the number of trades, while interesting — and potentially valuable from an operational standpoint — didn’t offer a clear picture of how the business was doing each day. But, subtract the non-revenue trades from the picture, and suddenly you’ve got a formula for accurately representing how the business was doing.

You can measure the same with any of your marketing activities, regardless of your product or service. What does a sale look like in your business? Is it an actual sale? Is it a lead generated? If you’re a non-profit, is it a donor pledge or an additional email address added to your mailing list?

The only problem with sales numbers, of course, is that they represent a trailing indicator. That is, the number doesn’t reflect the financial health of the business going forward. It only reflects a snapshot in time of where the business is right now. A better option when it exists is to look for leading indicators, metrics that inform you how the business will look in the future. Some examples include phone calls received, email addresses captured, leads generated, brand searches, etc.

Is social media activity — friends, fans and followers — a leading indicator? Well, the jury’s still out. But I’m going to make the case for yes. Here’s why:

Any consumer who takes the time to share something about herself with you — whether through Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn, Google+ or whatever the social media flavor of the month is — has indicated interest beyond the average consumer. That is, all the ones who didn’t choose to connect with you. And years of research into market effectiveness shows that consumers exposed to repeated messages transact at higher rates and, often, higher dollar values.

Of course, the point here is to determine the metrics in your business that actually show how business is doing and manage to those (you can check out our guide to Web Analytics Fundamentals for help in how to measure them). To unlock a door you need a key. And you can’t unlock your business’s true potential if you’re not looking at key performance indicators.


Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

Or subscribe via email.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to follow Tim on Twitter.

Tim Peter & Associates helps companies from startups to the Fortune 500 use the web to reach more customers, more effectively every day. Take a look and see how we can help you.

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Tim Peter

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October 1, 2012

Budgeting Your Online Marketing? Stop Trying to Predict the Future | Biznology

October 1, 2012 | By | No Comments

Dollar signFor many companies, this time of year means budget season. Of course, in some places, budgeting simply means “add 10% to what you did last year” or by taking a shot in the dark as to what you can reasonably expect in terms of growth. But is that the right way to plan your online marketing budgets? As I argue in my latest post for Mike Moran’s Biznology, trying to predict the future in your marketing budget makes no sense:

“Fortunately, digital marketing allows for a more nimble model, one that depends less on predicting the future and much more on how quickly you react to a changing marketplace. Using this model, budgeting digital becomes less a question of how much you’ll spend in any given period and more a function of how effectively you manage your numbers.”

Getting ready for next year isn’t about doing what you’ve always done. Every year, change accelerates. So instead of doing what you’ve always done, look at ways to make your marketing plan and the budget to support that plan more adaptable. Which is what I show you how to do in the Biznology post. You can read the whole thing here.


Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

Or subscribe via email.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to follow Tim on Twitter.

Tim Peter & Associates helps companies from startups to the Fortune 500 use the web to reach more customers, more effectively every day. Take a look and see how we can help you.

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September 27, 2012

Thinks Out Loud Episode 3: What Do Your Customers Need?

September 27, 2012 | By | 3 Comments

In this week’s Thinks Out Loud episode, I look at selling on social networks, how to make it easy for your customers to do what you want them to do, how to measure your effectiveness, and do a quick review of DJ Waldow and Jason Falls’ wonderful book, The Rebel’s Guide to Email Marketing: Grow Your List, Break the Rules, and Win. Here are the show notes:

Selling in social media:

Making things easy for your customers:

Measuring Marketing Effectiveness:

Book Review:

Previous podcasts:

Contact information for the podcast: podcast@timpeter.com

Technical details: Recorded using a Shure SM57 microphone
through a Mackie Onyx Blackjack USB recording interface into Logic Express 9 for the Mac. I’ve added a standard SM57 pop filter to the mic this week, instead of the “pantyhose and wire hanger” version I used to use. It was too hard to see past the old filter. It seems to roll off the highs a little bit, but I think it works OK. As ever, let me know if you see a difference (or care at all about the tech notes).

Running time: 10m 54s

You can subscribe to Thinks Out Loud in iTunes [iTunes link], subscribe via our dedicated podcast RSS feed or download/listen to the podcast here on Thinks using the player below:

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September 17, 2012

A Simple Technique for Product Innovation

September 17, 2012 | By | No Comments

E-commerce innovationEllen Isaacs has an interesting article over on GigaOm looking at the power of observation to help you figure out what your customers want. Ellen uses a technique called “ethnographic research,” though, with no offense intended, it could just as easily be called, “following customers around to see what they do.” [Updated to fix broken link.]

Why should you care? As Ellen notes,

“…ethnographic studies likely save businesses far more time than they take. These observations and analysis can reveal insights that shift projects toward demonstrated problems.”

I’ve conducted a number of ethnographic studies in my career and can tell you exactly how effective they are. In an example I’ve shared in the past, my team and I learned that the photos on the website we ran were far too small. Simply replacing our product images with larger photos increased revenues by more than 10% annually. And keep in mind this was a company delivering many, many millions in online revenue each year. Watching customers using your site for even a few minutes dramatically illustrates where you’re doing well — and where you’re going off the rails.

I’ve had clients ask me, “Well, isn’t it just easier to survey our customers?”

Almost always, the answer is “No,” for two reasons:

  1. Observation is easy. Whereas putting a survey together and finding the right folks to survey can take a fair bit of time, tools like UserTesting.com and OpenHallway.com let you see how customers use your site and shopping cart — or your competitors’ — easily and inexpensively [I have no commercial relationship with either site — I'm just a raving fan]. Yes, you still have to put together a use case. But I find that asking representative customers to use your site to try and buy your product is a much simpler process than crafting questions designed to find out why they’re not buying.
  2. Customers lie. Now, I don’t mean to impugn the integrity of your customers. They don’t mean to lie; they just can’t help it. Anyone who’s spent any time observing customers in action will tell you that a gaping chasm often exists between what customers say they’ll do and what they actually do. Watching customers shows you exactly how they’re using your site, where they’re struggling and, often, what you can do to fix it.

Of course, once you’ve watched your customers, it’s important to take those learnings and apply them. But it’s much easier to make the changes that will help your customer accomplish their goals if you actually understand where they’re working. And where they’re not.


Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

Or subscribe via email.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to follow Tim on Twitter.

Tim Peter & Associates helps companies from startups to the Fortune 500 use the web to reach more customers, more effectively every day. Take a look and see how we can help you.

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Tim Peter

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August 31, 2012

Weekly Wrap: 4 Links Worth Reviewing (Small Business E-commerce Link Digest – August 31, 2012)

August 31, 2012 | By | No Comments

Putting it all togetherNot a lot to say today, folks. I’m heading out early to enjoy the last weekend of summer. But if you missed these over the past few days, check ‘em out:

To all my US readers, have a safe and happy Labor Day weekend! And, no matter where you are in the world, enjoy!


Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

Or subscribe via email.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to follow Tim on Twitter.

Tim Peter & Associates helps companies from startups to the Fortune 500 use the web to reach more customers, more effectively every day. Take a look and see how we can help you.

Tim Peter

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August 28, 2012

Analytics Tuesday: 8 Excellent Analytics Lessons

August 28, 2012 | By | 2 Comments

Measures that matterToday’s lesson looks at how to make your web analytics work better. Here’s what we’ve got:

  1. Leading off, let’s look at improving analytics to improve your business.
  2. Next, take a look at ways to track your conversion rate and the rest of the Website Analytics Fundamentals series.
  3. Speaking of conversion, it’s useful to look at exactly what an industry average conversion rate is.
  4. Of course, A/B testing is a great way to improve conversion. So check out the ultimate A/B testing case study roundup.
  5. Unique visitors are an important component of tracking traffic and conversions. This post asks whether unique visitors are a meaningful measure of your website’s traffic.
  6. Pulling all your reporting together requires thinking through what your online marketing dashboard should look like.
  7. No matter how you report, make sure to pay attention to the 7 keys to successful web metrics.
  8. And, finally, don’t ignore these 8 vital tips to get the most out of Google Analytics.

See something missing? Leave a comment or drop me a line and let’s talk about your needs.


Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

Or subscribe via email.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to follow Tim on Twitter.

Tim Peter & Associates helps companies from startups to the Fortune 500 use the web to reach more customers, more effectively every day. Take a look and see how we can help you.

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August 2, 2012

Should "The Fancy" Tickle Your Brand's Fancy?

August 2, 2012 | By | One Comment

I’m often asked my opinion of various marketing channels, both online and offline. With the ever-increasing array of social, local and mobile channels available, it’s no wonder that many businesses aren’t sure whether to chase the “hot new thing” or if these up-and-comers won’t last.

Here’s a case in point. Recently, I’ve been talking a lot about Pinterest and its uses, so much so that TechTarget recently included me in their look at Pinterest as part of a social CRM strategy. And yet, in the time since I gave the interview, Pinterest’s star seems to have dimmed in favor of upstart social bookmarking/e-commerce site The Fancy.

Unlike Pinterest, which started out purely as a way for people to share and save images they enjoyed, The Fancy is built around e-commerce. For instance, “fancy” a stay at a resort in the Maldives?

Well you can reserve a stay, right there on the embedded image.

Gotta have these hipster-approved chukkas?

Again, click the little price tag button and they’ll be on their way to your Brooklyn crib (or whichever hipster-approved community you live in) in no time.

Slick.

The Fancy offers businesses and brand many of the benefits of Pinterest, but also has baked-in its monetization strategy from the outset.

So, here’s the question: Is The Fancy right for your brand? Is it time to ditch Pinterest in favor of The Fancy?

Maybe. But maybe not.

Now before you accuse me of playing coy, keep in mind that there’s a bigger question at play here. This isn’t a matter of whether Pinterest or The Fancy is better. It’s a question of whether Pinterest or The Fancy (or LinkedIn, or Facebook, or Twitter, or…) is better:

  1. For you
  2. For your customer

Too many brands and businesses I encounter spend so much time worrying about what everyone else is doing that they don’t look at what makes sense for their brand or their business. But as I recently mentioned, different customers use different channels at different times in their purchase decision. The Fancy might be a great place to locate customers when they’re ready to purchase, but it might fail miserably at attracting attention in the first place. Pinterest might generate lots of traffic, but that traffic may never convert for your brand. Or vice versa.

The reason I put so much emphasis on web analytics and conversion tracking and the like is that they’ll tell you whether something’s working for your brand — or not. Your strategy needs to allow for testing new channels and new ideas and your execution needs to include appropriate measures and metrics from the get-go.

The Fancy might be a great way for your brand to reach new customers, generate huge sales and grow your business. Or it might be a monumental waste of time. Put your focus on a clear testing strategy for your marketing and you won’t have to ask anyone whether or not you should fancy The Fancy. You’ll know.


Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

Or subscribe via email.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to follow Tim on Twitter.

Tim Peter & Associates helps companies from startups to the Fortune 500 use the web to reach more customers, more effectively every day. Take a look and see how we can help you.

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July 31, 2012

What is "conversion rate," anyway? (Math for Marketers)

July 31, 2012 | By | One Comment

Defining conversion rateA couple weeks ago, I got into a friendly debate about the whether it’s better to optimize conversion rate or the total number of conversion. I argued that conversion rate optimization is better. Twice.

But I got a couple emails from people asking a fundamental question: What is “conversion rate,” anyway?

Now, don’t worry if you’re among those people asking the question. There’s a relatively simple answer. However, “conversion rate” can mean different things to different people in different contexts.

The simplest possible answer is this:

Actions Taken ÷ Potential Customers = Conversion Rate

The challenge, of course, is in defining “Actions Taken” and “Potential Customers.” So let’s take a minute and do just that.

Calculating Conversion Rate

To have a conversion rate, first you need an action. That action is usually called a conversion. So, what’s an example of a conversion? Most typically when people talk about “conversions,” they’re talking about sales or orders. As we’ll see in a bit, if that’s all they’re looking at, they’re being a bit short-sighted, but we’ll come back to that in a minute or two. For the moment, let’s stick with convention and just look at sales.

Imagine you sell widgets. Every time a customer orders a widget, you’ve got yourself a conversion. Your conversion rate in this case is the number of orders (conversions) divided by your “Potential Customers.”

So, how do you know who your “Potential Customers” are?

Potential Customers

The easiest way to think of “Potential Customers” is to think about how many people you exposed to your message. And you’d think counting the number of people exposed to your message would be relatively easy. After all, online marketing lends itself to analytics, right? Well, yes.

But…

There are at least 6 common ways of counting “people” that I know about:

  1. Unique visitors to your site.
  2. Visits to your site (sometimes called “sessions”).
  3. Unique visitors or visits that enter your shopping cart.
  4. Logged-in visitors to your site.
  5. Unique visitors or visits to a specific landing page.
  6. Unique visitors or visits from a specific marketing message (e.g., an ad or an email).

I’ve used all of these at one time or another. Hell, I’ve often used all of these at the same time depending on what I wanted to know about my customers’ behavior. I’m not going to debate the pros and cons of each today (I’ve looked at how to measure traffic as part of my “Web Analytics Fundamentals” series and I’ve reviewed the pros and cons between unique visitors and visits before as well — drop me a line if you want to talk about what’s right for your business). But the basic idea is that each tells you about which customers you’re reaching.

For instance, I often work with hotel companies on their e-commerce and marketing. And they’re mostly interested in selling hotel reservations. In one company’s case, the vast majority of their customers only reserved a few times per year and booked their stay on the first or second visit to the site. So we calculated conversion rate by dividing unique visitors with a 30-day cookie into reservations sold (you can check out a glossary of web analytics terms if any of this is unfamiliar to you).

By contrast, another company I worked with sells inexpensive replacement parts for machinery. Because their customers can visit multiple times per month and may make multiple purchases per month, we calculated conversion by dividing visits into orders.

Which leads to a key point: There’s no one perfect way to measure conversion rate. What matters is how well your measures model your customers’ behavior. In the first case, unique visitors were a better indicator of how well the site performed at converting an individual prospect (each visitor typically only ever made one purchase), while in the second we measured how effectively the site converted prospects each time they visited.

What About Other Conversions

So, as I’d mentioned above, there are other types of conversion besides just sales. If you remember, I started my definition by saying it’s “Actions Taken.” Not sales. Not orders. Not leads generated. Actions.

In fact, it’s a best practice to measure any activity you want your customers to take. For instance, newsletter subscriptions, account registrations, loyalty program enrollment, whitepaper downloads, form submissions and so on all represent conversions. They just represent ones with highly divergent economic values.

Anything that helps you connect more deeply with your customers provides a conversion opportunity. Spend some time looking at all the calls-to-action on your site or in your marketing and include those in your overall conversion reporting.

Speaking of which…

Reporting Conversion Rate

One key point to note here: If you track conversions other than sales (and you should), make sure you’re clear on what actions you’re reporting when you talk about “conversion rate.”

For instance, let’s imagine a business that sells athletic shoes. It offers on its site a shopping cart for customers interested in purchasing its shoes, an email opt-in form offering weekly specials and a white paper on how to improve your running technique.

Now assume the company sells 30 pairs of its running shoes online, enrolls 50 people in its email list and gets 75 downloads of its white paper for every 1,000 visits to its site. What’s their conversion rate? Well, their site manager could report conversion rate as 15.5% [(30+50+75)/1,000 = 15.5%].

But is that the fairest representation of what’s happening?

I’d say “no.”

In fact, I’d report each conversion separately, noting it something like this:

Sales Conversion3%
Email Opt-in5%
White Paper Downloads7.5%

A solid online marketing dashboard makes it clear to your audience what your goals are and how well you’ve met them. Senior managers live for clear answers. Don’t try to baffle ‘em with bullsh… um, stuff. Just show them what’s really going on.

A Final Conversion Rate Definition

Now we’re back to where we started. Conversion rate is:

Actions Taken ÷ Potential Customers = Conversion Rate

To calculate it for your business

  1. Define “Actions Taken” appropriately for your marketing and e-commerce activities.
  2. Determine the metric that best represents “Potential Customers” for your specific activities.
  3. Divide your “Actions Taken” by your “Potential Customers” for each action.
  4. Report Conversion Rate by Action.

Follow those four steps regularly and you’ll never have to wonder about what your conversion rate is again.


Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

Or subscribe via email.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to follow Tim on Twitter.

Tim Peter & Associates helps companies from startups to the Fortune 500 use the web to reach more customers, more effectively every day. Take a look and see how we can help you.

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