Ric Dragon is the CEO and co-founder of DragonSearch, a digital marketing agency, and author of Social Marketology, as well as a contributing writer for MarketingLand and Social Media Today. I met Ric Dragon at the Brite Conference at Columbia University, and I was immediately impressed with him. I heard him speak at Brite and found his approach to be very practical. He talked at Brite about how different brands should create marketing strategies based on their specific desired outcomes. He recently sat down with me to talk about how to drive traffic to your website, how to use Google analytics to effectively manage your digital brand and why old-school marketing mentality doesn't work anymore.
Q: Hi Ric, thanks for joining me. Let's start with a basic question, in your experience, what is the best way to increase traffic on a site?
The best tactic we've deployed to consistently increase traffic to web sites is blogging. This isn't simply about writing another blog post, it means writing really valuable and relevant content. The next part to that, though, is to share it through social networks -- not simply in a "Hey, read my stuff," type of self-promotional post, but to really connect with people and share content that is of value to them.
I once suggested to an editor that a big investment of time in content really paid off. She asked what I meant by "big investment," and when I said 20 to 30 hours, she scoffed and said that was nothing, that in her organization, they might invest hundreds of hours into a piece of content. Of course, more time doesn't necessarily mean better content -- but it often means content that has been created with deep research. For example, much of Dove's content marketing of the past ten years, including the now-famous forensic artist videos, was created off original research that Unilever commissioned from a team of academics.
Q: To keep track traffic patterns on their site, most people use Google Analytics, but that can be overwhelming. Can you tell us what are the most important factors to watch in a Google Analytics report?
The most important factors to watch are going to vary from business to business. Google Analytics really comes to life when you find the particular ways to filter the information that is meaningful. For instance, if your business is a geo-centric retail location, you can pretty much filter out the traffic that is outside of your region; it just isn't going to be all that relevant. You have to ask the question: What's important to you?
Then we need to seek out anomalies and trends. If an anomaly is detected, such as a spike in traffic during a particular time period, we want to dig in and see if we can find the source. Is the traffic coming from many sources? From different geographic locations? We once had more than a thousand hits from one computer in one day which meant, for whatever reason, that particular user was calling our web page over and over, so we could pretty much discount that traffic as being irrelevant. If we hadn't been looking out for the anomalies, that traffic would have skewed our overall results.
Another powerful component of Google Analytics is advanced segments. You can create those views into the data which mean something to your business, and call those reports more easily. It can take a bit of experimentation, but it's worth it.
You also want to make sure you set up goals. Goals are actions completed by website visitors that signal a success to you. In eCommerce sites, it's usually the completion of a checkout. In a service-based organization, it might be a contact form filled-out.
One of my favorite views is by "non-bouncing traffic," which means people who look at more than one page. In fact, I like making a custom segment that shows users who view two or more pages. If I can increase the traffic on that segment, I know that I'm on the right track. Increasing traffic with a high bounce rate might just mean you're getting traffic. Getting those multi-page viewers means you're getting more traffic that finds your content relevant.
Another thing I look for is a regular increase month-over-month on organic search traffic. To me, a five percent month-over-month increase is healthy. If that traffic instead has flatlined, or even going down, I'd consider that unhealthy.
Q: Many people focus on bounce rate. How important is bounce rate on a site? What is an acceptable range, and when do you need to take action to reduce the bounce rate on your site?
I've seen a pretty broad range of bounce rates over different industries. It is a metric that might also relate to the nature of your content. If a page of your content is supposed to fulfill the user's needs, a single page view might be just fine.
The way to approach bounce rate is to understand it as a baseline metric for your own site, and how it might relate to the goals of your site. Of course, if you are selling costs per click (CPC) advertising on your site, you'd really care, since your income would be directly tied to how many pages are viewed. Once you know what your bounce rate is, you can start to experiment with improvements to see if you can change it.
The first and most important question is: Are you providing valuable content for the readers who are relevant to you? Can you make it more relevant? Go for quality first.
After you feel confident in your content, you'll want to look at the usability of your site. Are there clear guides for the reader to lead them to more content? Are you offering up meaningful alternatives?
Q: What is the average amount of time spent on a site? What is the best way to increase time on site?
Average time on site should be seen as a rough guide. It can easily be skewed by anomalies, such as when someone keeps their browser window open while they're at lunch. Taken as a rough guide, though, it can be interesting to see it on a content level. Is someone spending time with this content, or they clicking right off? Like bounce rate, the averages are all over the map, the value of the metric is very particular to your content.
Q: What is the average number of pages visited on a site? What is the best to increase that number?
The answer here is really in line with dealing with bounce rate. How are readers led from one piece of content to another? The navigation is one place to pay attention. Another is the inclusion of "related content" at the conclusion of any particular post. You can see this done quite well on a lot of the larger blogs. Sometimes, it's just a list of links, while others provide a carousel of images and choices.
Q: What should be the ideal split between new visitors and return visitors?
New and returning visitors will vary site to site. With a content site such as the Huffington Post, there is such a large and regular audience that those metrics are incredibly useful. Applied to small and medium-sized business websites though, the same relevance may not be there.
What you really want to do is use these two metrics as views into your analytics over a period of time. For instance, what's my new to returning ratio compared over each of the past six months. What's the story that it's telling me? Am I just getting a lot of new visitors that bounce right away, or am I increasing my new visitors that visit several pages? What's the behavior that returning visitors are exhibiting?
Q: How important are referral sites?
The founders of Google were from an academic background, and always used the concept of citations as a critical element in Google. It still is. Now, you might have heard about the algorithm update dubbed Penguin that penalized a lot of sites for bad links. People were going so crazy on getting links to their websites, that they were going as far as paying for them, and subscribing to services that built links by the hundreds. So, Google started to penalizing sites that had a large quantity of links coming from questionable sites. This didn't obviate the importance of backlinks, though.
Google is also looking for links that appear to be natural. Links that have the same keywords in the anchor text, for instance, don't appear to be natural.
The important thing here is to create great content that others will want to link to. You're being relevant, and existing within a contextual network of other websites and social media.
Q: Do you feel advertising on Google is a good way to bring traffic to a site? Why?
For many businesses, paid Google advertising can be a great source of customers. You need to make a few calculations to determine the feasibility:
- What's your margin for business acquisition?
- What's the average transaction amount?
- What is the competition paying for relevant keywords?
Figure out if the math makes sense based on a one or two percent conversion rate. You might ultimately achieve a much higher conversation rate, but start here.
If the average cost per click on a good keyword is $1, that means at a one percent conversion rate, you're going to spend $100 for a conversion. If the average order size is $500, and your margin for business acquisition is 20 percent, then it's a positive bit of business for you. If your customers tend to return for additional purchases, then you're even ahead of the game.
Whichever tactics you use, though, you shouldn't put all of your eggs in one basket. Instead, you should strive for a good marketing mix using all of the various channels. In this way, you're reducing the risk involved in a quickly changing environment.
Q: Is advertising on social networks like Twitter and Facebook effective in generating traffic to a site?
Again, it's going to be different for every business. Certainly, for many, there have been some incredible successes with advertising on social networks. The great benefit to all of them, including LinkedIn, is that you can perform some wonderful granularity in your segmentation.
In some business areas, social advertising often tends to be a lackluster performer for advertising in a promotional sense -- direct to transaction -- unless you can target the very specific audience that is at that stage in the buying cycle. Otherwise, it tends to be wonderful as a force multiplier to non-promotional content, reinforcing awareness and top-of-mind campaigns.
Q: How important is social networking in attracting visitors to a site?
Social networking is an increasingly more important aspect of attracting visitors, both in the direct way, and as a signal to the search engines. Now that Google is moving more into semantic search, you need to understand that content is written by people, and people exist within social contexts. That context can help inform Google of content relevance.
Furthermore, if you set out to create great content, you will want to share it within social networks. If those networks do indeed deem your content to be valuable, they'll not only share it, but they'll engage with you over that content. That, in turn, creates even more content and more activity.
Much of this digital marketing business has been about people trying to game the system and get free advertising. That's a natural response in the "old school" marketing mentality. The big revolution of the Internet, and then social media and search, is about being more relevant and more contextual. It's about getting into your customers' minds, and really creating value, as opposed to sucking value out of the world.
The winners will be those brands and organizations that understand this revolution. In the process, they'll create enormous value, and become central to the lives of individuals and communities.
Thank you so much Ric. I really appreciate your time. At a time when data based marketing is more important than ever, you've given us all great advice.
Ric Dragon is the CEO and co-founder of DragonSearch, a digital marketing agency serving clients throughout the U.S. Dragon is the author of Social Marketology, as well as a contributing writer for MarketingLand and Social Media Today. He has been a guest and keynote speaker at dozens of events around the world, most recently including SMX Advanced, Social Media Summit Hawaii, KEY Seoul '13, ReThink Oslo '13, Social Shakeup, and Social Media Marketing World.
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