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Lessons From Baseball: How To Discover & Track Your “Quality Starts”
For millions of sports fans, October means one thing—the Major League Baseball playoffs! And as any ardent fan of our national pastime will tell you, it’s “do or die” time. Without a doubt, the post season is all about wins and losses— with little regard for how the game is played.
Similarly, many B2B marketers measure their search marketing campaigns in much the same way. They invest in PPC and/or SEO and judge their campaign’s success solely based on its number of conversions and average cost-per-acquisition. In essence, they’re only interested in the final outcome.
However, limiting the evaluation of a campaign’s success to these two metrics can be a mistake, and, more often than not, leaves many search marketers wondering how they can better understand what their investment is truly yielding.
This is particularly evident in B2B campaigns where the lag time from click to conversion can often be months. But you can’t afford to sit around and hope that your efforts are going to pay off. Rather, you need to set intermediate benchmarks which you can use as indicators that your campaigns are healthy and on track. Doing so will provide you with great campaign insight, and—believe it or not—baseball provides us with a great example of why.
Inside baseball. Statistical analysis has become a regular part of evaluating baseball players. For example, scouts have always examined things like batting averages, home runs, and RBIs for hitters, and wins and ERAs for pitchers. However, there’s a new metric being used to evaluate the bullpen’s brethren. It’s called a “Quality Start.”
And according to Wikipedia, “…it is awarded to a starting pitcher who completes at least six innings and permits no more than three earned runs.” Clearly, even though this metric is not based on wins or losses, it provides good insight into a pitcher’s performance. B2B marketers should develop their own “Quality Start” metrics to supplement what they presently use to measure their campaigns.
Scouting tips. The first step in the process is to define what a “quality start” means for you. For many, this is the most difficult part, and I have seen numerous clients struggle with it. My advice? Spend some time with your customers. Understand their buying process. Ask them questions about how they went about their research and ultimate selection. Pay particular attention to clues about when they started to feel a connection with your brand. Was it after they added your RSS feed? Or after they were contacted by a sales rep from your company? Or simply after they read your latest white paper? The answers to these questions will allow you to develop a short list of definitions.
Reading the signs. The next step is to examine your current SEO and PPC campaign data to understand what you are tracking. You will probably find that there are items on your wish list that you cannot track. You need to determine if this additional data is worth the time and cost of setting up the necessary data collection and reporting.
Know your stats. Next, examine the data for the items you can track. This will allow you to verify that the items on your short list are indeed happening with frequency. If, for example, you see that very few online people signed up to be contacted by a salesperson via the web, maybe this is a bad success metric for you.
The kine-up. I suggest starting with a larger list of items that you think indicate a successful visit, and then narrowing it down after you have monitored the data for a quarter or two to see if your ideas were on track. I have seen clients have the most success at tracking elements such as leads from completed forms, number of unique readers who have viewed one or more white papers, and people who have registered multiple site visits within a short period of time.
Avoiding errors. It has often been argued that the number of pages viewed and time on site should be considered as success metrics. I would strongly encourage you to think twice about placing too much emphasis of either. My experience has been that only content sites should concern themselves with these metrics. Sites with a call to action can often have high numbers of page views and a longer time on site simply because they are difficult to use.
The farm team. You should also factor in offline information. One the most powerful metrics I have seen utilized is telephone calls. At the very least, the people answering your phones should ask how someone heard about you. However, we all know that this data will be quite poor. Therefore, I suggest using different telephone numbers for different programs in order to provide yourself with more reliable data which you can feel comfortable acting upon.
Driving it home. One of the biggest advantages of search marketing is its measurability. Yet, for some reason, the only measures of success B2B search marketers seem interested in are conversions and cost per acquisition. Smart marketers will strive to deepen their bench by developing new measures that that will provide additional insight into campaign performance. Give the notion of a “Quality Start” a chance, and you will gain additional insights into the overall performance of your campaigns.
Brian Kaminski is managing director of search engine marketing firm iProspect in San Francisco, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Strictly Business column appears Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.
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