January 5, 2010
Lobster.com Case Study
How LOBSTER.COM Has Used HITSLINK Before, During and After the Re-launch of a Trusted, Old Website
Part 4: Catching A Breath After the Holidays – How Did LOBSTER.COM do?
Update: The new LOBSTER.COM website launched at the beginning of the December 2009 holiday shopping season. Now, with a successful holiday rush now a seeming distant memory, the team at LOBSTER.COM looked to Hitslink for additional insights about site performance during the season, with an eye towards planning for the upcoming year.
In this concluding segment of our 4-part Hitslink case study, we take a look back at pre-season assumptions and examine them against actual performance. We’ll also take a look at a few other handy Hitslink features that we’ve used and continue to use to keep tabs on ongoing performance.
Here’s where you can find a recap of the first three installments:
Figure 1: Maine lobsterman heading in after a long day of lobstering.
Part 4: Catching A Breath After the Holidays – How Did LOBSTER.COM do?
Looking back now, it is clear that without HITSLINK we would not have had nearly so successful a launch and holiday season. The visitor data we acquired before launch strongly influenced our design decisions. The up to the minute performance data enabled us to react to selling conditions by the minute and identify parts of the site that needed tweaks. And now that the season is behind us, we are mining HITSLINK for data that continues to be instrumental in our 2010 planning.
Planning for the Next Selling Season - Valentine’s Day
How can our HITSLINK data from the past holiday season be put to use for Valentine’s Day? We already know that Valentine’s Day is a big gift-giving holiday, and like Christmas, it falls on the same day each year. We also know that, like Christmas shoppers, there are some who will plan ahead and some that will wait until the last minute. But when does the season really start, and what does it look like when it really heats up?
Working under the assumption that the Valentine’s selling season will have many similarities to the Christmas season, we can use our most recent performance data from the lead up to Christmas and use that to plan our Valentine’s promotions and campaign tactics.
Two Hitslink reports in particular are handy for this purpose: Conversion Rate By Day, and Conversion Rate by Hour. Once we have acquired enough conversion data to understand the conversion rate profile of our site at certain times of the day on particular days of the week, we can then confidently modify our paid search campaign bids, moving them higher or lower at appropriate times to gain better ad positions and/or better per click costs .
Here is an example of the hour-by-hour conversion rate report for one day:
Figure 2: Conversion Rate Report by Hour of Day
Here is the same type of report for another day of the week:
Figure 3: Conversion Rate by Hour of Day
Whenever we have enough conversion traffic to see distinct patterns in conversion profiles, it allows us to adjust our bidding profile for paid search campaigns accordingly. (Note: actual conversion rates have been altered to protect proprietary data).
Inbound Links: What Sites Send the Best Traffic?
Hitslink has a pre-defined Referring Sites report that helps to identify new opportunities and to assess the quality of the traffic from referring sites, as shown below:
Figure 4: Referring Sites Report shows quality and quantity of
With this pre-configured report, we can see exactly what sites are driving productive traffic to LOBSTER.COM, based on which sets of visitors spend the most time on the site, (Minutes per Visit and Pages per Visit) , come back again and again (Repeat Visitor Rate), and which visitors place orders for live lobster delivery (Revenue and Transactions). We can also see which site tend to drive non-productive visits and evidenced by higher bounce rates and lower or totally non-existent sales results.
Of course, outbound links can also take people away from your site prematurely, before they’ve had a chance to buy something, or even linger long enough to remember your address or website’s name, so you have to weigh the risk of losing them against the benefit or establishing trust.
Hitslink, fortunately, makes this sort of benefit/risk analysis easier with a pre-defined report aptly entitled, Exit Links, shown below:
Figure 5: Exit Links Report shows what links are taking people away from your site
One thing our report showed clearly is that we do not have very many outbound links on Lobster.com. For those few outbound links we do have, Hitslink shows that the most clicked outbound link goes to a YouTube video that demonstrates how to crack open a nicely-cooked lobster to get at all the delicious lobster meat. An question, of course, is once a visitor clicks over to YouTube, do they come back? So far, we’ve found it impossible to answer that question.
However , with the Hitslink data from this report, the LOBSTER.COM web design team felt it had enough data to understand how significant this site ‘leak’ is and whether it warrants action. One option could be to simply open the video in a pop-up window that keeps LOBSTER.COM open, too. Alternatively, they could add this content directly into video content on the site.
The second exit link in this report (a5dj9.4hmyf.servertrust.com/Articles.asp) looked very strange to us. Upon closer examination, the link turned out to be a mistakenly-coded internal link that was easily located and corrected.
However, there are other times, when site traffic can come to a screeching halt and take you completely by surprise. And of course, if your luck is anything like mine, the surprise comes on the third day of your long-awaited Caribbean vacation, just as you’ve started to truly unwind and are just about to go for a snorkel when you get a frantic call from your boss asking “What in the @@#*$&*& has happened to our sales?” After a quick dash to the nearest internet cafe, you login to find out that not only have sales tanked, but your shopping cart has been offline for three days!!!
Fortunately, this scenario was not one that anyone at LOBSTER.COM had to worry about and it is not one you need to worry about either, if you take a few minutes to set up HITSLINK Alerts. HITSLINK Alerts are configurable email or SMS text alerts that let you specify when you (or someone else) are to be notified in the case of important changes to site performance. If your website’s performance goes above or below certain thresholds you set, HITSLINK can notify you instantly when that event occurs.
Figure 6: Drop-down menu from HITSLINK Alert Screen shows Alert event options
HITSLINK gives you great flexibility to define what events will trigger an alert. Alerts can be generated for a very specific change in site conversion performance, such as sales leads failing to reach 200 by 11 am on any Monday morning for your top search term, or, an Alerts can be triggered for something as simple as if the Visitor count falls to zero in any working hour of any day since that could likely indicate that the site has gone down.
In this case study, we have demonstrated just a few of the features, reports and applications that allowed LOBSTER.COM to launch so quickly and so nimbly. There are other features we did not get a chance to explore in this case study, but which will be equally important in the coming months, including multivariate testing of site content elements and API integration of HITSLINK data to enable tighter integration of HITSLINK data into LOBSTER.COM’s business intelligence infrastructure.
About the Author:
Matt Van Wagner is a seasoned sales and marketing professional specializing in paid and local search engine marketing strategies in the United States and Canada. An award-winning speaker whose presentations are usually as entertaining as they are informative, Matt has been a popular speaker at SES, SMX and other search conferences. Matt is President and founder of Find Me Faster a search engine marketing firm based in Nashua, NH. He is a member of SEMNE (Search Engine Marketing New England), and SEMPO, the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization as a member and contributing courseware developer for the SEMPO Institute. Matt writes occasionally on internet, search engines and technology topics for IMedia, The NH Business Review and other publications and served as technical editor for Andrew Goodman's "Winning Results with Google AdWords" and Mona Elesseily's "Yahoo! Search Marketing Handbook." Matt is a graduate of St Lawrence University, Canton NY (BS Economics) with an M.B.A. from Rivier College, Nashua, NH.
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2009 Search Engines – Top 10 Stories of the Year
Search engines are the primary way we find information now. Some would argue that search engines are the most important marketing tool for any company as well. NetMarketShare.com from NetApplications.com provides global usage market share statistics for browsers, operating systems and search engines. This data offers valuable insight into significant trends for internet usage.
With search becoming so engrained in our daily lives, search engines are not only providing the news, they’re making the news. These are the Top 10 Search Engine Stories of 2009:
10) AOL separates from Time Warner. Thus ends what was perhaps the most unsuccessful corporate merger of all time. At the time of the merger in 2000 the two companies had a combined market capitalization of $350 billion, and now the separated AOL is estimated to be worth $2.5 billion. AOL still has a loyal following, even if the numbers shrink every year, and may be a good acquisition target for one of the other major search engines. Microsoft seems to make the most sense as a prospective buyer.
9) Ask brings back Jeeves. Well, at least in the UK. I’ve always been a fan of the Jeeves branding. If he does well in the UK, it may be wise for Ask to expand his comeback to other markets.
8) Twitter effect. Social media as a whole influenced search greatly, but Twitter provides more value to search engines than facebook or myspace due to the volume, breadth and immediateness of publicly generated content. First Bing and then Google signed deals to with Twitter to include tweets in search results.
7) News Corp and Microsoft discuss deal to bypass Google. In a high stakes stare down, Google blinked first. With the potential loss of content from subscriber based sources such as The Wall Street Journal, Google initiated a ‘First Click Free’ policy to allow searchers to see the entirety of an article from a subscription based source but then be sent to a subscribe page if they clicked on any links within the content provided. This may be a compromise that works well for Google and content providers.
6) Big news drove search. The top news stories of 2009 also formed the top search terms of the year. President Obama’s election, high hopes and rough start, along with the death of pop legend Michael Jackson, and the sex scandals involving Tiger Woods all made huge splashes in the news and as search terms.
5) Baidu dominates Chinese market. Baidu ended 2008 with an advertising scandal that greatly hurt their reputation and their stock price. They spent 2009 cleaning up the mess, bolstering their market share and reputation, and saw their stock price more than quadruple for the year. And, now with Baidu’s top competitor in China on the verge of evacuating the market, their 2010 looks very bright indeed.
4) Yahoo! brings in Bing. Yahoo! changed CEOs, and made a major strategy shift in deciding to use Bing as the engine behind Yahoo! search. While, Yahoo! is incredibly good at providing a content-rich, organized and customizable home page for so many people, monetizing that traffic has been the challenge.
3) Microsoft launches Bing. Bing enjoyed the most headlines of the search engines for 2009, with a highly successful launch, quick surge in market share, and signing deals to become Yahoo’s search ‘engine’ and the default search engine for all Verizon mobile devices. The direct assault to Google’s search empire was met with an equally direct plan of attack at Microsoft’s core, when Google announced it was working on Chrome OS to take on Windows.
2) Search engine optimization and marketing became even more critical to business. With the economic downturn continuing in 2009, advertising budgets shrunk for most businesses. Yet, the overall market for search engine marketing still grew, indicating that key decision makers felt getting ranked highly on the major search engines may have provided the best ROI for their limited funds. SearchTerms.com is the leading independent search engine optimization and marketing service, and now provides free tools to optimize your website’s placement in both organic and sponsored search results for all the major search engines.
1) Google faces off against China. Google in 2009 went from dominating search to dominating search even more. Bing and Baidu made some dents in search market share during the year, but Google ended 2009 with 85.34% of all searches, up from 82.72% at the end of 2008. The biggest Google story of the year started in December, but culminated in early 2010 with Google saying they sustained a cyber attack that appeared to originate with the Chinese government, and was aimed at finding data on Chinese dissidents. In response, Google stated it will no longer censor their search results in accordance with Chinese demands, even if that means leaving the Chinese market. What’s the big deal you ask? China already leads the world with 338 million internet users currently, but with 1.3 billion people that number will grow substantially. Per NetMarketshare.com data, Google China currently processes 5.08% of all internet searches. So, it’s a large sacrifice to make.
But, is Google truly taking the high road, or is there more to the story? Let’s not forget that Google has been censoring search results with Chinese approval since they’ve been in that market. Google CEO Eric Schmidt has been quoted as saying, “If you have something that you don’t want known, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” So, protecting privacy has never been Google’s top priority, and they make that fairly clear in their terms and conditions. It’s been reported the Google system exploited in the cyber attack was an automated response system to comply with search warrants. They built an automated system to comply with search warrants, and it was susceptible to security breaches? Perhaps a more accurate axiom would be, “If you have something you don’t want known, you shouldn’t be giving that data to Google.” This may not be the high road so much as the road that provides the best PR in a difficult situation for Google.
Related story: See 2009 – Browsers in Review
About the Author: Vincent Vizzaccaro is EVP of Marketing and Strategic Alliances for NetApplications.com, as well as the press contact for NetMarketShare.com, the leading source of Internet Usage Market Share Statistics. firstname.lastname@example.org
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