DigitalEast.com – October 18th @ McLean Hilton at Tysons Corner

I’ll be a panelist at the DigitalEast.com conference on October 18th, 2010 at the McLean Hilton at Tysons Corner.

The panel will address Social Media in Government and my specific topic will be how .Gov and .Mil sites can target desired outcomes and determine their conversion rates.

I hope you will join us. See you there.

Off-topic: Biden-Clinton Swap

I know this is off-topic, but here’s what I think is the truth about how the White House handles Hillary Clinton and the current rumor in D.C. about Clinton being asked to be Obama’s 2012 running-mate.

In late 2008 when President-elect Obama was choosing his administrative team, Hillary was offered the Secretary’s position at the State Department. Everyone asked or should have asked, why was she chosen? What qualifications did she have? Who stood to gain by having her in that position?

Clearly, it was in the best interest of the president. Here’s why…

The bitter sentiment that existed between Obama and Clinton since before the Democratic nomination in ’08 extended beyond the election. Obama knew this. Obama also knew that he planned to run again in 2012. Reviewing the field of possible Democratic contenders for 2012 showed that, at least in the fall of 2008, only one Dem posed a real threat as a contender – Hillary.

How could Obama diffuse the acrimony between himself and Clinton, and what step could he take to best protect himself from Clinton attempting to run against him in 2012?

Answer: Offer her a high-profile position in his administration, like, Secretary of State.

Politically, it was a great move for Obama: He put Clinton inside a box. Either she declines his offer and looks like a bad sport, or she accepts the high-profile position but risks looking like a traitor within the party if she runs against him in 2012.

Practically speaking, what makes Clinton qualified to run the DOS? She’s been an attorney, a First-Lady and a Senator. She has no foreign service experience. Why is she better suited for the SoS job than, say, Carol Mosely Brown, an attorney who represented Illinois in the Senate from ’93 to ’99 and served as the U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand from ’99 to ’01. With legal background and Senate experience the same, Brown’s ambassadorship easily gives her more foreign service qualification to lead the DOS than Hillary’s experience shaking dignitary hands as First-Lady.

The reason Carol Brown wasn’t chosen to take State is because Brown, although she ran for the Democratic nomination in 2004, poses no realistic threat to Obama’s re-election in 2012. Clinton does.

Did Obama ask Clinton to consider being his 2012 running-mate? Damn right!

With just under four weeks left until the mid-term elections, with the polls and general sense that the Dems will lose majority control, Obama is beginning to worry about 2012. So, what happens? Obama calls Clinton and wheels out the charity wagon…one more time. Problem is, Hillary is too smart; she’s probably smarter than Obama gives her credit for being. This time she’s playing it very cool, declining in deference to the job she claims to love. And, if Obama goes belly-up in the next two years, Hillary can step in as the savior of the party having gained all that DOS experience and not looking like the traitor.

I would have loved to have heard the Obama-Clinton running-mate conversation just to read between the lines of what was said….

Obama: Hillary, I’ve been considering making an interesting change for my re-election bid in 2012. With your current experience at State and with your previous experience at the White House, would you consider swapping positions with Joe and being my running-mate?
(Between the lines: Your rock-star status and the fact that you’re about the only Dem who can’t be tied to any of my intensely disliked policies means you are a real threat from within the party to my re-election or even for me holding the Democratic nomination.)

Clinton: Mr. President, I am very satisfied doing what I’m doing right now.
(Between the lines: Screw you!)

My bet is that if things keep going south for the Obama Administration, the words I gave Hillary above, ‘…I am very satisfied doing what I’m doing right now…,’ will read between the lines as ‘…I’m planning to take the nomination from you in the summer of ’12.’

In early 2008 while they were both campaigning and Clinton was ahead, Hillary mentioned that she might choose Barack Obama to be her running-mate. We know how that turned out.

Somehow this feels very much the same.

Question: How many pages of your website do you want visitors to see?

If the answer is ‘every single page’ then it’s time for a reality check.

There are going to be visitors who enter your website from lots of different sources arriving at many different pages with uniquely different needs and varying amounts of available time. Some of them will know your site as well as you do and others will know nothing and need time to investigate it. All of these variables will influence how many pages your visitors will see.

No matter who you are, a .Gov or .Mil or even a .Com, you can write-off a bunch of pages. Everyone knows that no one visits Terms of Use pages or Disclaimer pages, and very rarely do visitors check out Privacy pages. These are the ‘fine print’ and are legal requirements. Visitors know it and they don’t even look at them.

I’m an analyst for one site that gets over 1,000,000 pageviews per month. Here’s the general stats report:

Here’s the report showing the total number of Pageviews for the Terms of Use page:

Check out how many times the Privacy page was viewed:

In some circles, these would be considered some of the most important pages on a site. Not in visitor circles.

So what is it visitors do care about on your site? What metrics will tell you what visitors do care about?

You might be sitting there, staring off into space, wondering…

1) Is my content/product interesting
2) How can I make the stuff I want them to see more interesting to visitors?
3) If not the content I want them to see, what content/product are visitors seeking when they come to my site?

These are good questions.

I wish I could hand you a little box all wrapped up with the answer inside. Fact is, this is your ‘secret sauce’ and it’s unique to every website.

Web metrics are not unique to every site and there are reports buried within your web statistics program that can put you on the right path to figuring out why visitors came to your site and what they might want. Check out the report below. The report shows the most common Landing Pages segmented by greatest Page Depth, or the number of pages

The center column of this report shows the page visitors landed on when they came to the site.

Clue 1: Landing Page: Visitors arrived at this page, most likely, after having performed a search that matched keywords used on this page. (Note: With the exception of Item 7, the URLs of this pages are optimized to include the most commonly used keywords for their content matter.)

The right column of this report shows the number of times this page was viewed out of the total 1,000,000+ pageviews on the site relative to the left column, the Page Depth, which shows the most pages visited once a visitor arrived on the site.

Clue 2: Pageviews: Higher numbers of pageviews normally indicate the pages visitors sought and found most on search engines and the pages of the site visitors found most desirable to visit.

Clue 3: Page Depth: It can be inferred that a customer who views multiple pages ‘deep’ into the site during their visit is in serious pursuit of some specific content. The page URL gives you some indication of what that content may be.

Here’s the report:

Getting valuable insights from your web metrics is difficult because it’s tough to know what questions need to be asked, and it’s hard to know how to structure the analytics reports to present actionable data.

If you need a web analyst, leave a comment below.

In yesterday’s post, I proposed a question you should ask your marketing/public relations/public affairs department:

How are we[your organization] leveraging the social media contacts of the contributors to our website/blog content?

A similar question to ask is:

How can we leverage the social media contacts of every single person in our organization?

Hold those for just a second.

Two important abstracts need to be understood for the magnitude of these questions to sink in.

First, contrary to the current trend, a website is not simply a promotional vehicle for your organization. If a promotional platform is what your website tends to be, think instead of how your site could be a virtual representation of every office and department and committee and nook and cranny of your composition, independent of centralized control and brave enough to learn from inevitable blunders. And, think of it as a multi-media communications tool for all of your components, as bidirectional as the telephone and as graphical as modern email, but, unlike those, offering transparency of your organization to the world. Allow your employees the ability to use this communications tool to interact with all visitors relevant to their respective positions. Refusing conduit of these potential content contributors, your employees, to the world visiting your website is only refusing them the ability to post on your site. They already have the right to post elsewhere and share even stuff about your company with their contacts without your permission. The consequences of refusing to allow those in your organization to post content for the traffic to your website to see are not only just denying the inevitable, but also losing the content that could have been gained and the content distribution benefit to all of the contributor’s social media contacts – all of which are much more valuable than the alternative of guarding your dearly protected message.

The second minor abstract is the benefit of content, truly a search engine optimization fact. It needs to be understood that modern search engine algorithms reward placement in search results based on the upload frequency of quality content.

Here’s a scenario:

Let’s say I post excellent web-copy that’s optimized for keywords and keyword phrases. A few other quality websites find and link to me, and immediately afterwards Google spiders my site. Lots of factors affect placement, but all of those withstanding, the page will appear at the top of search results for those keywords and keyword phrases I incorporated.

Afterwards, someone else working on a website using similar keywords and keyword phrases writes and posts excellent web-copy. A few quality websites find and link to the page and Google spiders it. All other factors withstanding, this page now appears above mine in the search results.

Why? My page is no less relevant and the copy is indisputable, it’s just that Google rewarded the other page a higher placement in the results based on currency. If shortly afterwards a third page is posted on some other site somewhere else on the web with equally as high quality copy and all other factors withstanding, that page would place above ours in the results.

This is why very current pages tend to appear at the top of most search results.

Constantly posting content is, with the exception of buying placement, the simplest and fastest way to find your way to the top of search results.

So, how can you leverage the social media contacts for every single person in your organization?

Relinquish centralized control of your content. The World Bank did. Employees of the World Bank can contribute at will to their own blog on WorldBank.org. Guess what happens when any of these contributors shares their newest ‘worldbank.org’ blog article with their Facebook Friends/Twitter Followers, etc…? You got it, Worldbank.org scores for all those contacts to whom it did not directly connect!

Incorporate open organizational blogging into your web strategy. It’s the easiest way to offer multiple people the ability to contribute content to your benefit. Everyday someone contributes, search engines spider your site and it’s rewarded with top search result placement somewhere. Instruct your people how to link from their blog to deep content on your main website. That is the direct payoff connection of blogging to a site.

Allow everyone from the guy who sits in the boiler room to a tech in the field to the corner C-suite officer to blog about their experiences. Are mistakes going to happen? Yes. Are disgruntled employees going to cross the line? Maybe. People like their paychecks and they’re smart.

Leverage vanity. Everyone who works for the World Bank is proud of the fact that they can speak at the virtual podium of such a distinguished organization. So proud, in fact, they’d be inclined to tell all their friends and followers (their social media contacts) about it each time they post. Wouldn’t you?

Let your people tell their contacts how proud they are to speak on behalf of your organization.

If you need help implementing WordPress multi-user or developing your web strategy, leave a comment below.

Who is in charge of your website strategy?

At this point in the web’s evolution, externally-facing websites typically belong to marketing, public relations or public affairs departments. But, when it comes to the management of a website strategy, who should be in charge?

On the surface website management in the hands of marketing makes sense since traditionally organizational outward-facing public relations media has always been its responsibility. If news releases or advertising in radio, television or magazines was planned, the marketing-PR department (known as Public Affairs in Gov and DOD), either in-house or contracted, would design the creative and develop the content.

But, websites are no longer just advertising platforms and best practices for them involve much more than the creative design and advertising content development experience marketing typically has.

Full-scope management of a website is much like the full-scope management of newspaper, magazine, television and radio production – a combined effort where ‘advertising’ is just one department; together, all departments make up the structure of the medium.

Newspapers, magazines, radio and television learned to ask, “Is our medium right for our readership/viewership?”

This is an operational question, not a public relations question. While prime-time television hours were ideal for advertising, those hours were chosen based the habits of the viewers – not what best suited television studios or marketing departments.

Marketing/public relations/affairs offices are specifically concerned with promoting the organization through the website and don’t normally have the strategic experience to know how to structure it for optimal operation.

If it were up to public affairs offices (and it currently is), websites would typically be one big promotional platform for the organizations they support.

Here’s a news flash: “Websites are about the visitor’s wants. Websites are not about a particular department’s wants.”

If 60% of your traffic is visiting your ‘Careers’ page, your website should not belong to public affairs. (Nor should it belong to your HR department.) Human nature will cause the governing department to slant the site to suit its agenda, denying the varied benefits your visitors may seek.

If 80% of your site’s traffic is staying less than 30 seconds, only the smartest of public affairs people will know what that indicates and know how to fix it broadly, beyond the boundaries they will see as most applicable to public affairs.

Multiple autonomous departments should weigh in on the management of your website:

Analysis/Web Strategy Team – (arguably the most important of the departments) will weigh-in on the statistical facts of your site: # of visitors, where they go, what they view, which links get clicked the most, etc., and interpret these in context with the organizations desired outcomes.
Content Providers – all others in your organization – to include Marketing/PR/PA; their voices are equally important.
IT Team – will weigh-in on the ‘do-ability’ of a proposed change.

Autonomy must exist between these three, and between the content providers, because if any are subordinate to another they will be coerced to support the supervising department.

Marketing/PR/PA’s offering would definitely include design, branding, message tone, etc. But in terms of the content to be posted, its voice should only be one of many.

The primary reason why a website’s Content Providers (from Marketing to Finance to Ops to the C-Suite to Building Management, whomever they are) should have equal governance to content is: Social Media.

If your organization runs a centralized website and aggregates website content from all its different departments, the content is undoubtedly submitted to a central department, probably your Marketing or Public Affairs office. The content-submitting department, its task of turning in content complete, then surrenders ownership of the content and turns its back.

What happens then if, for example, the submitted content is for an organizational blog? Who answers comments about the content from readers? Not Public Affairs – they are not the subject matter experts for the submitted content. Public Affairs becomes the lackeys that must run back to the content-submitting department and search for an SME to answer the comment. (I can tell you from personal experience this approach is a complete failure – it does not work!)

How are the social media contacts for the content-submitting department being leveraged, or are only the social media platforms established by Public Affairs being pursued? Facebook claims that on average every person represents 130 Facebook friends. In the centralized system, once a department’s content is surrendered to Public Affairs to post, Public Affairs will send the notification to its relatively small group of Facebook friends. In a large organization, say 9000 employees, each of whom are potential content contributors, the distributed Facebook Friend group is on the order of 1,000,000+ friends. I challenge you to go to your organization’s Facebook page (created by someone in your marketing, public relations or public affairs office, no doubt) and view how many ‘fans’ it has. If it exceeds the combined total of all your content contributors times 130, you are a very unique case.

Before prematurely restructuring how content is contributed to your website/blog, here are some questions you can ask to test the breadth (or narrowness) of your website strategy the next time you have your Marketing/Public Relations/Public Affairs department in front of you:

Which page do you(marketing) consider the most important on our site?
How many visitors do we get to that page?
Which page gets the most traffic on our site?

Which departments are submitting content to our organizational blog?
(the answer should be ALL of them)
How many followers do we have to our Facebook page?
How are we leveraging the social media contacts of the contributors to our website/blog content?
What are the desired outcomes for any given visitor that are most important to our web strategy?

If you need some objective help with your website strategy, leave a comment below.

Base All Website Analytics on Your Desired Outcomes

Here's how you calculate your conversion rate.

For most of the web, the importance of web analytics is barely understood. Most sites don’t have a web statistics tool installed; a minority have some type of statistics measurement tool in place, but never use it or don’t understand how to use it properly; and, an even smaller minority have a metrics package and can extract some value from it.

The most important question a metrics tool can answer about your website is:

“What is my site’s conversion rate?”

A whole bunch of readers are about to turn their attention away because they immediately think this article is no longer relevant. First thoughts sometimes are that if you don’t run an e-commerce site, how could conversion rate possibly be of any importance?

If you think that conversion rates are only for e-commerce sites, you are sorely mistaken and you’re making a critical error in the management of your site.

Think of conversion rates like this, “How many people are doing what you WANT them to do on your site?” If one person reaches one of your desired outcomes, that’s a conversion.

No matter what type of website you have, here’s how you should calculate your conversion rate:

(# of visitors reaching a desired outcome) / (# of visitors to your site) = Your Conversion Rate

What are desired outcomes?

You need to determine them.

If you are running a .Gov or, similarly, a branding website, your outcomes are likely getting visitors to arrive at a particular page, or getting them to click and subscribe to your RSS feed or to sign up for your newsletter or, in the case of a corporate site, to download a whitepaper or other thought-leadership content, or to watch a video about your organization.

If you’re running a content portal, your outcomes are likely to have someone click the link to make your site the homepage, or for them to download and install your toolbar, or for them to view a certain number of pages, or for them to spend a certain amount of time on your site before leaving, or, without question, for them to exit your site by clicking a link to one of your advertisers.

If you’re running an e-commerce site, your outcomes are definitely for the visitor to make a purchase, or to leave their email address for a newsletter or to sign up for your free content.

YOU NEED TO FIGURE OUT WHAT THE DESIRED OUTCOMES ARE FOR YOUR TYPE OF SITE!!

(No more yelling…I promise.) Think about it again…what do you want visitors to do when they arrive at your website?

Once you’ve identified those outcomes, look at your metrics tool to determine how many people reached that page, downloaded that .pdf, left their email address, clicked the link, watched the video, etc. Next, reach into your metrics app and pull out the stats for Total Visitors. Use the Total Visitors number as the denominator in the equation above. (Note: Make sure you use the same time frame – if you measure the number of people who reached an outcome over the period of a month, use the same one-month time period to measure the Total Visitors metric.)

Now you’ve got the conversion rate for each of your desired outcomes.

The internet average conversion rate is around 2 to 3%. What’s yours?

If it’s bad, don’t despair. We can fix it. Leave a comment below.

Hello world!

I finally got around to registering a domain for a blog. Up until this point I’d been using WordPress.com or Blogspot or blogging for others separately, but the time had finally come to consolidate everything under one roof, so here it is: Interconnecting.us.

I chose the name ‘Interconnecting.us’ because the blog’s purpose is to interconnect the ‘U.S.’ Gov 2.0, DoD 2.0 and Biz 2.0 worlds by showing how the best practices of Web 2.0 tools and techniques can be implemented for each, regardless of the perspectives of those different worlds.

Since this is, technically, a new blog, though, I’ve left this first article entitled “Hello World.” I hope this explains why.

So…off we go. Comments are always welcome, especially if you think I’m way off or right on target. Let me hear your thoughts.

~Rob
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