Data analysis and creative hunchwork

Last week someone asked me what SEO was in a tweet. 140 characters is almost short enough for me to use my cocktail party line: “It’s magic.”   I use this in a tongue in cheek way to avoid really technical conversations with drunk people. I’m quite capable of explaining SEO in simple terms.

( Here’s my real answer:  “My goal is to get targeted traffic to my website. I do that by aiming to get my website to the top of search results for certain keyword phrases. I have to know which phrases I’m going after to bring the right traffic to the site. I have to make sure my content answer the question.  The back end code needs to be honest and clear about the fact that we answer the question better than anyone else online.   It’s a combination of data analysis, understanding web architecture and design, content planning and quality content.”)

But because it was twitter – and that mouthful is no tweet  – I summed it up using the phrase “A combination of data analysis and creative hunchwork”.

Because I work in numbers and data, I understand how important it is to know which numbers are important.  Remember word problems in high school math class? Do you remember the ones that had insufficient information included to get to an answer?  How about the ones that had a whole lot of extra information to confuse you?  That’s what we’re working with in terms of metrics.

Here’s what I mean – specifically in terms of my Author blog and that work.

The Known

The things that I can measure – the things that I know about my nascent author platform – are all over the place. They are part of both sides of that word-problem coin.

  • How many people follow me on Twitter?
  • What’s my Klout score?
  • How many fans do I have on Facebook?
  • How many people visit my blog?
  • How many people click more pages in my blog?
  • What’s the most popular page on my blog
  • What search terms are people using to find me?
  • How many pinterest (google + etc) followers do I have?
  • What countries do my visitors come from?

Then there are the ways I measure myself and my own activities…..

  • Should I unfollow / follow people on Twitter?
  • How many blog posts have I written?
  • How often do I tweet / post on facebook / pin on pinterest?
  • How many words have I written today?
  • How many contests have I won
  • How many clips do I have
  • How many queries have I sent (rejections have I gotten)

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The list of online and offline metrics available is very, very long.

The Unknown

The next set of metrics are the things I can not measure. The things that float in the great unknown.

  • Why did those three people unfollow me on Twitter today? (WHAT DID I DO? COME BACK!)
  • How many queries will I have to send out to get a Yes?
  • How many drafts?
  • When is my “good enough” really “good enough”?
  • Why does Google show THAT photo of me when I search for my pen name?

This list, I’m afraid, is even longer than the mind-boggling list of the knowns.

Sifting the Wheat from the Chaff

I was inspired to write this post because of Jan O’Hara’s  Sexy Numbers blog post at Writers Unboxed.

Jan is 100% correct. I just want to expand upon and elucidate a few of her final points.

The fact of the matter is that you’re going to measure your progress.  If you are trying to improve or grow, you’re going to be watching numbers somewhere.  Embrace that fact, and then learn how to decode the word problem for only the information you need to solve the problem.

Here are the real tricks of the metrics trade:

  1. What is the real goal of your work? What are you actually seeking to improve?  In SEO terms, my goal is traffic, not search engine rankings. I don’t care if I rank 304, if people are clicking on my links.
  2. Determine which metrics are meaningful in obtaining that goal. Back to SEO: I track visits to see if people are finding my links, I track page views to see if they like the site when they get there. 
  3. Determine which metrics you can safely ignore.  I don’t track my rankings on search results pages, because they are clouded with personalization, diluted with lack of data due to keyword unavailable metrics and secure search, and because they don’t matter.
  4. Are there any measurements that are a means to an end? This is the tricky one, and the one that trips a lot of people up. I actually do look at ranking reports – not to track, but to focus my efforts. If I see that I’m ranking top of page 2 for a term, that term becomes a “quick win” that I can focus on for easy gains.  I don’t track these numbers – I use them.

For my 2013 goals on my author platform, I don’t target a real number of twitter followers. I target a ratio of who I follow against who’s following me.   This measure indicates a reach that extends beyond the immediate circle of influence. It indicates that I have something to offer.  Until I get there, I need to keep tweaking my strategy. That ratio falls in the fourth category.  In fact, because my platform project is so very new, almost all of my goals fall in the fourth category.

What do you track?  What can you stop caring about?

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One thought on “Data analysis and creative hunchwork

  1. Thank you for the Twitter and post-mention! I did know what SEO meant in layman’s terms, but a lot of your technical material is way over my head. That’s okay. As long as you know what you’re talking about and where you’re going and how to measure it, awesome.

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