As a digital agency, one of the hardest things we do is explain why something is down, or, in other words, why there are red arrows in the analytics report. Working in the highly competitive automotive space, many of our clients simply do not want to see red arrows. Most of them are very busy and run non-stop to be an effective leader of a fast-paced business. This means they make quick judgements all day, every day.
Therefore, when they see a red arrow or a downturn in the analytics of any kind, flares go off in their minds and they think about cutting something out of the budget — or even changing agencies.
The reality of the situation is this: Digital is always changing.
It is nearly impossible to always have green arrows for everything you track in Adwords, Analytics and other media. If it were easy to get all the arrows to be green, businesses would live in a utopia (which is something we chase daily). Again, the reality is this: The online world is a deep, dark abyss of never-ending branches that make it impossible for metrics to always be in the green.
I thought it worthwhile to write about this topic because of the sheer black-and-white nature that red and green have become. Sometimes red is good and sometimes green is bad, which, in the end, only makes the digital universe harder to understand. This is especially true when it comes to a client who just wants to see green and forward movement.
Let me illustrate this with a simple example. When it comes to bounce rate, the general rule of thumb is that you want it to be low. For clarity, bounce rate is the percentage of people who land on your site and take no further action, e.g. clicking to another page. I have seen instances of Websites that don’t put their phone number on the landing page and, instead, put it on a secondary page in order to force people to interact with the site. This lowers the bounce rate, but it also makes the landing page less relevant.
This practice is equivalent to putting the bread and milk in the back of the grocery store, so people have to walk around more, even though they simply want to grab their groceries and “bounce” out. If you’ve noticed, the bread and milk is now front and center at many successful stores, allowing you to “buy and bounce.” The “bread and milk” example is applicable to the online worlds’ user experience best practices. Google is all about relevance, and Facebook just announced that it will revise its algorithms to be more relevant in 2018. The concept of giving people what they want, thus allowing them to leave if they want, is catching on, both online and in brick and mortar stores.
Getting back to bounce rate, if we as an agency land a customer on a very relevant page that allows them to get the information they want quickly and easily, they are likely to get that information and bounce. Now on the agency’s report card, the bounce rate had gone up, i.e., there is a red arrow. I argue that customer satisfaction, trust and the likelihood of a return visit has gone up as well. I will speak very freely here and say that many agencies manipulate the platform so the arrow is green. They might land a customer a page away from what they’re looking for so the bounce rate, pages per session and time on site all go up, yielding green arrows across the board on the analytics report.
So where is the lie? If we manipulated the truth to show green arrows to keep a client happy, that is a lie. If we truly believe that the landing page is relevant and will draw a customer in, then clicks to new pages, time on site and all the other metrics we focus on will increase organically. That’s great digital marketing. Working the system to trick people is inefficient; they are smart and will see through it, like the store that stocks their bread and milk in the back. Soon, they’ll start doing all their shopping at the store they’re comfortable with, which is the store that gives them what they want up front.
Without going too deep into the lies green arrows can tell, I challenge you to look at the cause-and-effect relationship of the red and green arrows when looking at your reports. Let me show you what I mean by that with an example. Let’s say your sessions are down because you did an email blast last month but didn’t do one this month. The email blast drove 4,000 hits to your Website, leaving your Web traffic with a positive, green arrow for that month. However, in that same month, the bounce rate climbed higher, and pages per session and time on site decreased. These were all red arrows. So, which month was better? The month with 9,000 visits that had a higher bounce rate and lower time on site and pages per session (red arrows), or the month with only 5,000 visits but green arrows for bounce rate, time on site, and pages per session?
My answer is to look at the most important metrics and let the truth come out. How many cars did you sell and what was your return on investment? These are the KPIs I write a lot about since volume of products sold and net profits are most important. The green and red arrows will always fluctuate and drive the uninformed manager/owner nuts. But if you keep units sold and net profits moving in the right direction, I think you won’t care about the lies green arrows can tell.