New! Improved! Google Analytics v.5

No snarky allusive post title today! This is the biggest overhaul to the GA interface since I left Google, and as such it's been quite fun to have it appear suddenly, rather than in the dribs and drabs of internal beta-testing (or dogfooding as the poets in Google product management would have it), during which its secrets would previously have been revealed.

First things first

Navigation in the new version of GA has been completely overhauled. This is first apparent in the new menu bar (still a slightly wretched shade of Orange, but never mind)

Lovely little house icon, eh? Anyway, 'Dashboard' should probably read 'Dashboards' (exciting – I'm prefiguring later revelations, just like in a cheap thriller). The 'My Site' menu drops down to give you a choice of 'Reports' or 'Intelligence', which is the kind of unintentionally amusing delineation that probably warms the quieter ventricles of Avinash Kaushik's heart.

Clicking on that Home icon will take you to a searchable list of all your accounts. Most consultants think this is fabulous, but I suspect the majority of you reading wont be regularly struggling with multiple pages of accounts and profiles, so are likely to be slightly less overjoyed, as is your right.

Second things second

Report navigation has also been tidied up, streamlined and lots of other words highly evocative of efficiency and intellectual daring. Not a massive revision, and you're only likely to notice it when you can't find what you're looking for at first. Fortunately Google has provided a Report Finder for such instances. Naming conventions are perhaps a little more in line with what an ordinary, rational human being might come up with if pressed to describe the data contained therein.

I'm particularly in favour of the last section finally being called 'Conversions'. Having worked on a project with that name for over a year before I left Google, its nice to see the message belatedly being marketed through the UI. Conversions – worry about them.

 

 

 

Dash and blast

Probably the most interesting enhanced feature is the new Dashboards I skilfully alluded to earlier. Rather than giving you a single shareable Dashboard that had to be all things to all folk, you can now create multiple views depending on the context of the data you want to reveal (or, I suppose, obscure if that's your game). Currently these aren't shareable or emailable, but I imagine that'll be reinstated before long.

 

 A nice new feature here is the ability to choose for yourself how you want a particular data point displayed – you can currently pick from a raw number, a pie chart, a time line (including comparison of two metrics) or a table.

Custom Report fiddle-faddle

Custom reports have been improved too. I would screen shot this, but to be honest, even Google isn't capable of making the form fields for bespoke data representation look beautiful. Probably of most interest here is the ability to pre-define a filter to be applied to your newly-minted custom report. You could achieve the same effect before through a combination of Custom Report and Advanced Segment, but this new solution is hugely more elegant, and since there's nothing like enough elegance in the world, this is to be applauded.

Advanced segments have been further enhanced by removing the requirement to include 'All Visits' if you wanted to view multiple segments at once. A couple of my former students will be very pleased.

I still dream of Organon

I've been quite fond of word clouds ever since my friend Mikko and I experimented with them as a way of providing insight into the manifestos of the major UK political parties during the last election for a now sadly defunct site. GA has now caught on to their usefulness (somewhat belatedly), but its a nice feature nonetheless. 

 

 

As you can see, it's only really a cloud if you imagine what clouds would look like if designed by software engineers, but what it lacks in Wordsworthian verve it makes up for in utility.

And there's more…

Surely not all of GA v.5's secrets have been revealed yet. There's stuff in there like event-triggered goals (lovely for anyone worried about pageview inflation) and a whole host of UI tweaks and beautifications. It's also important to remember that this is just a Beta, so there'll be missing features added, and possibly much-loved features taken away before this is allowed to go prime-time.

More thoughts as and when they announce themselves…


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The ‘Field of Dreams’ Syndrome

Of all the saccharine maxims of Hollywood, none are more corrosive to the soul of an online business than the ones espoused in 1989's 'Field of Dreams'.

A story of irresponsible land-management and hallucinogenic corn, the film follows Kevin Kostner as he pivots from his traditional business model, to one based on disrupting the afterlife of several members of the disgraced 1919 White Sox team. Kostner's approach to building a business is unconventional, and despite the persuasive rhetorical stance of the film, his rules should be avoided by all nascent online businesses. For your erudition and entertainment, I shall dissect them below.

"If you build it, they will come…" / "People will come, Ray…"

We hardly need concern ourselves with the spectral (or self-referential) origin of this voice – its advice is pernicious enough. If you build it, you'd better be damn well sure they're going to come, or you've wasted your money. Stands to reason, huh? Fortunately, the mind of the modern business owner tends to be more evolved than that of Iowan farmers with daddy issues, so adherence to this rule seems to have died out at around the same time as Kostner's career.

"They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom…"

Perhaps, as the sun finally set on the Reagan administration, in those first cool moments of twilight it was possible, just possible, that people had the time and money to act as the irrational agents of their unconscious desires. Contemporary economic reality is somewhat different, and whether you're selling travel insurance or sporting fantasy, it's imperative that you give them a very good reason indeed to come to Iowa.

(coda)

Obviously its also important to know exactly who 'they' are – after all, some people (most of the rest of the world apart from the US, Japan & Cuba) couldn't give a toss about baseball or the fate of Shoeless Joe.

"They'll arrive at your door, as innocent as children…"

Was the web ever innocent? Your average consumer is either utterly blase about the dangers of online fraud, forgery and poor customer service, or on the other hand, convinced that the entire system is populated solely by hucksters, pornographers and cut-purses. 

Assume that your visitors are as jaded as Charlie Sheen's legal team, and that you need to be the one volubly innocent as a child.

"It's money they have, but peace they lack…"

Not even going to start with this one. 

So, what should Ray have done instead?

Starting a new business is hard, especially when your USP is dead baseball players, who are notoriously fickle. Money is tight. Friends and advisers are cynics and pessimists.

It's easy to fall into the trap of doing the fun stuff today and the tedious stuff tomorrow. If you've built your new site, you want traffic arriving straight away, so you say to yourself that you'll spend money on Adwords & Facebook today, and measurement tomorrow. You've become Ray, relying on the phantasmagorical soul of the people to intuitively respond to your creation. You built it. You even paid for them to come. But what the hell did they do while they were there?

"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball…"

Hmm, baseball is a highly statistical sport isn't it? You see where I'm going with this?

If you don't know how many people have tickets to your field of dreams, you can't decide whether to expand the bleachers. If you don't know how many bought hot dogs, you don't know how many abattoirs you need to contact for floor sweepings.

People will come, Ray, but how many? 


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A Warning To The Incurious

It was Christmas, and so naturally my thoughts turned to the ghostly and the dread-fuelled. To M.R. James, to be precise. The BBC's second shot at 'Oh, Whistle And I'll Come To You, My Lad' led to a marathon re-watching of the Beeb's 1970s Christmas Ghost Story productions, which in turn, led to the source – the short stories themselves (as an aside, the Kindle/Project Gutenberg nexus is so perfect it makes me want to shake someone warmly by the hand and congratulate their parents on a job well done).

The formula is unerringly simple. Someone, usually a deeply hubristic academic, winds up in all sorts of trouble by poking among the dusty codices and grimoires of this middle-European library or that Barsetshire Cathedral. Something is read which ought not to have been read, or some word is uttered that ought not to have been uttered. This single act, usually advised against by an anxious local, brings about hideous and terrifying contact with supernatural forces, leaving the protagonist either dead or sorely chastened. James even went to the trouble of encapsulating his formula in the title of one of his collections: A Warning To The Curious.

Anyone who has been watching Charlie Brooker's new series: How TV Ruined Your Life, will have enjoyed a whistle-stop (M.R. Jamesian pun intended) exploration of the unique capacity of the human brain to process and reconfigure itself around fear-inducing stimuli after only brief repetition. While in Brooker's analysis, TV is a confidence shattering conveyor belt of scares producing witless and compliant peons, James's stories attempt, in a gentle, pretension-mocking way, to caution against nothing more sinister than excess curiosity and the vanities of the intellect. Each skeletal hand and black cat is a riposte to the arrogance that sees knowledge as something that can be owned, and mysteries as truths merely waiting to be disclosed.

James might have been provost of King's College and of Eton, but he presumably bore little or no responsibility for analysing those institutions' websites.

Modern web analytics tools are practically Borgesian labyrinths already. There's normally two or more ways to liberate a particular piece of data, and with the rate at which new feature and UI tweaks are added, the route you took to a number yesterday might have shifted beyond recognition overnight, leaving you staring blankly at a set of menus as knitted over and impenetrable as the wall of the Pied Piper's cavern. The only way to proceed, to succeed, is to ignore the protests of caution and to venture in unaided. A map is a fine way to start, and by all means check the cardinal points on a daily basis – measure bounce, check whether pageviews per session are trending up or down, watch your basket size with a gimlet eye. But stray off the edge of the page from time to time. Wander without a destination in mind. It's really the only way you'll ever navigate a route home.

Because ghosts don't really exist. The pale figure rising up from the next bed is just a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato, or your own fear of stepping off the path.


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David Foster Wallace & How Not To Annoy Your Customers…

In the acknowledgements of his 1997 essay collection 'A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again', David Foster Wallace bestowed interstitial nicknames on some of the people who helped him along the way, the last of which is given to his (I think) sister, Amy ("Just How Much Reader-Annoyance Are You Shooting For Here Exactly?") Wallace, in a pretty humble and humorous acceptance of the fact that DFW didn't always make his writing the easiest thing in the world to breeze to the end of. As the creator of anything that is engaged with by other people, you have tremendous power to annoy the hell out of them; this is as true for website owners as it is for novelists and essayists, though the penalties and rewards differ substantially depending on which of those you are…

How to annoy people 

If you're a writer, you can be annoying in innumerable ways, and as luck would have it, quite a few of these have direct correlates with how you can be annoying as a website owner. It's fair to say that without this serendipitous cross-over, this blog post would, with high irony, be itself entirely superfluous and thus annoying too.

Take too long to say too little

Now this isn't something I'd accuse DFW of ever doing, but less patient readers did probably find the 1100 or so pages of 'Infinite Jest' relatively heavy weather. Likewise, if your returns policy or your privacy policy require a free afternoon and a law degree to get through, then the chances are that you're annoying somebody, somewhere.

Hide important information in footnotes and endnotes

While personally I've always felt DFW's effulgent use of footnotes and endnotes can be adequately explained by his neurotically precise style and a desire to either mock or embrace academic pretensions (possibly both), if you try the same with your website you will almost certainly be found annoying. If you run an ecommerce business, tell people your delivery costs up front rather than sneaking them in on the last page. If you run an ecard website, don't let people fill in the entire thing before they click through to find out that contrary to expectations, they need to pay a $10 per year membership just to send one limply animated shark. Nobody thinks of shopping online as a game, and nobody wants to have to work to find all the salient information required to make an informed purchase.

Make people pause unexpectedly

You can do this in many different ways as a writer: you can wander off on a tangent, you can throw in a syntactically abusive sentence that requires multiple readings to comprehend, you can even just flat out refuse to proceed with your story. You options as a site owner are probably more limited – maybe you've whipped your visitor into a consumerist frenzy and then hit them with a huge mandatory registration page before letting them actually buy anything. Don't do that, it's annoying and doesn't even have the side effect of making your customers ponder whether you're just smarter than they are and that's why they don't get it.

Mislead with the blurb

This one is rarely the writer's fault, but if someone described 'Infinite Jest' on the back cover as a light-hearted look at life in a tennis academy, you might feel a little deceived once you cracked the spine and settled down. Chances are the closest thing you have to a blurb for your site are your PPC ads – don't allow them to make promises your website (and landing pages) have no intention of fulfilling. Keep on top of time-limited promotions & out-of-stock items; keep annoyance to a minimum.

 

Just how much visitor-annoyance are you shooting for here exactly?

As a writer, annoying your readers is a calculated gamble – a trade-off based on confidence that they trust you enough to follow even when it looks like you're leading them astray. The reader has already invested in you, and while that confidence can be eroded, it takes a while to put down one book and pick up another. If you can't guarantee the same loyalty and indulgence from your site visitors, then think very carefully before you try playing the same game with them…

Profound apologies to the late and very sorely missed David Foster Wallace for using him in such an ungainly manner. Whether you're a site owner, marketer or writer – read him.


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The Kitchen Async

I don't believe in hell, but the road to obscurity certainly seems to be paved with good intentions. Apologies to the 40.32% of visitors to my blog who are returning and have found nothing new for a while; I will be better in future.

Today's topic, so excruciatingly telegraphed by my headline, is  Google Analytics' Asynchronous tracking code. Already the cause of debates only out-heated by the argument over whether Sex And City 2 is a vile piece of culturally hegemonic rubbish or an elaborate satire of diabolic genius, the GA Async code begs one inescapable question: Do you or don't you?

All those in favour…

The technocrat in me says yes. He says that only rubes and luddites cling to the past; that the Async codes is the wave of the future, and if we don't suit up and paddle out this instant we'll be left behind drowning in the rock-pool of latency while the cool kids perform tricks and master the correct usage of the word 'gnarly'. The technocrat makes good points. It certainly would be good to be able to use 'gnarly' in a sentence with confidence. But his desk is littered with Apple Newtons and Atari Jaguar games consoles. His track record isn't perfect.

All those against…

On the other hand, the conservative in me raises up his hands like Marcel Marceau before the wall and urges: 'what's the rush?' The old code works fine. Better than fine. The old code got us through some hard times and no amount of la-de-dah queued tracking calls and faster load times can measure up against a history of reliability. The conservative wonders who even asked for a new version of the tracking script anyway, and concludes that it was some fancy-pants college boy from Stanford in all likelihood. And isn't it always?

Abstentions…

Into this psychically dubious arena steps a third voice, the voice of reason. He says 'it depends', and looks apologetic at having offered yet another equivocal answer to an unequivocal world.

Feel free to skip to here….

But, seriously for a moment, wordiness aside, ask yourself these questions before deciding:

  1. How customised is your current installation? If you have lots of hard-coded events and virtual pageviews, transitioning over is going to be unpleasant.
  2. If you're a smaller organisation without dedicated IT resources, the Async code is marginally more complicated, and complexity is the favorite lurking place of costly mistakes.
  3. How reliant are you on the GA help centre? Currently the documentation for the async tracking leaves a fair amount to be desired.
  4. How eager are you to be up to date with the latest GA functionality? If the transition from urchin.js to ga.js taught us anything, it's that Google can be fairly ruthless in prioritising development on the new track. But this only matters if you use it.

The newer script is technically a marvel, and does improve load times and by placing it at the top of the page now without penalty, you will capture a few more of your most impatient visitors. But it isn't without pitfalls. Caveat Googleanalyticsimplementor.


Posted in Google Analytics | 3 Comments

Introducing Flounce Rate

Last week I did my best to add gothic elucidation to the deceptively staid and uncontroversial-sounding concept of 'Bounce Rate'.

This week I am going to attempt something slightly different: I want to introduce a new concept, a twin for the first-born Bounce.

Say hello to Flounce Rate

If Bounce Rate deals with the mewling birth of your customers, then Flounce Rate is a measure of their last end. Put in terms that even the most Baldwin-esque salesman would comprehend, if Bounce is a failure to open, Flounce is a failure to close.

"Ahh, but wait!" you're probably saying, somewhere, quietly, where I can't hear you, "we already have a metric for that side of the journey, it's called Exit Rate." And if you were to say that, I'd not look unkindly upon you, though you might detect a slight downturn of disappointment in the corners of my eyes, and the first fog of pity in my voice as I cleared my throat to correct you.

Why do we need Flounce Rate?

What Bounce Rates give us that Exit Rates don't is a clear signal of thwarted intent. With a Bounce, the visitor casts an unmistakable vote of confidence in your site by clicking on your ad, or the link in your tweet or the review someone wrote about you on their blog. They have a need that they expect you to fulfil, and their immediate departure is a swift bulletin of your failure to meet that need. There's no room for noise or pollution; the space between high hopes and dashed hopes is a single click. Analyze that.

On the other hand, Exit Rates provide no such clarifying context. Do they measure boredom? Do they measure confusion? Do they measure disappointment? Once a visitor has launched themselves into a site and splashed around among its pages, the distance between their initial intent, and the eventual cause of their departure grows, and into that space creeps uncertainty.

So what is Flounce Rate?

Put simply, Flounce Rate is the rate at which users depart from high-engagement pages. It's your shopping cart abandonment rate, but it's also the non-completion rate of your Lead Generation page and the exit rate of your Feedback page. It's the rate of 'I-had-them-but-then-I-lost-them'.

Measuring Flounce Rate

Already, tools like Google Analytics gesture towards helping you lower Flounce Rates. Goal and funnel analyses allow you to understand drop outs from structured processes, but what about unstructured visits? And what if your funnel analysis tool doesn't allow cross-segmentation of additional metrics against its depiction of gradually diminishing returns? How do you act on that information without context?

My recommendation is to create a segment of all users who reach high-engagement pages but who do not convert. For example, here I've created a segment in Google Analytics looking at anyone who reaches the Services or Contact pages of my website, but hasn't completed one of my goals.

 

The proportion of total traffic this subgroup represents is your Flounce Rate, and the various details of the keywords that drove them to your site, and the paths they took through it, are your clues for diagnosing your online ailments.

Who almost commits to you but then turns away at the last minute? What are they like and what can you do to make them love you more?

Image courtesy of shannonsphotographyinc@flickr


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What Is Bounce Rate And Why Is It Scary?

Rather than just write about whatever happens to pop into my head when I sit down to compose a new blog post, I've decided to embrace my own mantras, and let the data decide what I write about this time.

My site hasn't been around for very long yet, but already looking at the keywords that have brought random and not-so random visitors, variations on 'What is bounce rate' abound.

What is a bounce?

Of course, the Web Analytics Association and vendors have definitions for 'Bounces' that are generally variations on a theme of 'visits consisting of only a single pageview'. But technical definitions have a habit of rendering the problems they describe bloodless, and putting it in terms that Dr. House would understand, a high bounce rate is the suppurating chest wound rapidly draining the life from your website.

Why should you care?

To continue with our bleeding patient metaphor, the situation is actually worse than I described. Chances are, not only is your high-bounce rate site bleeding out all over the operating table, you're probably also expensively transfusing new visitors into it at the same time. If you don't stitch up that wound,  most of that new blood is just going to follow the old blood and end up congealed, nothing more than a sad memory of vitality. Sure, if you keep pumping in new visitors, enough of them will make it through to keep the site alive for a while, but this is messy and ultimately unsustainable. Collapse is inevitable.

What is a bounce really?

Not only are Bounces messy, they are embarrassing. They're the moment at a party when you try to initiate conversation with someone who looks cool or beautiful and they blank you. They're the point during telling a joke when you reach the punchline and nobody laughs.

A bounce is a failure to connect.

What should you do?

Whatever web analytics tool you use, identify your highest bouncing landing pages. Most tools surface this information fairly obviously, so you should have little trouble drawing up a top ten of the worst offenders. Then – and this is the important bit…

Look at those pages.

Try and understand what it is about them that makes visitors turn away immediately when they've given you the chance to connect.

What promises did you make to bring them to your site that you aren't keeping?

Image courtesy of laurenmanning@flickr


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Selling Mum by the pound…

There were a couple of things I intended to write about this week, but then I saw this advert, and changed my mind.

Aside from being a staggeringly well made piece of television, it's also an interesting example of how to use emotion to reach a cynical and jaded – perhaps even fearful – audience.

After watching it, I took a look on Twitter to see what was being said. Anecdotally, there appears to be a distinct split between men and women in how the ad is being received. Women find it mawkish, while men are surprisingly willing to admit to having been moved to tears by the 90 second life story that unfolds. Unsurprisingly, there's something behind that…

Ostensibly, the lyrics of the Billy Joel cover that provide the soundtrack are a love song about a quixotic and captivating woman, and the ad gives roughly equal time to her as child, mother and grandmother. Simple enough, eh? In reverse-Bond cliché, women want to be her, men want to be with her. Only  judging by the responses, that doesn't actually seem to be the case.

So if the emotional core of the ad isn't romantic, where does it lie? To understand that requires understanding John Lewis' brand associations, which are pretty plainly spelled out at the end of the ad with the promise: 'Never knowingly undersold on quality, price and service. Our lifelong commitment to you'. The slogan evokes thoughts of constancy, loyalty and above all enduring reliability. Distinctly, hmm, parental qualities, perhaps? 

In short, John Lewis have produced a love letter to Mothers.

In economically rational times, its difficult to say whether an emotional ad like this – which promotes a premium brand – will have all that much impact on the bottom line. Lord knows you can see a lot of money on screen during the minute-and-a-half it lasts which someone will be hoping to recoup.

But emotions abide, and from the genuine reactions the ad seems to provoke, who knows how many new customers will eventually be brought to the comforting bosom of John Lewis, wooed by the maternal charm of this extremely clever piece of advertising?


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Glengarry Glen Ross & The Romance Of Selling

I'm here from downtown. I'm here from Mitch & Murray, and I'm here on a mission of mercy…

"Glengarry Glen Ross" is one of my favorite films, and while this isn't the place to review it, I do think it's worthy of a little attention. David Mamet's script almost makes a fetish of the twists and turns of the sale – the back and forth of pursuit and persuasion, the salesman's delicate balancing act between best friend and bully. Although it's a satire, and a pugnacious one at that -replete with enough expletives to have Tipper Gore marching on Washington – the film's comprehension of the metaphysics of selling is utterly convincing, and nowhere more so than in Alec Baldwin's 9 minute cameo.

But does a film about the hermetic world of real estate have any broader lessons to share? Naturally, I'm of the opinion that it does…

A.B.C. Always Be… Converting

Always Be Converting. Ok, so 'closing' works better on every level recognisable to anyone who has heard the English language spoken, but the truth of the maxim is irrefutable. Success is holistic, there's no telling where the decision to buy is made, or how it is uniquely justified by the individual. Treat everything, every nuance of copy, every stock image, as if it were fundamental to conversion.

Coffee's for closers only…

I just happen to think this is a good rule, mostly because I am a tea drinker. However, if you want to read it as a metaphor for not sitting on your laurels, feel free.

The leads are weak? You're weak…

The chances are, whether weak or strong, in some way or other you've paid for your traffic, and dismissing any of it as un-convertable is an admission of failure so abject that you deserve neither Cadillac nor steak knives. Alec has a fair bit to say on this, but unfortunately none of it is repeatable.

A guy don't walk on the lot lest he wants to buy…

Alec shows his age here, as these days the chances are your potential customer has simultaneously walked onto 5 or 6 lots open in different tabs. You have to be better – we're talking golden balls here, not brass.

If you haven't seen the film, I can't recommend it highly enough (assuming you have flame retardant ears for dialogue), so do check it out. And hopefully you'll agree with me that pearls of inspiration can be found even buried amidst profanity and satire.

Oh yeah, I used to be a salesman, it's a tough racket…


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Persuasion, epistemology, gnosis

'… there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know…'
Donald Rumsfeld, former U.S. Secretary of Defense
 
Ok, so it's fair to say that comparisons between understanding your website's performance and international intelligence gathering might be a little over the top. It's also fair to say that Donald Rumsfeld might not have quite the same cachet as Lord Kelvin* or Lord Leverhulme** when it comes to marketing wisdom quotability.
 
However, Rumsfeld does, in his own roundabout way, get to the heart of a problem.
 
Websites are complex systems, and while you are in on part of the action – setting up marketing campaigns, performing usability tests, designing user experiences you think people will like – there's a large component of the alchemical process by which leaden visitors are transformed into golden customers that is hidden from us unless we open our minds and squeegee our third eye (as the late Bill Hicks would hate me for saying).
 
Visitors are difficult, Yeats
So, this isn't a secret, but it is a difficult truth to accept: Your website offends the sensibilities of a million different users in a million different ways. Here are a few to mull over:
 
It took longer to load that they were expecting. You use too many exclamations when promoting your latest offers. You don't use enough exclamations when promoting your latest offers. Your stuff is expensive. Before they browsed your site they were looking at Facebook, and that site is so much nicer to look at than yours. You have a big Twitter badge and they think Twitter is a fad. You don't have a Twitter badge so they think you're behind the times. Your blog posts are facetious and wordy. Your product photographs are too big. Your product photographs are too small. Your editorial chattiness conflicts with your secure shopping credentials so they wonder if you're really cowboys who'll ride off into the sunset with their credit card details. You aren't Amazon.com. You are Amazon.com. Your Adwords ads are poorly written. Your Adwords ads dump them on the homepage when they really want to be on the page for Tefal chafing dishes. They don't like your colour scheme. You just don't feel right.
And on, and on, and on…
 
Try not to despair, yet
So, the first thing that will probably strike you if you consider all of those reasons is despair. The second thing will be that they occupy such a range of prejudices that you can't hope to figure them all out with one method – you need the spies on the ground and the Predator drones in the air, as it were. And that, I'm pleased to say, is the purpose of www.conversiongate.com, and of this blog.
 
The known knowns and the known unknowns
After four years as Google UK's lead web analytics consultant, two things stood out to me; firstly, that my prose style and Google's corporate blogging guidelines were wholly incompatible, and secondly, that having a product-focused approach to improving sites leads to tricked-out source code on pages people still hate. If you allow your thinking to be limited by the tools you have implemented, all you'll ever know are the things you know you know (and maybe if you're good, the things you know you don't know).
 
The unknown unknowns
So how do you go about uncovering something as insubstantial as an unknown unknown? Unfortunately, the answer is you have to change the way you think, which is a lot more difficult than installing new software or paying a license fee.
 
Because the main thing that you don't know that you don't know is what your customers actually think. Their minds are an undiscovered country, and it's only by journeying into that unexplored terrain that you will go beyond minor improvements in fortunes and petty prettification.
 
So, do whatever you have to to take yourself out of your own mind and into that of your visitor: brew the yage, throw open the doors of perception, maybe do a spot of surveying. It may even be necessary to seek the advice of a (hopefully) wise and nigh-shamanic third party, who doesn't feel burdened by the same baggage of knowns that you're required to carry around with you.
 
Effective persuasion isn't just about figuring out where you're broken and despised, it's about trying to figure out how to make people love you, which is seldom easily accomplished. Cliché pedalling writers are fond of quoting Lao-Tzu's saying that 'a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step'. What they often forget to mention is that sometimes before you can take that step, there's a gate you have to open first.
 
* William Thomson, Scottish physicist "If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it"
** William Hesketh Lever, Industrialist "I know that half my advertising budget is wasted, but I'm not sure which half."

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