I have been managing a few personal blogs for close to a decade now. I have traffic monitoring tools and Google Analytics configured, but I don’t monitor or analyze stuff there often enough. My excuse, though bad, is that I blog as a hobby, not for any business benefit. Plus, I haven’t found the idea of advertising there of appeal, so there isn’t much practical use for that data and insight, at least as of now.
Other than for the usual ‘vanity metrics’, I haven’t had much motivation in digging deeper into all that data.
But a few days ago, after the US elections, I spent some time (wearing the air of Nate Silver), fiddling around on Google Analytics to see if there was anything that data would tell me.
After spending some time slicing and dicing data across all the different dimensions, I realized that while there were many things I could do using all that insight, most actually boiled down to what I’d like to call ‘playing to the gallery’. And that, IMHO, is not necessarily a good thing.
Let me explain.
All of us maintaining blogs have understood how search terms drive traffic and how references to trending current news can influence it. Posts that have referred to topics of current interest (such as the Olympics, presidential elections, Nate Silver, etc.) have influenced very flattering spikes in number of visitors.
Take a look at Google Trends for the search term “Presidential Elections 2012”
That’s millions of searches (although Trends doesn’t show actual numbers anymore, it seems). So, you could be lured into thinking that it pays to ride on a topic of current interest, by generously throwing in those magic key words in your post, tagging it smartly and sharpening your SEO terms. To be fair, traffic will likely go up.
But is that really a big deal? As visitors ourselves, we have searched and had search results take us to random sites to content totally unrelated to what we were looking for even though the page may have had all the search terms we keyed in. So riding on news and trending topics, I think is a questionable strategy unless your blog has something of relevance to the actual news itself and the very reason that prompted someone to actually make that search.
On my own blog, one of the more common search terms that brought traffic was ”IBM Lombardi”. Now, I could take that cue (and let’s assume I take only that single piece of input) and post a few more articles on IBM Lombardi and tweak my SEO terms to fan it to ensure my posts are right on top whenever anyone searches for “IBM Lombardi”.
I am sure soon my blog would see more hits. But what does that spike really mean? Probably counter-productive, if you ask me, because without taking any special effort to shut out the ‘non-IBM-Lombardi-searching’ audience, I have just polarized my blog unwittingly to increase the ratio of ‘IBM Lombardi’ searching folks to those that aren’t landing on the blog because of that particular search term. So, by playing to the gallery of the searches currently at the top, I have made a casualty of sorts of my blog – and the appeal it might have had to the general googling multitude.
So, Is Playing to The Gallery a bad Strategy?
I see a lot of parallel in this with some of the things we are discussing lately around Big Data and predictive Analytics. With so much emphasis on interpreting, drawing insight and responding to trends and analytics, we are tempted and seduced in a way that makes us embrace it so much that we begin to sort of ‘play to the gallery’ at the cost of the big picture.
My point is, if you are only responding to a superficial interpretation of your analytics, then you are merely playing to the gallery and that is not a good idea.
So the question again is, “Is playing to the gallery a good idea?”
The answer cannot be straight because it is important to be sure, first of all, that we are responding to the right behaviors in the gallery and the motivations and drivers behind those. We need to understand what behavior in the gallery is really aligned to the objectives you are really trying to achieve.
A big spike on the visitor traffic is inconsequential if most visitors drop off within 10 seconds of reaching the page.
While I was trying to wrap this post (an effort that went over several weeks, thanks to RFPs), I came across this article on Forbes, by Jonathan Salem Baskin, titled “Big Data Insights Will Never Substitute For Imagining Little Souls”, an excellent post that I feel drives home this very point much more effectively.
He writes about a unique “approach to digital based on an analogue idea” – that a huge consumer products company took to design a digital strategy for a start-up. The article talks about the use of Customer Personas in a way that Big Data is ill-equipped to tackle.
…the data we collect do not yield deterministic algorithms, no matter how “big” the data sets are. Human beings are irrational, emotional entities. For all of its digital clarity, data aren’t a substitute for the messy ideas that form the basis of the queries put to it. Those squishy ideas are also the leaps of understanding that turn its output into insight.
Baskin sums it up just right,
“Data are tools. People have souls. We need to know both.”