Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Good Practices: Working with Web agencies - Take control!

In the previous post, I explain how important it is to make sure that content produced from your content management system (CMS) is tagged and measured. While it is a must, it is not enough. In most cases your online “ecosystem” is not limited to the main websites that are produced from your CMS.

Me, my main site & my flashy microsites
The sexy macho Coca Cola Zero Game by North KingdomIt is a common practices to run online campaigns (banners, emails, SEA, social media initiatives) and to develop flashy interactive microsites to support specific marketing campaigns or product launch (like the Coca Cola Zero – The diet Coke for men :-)). These are most of the time developed and managed by design or advertising agencies. As these elements are parts of your online ecosystem and are linked to your main site(s), you need to have them measured correctly in order to answer important question to assess your campaign performances: What are the traffic shares from the different channels? What channel brings most engaging visitors? What channel is the most profitable? What is the share of users that started playing the game? And who completed it? How many did register? How many send it to friends? And more.
A simple illustration of a web ecosystem
Sounds obvious? Well believe it or not but not so long ago, it was quite common to see that microsites were launched without any basic tagging and that you were lucky if you got figures from some server log file analysis. Campaign success mainly consisted in having lot of clicks and low cost per click. What visitors did or what happened on the microsites was secondary. Then came free Google Analytics for everyone and an increasing demand of measurements from marketers. In the past months, I have seen that many agencies have started to include GA tags by default in their productions. But let’s be honest, this is often limited to the basic stuff. And in many cases, people still measure success of a campaign on the number of visitors they got (well at least they replace clicks by visitors so there is progress). “The higher, the better!”. No need to say to we all know that success is not about quantity but quality.

Have control on your Web agencies
Control what your agencies really doWhatever web agency you are working with, small or big, they should care about measuring the business performances of their work. You are paying them to achieve specific business goals that are in most case not limited to win a design prize or get the higher visitor score. And if they measure, they should do it your own way.

There are for me several reasons why you should control campaign measurements and have it done with your rules & tools:
  • Consistency: So most of your ecosystem elements are measured on the same platform. By using similar rules & same tools, you can compare the different elements of your ecosystem.
  • Getting the full picture: Traffic data from microsites, campaigns or other online initiatives can be aggregated with your main site data providing you a more complete view of your global online activity, how each part contributes to each other and more…
  • Have control: I do not want to offend web agencies but I think that they can not be judge and party at the same time. You should be able to control or challenge results from agencies. It is amazing how they have such tendency to be always “good” & “successful”. For this reason you need to control the data & measurements.

Education, standardization & processes
Easy to say but what does it take to achieve this? You will need to:
  • Educate / evangilize your agencies. Like I said there are still too many agencies that do only limited measurements and analysis – who only look at the surface. Some may be reluctant in the beginning as they will feel like you want to control them (yes that is one of the goals but they will have to get used to it). Depending on their Web Analytics level, you will have to spend time to educate them so tagging, measurements, analysis become a standard process and practices when working with you.
  • Define standardized guidelines for tagging & measurements. You want them to measure their work your own way then you first need to define what is “your own” way. You will have to provide them with standardized guidelines that will includes technical documentation on how to tag content (HTML, Flash, Web 2.0…) or how to build trackable campaign URL's so their web developers will not have to guess what to do and will do it correctly. The other part will be the functional rules: what variables to use, how to assign values, when to use them… These rules will have to be simple and generic so they can be applied in most cases while still delivering a lot of information. 
  • Implement processes & communications. To make it work smoothly, you will need to establish some processes and communications between agencies, your analyst team and you (and maybe your IT as well). It doesn’t have to be complex but it is really necessary. Start with briefing meeting to understand the context, explain the steps, provide documentation, define points of contact for support (technical, functional), plan validation steps…
Conclusion & summary
It can take time to put in place but it really worth it. Do not be impressed by the size or reputation of your agency. Whether they are “big” ones or small ones, they should follow your way. You may even know more about Web Analytics than they do. To make it easier, again start with very simple rules and once everyone got it, enrich them gradually (Kaizen! Kaizen! :-)). And learn from your errors (there is no shame to do errors – only those who do nothing ever do errors). Guidelines will also evolves and make sure to constantly revise them.  when doing this, listen to your agencies as they can also come with ideas or suggestion. By doing so, they will feel involved and this will create a collaborative spirit.

Of course, if you are lucky to work with agencies that really master Web analytics and if they offer you additional measurements / sources of insights, take it. Still, whenever possible your agencies should always include use your own analytics framework (rules & tools) as much as possible. You own and define the analytics framework. 

So these are my advices. What are yours? Maybe some of you will not agree and I would be curious to have your opinions - especially from web agencies. Feel free to comment.

Related resources:
Here are some practical examples of microsites done by different European agencies.

iQ TV France

Toyota Team 2008 from P-Mod (Germany)
Toyota Team 2008

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