How can email marketing stop my web-analytics dropping 90%

[tweetmeme source=”getintheinbox” only_single=false]This is quite a long post and will most likely be broken down into to a few blogs with some copy improvements by Pure360. In this post I cover: the ICO Stats since requiring cookie permission, what is a cookie and what’s it for, how and when to implement cookie permission and how email marketing can help maintain your web stats.

ICO Stats since requiring cookie permission

As you may have read recently, the ICO has published the details of the latest privacy laws. One of the biggest impacts will be the new requirement to attain permission to drop tracking cookies when people get to your web-site.

This only affects non-necessary cookies, so one that keep people logged in or maintain the cart contents are fine, it is mainly only the tracking cookies that simply help you measure your traffic and site usage that will be affected.

The ICO were the first to implement this and while it ‘probably’ didn’t affect their traffic, it dramatically altered the stats that Google Analytics could feed back to them.

The ICO obviously had to be the first to implement this and set the standard. Reportedly they are not in a rush to force people to implement this yet, although there will come a point when they will.

The ICO chose to use a nice low tech solution by adding a small banner at the top of their site asking people to tick a box and hit a button – this in turn drops a cookie telling the site that it can drop further cookies when that browser goes to the site.

ico optin form

Anyone who ticks the box get the cookies and doesn’t see that again in the browser.

While this is all very nice, I did mention that the stats for the site’s traffic dropped immensely. Here’s a screen shot from Vicky Brock’s flickr page courtesy of a Freedom of Information Request.

Ico ga stats

Founder of Sam Michael have named this 90% drop in results: “Cookiepocalypse“.

It’s important to state that this is not the actual traffic dropping of, it is merely the recorded traffic dropping off due to people not ticking the box. Consequently they are not able to track as many people’s activity on the site.

So while I’m saying don’t panic the traffic’s still there, but feel free to panic a little bit because all of the benchmarks and KPIs the SEO team has been working on may no longer be valid once the law is actually enforced in 12 months time – if it enforceable at all.

Patricio Robles for Econsultancy said: “Needless to say, the ICO’s newfound inability to track traffic to its own website thanks to the regulations it has to promulgate will only fuel further debate about the new cookie regulations.

What is a cookie

How does a cookie actually work?

For the full details on cookies, the ICO are directing us to, here’s the really short version though…

Cookies are a small text file that can be dropped into the cookie folder of your computers web browser, it then holds a little piece of info that the site that dropped it can get at each time.

The important ones are there so you don’t need to login between sessions. You may have a tick box on login forms saying “keep me logged in” when you check that box before hitting submit, the site drops a cookie saving your user identity. Then each time you go to that site, the site sees the cookie and logs you straight in.

Each browser has it’s own cookie store, so if you login from Internet Explorer and tick to stay logged in, that will only work in Internet Explorer. If you then go to Firefox you will have to login normally and tick the box again to stay logged in from that browser.

For the record, the site is not actually keeping you logged in, it is simply logging you in automatically every time you visit that site.

Why does my analytics need a cookie?

Analytics packages, like Google analytics, drop a cookie in your browser when you land on the site. It is totally anonymous and all it does log you as someone on the site. This way it can see where people go and how long they stay on each page.

Also it means that as you go from one page to another, it can see that it is existing traffic rather than new traffic from places like Google. Not having cookies is why the ICO’s analytics are so low – the cookie that it needs to keep track of the traffic landing on the site, is not there for lots more people. Subsequently Google Analytics can only count those who have said yes, thus making the hit counts much smaller.

Why do I need to ask permission?

The law now requires site to ask permission to access any information on a users’ terminal (PC, Mac, phone etc.) that is not ‘necessary’ for the service that the user visits the site for. Counting site hits and user movement around the site, is not necessary for any user to get what they want from a site, so you have to get them to take an action to deliberately give you permission to drop that cookie.

What should I do about implementing the new cookie permissions?

Initially, like most brands, don’t rush to implement this. It is not a legal requirement to put live what ever it is you can immediately, we’ve got about a year before the ICO starts taking action.

Make a plan of how you would implement it and then keep an eye on how others have implemented it, how it works for them, keep an eye on the press in case anything changes and adjust your plan accordingly, being ready to implement at fairly short notice. Here’s some food for thought:

How do I ask for permission?

At the very basic level, you need to ask people to give you permission to drop tracking cookies when they visit your site.

Once they have allowed it once, you would not need to ask again for that browser.

The main consideration will be the interface you produce for the users, there are a few options, each with their own pros and cons:

Small form at the top of the site

Pro: non-interruptive, subtle and still noticeable. Uses can still use the site without having to be interrupted and pestered by the form.

Cons: So intrusive that people won’t be inclined to use it because they can continue to use the site without allowing cookies with no difference to their experience apart from a small box at the top.

Centralised Light Box

This is popular with adverts on publishing sites, you get to a page and a box appears in the middle, without everything else greys out and unclickable. You then have to close the lightbox or interact with it. it is an option to make the cookie permission pop-up in the middle, forcing someone to take an action, one way or the other, in order to use the site.

Pros: You will definitely get a decision each time, whether it is a yes or a no. So technically you should get higher numbers of people allowing your cookies. Also if people say know you can still ask them next and everytime. You won’t be able to let them stop them because you would need to drop a cookie to do so.

Cons: very interruptive, you may lose visitors all together because they cannot get the content they want without being interrupted. You will have to be very careful about the look and feel of it.

Until someone allows it, they will be asked for every page on your site they visit – this would be a pro or a con, as you are consistently forcing a decision.

Slide in side or bottom light box

This is the same as the centralised one but still allow people to interact with the site and will not appear in front of the main content. This could be a consistent box that sits there, slightly out of the way but still noticeable, until they tick the box.

Pros: not interruptive but still noticeable; how noticeable would be up to you. People can still interact with the site without doing it, so you might lose stats while keeping traffic.

Cons: people can still interact with the site; so while you don’t lose traffic you do lose the stats; if you’re priority is to get tracking back, you might need to make it a little more mandatory.

When should I ask permission?

Due to the fact that this kind of feature will need to drop a cookie to know to stop, it is all or nothing. Every person will be asked for every page you have it on until they say yes to it.

So if you use a very intrusive method, you may lose people because they are annoyed at being pestered. However, if you mainly want people who will be tracked then keep hammering away.

How can email marketing help me get cookie permission?

Email marketing is the most personal that digital marketing can get, it’s a direct email from you to your subscribers. People have deemed what you have to say important enough to them to trust you with their email address so they don’t miss out.

This is the most optimised place to get people to understand why they should do it.

In the same way as someone who interacts with your emails is more likely to spend money with you, they are also more likely to allow the cookies.

  • Make it a call to action in every email you send, it doesn’t have to be the main one. Have it over on the right hand side, have a page dedicated to it on your web-site for people to click through to so they can read about it and say yes please.
  • Do a dedicated campaign, an extra email in between the regular ones, just a small bit of content asking for people to click through to a dedicated landing page – this could be linked to prize draw if you feel the need for an incentive.
  • You could even track who says yes from the email and reward them or just stop asking them in your emails.
  • Tell people before you implement it so they are ready, give them a chance to give you permission before you implement the change, this way when you roll it out, less people will be negatively effected.
  • Either way if people are not surprised when they click through and get hit by a light box, they are more likely to convert.
  • Ask people to opt-in when they subscribe. If your sign-up form has an email field and a submit button – add a tick box to allow anonymous site use – maybe even link to a little popup content or a page telling people how safe an unintrusive it all is.
  • At a very advanced level, you could even implement more of a membership plan where you allow people to log in and have a full profile on your site. The only mandatory information would be a username, password and email address. Optional preferences would then be to allow anonymous tracking, subscribe to emails and anything else you’d like to ask.

Strangers to Fans, Search to Subscriber

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Converting Strangers
Most digital marketing budget is focussed on getting new business: like getting high in search rankings and appearing in ads on the right sites (& never buy an email list!). All of these result in directing people to your web-site, preferably dedicated landing pages based on the source and reason for the traffic. So basically converting strangers through their own activities.

This takes me to a couple of questions which I believe all marketers should ask them selves:

  • At what point do they convert from a stranger and what to?
  • If they click through, take one look at the site and go back to their search results, would categorising them as a prospect be a bit of a stretch?
  • If they purchase something, of course they are then a customer, but for how long for?
  • Then how would you rely on them to come back? search again, hope that they bookmark you and never Google again?
  • If you do the numbers, no matter how hard you try with testing and optimisation, much less than half of them will actually generate you revenue on that first visit, what about the rest?

The answer to all of this is Email Marketing.

Get the Sign-up
Of course make it as easy as possible for people to convert and spend straight away from your SEO and PPC efforts but make sure those who aren’t quite ready to commit can see relevance and easily sign-up for your emails.

You will then have a list of people who are interested in your brand and what you have to offer, but aren’t quite ready to commit and more importantly: you have the chance to win them over.

Your web analytics and landing page software will be able to tell you where they came from so already you know how they got to you and you may even know what they were after.

You can then target your prospects with content to support the reason why they came to you in the first place, build a greater rapport, earn the trust and when they are ready to spend they will spend it with you. Each new email can easily have one or more calls to action to help them ‘gently’ convert and you can again create custom landing pages to ensure the conversion experience is as smooth and convenient as possible.

Then once they are a customer, you target them differently. Instead of your plan to convert them from a prospect to a customer, you need to keep them a customer and make them a fan. Fans will rarely go elsewhere  and they are far more likely to recommend you to others and help convert more strangers to prospects and customers. May of these people are also likely to interact with you on social networks too, so target them separately and  make sure your content is easily shareable.

Can Email Marketing give you Google Juice

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If part of the reason that email is forgotten over Social is because links from social media provides google juice where links from emails apparently do nothing, is there anything I can do about it?

I haven’t really got a clue about SEO and trying to Google-it gets me hundreds of pages selling it to me but rarely anything useful. I asked a couple of SEO people who said that because traffic from inboxes aren’t from real web-sites so it can’t help rankings.

I’m not so sure. If the traffic was actually from an inbox I could see it. However, traffic from a marketing email goes to the ESP who hosts the tracked link. It’s the ESP who then reports on the click and redirects to the website. swaps links and counts the clicks before redirecting to the website and that still gets you Google Juice.

So my first question (of many) is: Why don’t redirects from ESP servers get Google juice when links do? or do they?
According to Google anything that does a 301 is followed then Google Juiced but that could only be when the famed Google Bot parses the tweet on-line and not when someone clicks it and gets to your site?

If email links can help search rankings we should really tell someone!

Anyway, I’m fairly sure that direct links count especially internal links from one page in your web-site to other pages within your web-site…I’ll come back to that.

Now when someone uses the social share or SWYN in your emails, the link that is shortened and shared is actually the view in a browser link from the email but with the optout link disabled and extra tracking so the ESP knows it’s from SWYN and usually which social site etc. That way it can track who shared, where and how many clicks it got form which network.

So basically it’s the same as a send to a friend and counts each link click in the email by the people who got there from the social site but like Google Analytics it just gives the numbers not the individual tracking.

  • Is there SEO there? Dunno! It’s a publicly accessible webpage but with an obscure url.
  • It maybe hosted on a delegated subdomain of the sending brand’s home domain, does that make a difference? Dunno!
  • The links will essentially be from a sub-domain of the main web domain so would they then count as internal links? Dunno!
  • For Google to even know about it would the external view of the email need the GA tacking JavaScript in it? Dunno!
  • Or is it all rubbish and as long as you have the Google tracking codes in you get something? Dunno!

What if you actually take the code from your email and paste it into a page on your website and them make the SWYN links in your email link to that page, probably shortened, then all social traffic could count the same as any other social traffic to your blog posts etc. Also, as the content of your email will be full of links to other pages within the same site it will be full of internal links, more Google Juice.

So really the question left is about the subdomain, if traffic from the subdomain carries the same weight as traffic from the domain, which ever way the subdomain is delegated, it’s easy. As any brand aware marekting is far more likely to tie in an sub-domain than plug in a brand new domain – if their hosting packages allows them to delegate it.
If not you will have to chose between the Google Juice from the self hosted email content and losing out on the deep tracking, or keep the deep tracking from the ESP hosted view in a delegated subdomain and not get as good Google Juice from the internal links

Or am I talking absolute gibberish?