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Friday, 22 October 2010

The "Britney Spears naked" effect

Looking beyond the CTR

Did I chose the title of this post just to get traffic to my blog?  And when you get here, will you leave within 2 seconds - about the time it takes for your brain to realise there are no naked pictures of Britney Spears?

So the Britney craze is 10 years past its sell-by date,  but that was intentional, since I'm highlighting how the internet marketing and SEO industry has grown up over the last 10 years.

It took advertisers and publishers (together with the heavy hand of Google quashing the value from link farms) quite a while to realise that visitor numbers were only part of the picture.

Advertisers at first focussed on what was easy to measure - clicks - and ignored much of the harder-to-gather data.

It became clear there was no point being number 1 in the most popular search of the day - "Britney Spears naked" - if, as it transpires, 99.7% of your visitors are not actually interested in buying shower attachments. Or a copy of "How I Got Rich From Internet Marketing".  And to think you bought all those extra servers to cope with the load...

Today, some in the social media marketing game are falling into similar traps.  Several papers recently talk about improving click-through rates (CTRs) for links posted on Twitter, Facebook etc.  Many focus on the initial draw, and very few, in fact none, on what people get once they're sucked into the click.

One typical piece of advice: improve CTRs by including an element of mystery.  So you post a teaser:
OMG have you SEEN what Dave's been up to in the office with his pants?! http://bit.ly/9H5vI7
I'd argue these teasers are no better than the "pictures of Britney Spears naked" ruses of the early part of the millennium.

You may convince yourself you're not actually misleading your followers, but, for the most part, you are. What percentage of those drawn in by this really wanted to arrive at an affiliate marketing store for trousers, constructed by Dave? (Or indeed a picture of a horse)

Granted, there's a fine balance. Posting what you're actually saying, "visit my store...", may have got exactly zero hits (beyond the 20-30 automated services that follow ANY link posted on Twitter - yes, unless you're doing some basic filtering you can chop 20-30 visitors from the stats for every link posted on Twitter).

And  you may have drawn someone in who actually bought trousers from your store, FTW!

But the majority of those sucked in clearly wanted a bit of entertainment, and you could be damaging your credibility when they realise - quickly - this was a cheap attempt to make money.  The following you've spent months or years building will surely soon tire of not finding what they expected at the end of your links.

CTRs tell only part of the story.  Traditional internet marketeers have started to measure value beyond CTRs in the form of end-to-end metrics - often the amount of goods sold as a result of the initial click.  And when this is simply not possible, e.g. high value purchases like cars; supplementary metrics such as depth and dwell time - how deep into your site does the visitor go, and how long do they spend reading each page - give a far better indication of  how well your initial advertising has worked.

Social media brings a new dimension in the form of your reputation as an information source.  Factors in the equation include not only the return - end sales - from your investment in blogging and tweeting, but also the maintenance of your reputation as a trusted source, and the associated risk of long term damage from repeatedly misleading folks into clicking.

In terms of reputation it's about offering something - however small - in terms of a psychological reward for clicking-through. There may have been better ways of  word the initial draw, so as to offer a little something to people who click though.  Buy my pants NOW! might have brought just a small ironic smile to many visitors who, after being drawn in, find a shop selling pants.

Even this small smile of recognition may be sufficient reward to keep your followers clicking. 

Alternatively, giving visitors who do click through just a bit of  OMG(!!) mixed into your trouser store.  Okay, maybe not OMG(!!), but a little something that's just enough to convince your followers that the click, although not worth it today, will be worth it one day.


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