Random Thoughts About comScore, Web Analytics and Measuring PR

February 27, 2008: Google shares dropped 4.6 percent as investors were spooked by a report by the research firm comScore that said clicks on Google ads the United States were flat in January.

April 16th, 2008: Internet search engine Google lost revenue from search ads to its rival Yahoo! in the first quarter of 2008 fiscal, according to a study by SearchIgnite, a search advertising technology firm.

April 18, 2008: Google posted the biggest gain since its initial public offering after profit trounced analysts' estimates, spurred by bigger-than-predicted jump in the number of users clicking on text advertisements.


Here is what screename "grelmar" had to say about this on a message board at Web Master World:
"I remember someone asking how accurate Comscore's data is in another thread a few weeks back. My answer remains the same, although I'll rephrase it: Comscore is about as accurate as consulting a Ouija Board. Once again Google proves that the only people who really know what's going on at Google, are the top people at Google. No one else has all the data."
* Visit these sites to read more about the debate over the reliability of data from comScore and Nielsen.

Although grelmar may be going a tad overboard, he has a point.

Andy Benkert, our internal web analytics expert who also manages several of our client's Google AdWords campaigns, had this to say about comScore:
"I think it’s difficult for any one entity to measure what is going on web-wide. Google knows their numbers, as do other search engines, websites, etc. I don’t know if they share that info with other organizations like comScore, or Neilsen, so I imagine it’s difficult for others to know for certain what these numbers are. The “search share” numbers that come out every so often are taken seriously, but again, I’m sure there is some margin of error there....".
As a business owner with an MBA and someone who has spent his entire career in marketing, I should have more faith in forecasts. But I don't. With all due respect to services like comScore and forecasts from research firms like Forrester or Gartner - most of what these firms try to measure or predict (forecast) is, well, wrong. Businesses and investors who make decisions based on these reports usually regret it. To be fair, these firms do valuable work - just don't bet your business on their forecasts.

All of this got me thinking about how we measure things in marketing and PR -- specifically web analytics and other "tools" that try an measure the success of marketing and PR activities.

Remember this exchange between Judge Smailes and Ty in the movie Caddyshack?
Judge Smailes: How Do You Measure Yourself Against Other Golfers?
: By height
Measuring Marketing and PR Success
Being a marketing and public relations firm, our clients justifiably ask us how our work should be measured. For specific tactics like direct email marketing, this is fairly straight forward. But what about media relations or press release distributions? And how do you measure a marketing or PR firm's long-term performance or answer the client question, "did we hire the right agency and how can I show my boss it was the right decision?

At the HRmarketer Services Group, we like to be measured by how much publicity, traffic (as in web site) and qualified sales leads we deliver for a customer - and how much we improve the company's search-engine rankings. All four of these metrics are easy to measure and are always accurate unlike the absurdity of things like Advertising Value Equivalents and other obscure measurements that more traditional PR firms use. And if you think about it, these four metrics are the basis for just about everything in marketing and PR these days.

But at the end of the day, I will candidly say to a client that if we are doing our work properly, their phone will be ringing more and they'll be closing more deals. While this response may not sit well with a client who is used to receiving and reading reams of reports with fancy graphs, charts, statistic and trend lines, most CEOs will agree that they do not need a report to know if something is working or not.

Web Analytics
You can spend hundreds of hours looking at these numbers and for many B2C companies whose web site is their business you can likely justify this effort. But for most B2B HR vendors it may be overkill. When it comes to website analytics, Andy Benkert and I agree they are valuable, but to a point. The law of diminishing returns most certainly applies.

Analytics can help in showing where people are coming from, what they are doing on your site, where problems may exist or how different versions of a page are doing. One problem with web analytics is there can be so much data it’s easy to lose track of what is important. Or, as Andy says, think baseball stats – does it really matter if he hits .678 on a full moon in a month ending in “r”? But relying solely on analytics without seeing the bigger picture (sales, leads, etc.) is not a good idea. It’s just another tool to use, like any other.

So what's my point?

Many of us in marketing and PR can get too caught up in the numbers that forecasters, research firms, web analytic programs and others spew out. Great marketing is as much about knowing what not to focus on as it is knowing what to focus on.

Posting by Mark Willaman

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