Tuesday, 28 May 2013

More Thoughts on Split Testing - or Why I Think Internet Marketing is an Art , Not a Science

A month or so ago I wrote about a split test that I'd conducted with my newsletter and how it had left me feeling rather confused.

I was talking about this recently with a friend and he told me a similar story.  This man, like me, is into internet marketing.  He has several Twitter accounts that he uses to try to get people onto his mailing list.  Like many internet marketers, when someone follows him on Twitter, he sends a direct message offering them some e-books.  The message gives a link to his website where the visitor is invited to give his or her name and email address in exchange for the books.

Because the website link is quite long, he uses to shorten it.  A couple of months ago, it occurred to him that, if he were to use a different shortened link for each Twitter account, he could test different messages and see which got the most conversions.

He arbitrarily divided his accounts into three groups and wrote three different messages.  After a few weeks, he checked how many direct messages he'd sent out with each link and how many clicks each one had received.  The results were interesting, but not in the way he had been hoping.

In the first group, account A had had a larger percentage of clicks than account B or account C and the difference was statistically significant.  Similarly, in the second group, there was a statistically significant difference between the results of two of the accounts.  And yet, comparing the top converters in each group with each other, the difference was not significant.  And this was the same for the lowest converters.

So what are we to conclude from this?  We could use the quotation frequently attributed to Mark Twain about 'lies, damn lies and statistics' and say that 'statistically significant' doesn't necessarily prove anything.  Or we could say - as is certainly the case - that every single person who was sent a direct message was an individual and, as such, could not logically be expected to act in the same way as anyone else.

All we know is that the people who clicked the links were interested in internet marketing.  And we have to assume that a fair proportion of the people to whom the messages were sent were also interested, because they had decided to follow my friend.  But here we run into the first difficulty.  My friend follows about 30 new people a day.  He tries to pick people with similar interests but it's impossible to be sure.  Some of the people who follow him may just be following back because that's what they do, rather than out of interest.  We can assume that anyone who decides to follow him (without first having been followed) must do so because of interest in his tweets.  But, even here, we cannot be sure that they would want the e-books.  They may, themselves, be established marketers or they may have downloaded a large number of e-books and not have time or energy to read any more.  Or, of course, they may not read their direct messages.

Looked at like this, it's little wonder that the results were confusing.  And it's the same - indeed, it must be the same - in any situation where individual choice is concerned.  If 100 people watch a movie, it's unlikely that all of them will enjoy it equally.  If 90 per cent love it, it will be a runaway success . . . but the other 10 per cent may hate it. 

What all this has proved to me is the vital importance of not losing sight of our target audience.  What is it that they (or, rather, most of them) want?  Can we understand their motivation?  If they're not buying our products is it necessarily because we've written a bad sales letter?  Or is it because they've already got a similar product, or can't see the need for the product - or even that they've not got the money available to spend on it?  Whether they open our emails and whether they buy our products depend on many factors and I think we need to keep this in mind.  What works one day may not work the next.  Obsessing overmuch about split testing may, in the end, be counterproductive. 

Photo:, designer:

Friday, 17 May 2013

The Value of Images

I've been wondering why on earth I've never added images to this blog before now.  I suppose there are several reasons.  The first is that, when I started blogging, I didn't realise how easy it was to add a picture.  The second is uncertainty about what sort of pictures I could use to illustrate the subjects I'm writing about.  The third is just the problem of finding pictures that don't cost a fortune.

The lovely picture here is by someone whose screen name is Lurdeza and I downloaded it from Stock XChange to use on my recently-built counselling website.  For me, it evoked exactly what counselling is about - someone walking from the shadows into the light.  And, on the practical side, what made it even better was that the photo was free.

In the last few months I've discovered a number of sites offering free images - and the quality of many of them is outstanding.  As well as Stock XChange, there's Stock Free Images and Wikimedia Commons - and I've even found the odd useful image on Microsoft Office Imagery.

So, with all these great images around, why would anyone want to pay for photos?  Well, of course, even with the vast selection available, sometimes it's very difficult to find exactly what you want.  For example, when I was making a PowerPoint video to advertise my book Say Goodbye to Sleepless Nights, I had great difficulty finding a decent photo of someone looking tired.  Also, it has to be said, the top image websites (such as iStock Photo) demand very high quality and levels of expertise.  I was looking at the iStock Photo requirements the other day.  First of all, you have to read the manual (which is quite technical) then you have to answer questions on it and, finally, you have to submit three examples of your work.  I suspect that not everyone who applies is accepted!

So, as with everything else, I think it's horses for courses. If you have a project that needs high quality photography, it's worth paying for the best there is available.  But if you just want the odd photo for your website or your blog, there's plenty of good stuff out there. It's important, of course, to read the small print.  Some images are only free for non-commercial use.  Mostly, even if free, they require an attribution.  And, having read an article recently about the problems that arose when the copyright holder changed the licence on one of his photos, it seems worth keeping a record of when you downloaded each image.

Sometimes clipart is more appropriate than photos for what we're doing and, just recently, someone told me about two sites  - IconFinder and FindIcons - that offer neat little drawings of everything from calculators and piles of coins to fruit and flowers, plus buttons, arrows, ticks, crosses and the like.

The final question, of course, is whether it's all worth it.  Do images really make a difference?  Well a recent experiment showed that, if used on a sales page, images would increase the conversion rate by a hefty 62%.  And, to me, this suggests that, rather than being distracted by the images, people are more likely to be drawn into what is written.  So, from now on, I think you can expect to see more images here!

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Following Your Passion

You're going to have to trust me on this one, because I can't remember where I read it or who said it, but a while back I read a quote from a respected internet marketer.  And he said that all the really successful internet marketers of his acquaintance had followed their passions.  They hadn't set out to find a way to make a great deal of money, they'd just done something they loved doing.  And, that way, the long hours of work involved in getting a successful business off the ground weren't a chore but simply a way for them to get more involved in the subjects that really interested them.

I've been thinking about this recently because I've started on a new project, quite unconnected with internet marketing.  I'm setting up a website around a subject that has been a hobby of mine for a good number of years and I'm finding all the research and the work involved quite exciting.

And one thing that I've become aware of is that it's much more fun than the work I've been doing (and am still doing) in the field of internet marketing and social media.  Now, don't get me wrong, I find internet marketing very interesting and challenging . . . but I'm not passionate about it the way I am about this hobby.  I wouldn't want my waking hours to be filled with internet marketing and nothing else . . . whereas the hobby?  Well, perhaps.

So is it a mistake to work in a niche that you're not passionate about?  No, I don't think so.  But I suspect that it makes it more difficult to stick with it.  On the other hand, there may be problems with working in a niche that one is passionate about.  I remember talking to a friend who is an antique dealer and she told me that the most difficult thing she found about the business was stopping herself from keeping everything she bought.  She had a fine collection of antiques herself but every time she bought something beautiful for her stock, she was tempted to add it to her collection rather than selling it.  So she had to keep reminding herself why she was buying a piece.  Similarly, if we're following our passion, we need to keep our eye on the ball - remember why we're doing what we're doing.  If it's just for our own entertainment then it's fine to spend hours reading interesting articles and researching stuff that doesn't really take us any further.  But if we're basing a business on it, passion isn't enough.  There's got to be discipline involved as well.

But even then, we could run into trouble.  Another story from the antiques world springs to mind.  Some years ago I was watching the Antiques Roadshow on television.  A chap had brought along a huge copper item . . . I think it was a Victorian boiler or something of the sort.  He had a small collection of these and was hugely proud of this one.  The expert said he'd never seen one like it and had no idea what sort of value it had.  To which the owner replied "Of course, it's a collector's item, isn't it."  The expert smiled and said "Well I've only ever met one person who collects these - and that's you."  No matter how passionate we are about a subject, if we're the only person interested, there's no way we can make a business out of it.

So to anyone starting out and thinking about which niche to choose, I offer the advice that many have given before me: go with your passion, remember your goals, and check that you've got a potential audience.  If you do that, chances are that you'll have fun  . . . and you could well be successful too!