If there’s one major takeaway from the Obama Campaign, it’s that good data in public affairs – and knowing how to act on it – leads to greater efficiencies and conversion success.
I had the pleasure of moderating a talented panel last week at the Politics Online Conference that featured:
Dan Siroker, founder of Carrotsticks, and led the analytics team for the Obama Campaign. He later served as the Deputy Director of New Media for Change.gov. He shared some great insights into understanding what users are doing on a campaign website or how they react to to email can assist political campaigns at all levels.
Mark Skidmore, director of advertising and promotion at BlueStateDigital, focuses on search, banner, social media and online advertising for public affairs clients. During the 2008 election cycle he directed ad strategies for over 10 PACs and 501c3s, including the Presidential Inauguration Committee, Wal Mart Watch and others.
Siroker led the Obama analytics team of six people who he said “helped to optimize everything,” including emails, donation and MyBarackObama. He shared five major lessons learned from the campaign:
- Understand the user funnel – visits, sign-ups, donations and conversions.
- Focus on the weakest link. Before the Iowa caucus, the weakest link in the campaign was getting email sign-ups. The analytics team experimented with flash pages that rotated three images, four videos and five sign up buttons. The team found that images were more effective than videos. After the tweaking, the campaign received 4.4 million new email submissions.
- Segment into friends. Split the database into meaningful subsegments. Depending on who the person on the receiving end of the communications was, they would receive different messages, like “donate and get a gift,” “donate now,” “please donate,” “contribute,” etc.
- Circumstances matter. When Sarah Palin knocked community organizing in her RNC speech, Campaign Manager David Plouffe’s email that night received the largest one-day donation response in any day during the campaign. Know when the right circumstances arrive and take advantage of them.
- Assumptions are wrong. Question them, test them and then test them again.
Mark Skidmore focused his remarks on how to drive people to a public affairs website. Search, he said, is central to any web strategy. Eighty percent of new traffic comes through search. It’s important to conduct a search strategy that puts an organization out in front early and often. That’s the best way to see results and reach some efficiencies.
When developing web content, it’s also important to have a long-term strategy that organizes content well. A campaign can adjust by seeing what content gets the most hits and promote that to the front page and see how it does with other content around it.
He concluded with urging people to get outside the data as well. You have to take a holistic approach to a web strategy that includes looking at data and looking at it from 10,000 feet above ground too.
Yalowtiz discussed the difference between micro and macro conversions. Macro conversions are voluntary sign-ups or donations. Micro conversions are more granular data, like how much time a user spends watching a video, time on a site, page views, etc. He said this distinction is important because otherwise, analysts would be drawing conclusions based on 10-15 percent of conclusions.
Campaigns, Yalowtiz said, should be integrating their web strategy with traditional media. Unique tracking codes, phone numbers and splash pages can help put the right metric on conversions and see the effectiveness of an integrated campaign. Furthermore, different splash pages and 800 numbers can be used for different geographies.
I started the Q&A asking about page views because some say that the longer a user stays on a page the better, while others argue it may mean that a user can’t find what they’re looking for.
Siroker said that overall, web users’ attention spans are short. An analyst has to look at the average time a user spends on the site to get a good idea of what long or short page views mean. Overall, multiple pageviews are good.
Skidmore urged people to examine how many clicks before conversion. That average will give analysts a better understanding of how content effects conversions. It’s important to strike the balance between poking around a website and conversions. He argues five steps to conversion is a too high an average.
Furthermore, Skidmore urged people not to use Flash because that is not read by search engines and therefore hurts a web page’s SEO. Google only reads HTML. Building a site map is important to helping SEO, on the other hand.
Yalowitz talked about creating a pattern that users can go through that will lead to conversions.
Finally, here’s some great pointers from the panel.
- Questions to ask SEO experts:
- Where are visitors coming from?
- What does my architccture look like?
- Are the incoming links to my website quality? How can I improve the quality?
- Make issues work against each other on the site
- Silo them and find out which works better. Promote that to the top of your page
- Worried about investing in a good website and analytics?
- Focus on ROI – $x will bring a return of $x donations, emails, etc.
- Look at the most successful month(s) what were you doing during those months?
- Geo-Target Message
- Not everyone receives the same message. Talk to people about issues that matter to them.