Chart of the week - corporate web managers face a growing challenge to engage users

Our web analytics benchmark research suggests corporate web managers face a growing challenge to engage users

Occasional feature highlighting useful data for corporate digital communication.

The chart shows the bounce rate, pages per session and average session duration over the years of the Bowen Craggs web analytics benchmark, 2013-2018  Source: Bowen Craggs web analytics benchmark 2018

The chart shows the bounce rate, pages per session and average session duration over the years of the Bowen Craggs web analytics benchmark, 2013-2018

Source: Bowen Craggs web analytics benchmark 2018

We looked for trends over time in some key engagement analytics metrics and found that, across our sample of corporate websites:

  • Bounce rate has varied a little but is around 50%

  • Pages per session dropped by 0.6 pages from 2.9 in 2014 to just under 2.3 in 2018

  • The average session duration has also been dropping from a peak of 148s (2m28) in 2014 to 120 seconds (2m) in 2017 and 2018.

The composition of the benchmark group has varied over the period, so could account for some variation. And these figures are averages. The picture on your site could be more complex, of course: shorter sessions could be the result of more efficient task completion. So you always need to understand user behaviour on the particular site in question.

But even allowing for these caveats, the general pattern is of declining engagement on corporate websites – and a challenge to managers to do more to attract audiences back to their sites.

* The 2018 benchmark covers 12 months between May 2017 to April 2018, including web analytics data from 29 companies, the largest sample ever. It has data on almost 106 million users and over 153 million sessions, and has been collecting data since 2014 with results from 2013 onwards. The research will be presented at a web meeting [https://www.eventbrite.com/e/web-meeting-web-analytics-benchmarking-research-2018-bowen-craggs-club-members-only-registration-45969889176] for Bowen Craggs Club members on Tuesday 20 November.

 

To discuss our measurement services, including how we can help with visitor surveys and analytics, please contact Dan Drury ddrury@bowencraggs.com or see our website.

For more information on the Bowen Craggs Club, visit our website or contact Lisa Hayward, lhayward@bowencraggs.com.

Chart of the week - our benchmark research shows that the average visitor comes to corporate sites less than twice a year

Our web analytics benchmark research shows that visitors come to corporate websites less than twice a year on average

Occasional feature highlighting useful data for corporate digital communication.

Click to enlarge. Source: Bowen Craggs web analytics benchmark 2018

The chart shows the number of sessions divided by unique users for the 29 companies in our analytics benchmark. This gives an average number of sessions per user per year for each site.

Corporate websites average just 1.51 sessions per user per year – or put another way, an ‘average’ corporate visitor sees a site 1 ½ times a year.

  • Not all visitors will see the site with this (in)frequency: this chart cannot take into account cookie clearing or use of multiple devices per user

  • The chart shows the average number of sessions per user per year. There are some visitors who do return to a corporate website multiple times per year, and many more who only visit once

  • So any site needs to serve one-off and also return visitors, as both will be present

  • But this average – and the fact that the highest average of sessions per user per year is 2 - has important implications for user experience on corporate sites: expecting users, many of whom will visit once or twice per year, to understand complex content structures or your agency’s favourite new navigation technique is not going to serve your audience well

  • There is an opportunity for corporate sites to do much more to attract users back more often: as we have written before, corporate websites are like Brussels sprouts: you really have to prepare them well to make them remotely appetizing.

 

*The 2018 benchmark covers 12 months between May 2017 to April 2018, including web analytics data from 29 companies, the largest sample ever. It has data on almost 106 million users and over 153 million sessions, and has been collecting data since 2014 with results from 2013 onwards. The research will be presented at a web meeting for Bowen Craggs Club members on Tuesday 20 November.

To discuss our measurement services, including how we can help with visitor surveys and analytics, please contact Dan Drury ddrury@bowencraggs.com or see our website.

For more information on the Bowen Craggs Club, visit our website, or contact Lisa Hayward, lhayward@bowencraggs.com.

What do 400,000 surveys tell us about your corporate website?

Our archive of corporate website visitor surveys, which we’ve been conducting for clients since 2011, continues to grow – to more than 425,000 currently. We recently presented an update on what this body of research can tell us about how to serve your visitors more effectively. Here are the highlights.
 

For a full recording of the web meeting, please email Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com. 

Corporate website measurement is maturing

Digital managers want to measure engagement and journeys rather than simply tracking visits or downloads through analytics: they want meaningful information – did users achieve their tasks and if not, why? Using surveys and analytics together, as we do for some of our clients, can help answer these questions. We are able to see at a granular level, what particular audiences did on a site, or where visitors failed when trying to do something specific.
 

There is much room for improvement when it comes to ‘goal achievement’

Only just under half of survey respondents, 48 per cent, say they achieved their goals on corporate websites. Nearly a quarter of respondents say they definitely did not achieve their goals, and 28 per cent ‘partly’ achieved them.

Jobseekers and customers continue to outnumber other visitors, but only sometimes succeed

The largest audience on websites, according to our surveys, is jobseekers, and the biggest reason for visiting a corporate site, at 39%, is to search for a job.

at_a_glance.png

The second biggest audience continues to be customers, at 25%: confirming what our analytics  suggest – that customers are indeed present on corporate sites, whether site managers want them to be or not.

Of those, almost half come for customer service or to find out about a specific product. Sites which fail to address those needs, or at least to direct customers to the appropriate place to serve them, risk alienating customers.

Our surveys suggest this is happening more than digital managers may like. Customers may be the second biggest audience on corporate sites, but they are least likely to achieve their goals of all corporate audiences, with a goal achievement rate of 41 per cent. Journalists and CSR analysts do not fare much better, with a 46 per cent success rate, while many web managers might worry that their largest audience, jobseekers, only succeed half of the time.

Jobseekers have the most positive perception of the brand, and customers the least

We measure how corporate website visitors’ perceptions of a company’s brand improves or declines after visiting the site. Jobseekers are the most likely audience to  have their brand perception improved after visiting, at 55%. In contrast, only 34% of customers have their perception of a company improved by a corporate website visit. Investors, on the other hand, tend to leave with their perception unchanged: a challenge to investor relations teams?

Failure to achieve goals is linked to a decline in brand perception

Overall, 44 per cent of survey respondents leave with a better perception of the company (in itself an opportunity for improvement), but only 24 per cent of those who fail to achieve their goal do so. Helping website visitors complete the tasks they came for could improve the company’s reputation.

brand_failure.png

To discuss our measurement services, including how we can help with visitor surveys and analytics, please contact Dan Drury ddrury@bowencraggs.com or see our website.

For more information on the Bowen Craggs Club, visit our website, or contact Lisa Hayward, lhayward@bowencraggs.com.

The five biggest performance gaps in corporate digital communications

Corporate digital managers at 25 of the world’s largest companies have told us their teams’ top priorities for the next 12 months and where they think they are falling short. Jason Sumner and Lisa Hayward share the five biggest performance gaps across the group.
 

The Bowen Craggs Club, a new networking and research community for corporate digital managers, launched over the summer. As a first step in joining, we asked club members to sit down with us for in-depth conversations about their teams’ priorities, strengths and weaknesses in a number of core performance areas such as content strategy, measurement, relationships with internal stakeholders and managing high-performing digital teams.

We’ve had 25 conversations so far, and it seemed like a good time to share a little of what we have learned (on an anonymous basis of course). We asked members to score their teams on a scale of 1 to 5 across a number of skills and competencies, and then identify which of these skills and competencies they most want to improve on.

As a result, we were able to identify the areas where there were the biggest gaps between desired performance and self-reported outcomes. Here are the top five:

1. Failure to set or consistently use key performance indicators (KPIs)

‘Measurement’ is regularly near the top of digital manager challenges whenever we’ve run short surveys in the past. This time the long-form interviews allowed people to expand on the reasons good intentions so often lead to frustration when it comes to KPIs. Even in otherwise top-performing organizations, we found that the barriers are deep-seated, company-specific, political and even psychological. Three of the most interesting were:

  • In one organization, KPIs are applied in an ad hoc way because, ‘Stakeholders don’t understand how to translate business goals into KPIs and the digital team isn’t pushing them.’

  • Another organization said their ‘standard’ KPIs are not good enough. ‘They need to be more channel specific.’

  • Fear of linking metrics to goals is a factor for one organization, despite the fact that communications leadership is already convinced of the value of measurement. ‘They are scared of setting KPIs and failing. Failure needs to be seen as an opportunity to learn.’

2. Lack of a content strategy for different channels and screen sizes

The proliferation of digital channels and devices over the last few years has also kept ‘content strategy’ (which we define as having a defined process to produce and publish content across differing channels, devices and geographies) at the top of the priority list. Our interviews found digital managers planning to do a lot of work on the device and channel side over the next 12 months – particularly in developing multi-purpose content. Said one, ‘The leading channel is the website. Content published there is repurposed for social media use, and some content is created first for social media. We don’t plan ahead.’ Said another, ‘We have an editorial group managing content across platforms, but can sometimes think offline first. There is room for improvement to help educate employees and agencies to change this mindset.’

Rounding out the top five: Roles and responsibilities, agency relationships and usability testing

There was a three-way tie rounding out the top five performance gaps:

  • Who owns the channel? Given the above work on content strategy, it is not surprising that digital teams are still working out the right relationship with internal stakeholders and local teams over who publishes what, and when. ‘A grey area exists in the mind of the content owner about who owns the page. Internal stakeholders think the digital team. A roadshow is planned to educate and keep reinforcing.’ Another interviewee said, ‘We are trying to create combined and shared content plans rather than work in silos.’

  • Getting the most out of agencies: The difficulties mentioned included a lack of corporate and industry expertise, and an assumption that corporates don’t want to be seen as creative. Another organization does not use agencies currently but wants to bring in fresh thinking from outside.

  • Finally, usability testing was seen as a priority by many of our interviewees, but it is not widely used at the moment. Several companies are taking first steps and sounding out experts. ‘We are testing new designs, a team member is doing a master’s degree in user experience and we plan to focus on it in the next 12 months.’

- Jason Sumner and Lisa Hayward

The Bowen Craggs Club is an exclusive network for the most engaged online corporate communications professionals, aimed at individuals and companies who believe in the need for world-leading corporate web estates. Although most group members work in Fortune 500 corporations, we welcome senior managers from public sector and non-governmental organizations with responsibility for large web presences.

For more information, visit our website or contact Lisa Hayward, lhayward@bowencraggs.com

Chart of the week - Facebook outpaces LinkedIn as the biggest source of social media traffic to corporate sites

Facebook outpaces LinkedIn as the biggest source of social media traffic to corporate websites, Twitter referrals stall by comparison
 

Occasional feature highlighting useful data for corporate digital communication.

(Click to enlarge)
Source: Bowen Craggs Google Analytics Benchmark 2017*

By 2016 Facebook had overtaken LinkedIn as the most significant source of social media referrals to corporate websites, and both channels have grown to account for more than 1 per cent of all visits; while Twitter growth has stalled. Referrals from YouTube have declined to nearly zero, which is why the channel is not shown on the chart.

  • Looking at the wider picture, in 2014, fewer than one in 100 corporate website visits were referred from social media. That was compared with one in five visits referred from all other recognised sources.

  • By 2017, one in 40 visits came from social media (2.5 per cent of all traffic). This is still a very small proportion of overall traffic, but an increase from 1.5 per cent recorded in 2016.

  • In 2012, mobile traffic to corporate websites was also low but grew to become a major source of visitors. We think it is unlikely that social referrals will see the same level of growth.

  • However, it is useful to think in terms of absolute numbers of visits, which can be more significant than the percentages imply. For example, while the percentages may be low, for one company in our benchmark group, out of a total of 36 million visits, there were 783,000 visits referred from LinkedIn and 236,000 from Facebook.

  • The usefulness of different channels depends on the company and there are wide differences between individual companies in the benchmark. We have found, for example, that Facebook is less useful for B2B companies, except in some regions, such as South America, where it can be an important customer channel.

*The 2017 benchmark covers the period between May 2016 and April 2017, collecting Google Analytics data from 24 corporate websites from a variety of sectors, and representing a range of activity. The busiest site had 37 million visits per year; the quietist 530,000, and an average of 7 million.

Defying the 'whisperers' and leaps of faith: Five lessons from the Bowen Craggs Web Effectiveness Conference

It’s been two weeks since our 10th annual conference in Copenhagen, and we’ll be publishing a summary next month (email Dan Drury to request a copy: ddrury@bowencraggs.com). In the meantime, I’ve come up with a list of five lessons I took away from the event.

1. Corporate ‘stories’ can entertain as well as inform, but they need to put the audience first

Our keynote speaker, Allister Frost, former head of digital marketing marketing strategy at Microsoft, had unkind things to say about corporate attempts at ‘storytelling’. So-called stories, he said, often ‘just get in the way’ of website visitors finding what they need to solve a problem.

Still, Allister also said that corporate online content, whether marketing or communications, needs to aim to do one of two things – inform or entertain. So just because there is so much bad storytelling out there does not mean companies should give up, but try to get better. One way, Allister said, is to be more audience focused. The ‘story’ is not about what is interesting to your company’s head of marketing, but what will interest the intended reader or viewer.

I would add two things: it is also about strong editorial governance and quality – good headlines, clear writing, etc – something we talk a lot about at Bowen Craggs. And also signposting and placement – stories in a section for investment analysts are likely to go largely unread; but creative, relevant material for private investors or jobseekers, for example, is more likely to find an audience.

2. Greenpeace is looking for a good story too

Greenpeace, although sometimes in direct confrontation with the companies at our conference, faces some of the same challenges that corporates do in getting audiences interested in online messages. Michael Hedelain of Greenpeace shared his organization’s approach. ‘People are at the centre of our stories,’ he said, an idea inspired by Winning the story wars, a 2012 book by Jonah Sachs, which casts the audience as ‘heroes’ in a broken world that needs fixing.

Practically speaking, Greenpeace focuses on four things to tell a good story: suspense and jeopardy; personal motivation; audience interaction through social media; and duration – activities that go on for weeks and months to allow a story to build momentum.

3. Measurement requires a leap of faith

Approaches to website measurement are maturing and companies are trying to move beyond ‘clicks’ and ‘likes’ as a way to evaluate online communications.

‘Clicks are proxies for success but they do not tell us if we got a sale,’ Allister said. ‘Did seeing an article make our employees more or less enthusiastic about their work or not? Did downloading a white paper inspire an investor to buy or sell?’ Data can only ever be a clue, ‘ROI’ from marketing and communications will always be elusive.

SABMiller considers measuring the impact of stories to some extent a ‘leap of faith’ – by knowing the company a little better, audiences will think well of them.

The Financial Times’s Tom Betts proved that all measurement is specific, presenting the publisher’s own algorithm for measuring ‘engagement’ – ‘recency’, ‘frequency’ and ‘volume’. There was not an exact correlation with corporate editorial, which is not subscription-based, but companies could consider coming up with their own combinations of individual data points as a metric for engagement.

4. Give website ‘whisperers’ the tools to work with you

Zurich Insurance has a way of working with so-called whisperers – external web agencies that convince managers to break with global governance guidelines. Give them a publicly accessible, downloadable toolkit to build on-brand pages with their own code, which has ‘brand guidance baked in’ and ‘allows agencies to post elements into the system without Zurich’s involvement’.

5. Third parties add credibility but what happens when they criticise you?

Simon Thresh of SABMiller showed a video from an investor seminar with outside analysts praising its performance, including a professor from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University talking about the success of the company’s CSR efforts. The video was much more credible as a result.

Accepting third-party praise is the easy part though. What about organizations and websites that criticise you? The corporate site is just one of multiple information sources, and probably less trusted. An important question for corporate communicators in the future will be how much to engage with sites that are seen to be more objective, such as Glassdoor, and in what ways.

- Jason Sumner


'Light quant' - the sexiest job of the 21st Century?

In my recent column I lamented the fact that the typical corporate web team is unlikely to have the budget or resources to do measurement well. Even if budget were no object, an article by Gil Press, Forbes contributor, shows how the problem is compounded because data scientists are in such high demand. We’ve all seen the explosion of job titles with ‘digital’ in them; now it’s ‘data’. 

Gil defines a data scientist as ‘an engineer who employs the scientific method and applies data-discovery tools to find new insights in data’. Our own super-star data scientist Helen Lindsay is indeed an engineer who uses the excellent tool Tableau to provide our clients with insight.

In the survey on which Gil’s article is based half of the respondents cited turning analytical insights into business actions as one of their top analytics challenges – as my column suggests and as Helen would attest. 

Tom Davenport, writing for Deloitte, defines the need for ‘light quant’ as someone who knows something about analytical and data management methods; knows a lot about specific business problems; and can connect the two. An ‘analytical translator’ is someone who is extremely skilled at communicating the results of quantitative analyses.

I’m not sure that Helen would describe the job as ‘sexy’ - as Gil Press attempts to, although with tongue in cheek - since it involves equal measure of painstaking detail (data wrangling) and frustrating generality (people wrangling). But I’m sure she’d agree with Tom that these are indeed the types of skills needed by anyone trying to find the metrics that the board cares about most. 

- Dan Drury