Your website might be great, but if Google Analytics is not set up properly, and is not measuring the right user interactions, you won’t learn anything to help you improve the website.
MEDIA 7: You have an MBA in Finance and have studied Psychology prior to that. How does your academic background help you create high-performing websites for your clients?
FRED PIKE: My Psychology and Finance studies focused on measurement and/or testing, and I think that is critical for websites. My initial focus is on the accuracy of the measurement. Your website might be great, but if Google Analytics is not set up properly, and is not measuring the right user interactions, you won’t learn anything to help you improve the website. The data in GA is, by default, messy and incomplete. You need to work with it to get it clean and trustworthy. It’s only after you have good, reliable, solid data that you even know if your website is high- or low-performing. High-performing, of course, can be very different between websites. For an e-commerce site, it might be revenue; for a lead-gen site, it might be subscriptions, file downloads, forms filled out, etc. Regardless of the desired outcome, having a solid measurement plan in place is crucial.
M7: What are some of your go-to strategies to drive more traffic to your clients’ websites?
FP: It’s always about content, isn’t it? There are several aspects you must get right — technical SEO factors; having a well-organized site; accessibility considerations; design; site speed, etc. but it’s content that will draw and keep people engaged with your site. Our content strategies can vary by client and by the audience. Regardless, the goal is to figure out who the audience is (typically done through persona research) and what content they need to answer their questions. Then we can determine how best to deliver that content — white papers, blogs, videos, product detail pages, etc. Conceptually, it’s pretty simple! But getting the details right? Ah, not easy!
There are several aspects you must get right — technical SEO factors; having a well-organized site; accessibility considerations; design; site speed, etc. But it’s content that will draw and keep people engaged with your site.
M7: Could you please tell us some different ways Northwoods helps their clients grow their online presence through digital marketing and advertising initiatives, websites, and software projects?
FP: One aspect that stands out, is our integrated focus on SEO and PPC — i.e. organic and paid traffic. We almost always hit both of those as part of a search strategy for a client. It’s not an either/or. Another aspect of success: regular analysis. We are not big fans of “dashboards” here. I personally have developed too many that are enthusiastically received initially and are totally ignored six months later. But add analysis to those and dive deep into two or three important changes that month? That’s how you grow. Software projects are part of our secret sauce, as well. Northwoods started as a software dev shop, and we still have deep roots in that area, with almost half the company working in software.
Many of our projects mix it all: designing and developing a website, creating a digital marketing strategy, creating a measurement approach, and working on custom software (or extensions to our CMS package, Titan CMS) to deal with unique challenges that our client has. That’s part of what I love about being at Northwoods — the confluence of disciplines we have under one roof. We’re not just SEO or PPC — we’re both. We’re not just software dev or digital marketing — we’re both. We have a wonderful blend of marketing-savvy developers and technically-savvy marketers.
M7: What are the top challenges you see for the industry in general and Northwoods this year?
FP: There will be an ongoing loss of data as more privacy factors come into play in the industry. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — privacy is important. The challenge will be making good decisions with less data.
COVID-19, of course, is a challenge. We made the transition to working remotely fairly easily, but like everybody else, we’re still learning and adapting to the new environment. Keeping up to date with all the changes in digital marketing is key. That’s one of the reasons I love being part of a larger team — we have specialists who dive deep into their area of expertise and know what’s going on. But I’m always worried about our blind spots. What are we not seeing? What are we refusing to take seriously? If we were to start the business today, would we focus on the same things and go to market the same way?
There will be an ongoing loss of data as more privacy factors come into play in the industry. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — privacy is important. The challenge will be making good decisions with less data.
M7: How do you get rapid unbiased consumer feedback to know if you are addressing their needs?
FP: There are two pieces to this. The first is getting feedback from our clients to ensure we’re meeting their needs. We do that through an initiative we call Client Connect. Client Connect includes a facilitated planning session with our clients to better understand their objectives and changing industries and to learn how we can help them meet their goals most effectively. But we also conduct post-project and annual “happiness” surveys to understand what we’re doing well and where we can improve. This has been a critical way for us to ensure we’re consistently meeting our clients’ needs – being their digital BFF, as we like to say! The other piece is helping our clients understand if they’re meeting the needs of their customers. Part of that unbiased feedback comes through analytics. If it’s set up properly to measure significant user interactions, then there’s a lot of data there. But beyond that, there are three tools we commonly use.
The first is heatmaps, showing where people interact with a page, how far they scroll, whether they’re trying to interact with elements that we didn’t expect, etc. The second is session recordings, where you see how real users interacted with your website. Watch 10 people filling out a form, and you’ll quickly know if you have problems! The third is user testing, where you give a group of users a set of tasks to complete on your website. This is more of a “lab data” environment — not necessarily reflecting real-life. Sometimes the results are messy or incomplete — mainly because we didn’t ask the questions very well! But done right, five or six user tests will lead to real insights about the effectiveness of your website.
M7: When you are not working, what are you seen doing? Is there any hobby you would like to share with us?
FP: I’ve been a musician for far longer than I’ve been in digital marketing, starting with bands back in grade school. I’m still active, often playing guitar or bass in the pit for musicals, for both professional and amateur productions. In addition, I play mandolin and am the President of the Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra, which has been performing continuously since 1900. I also seem to spend a lot of time walking my dog, Xuxa, who is a huge joy in my life. And lastly, my wife and I are lucky to be able to spend time each week with our three-year-old granddaughter, whom I hope to get started in Google Analytics as soon as possible!