Richard Kraneis (@rkraneis ) is a good friend of WordStream, a frequent reader of and commenter on our Internet Marketing Blog  and runs a site offering GED online  services. Like many, Richard is curious about learning the ropes of search engine marketing  (SEM). His questions about SEM are always well-thought out and intriguing and often result in some really great dialogue. So we thought it would be interesting to post some of Richard's questions and follow along in his quest for SEM knowledge as he poses questions and seeks answers from:
- His own research - Richard's own research will fuel his SEM education
- The staff at WordStream  - We'll offer our own thoughts on Richard's questions and answers
- Your feedback - feel free to weigh in and give your thoughts too
This Month's SEM Question from Richard
I've always been interested in online marketing best practices and wondering about strategic, repeatable best practices, particularly ones that can be used for the months of December transitioning into January each year.
Questions: Do marketing managers do anything differently in December to ensure that they know how their company is performing online? And in January, after a thorough December assessment, how do marketing managers implement improved marketing practices for the new year?
Richard's Thoughts on Strategic Online Marketing Best Practices for December and January
Okay, so I'll take a stab at answering my own question. If I were an in-house marketing manager, I think there would be seven elements to take into consideration regarding December to January to evaluate marketing activity.
- Measurement systems in place (website logs, Google Analytics, ConversionRuler.com , conversion optimizers, etc.) – As a manager, I want to know the measurement tools at my disposal.
- Annual website visitor traffic by month and by source – It’s an old method but still a decent start, remembering of course that all visitors are not created equal in motivation or strength of wallet.
- Annual website sales by month, conversion rate, and by source – I want to see sales trends and source trends (Google, Yahoo, Bing, others). If Yahoo ads have an incredible conversion rate higher than Google, I want to know about it.
- Customer engagement – Measured by email list growth and social media growth (Twitter follows for example) by month and by source.
- Gross website revenue – Website costs (staff, website, outsourced vendors, and ads). You probably work for a CMO, CEO, or president who will ask you to prove that you’re contributing to corporate profits.
- Staff plans – For increasing traffic, increasing visitor engagement, optimizing web sales or conversions (for B2B sales appointments), improving customer satisfaction and becoming better educated as a staff. I want to recognize the talent of my staff and give them ownership in the assessment of the last year and the plans for the new year.
- Quantifiable goals – I want my staff to tell me how they plan on increasing website visitor traffic, and proving it. As an online marketing director, I want to dare to set a goal for visitors, conversions, and perhaps even sales. I don’t want mushy goals like "increase customer satisfaction." If you plan on increasing customer satisfaction via the Internet, tell me how you will measure it.
So what do you think? Are my online marketing  best practices strategic, repeatable and durable? Will my seven points be useful twelve months from now? What strategies would you delete? What have I missed? Were my best practices too theoretical?
Richard, great questions. I'll touch on the concept of using December metrics to inform the following year's marketing efforts. In my experience, December is not a reliable month. Based on the industry you're in, you can have huge, seasonal spikes of activity (think: retailers and etailers) or you can have large dips in site traffic (think: home improvement contractors in the Northeast). So it's virtually impossible to try and glean anything from that single month of data to apply to a year's worth of efforts with any degree of accuracy.
That said, I do think you can apply that December knowledge to the following December's marketing efforts, matching month to month, season to season. For example, I did some PPC marketing  for a client this past year. Being a new account and not being unfamiliar with the industry, I was a little unprepared for how competitive September and October were in this particular niche, and how super aggressive the client's competitors were going to be about raising bids during those months and launching new campaigns. I noticed the change and adapted quickly, but I feel like I missed some opportunity that initial week. I now have this seasonal market intelligence, which I will leverage to be fully prepared for next year. But, returning to your original question, those two months of activity in no way are indicative of the rest of the year for the particular market and certainly will have no bearing on how I'd structure the client's campaign in the months outside of the early Autumn surge.
Hi Richard, thanks for the question!
December is tricky for B2B because most businesses have Q4 and end-of-year goals they're trying to hit, but the holidays provide a substantive hurdle there. I would say:
- Take a look at the days that will logically be impacted and plan for a percentage less traffic/leads going into December. With PPC this is a good opportunity to load up on budget early in the month for B2B, for instance.
- When you're analyzing December data, it's really best to focus on the "normal" days in terms of activity: rather than looking at a full month of data you need to drill down to the first twenty days or so and normalize that data, looking more at daily averages for that swath than at the monthly numbers for the full thirty days. Also, in the case of search, use a tool like Google trends  to see if query volume as a whole typically trends down for your vertical, or if it's just you :).
- I really like your point about analyzing source data: when you have a month like December it's always important to take source into account and to see both where your traffic is coming from  and in some cases where it is going .
So what are your thoughts on Richard's question, his thoughts on search advertising  best practices for December and January and Tom's and my responses? Drop your feedback in the comments below and look for more SEM question posts from Richard in the coming weeks.