Startup Marketing: How Useless Is Your Web Traffic?

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Startup Marketing: How Useless Is Your Web Traffic?


My co-founder at HubSpot, Brian Halligan, posted an interesting article today on our partner blog titled “Advanced Internet Marketing: Turn The Pareto Principle On Its Head”.    Brian’s spent his entire career in software sales and marketing so he knows a lot more than I do about the topic.  Of course, that’s never stopped me from having an opinion and expressing it.  Having said that, if you have time to just read one or the other – read his.  It’s much more thoughtful.

The basis of Brian’s article is that marketing has historically been a black art.  This is contrary to sales where people have quotas, measurable goals and all sorts of data about who sold what to whom.  This lack of hard data about marketing has been one of the core contributors to the tension between sales and marketing.  Enter the Internet.  Now, it’s actually possible for companies to know a lot more about the results of their marketing efforts than ever before.  This is one of the reasons so many dollars are moving from “traditional” marketing channels (like print advertising) to online channels (like pay-per-click advertising).

That’s all well in good, but the question is:  How much do you really know about the results of your online marketing efforts?  Chances are, if you’re like most startups (or for that matter, most companies), you likely know very little.  That’s the point that Brian makes in his article.  He describes all the types of things he’d like to know about his online marketing efforts – well beyond how much traffic he’s getting, where it’s coming from, etc.  I agree with Brian’s points regarding the data that would be cool to know about leads generated through online efforts – but, I have a biased opinion, as I’m working on the software to help make some of this type of analysis possible for our clients at HubSpot.

As a startup founder myself, here are the kinds of things I’d love to know about what’s working and what’s not:
  1. What’s the return on time invested from blogging?  This could be determined by tracking which web visitors came as a result of a specific article, and when later some of those visitors “convert”, we can associate a dollar value for them and use that to determine the “money in the door” from an article, or even a group of articles.

  1. Patterns In Prospect Behavior:  Are prospects that leave comments on blogs or participate in discussion forums more or less likely to ultimately become paying customers?  If so, what does that function look like?  Is there some way to create a predictive model, using statistical regression, that can estimate the approximate future “value” of specific prospect attributes?

  1. What should I pay for a qualified lead?  This is an interesting one.  If you’re spending any money on Google AdWords, you’ve probably guesstimated this number in your head (by estimating what kind of conversion rate you’d get for each click-through).  But, I’d love something much more expansive than this.  I’d like to know what kinds of traffic are coming from various referral sources, what their conversion rates are and how much I’d be willing to pay for those leads.  

I think we still have a wide open set of possibilities as to what we can do with online marketing and conversion analytics.  What kinds of questions would you like answered?  What types of data are you interested in about your online marketing efforts?  Or, do you have enough customer-flow where this kind of information is just not interesting?  Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Wed, Jan 10, 2007


I used to work for a marketing company, and as a programmer/database administrator, spent 2 years developing exactly these kinds of systems. They were an ad "marketplace"- linking publishers and advertisers on a pay-per-action (usually sale or lead) basis.

Frighteningly- most of the time was spent battling fraud. I built systems that automatically adjusted how much publishers and advertisers would pay (and get paid) based on how likely the source was to be providing fraudulent traffic, and how likely the destination was to attract it. As the middleman, we usually ate the costs of fraud, so we were especially adept at curbing its affects. There’s so much fraud out there, that tools that would track this fraud and pinpoint it would be immensely valuable. Unfortunately, it is insanely difficult to track down clickfraud. I had it easy, in comparison- action-based fraud is much easier to spot.

On a pay-per-click basis, it'd be good to have fine-grained detail on conversion rates based on source- not just "Google", or "Email", but on a per-campaign (or keyword) basis. This is not particularly hard to implement, but I have not seen a good tool to track metrics from multiple marketing sources. Once you have these metrics, figuring out how much to pay is pretty straightforward.

Really, at this point in time, there's not really a substitute for being really damned good at SQL. If, 6 months ago, you wrote a blog post pimping your mailing list, and wanted to see if anybody who signed up that day ended up completing a sale through the mailing list, writing a SQL query is pretty much your only hope. There's really no possibility that a tool could provide that kind of fine-grained information while still being accessible (in both time and money) to small businesses. At that point, any tool would essentially just be a GUI for assembling SQL queries, and would cost tens of thousands of dollars.

I have a pretty firm grasp of this area, but I have trouble synthesizing my thoughts at the moment. I apologize for not providing a more insightful comment, given my background.

posted on Wednesday, January 10, 2007 at 9:58 PM by Erik Peterson

I think blogs are a particularly hard one to determine the ROI on. Beyond conversion rates you need to look at how the linking effect of blogs may increase your SEO. The changing nature of the content may improve SEO. Blogs may help keep existing customers because of the increased intimacy it creates with your customers. The feedback from customers or potential customers will feed into making a better product.

You would need to look at the type of blog you have. If it is a faceless company blog with no real personal identity with a post every 4 weeks by "admin" with some marketing guff then tracking pure conversions is probably valid. But this a poor use of the blog opportunity.

But hey, will a startup like HubSpot you obvioulsly realise this, just your post seemed to sideline this aspect of blogs.

posted on Wednesday, January 10, 2007 at 11:43 PM by Anthony Richardson

I am curious about marketing strategies for bootstrapped early startups. What are effective ways to get the word out about a prototype one has put out there, how does one reach out to the influential bloggers, who/ what else would be a valuable ally in getting first users to try the product? Any insights? Thanks!

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