Myth vs. Reality

Posted on 02 March 2010

Another article in my continuing “Historical Perspective” series. This article was originally posted on October 15th, 2003.

Some say that statistics don’t lie. Others tell us that statistics can be manipulated to show only one side of a story. Personally, I’d like to tell all the PR hacks out there that it’s not too wise to play with Web site statistics others have access to. Sure, your site gets 5 million hits and 72,000 unique visitors in a 5 month period, which sounds great — until you look at the associated graph showing a cataclysmic crash in Web site usage once your PR campaign has ceased. Without any hype, your site has no intrinsic merit and it doesn’t take the public long to realize that they can find the information they seek somewhere else.

Site development doesn’t need to be centered around a campaign or a product launch. Web sites should stand on their own and provide information — real information, not PR spin — that is useful without having to rely on the context of a recently FDA-approved drug or 20/20 exposé to provide the traffic that they need to survive. If you fail to make your site relevant, it’s doomed to die. Some sites go quickly, some wither away but there are some ways you can manage and mitigate this without sacrificing anything:

  • Keep your content current, compelling, and topical.
  • Add new features to the site that users will actually use. Geegaws and “eye-candy” just don’t cut it and most Web-savvy users will see right through your tricks.
  • Don’t try to be everything to everybody. Partner with other sites for things that you or your client may not be an expert in.
  • Get to know your audience. By using site statistics you can hone your Web site and target specific audiences with messaging, functionality, or design.
  • Have clearly defined goals for the site at the outset rather than a wishy-washy wishlist that changes on a daily or, (GASP!) hourly, basis.
  • Stay committed and focused to a site once it launches. If you lose interest, the user will too. Plain and simple

Most of these tips are pretty straightforward and you can find other pointers all over the ‘Net, but I bring all this up because of the fact that, despite all of the sites I have helped with or developed, I can count on one hand the number of PR people who have actually taken the time to learn more than the buzzwords and get actual training in how to read and use their Web site statistics. For most of the people that I have worked with, a Web site has been little more than an addenda to their grander PR campaign — soon to be forgotten until it comes time for an awards entry. As a result of this lackadaisical mentality, it doesn’t take long for the site traffic to trickle off to nothing as user interest is lost.

And, one last point, don’t try and make up usage statistics — especially when I am the sysadmin and can go in and pull reports showing you’ve lied about how well the Web site is doing. 1000 hits and 259 visitors in 5 months is nothing to write home about, honey.

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