While I was working toward my electrical engineering degree, I studied control theory. Control theory deals with influencing the behavior of dynamic systems.

The desired output of a system is called the reference. When one or more output variables of a system need to follow a certain reference over time, a controller manipulates the inputs to a system to obtain the desired effect on the output of the system. The figure below illustrates the basic components of a control system (definition from Wikipedia).


How it relates to online marketing
Lets take a look at your SEO, paid search and web 2.0 marketing campaign as the system in the diagram. Obviously it has an input (keywords, ads, optimized content, links, profile pages, etc.) and it has an output (traffic, qualified leads, online product sales, etc.).

The sensor in this model represents your web analytics team, the folks who collect the data that the system feeds to it and then interpret that data.

The controller represents the team that manages the website, SEO, paid search and web 2.0 campaigns. Ideally, it should look like this diagram:


Common feedback problems:
1. The web analytics team is not receiving all of the data from the system output (completed forms, phone calls, product transaction details, etc.).

Theres no excuse for not tracking phone calls and transaction details through your web analytics today, but some of the more challenging issues involve tracking web 2.0 interaction: Facebook pages and groups, Twitter profile interaction, mobile devices, content on blogs and forums run by people outside your organization, RSS feeds, local business profiles, etc.

Tracking and measuring all of these channels can be a real challenge, especially when you want to understand how these various web channels impact lead generation, product sales and brand name awareness. Web analytics alone is inadequate for collecting target audience data in todays web 2.0 environment.

2. The search marketing team is not receiving insights, based on the data (measured output) that become actionable recommendations.

Web analytics is a great tool for collecting data about your Internet marketing system, but that data is useless without skilled people who can interpret it correctly, gain insight from it and make actionable recommendations that increase the conversion rate.

Great tools and technology can never trump those who know how to use the technology as it was intended, but that is the attitude of many businesses today. Tracking our goals and conversions? Yep, we got Google Analytics for that. Hmm, I smell another breakdown in the feedback loop when I hear statements like that.

3. The search marketing team is not clear about the desired goals of the campaign.

Return on investment is the gold standard, but what does that mean and how is it measured by the search marketing team? If Im paying you X and Im seeing revenue of 2X, well keep doing business. Obviously the search marketing team needs access to the numbers to know whether their efforts are hitting the mark, and some companies are not comfortable disclosing revenue data. In that case, what should the search marketing team focus on to gauge success?

When the desired goal is being reached, then what? Who will keep pushing for higher levels of success, and why?

Feedback solutions
1. Pay for technology that collects all of the data. If your web analytics team wants to use tealeaf (a customer experience management solution), get it for them; if they dont want it, dont get it. Its really that simple. Technology is just a tool to be used by people who are skilled in using it, and no one else. But dont blame the web analytics team if you havent given them the tools they have asked for to do their jobs efficiently.

2. Pay for quality web analysts who can interpret the data and translate it into actionable recommendations that optimize the system.

Eric T. Peterson of Web Analytics Demystified offers these helpful questions for those tasked with analyzing the data:

  • What site performance issues cause visitor retention issues?
  • What impact do rich internet applications have on customer satisfaction?
  • What content aggregators and referrers drive the most subscribers to the blog?
  • What ads drive the most complete downloads of a product?
  • What is the most popular story across our entire network today?
  • Where do my most engaged visitors come from?

3. Pay a consultant or team who will push the business to new levels of success. Accountability is key to achieving great results from your online business and breaking through new growth barriers.

Its easy to see how a problem in a dynamic system like this causes other problems just by its nature; I guess you could call this the compounded feedback problem.

Optimization applies to the marketing system itself as well as to the feedback loop, so that you can be confident that your web analytics team is getting quality data from all sources. This helps them provide excellent recommendations to the search marketing team, who can then clearly judge if they are on track with the objectives of the campaign. If they are, they can plan for new opportunities to keep the campaign growing. When this happens, its highly probable that your business will grow.

Tom Shivers is an SEO consultant and president of Capture Commerce, Inc. Exploit Online Demand is the blog he manages.