Recent Thoughts

Understanding Reader Engagement and Loyalty

When I first started in digital marketing I was focused almost entirely on social media and blogging. Because it was so new, a lot of people/clients were happy with the high-level engagement metrics that were offered from each social network and I was fresh out of college and not wise enough to really question it.

Within a year or two, businesses started asking their teams to translate all of the engagement metrics into real business value — usually leads or revenue. Fundamentally this was a great step for marketing but a messy step for content and editorial.

Over the last 5-10 years we’ve seen traditional print publishers shift over to digital and start to look at metrics a little differently than SaSS marketers, growth hackers, etc. look at them. Publishers still rely heavily on ad revenue and with the amount of data available, there’s a new level of accountability in place for publishers to deliver valuable ad placements to their advertisers instead of just the placement itself and some high level circulation numbers.

Spider man reading. He’s not Batman but that’s OK.

Engagement

Now that I’ve started working as the Head of Community Growth at WordPress.com, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about bloggers and their current and future needs, their ambitions, and their frustrations. I also had a chat with a friend who leads the startups program for the Google News Initiative and he brought up that most news publications really started or will start as blogs.

Heads up: I actually think the News Consumer Insights project does a good job of helping to identify reader loyalty and engagement but it’s something you need to take the time to understand if you aren’t actively looking at analytics and data.

All that being said, I wanted to step back and outline some simple ways to think about reader engagement. To do that, we should start to think about why you want your readers to be engaged. What is the actual result or “output? Most of the time it comes down to a few specific things:

  • I want engaged readers because I want more trafficand I’ll get that if they read more content and come back more often.
  • I want engaged readers to help me grow my audience by sharing my content and having thoughtful discussions about it.
  • I want engaged readers because I want to connect with people who are interested in the same things I am. I want validation that I know what I’m doing and I want the chance to learn more about this from others.

Now you can measure some of those things directly like “more traffic” but understanding how the traffic got there, who makes up that new traffic, and how to keep scaling it up requires a look at supporting metrics.

Luckily, most of the data points and metrics you would want to use come out of the box with all the big web analytics players e.g. Google Analytics, Chartbeat, Parse.ly, etc.

Not to say you couldn’t really dive in and track a lot more actions or data points, but you probably don’t need to.

Time on Page + Scroll Depth

Time on page measures how long someone was on a specific page. Pending on the tool you are using, it may start on initial load of the page or once the page is rendered and it will stop sometime between when they click another link and when that page starts being loaded — or obvs when they close the browser. Scroll depth measures how far down the page a user scrolled.

Either of these metrics are pretty useless on their own, here’s why:

Scroll depth:

  1. People can scroll quickly through a page of nothingness and get to 100% even though they haven’t engaged with the content consciously.
  2. Bots can also trigger scroll depth tracking if you aren’t actively excluding them.
  3. Sometimes the most engaged readers scroll down and up and down again – which isn’t always tracked and/or can cause some of your reporting to look odd.
  4. When you have shorter posts e.g. video/audio embeds, you might trigger a higher scroll depth without the user doing anything.

Time on Page:

  1. People open windows or tabs and totally forget to go back and read the content – I have something like 22 windows open right now and that is only in my active Workona workspace.
  2. Someone who is engaged for 1-2 minutes might get a lot more out of your content than someone who comes back periodically to try and read it without ever absorbing or comprehending it.
  3. If you use pop up marketing tools, sidebars, or other widgets/features on your site, your user might not even be paying attention to the core content on the page.

Combining the two

If you start to look at users who achieve specific criteria related to each of these metrics, you start to filter down to a more engaged audience. Users who spent 2 minutes on a page and made it to 100% probably read or engaged with your content, while users who spent 10 seconds on the page and made it to 100% probably did not.

This is still a very high level way of thinking about reader engagement but I wanted to start with the more simple idea before we go too far down the rabbit hole.

via GIPHY

Add In Pages Per Session

This metric probably has as much to do with your site design as it does with how engaged your reader is. Here’s a quick checklist of VERY basic things you can do to make sure readers will see more of your content:

  • Make sure you have related content presented on the page where the reader can find it.
  • Use internal links to reference other content you’ve written that is related to the topic you’re covering.
  • If you have a sidebar, consider keeping a widget of newest or most popular posts.
  • Add a social stream to show what content you’ve been sharing.

The hypothesis here is that engaged readers will want to keep reading your content. I’ve seen that proven right and wrong in different scenarios, for example:

Scenario 1: Most of your content revolves around a few connected themes/categories so, if your reader is interested in one of your articles, they will likely be interested in another that you’ve written.

Scenario 2: You tend to cover a wide range of topics and the likelihood of someone being interested in all of them is low. I’m a good example of this because I have posts about marketing, leadership, analytics, 3d printing, parenting, and more.

If you’re like me, you might want to consider finding a way to curate the related content you present to readers to help make sure it’s relevant and interesting.

Now we have readers who came to your site, read the content, and were impressed enough to look at more content you’ve published.

Loyalty

As a creator, loyalty might mean different things in different contexts. When it comes to your website and engaging with your content, I really like to think about how often a user engages with you.

Note: Frequency is really relative to how much content you have and how often you’re posting new content. “Once a week” isn’t a great frequency for a site publishing 20 articles a week but it’s fantastic for a site publishing one article every week.

We can start to outline the experience for the most engaged user with the pieces we have in place. :

  • They came to my site (and this specific post) from channel/source
  • They read 90% of it, which is great because it’s 3000 words!
  • They were on the page for 5 minutes, which is great because that means they probably didn’t just skim it.
  • They clicked through to another piece of content I wrote as well, that’s awesome!

Once you have readers really engaging with your content, you want. to make sure you are bringing them back for more. People are busy so while some readers might try. to remember to come back on their own by typing in your domain, most will not. They need things like email, notifications, and social media to remind them that you’re out there making content they love.

For this you really want to look at people who are voluntarily signing up to be more connected with you and to get your content in a more direct way. Things like:

  • Signing up for your newsletter/email updates
  • Following you on social media
  • Subscribing to your site via an RSS Reader
  • Opting to receive browser notifications

Matching those actions up with your web visitors is complicated and generally expensive so use a high level view to evaluate what percentage of your audiences are actually loyal enough to take that next step of engaging with you directly.

For example: if you have 1000 visitors in a month and you have 250 email subscribers you know about 25% of your readers are “loyal” at some level. Noting that you can make this much more complicated by setting compounding criteria like “users who come to the site at least x times, spend at least 2 minutes per session, see 2 pages per session and are subscribed via email.”

Data is hard and overwhelming, so start simple and work up.

Lessons Learned From My First 3 Months of 3D Printing

Over the last few years my wife and I have been trying to move away from getting our kids a lot of little things for their birthdays and Christmas. We feel like, while they may be temporarily interested in a toy set or collection, it’s never lasting as their interests are always changing. This year we set out to try and come up with something that would encourage creativity and learning while still bringing the level of excitement and fun we love to see in our kids. We landed on a 3D printer and for the last several months I have been learning a lot about the technology, the products, and the process.

How To Pick A 3D Printer

I started out with questions like:

  • What price range should I expect?

This is not an easy question to answer. 3d printing technology has advanced a lot in the last 5ish years and as a result we have a broad market for personal, professional, and even industrial use.

  • What features are important for us?

I narrowed our personal needs/wants down to:

  • The quality should be good but it doesn’t need to be micro-detailed or perfect.
  • We may want to print some bigger pieces (e.g. helmets, swords, armor) so build plate size is important.
  • I don’t want to have to mess with it for a week or two before we can start printing — want to keep the excitement level up.
  • I don’t want something I need to do a lot of maintenance on.
  • What brands are currently leading, most reliable, and best supported?

For people just stepping into the world of 3d printing “Creality” tends to come up the most — specifically their Ender line. There are specific brands for kid-focused printing like Toybox but I found them to be more expensive and more limiting in terms of what they can do. To put it another way, I’d rather spend $300-$500 on a printer that will take me a while to outgrow than one that will start with limitations from day 1.

Note: I found all3dp.com to be a pretty reliable resource, see their beginner’s buying guide here.

  • What will get me printing quickly without a ton of building and tweaking?

Most reviews, actual owners, and 3d printing sites will tell you that the Ender line comes “ready to go” and, for the most part, I agree.

Which Ender should I buy?

After comparing options against our needs and goals I ended on the Creality Ender 5 Plus. There are some concerns around layering issues and print detail/quality but I’ve been more than happy with my choice so far. It’s my understanding (and experience) that once you get into more complex prints, you’ll need to start developing an understanding for advanced slicer settings anyway (will get to this).

Upgrades Needed?

While there are a lot of upgrades that could be helpful or useful to high-volume printers, I haven’t actually needed any of them yet. I have this printer set up in my office and running most days. While I can hear the white noise it puts off, it’s never been a problem during calls. I have been fairly successful in leveling my bed with test prints like this one and the knobs under the build plate. Honestly, I can usually see if it’s leveled when the printer does the default outer ring of a print and that gives me a chance to quickly tweak it or stop the print before it wastes any filament. On that note, let’s talk filament.

What You Should Know About 3D Printer Filament

First of all, there are several different types of filament and diameters they come in. Each type has different properties when it comes to strength and flexibility and that impacts what temperatures you will need to print at AND whether or not you actually need to modify your printer.

So far I’ve stuck with PLA but I encourage you to research the type of filament that makes the most sense for your specific project. We’ve printed a lot of toys, novelty items, and some desk/home organization things. I would say PLA isn’t great for anything you intend to actively use. It’s very lightweight so for prints like the Lift Pod, I’ve had some issues getting it to hold desk lighting or anything else I attach. For prints like the Sword of Darkness, I’d had a lot of trouble with pieces holding the weight when my kids are swinging it around.

For simple items that aren’t heavily used, moving parts, etc. I think PLA is the most cost-effective filament and that probably makes it the best material to learn on. Simple prints like this pen holder are easy to run, last quite a while, and can bring a surprising bit of satisfaction to your day.

You can spend a lot of time optimizing shell thickness, infill, etc. but I intend to start trying some different materials like TPU and PTEG.

Check out this guide to :allthefilaments: for a good starting point.

What’s next?

We just moved and I haven’t had a chance to get the printer up and running yet. I think I’m going to use that opportunity to get a direct drive and all metal hot end installed to make printing with some of the different materials I mentioned easier.

This was a gift for my kids so I imagine most of what we’re printing will continue to be toys, costumes, and fun things and based on the experience so far I think I need to move towards more flexible materials.

Why DC Universe Failed Hard: A Content as The Product Story

Before we dig in too deep here… I’d like to establish myself as a fairly serious fan of DC Comics, specifically Batman.

Evidence submitted:

  1. 3/4 of my arm tattoo real-estate to Batman-themed work.
  2. 4+ long boxes of mostly Batman-related comics in my office.
  3. 1/2 of my office wall space dedicated to Batman posters, comics, and collectibles.

The reason I say all this is to let you (the reader) know that I was actually rooting for DC this whole time. The strategist and marketer in me couldn’t help but point out some serious mistakes that really contributed to the failure of the product/initiative in terms of fan adoption and satisfaction.

Background

Way back in September of 2018, DC Comics launched their own exclusive streaming service called “DC Universe”. Aside from promising some exciting programming for original series and access to several shows and movies they hadn’t licensed for streaming they also included some “benefits” for hardcore fans like access to some digital comics, the opportunity to buy exclusive collectibles, and some kind of community thing… I think. In September, 2020 they announced this streaming service will shut down as of January 2021 and be converted to a comics only offering.

Leading up to their service DC had done a pretty OK job at marketing their platform. They teased scenes from their most promising original projects and made all of the other stuff they crammed into the offering seem more exciting than it probably was in reality.

Without having the numbers to back it up, DC has always been a little darker and grittier and probably followed by more traditional “comic fans” as compared to Marvel who has actively invested in becoming more universal and accessible for both “comic fans” and the general public. That being said, no one really expected DC Universe to launch with billions of subscribers ready to go. They seem to have focused on engaging known fans vs trying to acquire new fans – which is a smart play when you’re talking about niché content IMO.

What Went Wrong

Product Readiness At Launch: Meh

When the app launched it had several bugs tied to the ability to stream to devices and user authentication making it inconvenient for excited fans to actually digest the content. I specifically remember giving up on trying to stream to the tv all together and just watching Titans on my iPad.

Having lead countless discussions around MVP functionality and launch readiness, I can say it’s absolutely insane to launch a streaming service that can’t actually cast to a bigger screen or allow users to stay logged in so that they can access the content easily. It would have made infinitely more sense to drop out features like digital comics or “exclusive product access” and just nailed down the ability for users to access and enjoy the core content offering. This is a classic case of “jack of all trades but master of none” on the product front.

Capitalizing On The Binge Economy

Binge-watching actually started developing as a media consumption habit back when putting seasons of tv shows on DVD became a thing – circa two-thousand something? Once the internet evolved to a point of allowing the average person to be able to stream media with a stable and consistent experience, it exploded and eventually shifted user expectations for how they engage with and consume stories through the tv/movie format.

At the time of launch DC had a decent beta audience signed up and ready to dive in to all of their new content. The hope, from a marketing perspective, is obviously that these users and early adopters would be so happy with the product that they would quikcly become advocates and drive the next wave of users to sign up.

As I mentioned above, DC Universe was already off to a rocky start in terms of user experience in the app. Once fans like myself got around some of the bugs we were ready to dive into new content. While Titans satisfied the immediate need, (it’s a pretty great show) there wasn’t much (or any?) more new content to dive into. Most fans and subscribers ended up waiting for weeks at a time in between the release of their original series which meant the app mostly offered access to some of the things serious fans had already seen at this point.

Downtime in engagement for any platform generally leads to a loss in user retention. It’s harder to get someone back in an app when they go from using it daily to not using it for several days (or weeks). For DC, this meant that their marketing dollars were mostly spent on re-engaging existing users/fans and not on new user acquisition.

When you look at the major streaming services, we’ve seen each of them ramp up both content production and acquisition to ensure that all users always have something new to watch. In 2019 alone Netflix released over 2700 hours of original content. DC was never able to hit anything close to that volume of content publishing.

Titans — Ep. 213 — “Nightwing” — Photo Credit: Brooke Palmer / 2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Exclusive Content?

The reason there are so many streaming services out there now is mainly because of licensing and the ongoing battle for exclusive rights to stream popular content. Aside from hitting a home run with original content, this is the biggest way to get fans to subscribe.

When DC Universe was preparing for launch DC was in the middle of releasing a handful of films in an attempt to try and be Marvel. The first time I opened the app I had hoped to see Aquaman, Shazam!, and some of the other big-budget films in there… but guess what? They had already licensed them out to other streaming services with exclusive rights which meant I’d have to buy something else, besides the cool ned DC streaming service, to watch the cool new DC content….

Despite the previously mentioned issues, DC actually had some really solid content that, had they kept producing it and maintaining exclusive rights to it, would have been *almost* enough to maintain my subscription…. but guess what?

Just a few months after launch Titans showed up on Netflix!!!

“Why am I paying for this if it’s going to end up on Netflix anyway?! ” – Me

At that point in time there were still shows like Swamp Thing and Doom Patrol to keep me engaged so, being a long-time fan, I kept my subscription. And then I found out they canceled Swamp Thing. And then I found out Doom Patrol was on HBO…And then I canceled my DC Universe subscription.

A lot of this tracks back to being “launch ready” from both a platform and content perspective. I’m assuming putting Titans on Netflix was a play to get some exposure to a larger audience. Swamp Thing being canceled is likely tied to DC’s ongoing identity crisis and resistance to being too dark.

Rethinking Data Collection To Avoid Heartbreak

This is very much a post for myself to log my thoughts and learnings as I continue to take on new projects and opportunities that require me to work new mental muscles.

tl;dr – We need to be very aware and intentional about what data we collect about our users. Not just for the sake of meeting data regulation requirements, but for the sake of maintaining clean, relevant, and actionable data.

When you’re working with something like Google Tag Manager, you have a lot of options for how to extract data. You can use CSS classes to target specific elements, you can use built-in browser events, and/or (my personal favorite) you can push information to the data layer and capture it there.

GTM is, of course, only one tool and it is still primarily used for web sites/platforms. At this point in time, most businesses have multiple digital tools or platforms they use beyond standard websites that will or should collect data. Separately, all of those data sets can be helpful and serve very specific purposes. What a lot of teams miss, is the magic that happens when you’re able to merge insights or data from those different sources together.

The world of data regulation is changing (if not mutating) rapidly, making it nearly impossible to collect data at the scale and level of precision we’ve been working towards. We’re now dealing with TCF v 2.0 consent requirements being enforced for EU users which will have a fairly direct impact on any online publication that relies on programmatic ad revenue. If governments start enforcing that level of consent for all analytics tracking, we’ll quickly arrive at a place where we simply can’t understand our top of the funnel users in an actionable way.

To avoid some of this nerdy data heartbreak, we need to shift how we’re thinking about collecting, storing, and even associating data.

Till now, the “gold standard” has been to associate all of our insights around a specific user. We’d start with a user id, push that to our other platforms and then merge collected insights to achieve some level of identity resolution to understand what the user did to progress from discovery to conversion.

For high-value and low volume conversion models (mostly B2B) there’s still a lot of value in identifying and understanding individuals and that won’t likely change. Those final conversions usually require a ( or several) human interaction(s) and happen over an extended period of time.

In this situation, you’re likely storing the user’s (lead’s) information in something like a CRM and capturing it through an action like a form completion, account connection, or another that requires a manual submission from the user. At the point of submission, you simply need to include a terms & services agreement that includes your policy for data collection, cookies, and privacy/sharing and require manual acknowledgement of the t&c before the action is completed and the information is passed to your system.

Note: I’m intentionally leaving identity resolution out of this post as I haven’t been able to find enough information to say whether or not merging historical anonymized data with recently consented data is against any standing regulations or at risk of becoming outlawed.

For higher volume and lower value conversion models, we need to think about how much we need to know about the user in order to be effective. We know that personalizing messages has a positive impact on user engagement, but when it comes to real-time features, recommendations, and data sharing – do you really need to be using that personalized data?

Let’s look at a feature like a recommendation engine for products:

Your system likely has (or can have) a randomized number for all users. It’s easier and more reliable to use a number than a name to avoid issues with similar names, updated name entries, or misspellings. We see WordPress take the same approach with categories and GA take the same approach with custom dimensions. It’s as simple as acknowledging that numbers make more sense to machines than words.

All of the history for that user is likely associated with that number, this includes purchases, product views, items added or removed from the cart, etc.

If the system is asked to make product recommendations to a user you really need to look at actions associated with the user id and then compare that to product information to identify the query you want to run. For example:

“I want to recommend similar products to users who have had an item in their cart for more than 3 days.”

For this you essentially “ask” your system to look at the product in the cart, match other products based on how you defined “similar”, and then tell it where/how to display or present those options. This logic can then be applied to all users who had an item in their cart for more than 3 days.

This specific feature or strategy requires absolutely no use of PII. There’s no reason for needing to present their name, address, or any other insights you may have, which means you’re never exposing PII in the browser.

Moral of The Story

  • Think through your features, tools, channels, and use cases to evaluate what data you actually need to be collecting or leveraging across your tools.
  • Think about the difference between features meant to make a user’s interaction with you easier and more enjoyable e.g. remembering their shipping address and features meant to persuade or push them into doing what you want them to do e.g. using their name or personal information to make it seem like you know them better than you do.
  • Gather real feedback from your users to better understand the line between offering convenience or ease of use and being creepy and unnerving with the data you have available.

Drums: How To Play A Groove In 13/8

If you play music, specifically drums, you’ll appreciate this.

That being said, I have had some crazy time signatures to play along to. This one is three measures of seven followed by a measure of 6 or you could say 14 and then 13

But seriously though… nobody’s gunna shake their booty to 13/8.

GDPR Friendly Implementation of Google Analytics

If you haven’t dove head first into the ever-changing world of data regulations, data compliance, and general data management you might be feeling a little overwhelmed when it comes to confidently tracking any kind of insights or analytics on your user’s behavior or interactions with your digital platforms.

My anxiety started to accruing at a higher rate through some recent discussions around cookie and consent management so I embarked on a crusade to make sure I had my facts separated from my assumptions.

First off, kudos to Blast Analytics for this post as I’ve come back to it several times and followed their references to get more information where needed.

Regulating Data Collection

Before we get into implementing anything, I think it’s smart to start with a quick summary. As of right now, there are two main sets of laws that provide fairly strict guidance on data collection, GDPR and CCPA. That being said, more countries, states, space colonies, etc. are starting to come up with their own sets of rules and regulations so it’s always worth looking in to who is most critical in terms of requirements.

Most of these regulations are focused on managing the collection, sharing, and use of personally identifiable information aka PII. As a general statement,these regulations support a broader philosophy/belief that you shouldn’t be able to profile information around an individual without their consent and you definitely shouldn’t be able to share the information with other people or businesses.

GDPR specifically requires any entity who is collecting data to be able to provide users with all of the data they have for the individual, explain how it is used or shared and then to be able to delete or edit that data.

Resource: IAB EU has rolled out their own guiding principles for transparency and consent that I think are worth looking through to better understand what the philosophical piece really means in practice.

Opinion: If you’re trying to understand trends in user behavior and engagement with your site or app, you don’t really need to be collecting PII. In my experience working with a broad range of businesses from various industries, I see most of them collecting too much data, the wrong data, or almost no data at all. It’s still very rare to see a business or team with a very intentional approach to measurement and analysis and I’d like to see that change, quickly.

All that being said, let’s dive in to a basic Google Analytics setup you can fire on all pages for all users without (currently) getting in trouble.

Google Analytics Settings

This post is based on my own research on a very rapidly changing subject. This information should help you find the direction you want to go in but you should absolutely consult with legal consult on your terms/policy as well as the implementation itself.

What you need to think about when it comes to Google Analytics or any other analytics platforms is

A. Whether or not you are collecting PII or information that can be used to profile or target a user.

B. If the data collected is shared with any other services that might use it to target or profile the user.

Note: It’s worth calling out the difference between “not allowed ever” and “not allowed without consent”. For this specific post, I’m focused on a safe way to track all users by default so you don’t lose behavioral trend data bout how your site is used. At some point I will come back and add a post about how/when to capture consent and how to fire the features/cookies based on user consent.

We’ll start with anonymizing data in GA since that is easiest. By default, Google Analytics is pretty good about not collecting anything you would need to worry about. Because of that, there are just a few things you need to adjust/check for at the basic settings level (assuming default GA setup).

Start by navigating to the Account Settings section by clicking on the gear on the very bottom of the far left navigation. Account level settings are the column you will see on the far left of the three column layout that should have opened for you.

If you scroll down you’ll immediately see a section dedicated to “Data Sharing Settings”. The safest option is to not share the data at all but I am still planning to follow up with some of my Google Contacts to see if sharing with technical support or for broader benchmarking purposes is still allowed.

If you scroll down a little further there is a Data Processing Amendment specifically focused on making sure your data processing is regulated in a way that complies with GDPR and CCPA and/or absolving Google from responsibility if you connect your data to another service that violates the requirements of those regulations.

Now you should navigate to your Property level settings in the admin section of Google Analytics. Start with the gear on the bottom of the very left side nav bar and you will see three columns for Account > Property > View.

In the property column, click on “Tracking Info” to expand your options and then select “Data Collection”. This screen gives you options to activate and allow data collection and remarketing abilities with Google Ads and, as I mentioned earlier, sharing that data isn’t allowed so you will want to make sure these are toggled off.

The next thing you need to do is anonymize any IP Adress that you collect. The official Google support documentation I linked shows you how to do it at the code level but the much easier way is to update your Analytics Setting variable in Google Tag Manager.

When you open up your variable you have two quick updates to make.

1.Update the Cookie Domain field to anonymizeIp

2. Create a field name for anonymizeIp and set the value to true

It should look like this and then you’ll obviously need to push those updates to the container before they actually make anything happen. Not that I would forget to publish changes or anything…..

Wrap Things Up

Before you do you’re victory dance I want to summarize what we actually accomplished and what is still remaining.

Accomplishments

  • We’re not collecting any personal information that can be tracked back to a specific user.
  • We’re not sending behavioral information to any Google services that may use that data for ad targeting, profiling, etc.
  • We are now (theoretically) able to continue to fire Google Analytics for all users and get a more accurate reading on total traffic basic behavioral trends in relation to how users get to your site and what they do once they are there.
  • If this is the only place you store user data, you don’t have a need or even the ability to adhere to personal data requests. In other words, if a user asked to see all o the data you had on them with an explanation of how it was being used, there’s no way you could find that data and you can confirm it is not being shared.

What’s left

  • Google Analytics is probably just one data tracking tool using cookies to gather user information. This solution doesn’t solve for other ad cookies, retargeting pixels, or even custom features on sites that use content engagement or history to profile and/or target users.
  • Pending on the type of business or site you run, turning off data sharing and moving towards more restricted tracking likely means your paid campaigns, marketing automation systems, and even product insights/analysis efforts are going to be slowed. Less users who can see tests you may be running, less users offering data used for ad revelancy that earn higher CPMs, slower building of remarketing audiences in general. We’ll need to explore manually triggering the features and tools that need this data based on consent.
  • If you use other tools for insights, relationship management, customer data, etc. You will need to go through a similar process to make sure you’re following the regulations that are in place.

I plan to dig further into basic third party tags/features like remarketing pixels and at least confirm my assumptions that they shouldn’t fire without confirming consent. To give you a preview, I have an implementation set up now where we’re checking the data layer to see if the user has accepted cookies with a simple cookiepolicyaccepted:true value assigned via…. wait for it ……. a cookie. I’ll use that check as part of my trigger logic for all of the other tags that require those conditions to fire.

Additionally, if you have registration or sign up forms set up as conversion points on your site, you should include your own data usage and cookie policy as part of their opt in AND make sure you’re storing that record somewhere where it won’t expire/disappear. This way, those events can open the gates for more actionable data based on the user’s interest/willingness to engage with you and you can use it to improve their experience or add value to them in some way.

On Growing A Team (or business) As Lean As Possible

Back in the twenty-teens the growth hacking/lean startup approach took over. Some of the overly aggressive tactics from those times were dropped relatively quickly but many of them were adopted as standard best practices but never really talked about in the same context again. Earlier this week I had someone ask me about when to hire for what roles and ultimately how to know when to make that investment.

I think each business and business model has some different signals to look at when making these decisions but I will try to generalize as much as possible to make it more applicable to everyone.

When considering a hire I tend to think through a few specific things:

  • What kind of need do I have?
  • What level of investment can I make in terms of both time and money?
  • What kind of return can I expect to make from that hire, and how long till I see it?

What kind of need do I have?

It’s not always (and shouldn’t) be as straight forward as “There is work that needs to be done.” I know that business owners, managers, etc. get tons of unsolicited advice from all types of people — who honestly tend to just speak to what they know — and all of that advice is hard to parse through. Things like:

  • Oh you need to be on TicToc, it’s the fastest growing social network right now.
  • You really should invest in your content strategy.
  • Facebook ads have been a really good tool for our business.
  • Your SEO could definitely be better.
  • You absolutely need to be tracking as much data as you can.
  • You should really have some automated campaigns set up to drive your lead funnels.

While none of those things are probably false statements, they’re not helpful in evaluating your actual needs based on your current business model and challenges. An actual need looks something more like:

We’re developing high-quality content that is valuable to the community but we’re not getting enough traffic or traction to make it worth the time we’re putting into it.

Once you can “vocalize” your problem, it’s easier to find the need. In this case we need to increase traffic and/or revenue on a per content basis. We’ll assume the website is monetizing their traffic at a reasonable level so we’ll look at options for increasing traffic first.

What level of investment can I make in terms of time and money?

Time

If you’re trying to be as lean as possible you need to maintain a pulse on your entire team’s bandwidth. Maybe you have a content creator who could step back from some flashier things to free up some time or a project you can pause to free up some resources.

If you are able to identify ways to free up time from your existing team, you need to evaluate the potential opportions for where to redirect that time and the learning curve/time investment it will take to get to a point of generating results.

Note: you also need to validate whether the time you can free up is coming from people who are willing/eager to learn and do more or if you’re risking turnover by asking someone who wants to stay focused on their main job to do something outside of their expertise or comfort zone.

Ultimately you need to evaluate the people and skills sets you are able to free up against the opportunities you identified to help solve the problem. In this case we’re looking at traffic so let’s say we narrowed it down to:

  • Investing more time into social media management, focusing on engaging the audience and driving more of them back to the content we’re creating.
  • Finally doing something with our newsletter and setting up email to be a consistent traffic driver.
  • Learning how to optimize the site for SEO to drive more organic traffic.

All three of these options are valid strategies and approaches that could likely yield similar results so let’s look at some scenarios.

  1. Most of the time you were able to free up came from your website manager – this person is more technical in nature and not incredibly strong at writing. This person is probably best suited to dig into SEO as they will be able to understand information from Seach Console and also be able to implement improvements independently.
  2. Most of the time you were able to free up came from more junior writers who don’t have a lot of experience working with websites or email platforms but are well versed in social media. This person could be easily shifted towards promoting content on social media. While there’s a learning curve to go from personal social media use to business social media management, there are a lot of resources out there to provide guidance, examples, templates, and ideas.
  3. You were able to free up some time on someone who is well-rounded and learns quickly. This person might be well suited for digging into your email platform and strategy to see if there are basic best practices that could be implemented easily.

By taking an approach that uses available time you were able to free up without increasing expenses you can essentially start making progress towards your goal and get to a point where you’ve increased incoming revenue enough to justify a dedicated hire.Please see this for reference on when generalists vs specialists make the most sense.

Pros

  • Didn’t add to ongoing expenses by adding a new hire.
  • You are leveling up your team in a way that helps them understand more about the business.
  • Instead of hiring specialists, you’re developing them which allows you to hire lower cost replacements as the people you train shift more focus towards these results-yielding initiatives.

Cons

  • You’re distracting team members from their core responsibilities.
  • The internal people training to take on new responsibilities won’t likely be as effective as a dedicated or specialized hire you might make.
  • It might take longer to see results from the time investment.

Money

If you’re at a point where you can’t or don’t want to try and leverage your existing team to take on the new opportunities you need to look at what kind of investment you can make and for how long. Maybe you can cover the cost of a hire but only for three months. I would use the next section to calculate the expectations/goals for the hire and be very clear with them that they will need to hit these goals in that three month period — ultimately securing their own job.

What kind of return can I expect, and when?

If you’re going to be a lean business, you need to transform this question into a requirement for your potential hire: “I need to see $XXXX more revenue in the next X months.” You don’t need to be that blunt about it, but you get the idea.

I’m not going to dive into advanced analytics or hardcore math-ing in this post for the sake of keeping it simple. Instead, we can use a general metric like revenue per pageview to try and calculate the results you would need to justify a hire at the price point the market is asking for.

All you need to do is look at each opportunity/strategy and use the insights available to forecast a rough increase in pageviews (this can be done with basic Google Analytics analysis).

For channels like social media and email where you have a specific sized audience, I would look into what it would mean to increase not just frequency but also click through rates. You can then calculate how the increase in sessions/click throughs translates to pageviews by using average pageviews per session and then multiply by your revenue per pageview.

For example:

  • I have an email list of 10,000 subscribers.
  • I’ve seen maybe 5% of those users open my monthly email to click through to the site.
  • On average, those users see 1.5 pages per session.

My plan in hiring someone would be to update our email templates to improve clickthrough rate (from 5% to 7%) and start sending weekly newsletters. I can forecast the impact of achieving those goals by taking 7% of 10000 and multipling that times 4 (four newsletters) and then multiplying that by 1.5 (pages per session). Once I have that number I can multiple it by my revenue per pageview number and compare it to my current performance to see what kind of potential revenue impact I would see.

It may be a case where you need to hire someone to take on all three opportunities – and in that case it’s really just validating how long it will take to achieve the results that will justify and ideally surpass the cost of the hire. Again, the idea is scaling that revenue up until one of those responsibilities is generating enough revenue to justify a dedicated hire/owner.

Making A Beast of Yourself

He who makes a beast of himself relieves himself the pain of being a man.

Hunter S. Thompson

I wouldn’t say I feel the “pain” of being a (hu)man but there’s definitely a lot to process on a daily basis normally — not to mention in times of chaos on uncertainty.

This is why I make sure to find the time to turn off that part of my brain and decompress. While I think meditation is an effective way to manage that generally feeling of being overwhelmed, I am not a person who meditates in the “normal” way.

I’m a high energy person so what I’ve found works for me is massive exertion of energy, usually in the form of an activity that really requires full focus. In my case it’s playing drums or training/competing in some kind of combat sport like boxing or muay thai.

Album Art – Creative “Process”

Sometime around 2016, before “The Force Awakens” was released I started on a new music project with my long time (musical) partner in crime Tom Hummer. Several years prior, when we were in a band together called Thoughts of Crossing, we had made a joke about starting a Star Wars-themed band called “The Han Solo Project” and we came up with satirical song titles like “Hoth = Fun”. Once we heard that Disney was going to release a new trilogy AND a ton of other new stories, we decided the idea was worth reviving and that year we released our first album as The Han Solo Project called “The Force Hits Snooze”.

Based on our personalities, our friendship, and the nature of the band we decided to personify ourselves as Han Solo and Chewbacca. I have always been a fan of comics and comic book art so I thought I would take a crack at drawing the album art myself. The first cover was pretty rough so I decided to spend some more time over the next few years learning some more fundamentals of drawing by participating in Inktober and making a habit of drawing a little each day. After attempting to draw some fairly complicated illustrations and some more simplistic ones, I decided that in terms of what I actually like drawing myself, I’d prefer to stick toward the more cartoonish styled illustrations like these — which ended up resulting in our second album cover.

As with any hobby, the way you approach it changes over time as you develop preferences or find efficiencies. With this album, we had a song called “I like your helmet” so I incorporated that into the illustration. For the next album, I wanted to avoid another cover of the two just playing music so I looked to more iconic images of bands and album covers for inspiration. As I was looking through I thought that using something like a famous photo of a band or a very recognizable album cover would save me time and also create an instant sense of familiarity with music fans who are maybe discovering our stuff for the first time— this resulted in the R.A.G.E. or Rage Against The Galactic Empire album cover.

Album Cover for “Rage Against The Galactic Empire”

At his point my “process” had become of a mix of gatheting inspiration from our content (the songs, track titles, album title, etc.) and then finding inspiration from bands and iconic images that we love and could relate to. For the next album we knew we would be writing a song about the ridiculous amount of dismemberment in Star Wars so we decided to call it “Admiral Ackbar’s Lonely Limbs Club Band” — inspired by The Beatle’s Sgt. Peppers.

Album cover for “Admiral Ackbar’s Lonely Limbs Club Band”

At this point I have a good foundational process for the conceptual piece and am having to borrow less and less from other art or images. I still like using albums or iconic photos to model a cover but I have a bit more freedom in how the characters end up looking/feeling. This year I’ve done two stand alone covers for our singles and a cover for our upcoming album (Self Titled) which was inspired by The Gorillaz self-titled album art.

I use an app on my iPad Pro called “Procreate” to put the art together — mostly because it’s too expensive to buy all of the colors/materials I’d need AND I’m not great at coloring in the lines. I still tend to sketch out concepts on paper and then import them into the app as a starting point. Here’s what that process looks like in the app.

Go + CoBlocks for WordPress

When I was still in the Director of Client Delivery role, I had the chance to oversee a really cool project that we worked on with GoDaddy. The idea was to build a theme framework that leveraged Gutenberg and GoDaddy’s recently acquired CoBlocks, ultimately producing a very flexible theme that makes it easy for anyone to spin up a site about pretty much anything. The end product was the Go by GoDaddy theme.

The design approach to this project was unique in that we were designing for a handful of different use cases, knowing they could be configured in an insane amount of ways. We ended up having to take a more component-ized approach for initial styles but still layout a wide variety of pages to really get a sense of how they could fit together.

Until recently, I never really had a chance to play with it as much as I would have liked but over the last week I have been digging in and I have been super impressed.

Site Design

The first thing I absolutely love is the flexibility in the site design options within the customizer. You can choose from a variety of styles that apply css “themes” to your entire site – fonts, layout, colors, etc. On top of that you can also choose from existing color palettes to personalize everything to your preference or personality.



Header Layout

In case you don’t work in web, the header can be a bit of a pain to play around with because it’s a global element. Making major layout changes can negatively impact some of your page templates and best case scenario you spend a decent amount of time testing global changes.

The Go Theme has several header options that allow you to adjust based on what you need. Different layouts look better with logos vs text titles or menus with dropdowns vs one-dimensional nav.

Screen Shot

Layout Flexibility

CoBlocks has over 30 blocks to choose from, which keeps you from being limited as you write or shape your site content. I have been struggling with the core block for columns and recently found out the CoBlocks option is infinitely more flexible. For the most part, you can work about any content element in with this library without having to do anything too hacky.

This definitely isn’t an enterprise-level theme for a company with strict branding guidelines but it’s a very flexible option for small businesses, enthusiasts, and pretty much everyone else.