Your data is irrelevant.
I’m sure that sentence is going to rub some of you the wrong way, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
All that data you have gathered on how your audience behaves – their online buying habits, their time-on-site, the typical conversion paths – became relics sometime in the middle of March 2020. Looking at data before March is like trying to create a map using satellite imagery from 1995.
You might get some of the roads right, but the potential for leading people down a dead-end road is significant.
The Compass Is Broken
There is no doubt that consumer behavior has changed significantly over the past few weeks. The change has been rapid and is constantly in flux. Long-term predictions using current data is impossible – at least with any modicum of certainty. It’s hard enough to predict outcomes when the data is somewhat stable. When the data is unstable, predicting outcomes is, well, unpredictable.
At my agency, we have clients in many different verticals. Each vertical is behaving differently in regards to their search traffic. On average, our clients are seeing impressive increases in overall traffic. But despite the increases in traffic, conversions over the last 3 weeks are down 30% year-over-year.
The news media and perceptions of the economy are a bigger indicator of site conversion than rankings or traffic at the moment. And while my observations are based on data, I know that any data we have from years past is mostly irrelevant to the reality of today.
We don’t live in the same world we did just one month ago. If you have goals and projections for the year, the quarter or the month based on previous data, you need to throw them out the window. And unfortunately, new goals and projections made right now will most be more guesswork than data science.
Even weekly projections are difficult to make right now.
True North Is Still True North
We may be in uncharted territory, but there is still one indicator that we can use to help us know where to go from here.
<<We must understand our audience now>>
Your audience’s behavior has changed over the last few weeks, but at their core, they are still the same. As marketers, our “true north” is empathy. We must be able to put ourselves in our audience’s shoes. That means understanding what your audience is going through during the “great lockdown.”
You need to pivot from relying on historical quantitative data to a more qualitative approach. If you don’t have Hotjar installed on your site – get it on there. Dig into your analytics over the last week or so and look at the paths that visitors are taking to navigate. You can make inferences about what the audience is interested in just by looking at the most common paths of your visitors.
Pay close attention to the path of visitors that are converting. Again, anything more than a few weeks old is moot now. You need to see what your visitors are doing now. Don’t worry so much about where the visitors are coming from, except for top-line numbers.
Search traffic trends right now are going to be unreliable indicators of what is going on. Your rankings may not change, but your traffic may fluctuate wildly based on changing consumer search patterns.
You need to understand how people are reacting to your site and be willing to make some design changes to accommodate the behavior as it becomes apparent. Understand that these design pivots may be temporary as behavior changes.
If you have a list of existing customers, it’s OK to reach out and ask them how they want to receive information from you – or even if they want to receive information right now. In your communication with existing customers, get right to the point.
It seems every company I’ve ever done business with has sent me an email about their operations – leading with a lengthy intro talking about “these trying times.”
Your audience isn’t living under a rock. You don’t need to tell them about current events that don’t directly relate to your business.
Trust me, your audience is aware of what is going on in the world.
But they may not know how to interact with you during these times – and you may not know what they are going through.
Ask your audience the questions you don’t know.
I am a huge fan of surveying your audience. You can get a ton of data by asking your audience some questions, and incentivizing them to answer by enrolling them in a contest to win a $50 Amazon gift card.
I would recommend keeping your survey short – no more than 10 questions. But with 10 questions, you can learn a lot about your audience.
If you have deeper pockets, running email lists through databases at places like Acxiom can provide you with a ton of basic insights about your audience such as:
- Political orientation.
- Home ownership status.
- And much more.
The more data you have about your audience, the better you can empathize with them. And if you can empathize with them, you can understand how to sell to them.
Orienteering Through Uncertainty
Until we get a new normal, your data is going to be unreliable. Consumer behavior and search behavior is rapidly changing with every news cycle. In order to know where to go next, you are going to need to anticipate your audience’s needs based on what you know about the audience.
If you can sell online, you need to understand who is most likely to buy your product. If you don’t know, now is the time to find out.
If you are a brick-and-mortar establishment that has been shut down, you still need to be monitoring your website traffic to understand what your customers are looking for.
Who knows, there may be a chance for you to pivot some of your services online. It’s certainly a good time to look into pivoting. We’re going to have to use our gut and our common sense. The data isn’t going to tell us where to go. And if your gut is telling you to cut marketing, you’re probably wrong.
Now is the time to be as present as possible in the online world. That means upping your SEO and content creation efforts. It means monitoring your paid ads and trying something new that might not have worked in our previous environment.
There are winners and losers in every crisis. The winners usually push forward, while the losers let fear guide their marketing efforts.I urge you to understand your audience, trust your gut, and move forward.