You don't know what you don't know, but why you really should...

By Laura Haight

Originally published as the Digital Maven in Upstate Business Journal 

Business executives seem to be divided up into two general categories: those who micro-manage and those trust implicitly.

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I’m sorry to say that I am a micro-manager because I learned early on that in most cases (certainly not all) people just do not follow through. At least not unless they know there’s at least a chance that you are watching.

Technology creates a perfect storm where managers or owners who don’t understand it hire staff or contractors to manage it but then don’t know enough to assess whether any of it is working. You just have it.

Recently, it’s become clear to me that this can be a big problem:

  • Several small business owners I know have no idea at all how much traffic their website gets or what areas of the website are most viewed.
  • I recently saw a very nice glossy mail piece that used a QR code. I scanned it for the additional material and it went instead to the website where they created the QR tag itself.
  • A client of mine was surprised to learn that photos on their website had been replaced with empty boxes with big X’s through them. Along with these lost links, a quick perusal of their webpage showed employees no longer at the company; one of whom had actually been fired.

These are smart, savvy business people, but like many non-technology business execs they have assets they don’t understand (“because we just have to have a Facebook page”).

To make sure your technology works for you and not against you, here are a few things to pay attention to.

What is behind the curtain?: Make sure to check that all the links on your website go to the right places, that your website is not linking to something that might be considered inappropriate by your customers. If you use some new tech, like QR tags (these aren’t all that new, but seem to be popping up more), make sure they work. If you don’t know how to scan the QR tag on your ad or direct mail piece, learn. I don’t consider this micro-managing; more like trusting, but verifying. After all, whose business is it anyway?

Read your own stuff? Even if you have a “brochure-style” website with fairly static content, you want to visit it periodically to make sure everything is still working. Are all the photos still there (a change in a hosting service or directory could make these break), does the video still work, is your “About Us” page still accurate? And what about Facebook? Even if you have a staffer or consultant doing your postings, it doesn’t absolve you from the best-practice of seeing what they are posting in your company’s name. The last thing you want is a customer saying: “I couldn’t believe you posted that on Facebook!”

Is our website effective? Many small businesses - especially those with few staffers - have used templated online services to create their own websites. Or they may even have hired a website company or freelancer to build their sites. No matter. What does matter is how well is it performing. For that, you must have analytics. I can hear some of you grousing that you can’t afford that. But the good news is that Google Analytics is free and it provides plenty of information to satisfy the needs of businesses large and small. In fact, 57 percent of the top 10,000 websites in the country use Google Analytics. If your website designer didn’t provide analytics, ask for them. If they balk at doing it, get someone else. One way or another, if your website isn’t working, you need to know it.

How much and how often? Get an analytic report once a month and look at five key statistics: Unique visitors (the actual number of people coming to your site), page views (how many pages are they reading while on your site - a measure of engagement), bounce rate (the number who quit your site without going to any other pages - usually a sign of a lack of engagement), time on site (the total amount of time a visitor spends), top content pages (where are visitors going - by extension, where are they NOT going).

“Provable deniability,” “ignorance is bliss” or “you don’t know what you don’t know”. Whatever you want to call it, it’s NOT good for your business - and you don’t have to be a geek or a gizmo to learn these basics.