Traffic statistics, big business and the Long Tail

Steve Edelman, on his always interesting Micro Persuasion blog, is saying It’s Time for Traffic Stats to Die.

Working in the world of the Long Tail is very different to the world of big business. Largely the business media covers big business, and its like that with coverage of Internet trends as well. The big companies and the big trends get a huge amount of coverage. But in the world of the Long Tail, different rules apply, and different measures are relevant. And even though big business mightn’t notice it yet (or like it when they do), it will matter.

I like Edelman’s post, because the “Page Views aren’t accurate any more” discussion has been mostly about technology and advertising .. some technologies don’t make you request a new page to do something, so the advertising industry billing model is challenged. Hmm, so what. But this post picks up on what is a much bigger issue … even if page views were accurately counted, not all page views are equal.

Most small business aren’t ever going to attract huge volumes of traffic. Why would they? The main measure of online success for a small business is … does my website lead to more business? Do you need lots of traffic to achieve this? No. A relatively small amount of good traffic will do just fine, thanks very much. So online marketing strategies for small business are very different to big business.

Just last week, a blogging client of ours got a call …. “I’m looking at your site, I want to make a booking.” That matters a lot to them, its their first born-on-the-web client, it didn’t come from a personal referral. The return from that client is significant, for a business that knows all of their customers personally. All around the world, companies like ours are helping small business find their customers online (and blogs are a big part of that).

That’s not to say small business doesn’t measure or care about traffic at all (some of our blogging clients love poring over Google Analytics). But Steve Edelman is right when he says that different measures matter. Big business is facing a new, and very dangerous, competitor. Small business. Hundreds of thousands, millions of them. Not going after hundreds of thousands of page views. Nothing that will ever reach the top 100 of Alexis or whatever. But very specific online marketing strategies looking for quality traffic in their niche, leading to a very-tidy-profit-thanks-very-much.

That one visit to our client’s website – and the events that led up to it – is what should be measured. What did the customer want? How did they go about finding it online? What did they find? How did they interpret the information the found online, and what convinced them to buy? Traffic statistics that are all about tracing millions of hits to support millions of low value advertising transactions aren’t going to be that helpful. Who cares about numbers of page views if customers buy somewhere else?

Now even if a big business could start to trace this type of metric, once they found out what was happening would they be able to defend themselves? Consumers of information, products and services are getting new choices, and making different decisions. People love having this choice, love finding stuff that is more like what they want. This is what the Long Tail is all about. Given a choice outside the Top 40, people buy some pretty weird and wonderful stuff, becuase its what they want.

So lets wait and see what new ways of measuring traffic are developed. Perhaps the new measures will help online marketing efforts for small business even more than big business. We live in interesting times.