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Using DMAIC Methodology to Enhance Information Portals


January 12, 2009

The Internet has emerged rapidly as the primary medium of information access to the common users. Moreover, all product companies are also keen on releasing a web version to target a wider range of audience. The largest customer base for any organization across any market is in THE INTERNET. This is very evident from the fact that even US President Mr. Barack Obama used internet (Web 2.0 - Change.gov) as a strong medium to reach users and eventually succeeded in the initiative.

Irrespective of their offline brand, it has become imperative for every organization to have a strong online presence. Of course, strong offline brands get a heads-up because of their brand awareness. But, it also matters how quickly you enter the Internet market that is highly competitive.

Entering the Internet market might be easy, but how well you enter and how well you capture the attention of the users matters a lot. Also, with web concepts evolving time to time, it is very difficult to retain your user base. Hence, there is a need to analyze, monitor, and control the key metrics of the website. You also might want to introduce some disruptive features from time to time in order to stay ahead of the competition.

The need to analyze the user behavior on the website and customize the content for the users is very important for user retention. As the saying goes, "You cannot improve until you measure." You cannot analyze user behavior until you have these metrics in place.

In this article, I will walk you through the key concepts that will make any organization succeed in the online market. I shall demonstrate how you can take methodologies from other product industries and customize them for the web-enabled marketplace. I shall introduce DMAIC, a Six Sigma methodology from the manufacturing sector and attempt to customize it for an information portal.

What Is DMAIC?

Let me explain DMAIC. Six Sigma is a methodology for enhancing a process' performance. This concept was pioneered by Motorola and GE to be quality focused. DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control.

DMAIC is a Six Sigma methodology by which you achieve process improvement. Not all projects are taken up for this initiative. To qualify for this initiative, a process potentially should have an impact on either of the two objectives:

  • Cost Reduction
  • Revenue Increase

Let me start by defining the DMAIC steps for website improvement. Please review Figure 1.



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Figure 1: Six Sigma (DMAIC) methodology

DEFINE

It is very important to understand the core competency of your business along with key market drivers and define a particular objective for your initiative to enter the online market. This is the most critical step of the whole initiative; it has an impact on all subsequent steps. A few examples of the objectives are as follows:

  • Increase Revenue by 25% over a year
  • Be the Number 1 online brand in that particular industry

MEASURE

It is very important to measure the metrics that are in alignment with your defined objectives. For example, if the objective is to increase revenue, there is a certain set of metrics that needs to be measured. Please see Figure 2 for a key set of metrics you should measure to make informed decisions. Please see Appendix A for a basic explanation of the key metrics described below.



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Figure 2: Key Web Metrics to Measure

Traffic Metrics: How do you measure?

There are various measurement tools that are available in the market. One of the best tools (surprisingly, because it's free) for measuring traffic metrics is Google Analytics. This tool gives you a wide range of analytic features that will help you to get better insight on user behavior. It provides an option to identify the pain points and hence make corrective actions to your website.

Revenue Metrics: How do you measure?
It is very important for an organization to analyze the revenue patterns of their website. It also is very important to advertise or partner with some of the other websites that will depend on the business synergies. There are various ad platforms through which you can measure the revenue metrics. Some of them are:

  • Ad Sense
  • Ad Words
  • Vibrant Media
  • Kontera

But, these represent the revenue that comes from aliasing with a third-party ad agency. It is always better to have your own advertising platform and sell the ads directly to the clients. In this way, you can leverage your offline presence and charge the clients more to display their ads on your website based on the position.

Conversion Rates: How do you measure?

You must be in a position to measure how well your objectives have been met. For example, consider the case of increasing the number of registered users in a website. You need to measure the registration conversion rate (number of registered users/unique visitors) to track your performance. There is no specific tool in the market that can measure conversion rates directly. Google Analytics has an option of defining goals and, hence, measuring the conversion rate for each goal defined. But, it is always better to have an internal system where you can slice and dice the information to get better insight. But, Google Analytics can be a good start with zero investment.

ANALYZE

Although all the measurement tools that I discussed can give you a good insight on the key metrics, it is very crucial to analyze them and make some business sense out of it. You should be able to relate the patter in the metrics to a particular action of your business.

The important aspects of the Analyze phase are summarized below:

  1. Online Brand Analysis
    1. Page Rank
    2. Traffic Analytics
    3. Competitor Analytics
    4. Revenue Analysis
  2. Technology Analysis
    1. Platform Scalability Analysis
    2. Detailed Code Review
    3. Stability Analysis
    4. Infrastructure Analysis
    5. Website Sustenance Analysis
Traffic Analytics

Traffic Analytics is one of key activities in the Analyze phase. However, as every other analytics tool does, Google Analytics just throws you numbers based on the traffic on your website. It depends on the individual to make sense out of the numbers. Hence, expertise in handling the tool and churning out the numbers is very important.

An intuitive ability to identify the reasons for the behavior is also very critical. For example, one may see a pattern in the traffic trend for website. But, it requires instinctive sense to identify the reason for that particular trend. For example, every information portal might have a decreasing trend on the weekend due to people spending time more entertaining themselves. But, every social networking site (Facebook, My Space) might have an increasing trend on weekends in particular due to many users spending time on online chatting and dating. Hence, it is very critical to think not only from a user perspective but also with a bit of common sense.

Please refer Fig 3. To view a snapshot of key metrics which from Google Analytics

Figure 3: Google Analytics Snapshot

IMPROVE

The Improve Phase primarily deals with the planning and execution of action items based on the analysis done. This is one of key phases after which you will reap real benefits from your initiative. It is very important to set short term goals and long term goals for the website improvement process from an execution perspective.

Some of the activities that can come under short term goals are as follows:

  • Immediate implementation of Web 2.0 features that can allow users to interact between them
  • Enhancing the look and feel of the website
  • Effectively customize the website for the users
  • Search Engine Optimization: Basic Activities such as URL construction and Meta Tags

Some of the activities that can come under long term goals are as follows:

  • Search Engine Optimization: Advanced ativities like link buildingand so forth
  • Identify additional sources of revenue and implement them
  • Online and offline marketing campaigns
  • Identify key market drivers and introduce new features related to evolving Web concepts

Online Marketing



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Figure 4: Online Marketing

Natural Search: Search Engine Optimization

The first and foremost step in a SEO initiative is identifying the right keywords. One of the important tools that can be used to find the right keywords for your website is Google Ad Words Keyword Tool. This tool will give you the approximate Search volume (for the past twelve months) and also the competition for the particular keyword. By using this tool, you can analyze and decide upon the keywords you need to target to rank high on an organic search. Please see Appendix B for a sample set of guidelines that a website should follow from a SEO perspective.

Paid Search: Search Engine Marketing (Ad Words)

Paid Search is nothing but the sponsored links that are displayed on the right-hand side of your search listing page. You pay per click to Google when a user lands on your Ad Words landing page. It is always better to have a customer care page to get the details of the customer. Once you get the details, the sales or marketing team can follow up with the customer and can address their needs personally. But one should be very careful to ensure that, before and after providing the user details, there should be an option of re-directing the user to your website. If this is not done, you just get the user information without even showcasing your website. It will be more impressive if the landing page on your website is related to the searched keyword content.

Natural versus Paid Search Strategy

The key thing is to make sure that for the five most searched keywords in Ad Words, you should make sure that you list in the top three in a natural search. When you reach the top in a search, you can remove those five keywords from Paid Search and then focus on the five next most searched keywords. By doing so, you are continuously enhancing your rank in the Search List and also you are cutting down the cost paid to Google by eliminating those five keywords from Ad Words.

Techniques that will increase traffic to the website

There are some techniques that can be used to improve traffic to the website. Some of them are discussed in the following sections:

Manual Refresh

You can have a manual refresh button in an information portal (like stock market sites, live scores sites, and such). Although you might have an auto refresh in your website, providing a manual refresh will prompt users to click on it several times. Consider the case that you are watching live scores of a cricket match. Being curious to know what happened in the next ball, you might click the refresh button before the auto refresh happens. This is the case for a single user. Considering this for a million users, this will have an enormous increase in the pageviews. Because the pageviews increase, with visitors being constant, you might have an increased pages/visit. Hence, you can have more stickiness on your website.

AJAX implementation

Implementing asynchronous calls within a block will have multiple hits on the server. Consider the case that you have an expand-and-collapse option in your website. When a user clicks on the expand button, assume that you are pulling out real-time information from your DB server. In this scenario, each and every click that pulls information from the DB is counted as a Pageview. According to the logic discussed previously, this will increase the stickiness and traffic of your website.

There are several such techniques that can be used as a cool feature and also increase your traffic count. All technical leads in the web industry should be aware of this that might give them an additional edge over the others. Moreover, it is very important for all technical leads to understand how Google indexes each page and what Google considers a pageview. To have a competitive website, it is very important to understand these concepts.

CONTROL

After the implementation of the plan, you should make sure that you continuously improve the performance of your website to stay ahead of the competition. Some of the key activities that can be done to control the performance are as follows:

  • Track the key metrics and ensure they are aligned with the business objectives
  • Send Progress Reports to key stakeholders and get their feedback
  • Do Pilot Runs and analyze the results to ensure a controlled release
  • Identify best-in class systems and integrate them with your website

Based on my experience, I am very sure that these steps followed with attention to detail can definitely create a positive impact on the performance of the website.

Conclusion

Once you start to monitor and control the performance of your website, it doesn't mean that you will get the expected results immediately. You might have made some decisions based on what you perceive the user will like. You must not forget that it's a perception, not a reality. Only when you monitor will you know what the user base really likes. For example, you must have perceived a SEO keyword. But, only after you track the performance of that particular keyword, you will know the real results.

You must be quick enough to catch the mistakes (if you make any) in your decision process and fix it immediately. You also must analyze the user click-through behavior if you want to have a huge hit in personalization. Drag and Drop widgets could be a better idea of implementing your functionalities where users can customize themselves. This approach is just a good beginning. You must always keep your eyes wide open and look for opportunities to improve. These opportunities, in turn, will DEFINE the objective. And the cycle follows again.

About the Author

Arvind Muthukrishnan is an Associate Project Manager, specializing in end-to-end consulting of information portals, SEO, and web analytics in Photon Infotech, a next generation Internet consulting firm. He has an MBA in Systems from SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, India, and a Masters in IT from Virginia Tech, Blacksburg.

Appendix A: Explanation of Key Metrics

  • Traffic Rank: Combined metric of Pageviews and number of visitors who viewed the site
  • Page views: The total number of pages viewed. Repeated views of a single page are counted
  • Unique Visitors: Metric measured by counting each visitor only once in the time frame
  • Bounce Rate: The percentage of single page visits resulting from this set of pages or page
  • Top Content: The list of maximum visited pages (URLs) with respective percentages
  • Map Overlay: The percentage of visitors from each geographic location
  • Direct Traffic: The percentage of visitors who were redirected by entering the site name directly
  • Referring Sites: The percentage of visitors who were redirected from a third-party site
  • Search Engines: The percentage of visitors who were redirected from search engines
  • Browser Profile: The split of the users by each browser they used to access your site
  • Keywords: The list of keywords an user searches for landing on your website
  • In-text Ad Revenue: Revenue from Online Ads that are published on your website by ad platforms such as Google AdSense, Ad Words, and so on
  • Direct Ad Revenue Revenue from Online Ads that we directly sell to advertisers directly or through a third-party agency
  • Other Subscription Revenue: Revenue from services where the user has to pay and subscribe to the services
  • Conversion Rate: The percentage of unique visitors who are converted to subscribe for a service

Appendix B: Key SEO Guidelines for a Website

  1. A keyword-rich Title tag should be present. It should be related to your webpage.
  2. The meta keyword tag should be present in the page. Have at least 3-5 keywords in the tag that are related to your business/that you feel that user will use to find your website.
  3. The meta description tag should be present and describe the webpage.
  4. The use of internal CSS and Java Script should be avoided; if present, they should be moved externally.
  5. HTML code should be without errors and as per the W3C standard.
  6. Don't use hidden text, tiny text, or text with the same color as the background.
  7. All images should be given Alt tags describing about the image.
  8. Dynamic URL should rewritten to static URL (Example www.yourdomain.com/ homepage/ ph?=56t=htnku should be something like www.yourdomain.com/homepage.html)
  9. Have some keyword-rich content related to the page in some part of the page.
  10. Anchor text for the text links should be of keyword rich.
  11. Use some keywords as a part of the URL.
  12. Use <H1> through <H6>tags for the important titles and words in the page.
  13. Understand the importance of keywords in each and every article and make sure all content created is SEO friendly.
  14. Determine the percentage of content according to the page weight, and so forth.
  15. Learn how to use tools to get the search volume and competition factor for particular keywords

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