You just proved outdoor advertising works - Um, no. A lesson in analytics

Everyone gets that feeling in the pit of their stomach. You know the one. You're in your car at a stop light and your eye catches the sign on the side of the bus stop: "You just proved outdoor advertising works." And you think: Dammit! I'm better than that! Why does that *always* get me?! (C'mon, admit it. You know you do.)

But I think the sign is wrong.

In fact, I think the sign demonstrates a clear lack of understanding about marketing. And the web.

(Whoa. Wha?)

That sign? For me it demonstrates that people don't know what to measure.

Looking at the sign is only the first step in a process called "conversion". Conversion is basically the idea of converting a stranger into a customer. Someone looking at your sign can be the start of the conversion process, but —alone— it does nothing for your bottom line. It's the equivalent of someone seeing your website address. Seeing is not action. Seeing has no dollar value. Yet.

There's an entire science to ads: placement in order to enhance recall; design and messaging to promote message retention and relevance to the consumer. An entire process to ensure that when a potential consumer has a need that you can fill, in that moment, they will remember you and choose to investigate your product or service and use it. The entire thread of brand awareness through to consumption (and if all goes well, repeatability) - that's an example of conversion.

Online, this entire process is often forgotten. Case in point: web managers are asked to report on "views". Views is great if you're building a brand (what consultants call "building mindshare") or if your main product is information. If you're just looking to build awareness, fine. But if that awareness is supposed to at some point translate into some sort of action (or transaction), then views don't represent anything useful.

"How many tasks were completed on your site?" That's a much more powerful metric. "How many people signed up for your newsletter? your RSS feed? your Twitter or Facebook account? How many views on your YouTube videos? How many completed forms? Requests for follow up?" Those are the signs of engagement. And they are all measurable.

Now don't get me wrong. Traffic is fantastic. But page views alone don't tell you much. Better to focus on which pageswhich topics get the most views or comments. Which cycles (times of year, news stories, company actions) that caused spikes or valleys in your web traffic. There's a whole science to metrics and you can't judge performance using only one measure.

So that sign? The one on the bus stop? Unless it made you remember the URL and contact the sign company to advertise your product or service? Yeah, it didn't *prove anything*. So you can think about *that* next time you see one.