By the Numbers

Using counters to chart your market effectiveness

by Dennis L. Prince
- Sep 18, 2009

"Fifty-percent of my advertising doesn't work. I just don't know which 50 percent."

Although that may sound humorous, most businesspeople take this marketing and merchandising conundrum gravely seriously. In this time of near-superfluous productizing and pitching, some sellers think they've already lost the battle for gaining customers' attention and patronage.

Take heart, though, because if this matter is one that keeps you preoccupied, there is a tool to ease your concern and guide you in your efforts to present the best product appeal: the counter.

Although the counter has been around for more than a decade now, its use has never been more important. If you wonder whether you're reaching your target audience in all that you offer, consider this insight into counter use and how you can distill priceless information to boost your bottom line.

Why count?

There's little mystery here: The best way to gauge the appeal of your products and sales strategies is to quantify the public response. That's why counters have been, and still are, so important.

Counters can tally how many people have visited a Web page, have viewed a particular category or individual item, or have looked closely at the goods you may be offering for bid at an online auction site. With each time a particular Web page (potentially, an "item") is viewed, the counter tally is incremented. By this rudimentary counting method, you'll discover how much relative activity an item or group of items is generating, helping you to determine which items are the most popular and which are the least attractive (by way of comparing the counter hits).

For the online seller, page view counters are more revealing than hit counters

Immediately, you'll be able to identify those items that draw visitors' attention and those that seem to languish unnoticed on the virtual shelf. This can often be the key to valuable insight that guides you to online venues that are attracting the most traffic for your items, which item keywords seem to get the most search hits, which pricing strategies lure more potential buyers and, overall, which combined marketing approaches work best for your business. Armed with these statistics, you're in a much better position to make well-reasoned adjustments as the numbers dictate.

Do the numbers ever lie?

But understand that a high number of counter hits doesn't necessarily translate to a successful sale or higher auction bids. In fact, an item that receives a lot of hits but still doesn't sell might indicate your price needs revising (is the item desirable to visitors but deemed too expensive?), your description needs revamping, or perhaps your item images need sprucing up.

Be especially watchful if you post an item with accompanying images that take an extraordinarily long time to display. Visitors may have decided not to wait around even though their attempt to view the item was nonetheless tallied by the counter.

More to the point of counter accuracy, simple counters you might utilize for free from various destinations online are sometimes limited to capturing either item hits or item visits. A simple "hit counter" will typically tally up the number of page elements (text content and each individual image) that are displayed; an item with text and two images could tally three "hits." More common is the page view counter. It tallies how many times a particular online page (such as an eBay listing) is viewed, irrespective of the number of text and graphic elements contained within.

For the online seller, page view counters are more revealing than hit counters. Better still, the most granular and most telling statistic would be that of unique visitor hits—that is, how many different visitors have viewed your item (as opposed to the same visitor viewing your item page several times or more). Generally, to gain this sort of specific information, you'll need to subscribe to or purchase a more sophisticated online tracking solution, such as Auctiva's Sellathon counters and analytics. If you're new at the online business, though, a simpler page view counter might be suitable for starting up.

Using counters will help you learn more about online marketing as well as your online customer base

Better seen or unseen?

Here's where the discussion often picks up: the argument whether it's better or worse to include visible counters on your item pages (where you and your visitors actually see the tallied number on the counter). One side of this argument states that a visible counter can help motivate buyers and bidders, citing that a high counter tally will telegraph that the item is potentially in high demand and could be bought or bid on at any given moment—better not wait! This can often be the impetus that prompts a motivated buyer to make a quick purchase or cast a high bid before someone else snatches it away.

From the other side comes the argument that visible counters might discourage a buyer, first by belief that an item with a high counter tally—yet without a purchase or reasonable bid value—might suggest something's wrong with the item. If not, why wouldn't someone have already staked their claim? Equally, in the bidding scenario, a high count might foretell of a bidding war that will likely ensue, a competitive showdown that some buyers simply choose to avoid.

From either perspective, there are pros and cons to utilizing visible counters. It's wise to use invisible counters at the outset as you learn which items and sales approaches seem to be most popular, without tipping off or otherwise influencing your visitors. Then, experiment with making those counters visible and determine if they have a positive or negative effect to your sales results.

Strength in numbers

Whatever your approach, using counters makes good sense and will help you learn more about online marketing as well as your online customer base. And while some of the statistical data might not tell the complete story, any sort of numerical results can typically aid you in honing your approach to improve your business' bottom line.

About the Author

Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay…and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues.

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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