One of the long standing myths about the Internet is that it is “easy.” By this I mean, we can easily change websites, setting up an email campaign is done quickly, and tracking users is simple. On the surface, I understand how people can get this impression.
But the reality is, this impression is achieved because talented, passionate people make it look that way. For those in our field who “want to be in it” (have a real passion for it), “working” through the night to get something done just kind of happens. You lose track of time; you’re intrigued by a problem; you’re curious about the next thing. The next thing you know, it’s late (or early), but you’ve figured something out that you didn’t know before. Now, the next time you face the problem, you have the solutions (or at least are a long way toward it).
Through this process, we discover and create solutions. It is not easy. It can be frustrating. But a common theme that comes of this is that taking the time up front saves time (and much more frustration) later.
One of the common issues we see is using tools for the wrong purpose, because its “easy.” This can be particularly enticing when these tools are free. “Free” has a monetary connotation that often leads us to forget about time and fit.
Google is a great purveyor of free ‘stuff’.
Google has a great analytics package (GA) that is free, and is simple at the most basic level. But, I have seen great efforts go toward extracting GA data, trying to merge with other media impressions and spend data in spreadsheets that takes much more time than would happen if you have the right tracking solution in place. This does not mean that GA has little value. Properly set up and configured, it is very valuable, for its intended purpose.
Call tracking is another area where ‘cheap’ or ‘free’ can be expensive. As a team that has been involved in local for a very long time, call tracking is a core tool for us. We have developed relationships, knowledge and understandings that allow us to create the right call tracking solution. Google (again) offers something free… Google Voice(GV). It is a great service, for free (for the most part). We have seen companies try to set up GV as a tracking and measurement tool, only to be frustrated by it. Google identifies users with too many lines, or set up from the same IP, as spam and blocks the numbers. Additionally, the user experience is less than optimal for a measurement tool. Measurement tools should be seamless to the users. GV, by design and purpose is an intrusive part of the user experience (asking the user to wait for a connection). The right call measurement solution is key to maintaining a good user experience and providing clients with the needed insight.
WordPress has spoiled us. A free content management system (CMS) that makes it relatively easy to edit a site, but gives no clue into how much effort goes into creating it. Sure, you can take the “off-the-shelf” templates, but I have never seen these tempates be good enough for any company. There are changes, minimally to creative, usually to the structure. Frequently, to get what you want from a CMS, it requires a build from the ground up. Setting up any CMS correctly takes time… no short cuts. Easy is hard to achieve.
I could go on. SEM or SEO in a box? Testing suites, for free? Simple ad builders? Some of these things have a place, and if you keep them in their place, they can help. But, try to extend them, or use them for an unintended purpose, and you end up with a lot of trouble.
The next time you are told “that’s easy”, ask a lot of questions. Until you understand 1) the real purpose of the ‘tool’ (not the rigging that happens) and 2) where the hard work and heavy lifting has taken place (it did, somewhere), be very leery.