The internet, useless data and networking

As an accountant who has spent almost his whole career building businesses – mainly start-ups – I really value good data, especially those predictive of future outcomes.

I have been active in building web-based businesses – businesses that “live” on the web, not just “use” the web – so they have to succeed on the web because there is no physical business presence.

However, in recent years I have become increasingly concerned about some of the data being collected on the web and then used to make important decisions. The reason for this is the issue I have with all data – it is easy to interpret a lot of data to mean what you want them to mean.

Here’s an example – one of the bits of data your marketing people will tell you means your website is “working” is how long people spend on it. This (allegedly) measures “engagement”. Another is the number of pages you view.

I recently spent ages on a law firm’s website, merely trying to find out how to contact their accounts department to obtain payment of an invoice. They don’t actually provide contact details for anyone but their lawyers (this is very regrettable, but common), so I ended up calling them to obtain the information I needed.

According to their web stats I would be “highly engaged”. In reality, I was just highly frustrated – and I wasted their staff time as well as mine.

Where preconception fits in

The first issue is that data is often viewed with unstated, or even unconscious, value judgments.

The second issue is that it is easy to confuse intermediate events (such as “clicks”) with outcomes (profit from new instructions). Outcomes determine your future. Intermediate events do not – or do so only in a probabilistic way.

After years of data chasing, some years back we slimmed down our measures to just the ones which are highly predictive of future outcomes. Predicting the future is the key aim, not measuring events in the past. We don’t need all the data we have and not all of it tells us anything really useful (eg web analytics).

Escaping the data straight jacket

The biggest benefit of this approach is that it all`ows us to concentrate on the future, and aids doing “what if?” modelling. It sharpens the focus whilst liberating lateral thinking. One of the benefits of this approach is that it encourages experimentation in our marketing and product development as well. Just concentrating on existing measures can put a real straight-jacket on your thinking.

In some cases, we don’t measure at all. Indeed, if something simply “makes sense”, we just do it.

Here’s an example. We don’t use SEO, yet we have a vibrant cloud-based business. The reason we don’t use it is that it didn’t work based on our thought experiments.

(We did experiment with SEO a while ago. It produced a £6,000 loss. It never hurts to test one’s logic and we’d have been delighted to have been wrong).

Besides, for us (and almost certainly you) networking is a much more effective way to gain business. The maths is very appealing!

Networking and the laws of marketing

Intuitively, we know the central role which networking has. When I was in practice, we built our business through (partner) networking and encouraging repeat/referral business. I’d be willing to bet that most of your firms have been largely built the same way. Then the Internet happened and people told you that the laws of marketing have been rewritten. They haven’t.

Internet or no, it seems to me that a sensible approach to winning new business would emphasise the often demonstrated fact that repeat and referral business is the cheapest new business you’ll ever gain. Do a study: you’ll be shocked at how much more expensive “new” business is compared with repeat/referral business. (I did such a study whilst in legal practice: “new” business cost eight times as much).

Networking has massive advantages over (in effect) “cold approaches”. Firstly, the quality of the contact is much better. In “marketing funnel” terms, the “prospect” is more highly qualified. Secondly, if you network through clients and local contacts (eg the chamber of trade, estate agents, your professional connections and so on), you’ll be in front of people who are:

a) local (and therefore used to going where you are for their advisory services); and

b) probably decent clients if the referral source is also a quality source.

In practice, this means better conversion rates and probably a reduced risk of them being bad clients or bad debt risks.

You can use social media very effectively for networking and influence building and you can use Buffer or Hootsuite to schedule campaigns. LinkedIn is especially good, as you can target (and “mine’) audiences easily. We use it extensively and there are good trainers out there.

Maximising return on investment (ROI)

However, the biggest issue here is that each “social media piece” is relatively low value and if you divert fee-earner time to do it, the chance of positive ROI is small.

E-newsletters are the most cost-effective way to use ecommunications to gain new and repeat business. (Our clients tell us this, and it is certainly our experience). Here the ROI is critically dependent on the size and quality of your email list.

Sharing, caring, earning

However, one very little used technique combines content sharing and brand leveraging. Here, you create a “publishing co-op” or “sponsor” communications by another local influencer and share content, allowing the other’s brand to appear on your communications and vice versa. As professionals, we’re not used to co-ops or sharing. We should be.

For example, say you provide relevant content (on business law) to your local chamber website and in exchange you let them put items in your business e-newsletter or even on your website. What happens? The material is seen by viewers who are highly qualified and local and the positive brand value attached to each “rubs off” on the other. Any enquiry you get will be well qualified, reducing your cost of qualification.

Now imagine doing something similar with the local school (state or public), your accountants, charities, commercial realtors and so on. The ability to generate awareness, contacts, and drive brand value is very substantial. You are limited only by your imagination and (in the short run) network limits.

The big advantage of the Internet is that all of this can be automated, making the process very low cost and not wasting large chunks of valuable fee-earner time. You can set these arrangements up and forget them: and you can TARGET content at appropriate recipients.

Widening the possibilities

If you think this sounds good, even more exciting possibilities open up when you give the same capabilities to others in exchange for co-branding. We have done this with Manchester Law Society, who use the LegalRSS system to distribute their weekly enewsletter (cobranded with LegalRSS) and for a few mobile sites (also cobranded).

This started in April and having set it up (which would normally cost pennies), our running cost is tiny. It has already produced enough quality leads for us to be able to predict the future income and the ROI is superb. We didn’t “do the numbers” on this: it was self-evident it would work.

Here’s the sales pitch! We have built the software ( that does “all the above” (and a lot more) and for law firms delivers targeted content as well via LegalRSS ( You can also co-brand newsfeeds, content categories and so on.

LegalRSS provides more than 120 legal news items monthly for websites direct to your web pages, social networking automation, social sharing, sophisticated content sharing, instant e-newsletter capability, “on the fly” mobile website creation – all highly automated, allowing sophisticated co-branding and audience targeting and content tailoring. You can be up and running and fully competent in its use in 30 minutes. It contains a searchable article library of more than 10,000 articles (including the library) and 1700 unique images, plus a number of web marketing resources. It fits right onto your existing website and it pays for itself several times over in time savings alone.

A typical installation (including content provided daily by our retained court reporters) costs about a sixth of the cost of the leading commercial e-marketing systems (with no content).

To set up this sort of system takes only minutes and a typical client saving compared with their former SEO spend is about 90%.

Who needs data?

Joe Reevy MSc FCA CTA is the Managing Director of and the family of web marketing and communications platforms, including

For more details, please email me, as above, or call me on 01392 423607.

2 thoughts on “The internet, useless data and networking

  1. Since writing this, we have done a cost/benefit review of our data analysis of social and web analytics and will stop reviewing 80% + of these on a regular basis, saving several hours a month.

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