January 2, 2009 Jeremy

Web Analytics: Boring but Needed

Web analytics has historically been a pretty boring tool for marketers. It has shown them how many pages are being viewed, how many documents have been downloaded, the number of people that have visited their site… it’s been a reactive, time-draining and expected monthly report.

So how do you turn it into something useful?

Make it about the results.

Web analytics is by definition – analyzing how users interact with a website. This can be expanded to include e-mail newsletters, discussion forums, and other online marketing initiatives. The goal is to understand how users interact with a website so that the organization can make decisions to optimize interactions in the future. Simply put – What are they doing and how can you make their experience better?

The days of looking at hits, downloads and unique users are helpful, but there is more beneficial information available – it just needs to be applied. For any data to be useful – it must first be turned into action-oriented information.

An organization should begin by defining their online business objective. First, identify the business need. The needs generally fall into 3 categories: generating revenue, containing expenses, or providing a value-added benefit. Here are some steps that will get you started with online business objectives.

Step 1: Defining an online business objective

>What is the purpose of your website?
>What website metrics best measure the success of these objectives?
>Define key metrics and relate them to key business objectives.
>Present them to all key stakeholders on a consistent basis.
>Make employees accountable for results.

The purpose of your website should include how the business is benefited by the website. This can be one or many reasons and goals. Let’s look at a simulated example that will provide an idea of how this looks in the real-world.

Association XYZ is an individual membership organization that focuses on networking and professional development in the hospitality industry. They provide marketing information, knowledge, business development, and networking opportunities for professionals that provide and offer hospitality. The association’s revenues are served by providers and vendors that want to sell to the providers.

Association XYZ decided that the purpose of their website was to:
1. Grow the hospitality industry in the United States.
2. Provide quality member-only information relative to hospitality professionals
3. Provide networking opportunities and education.
4. Sell advertising and sponsorships to vendors that want access to their members

Some metrics that the association considered were: growth of unique users, increased usage of research and tools, increased usage of the discussion forums, and revenues from their education offerings. These metrics were then tracked per marketing campaign to see how each related to the traffic produced on the association website.

This example illustrates how to measure the value of an association’s website. It will not be an exact blueprint, but it should provide a means to facilitate and explore these subjects in your own organization. By defining the objectives and mapping them to website metrics, you will be able to measure analytics that are accurate and actionable to achieving business goals. This will also provide data to establish baselines for each identified metric.

Step 2: Analyze Existing Traffic

>Who is visiting your website?
>Why and how are they arriving at your website?
>What are they doing on your website?
>When are they coming to your website?
>Why are they leaving your website?

Analyzing the existing traffic after defining the online business objectives will allow you to understand how marketing is driving traffic to the site effectively or ineffectively. It will allow you to see if certain e-mail newsletters are more popular than others. It will most importantly allow you to see if you are providing your visitors with the information that they really want. Let’s look at another simulated example.

Association XYZ discovered that 90% of their visitors were new users that found their site from major Internet search engine results – not their own marketing campaigns. They found that these visitors spent a lot of time on the site using the association search engine and researched hotels for event planning. These visits occurred mainly during the middle of the day from 10am-2pm. The users left the site after spending an average of 1.5 hours each – and left from a membership benefit page without joining.

How does that compare to the business objective that was stated above? A lot can be learned from viewing web analytics – but where it really helps is where the mission meets the margin. In the case above, there are a lot of circumstances that could have happened to result as it did. One possibility is that the web analytics software has been setup incorrectly. Another would be that a marketing campaign aimed at creating traffic failed. And if users are leaving on a member benefit page – perhaps, the join link is not working or is unclear.

Another consideration in step 2 is to look at click path analysis. The most popular click path that a user takes will allow the organization to see why users are coming to their site. Alternatively, top pageviews are generally skewed because they are usually the main navigation links. By looking at the pageviews under the navigation– you will be listening to what your users are demanding more of. A website’s internal search engine will also open some great mysteries of what your users want. These tools will also allow you to determine if you have some issues with the design and architecture of your website.

Step #3: Ongoing Analysis

Websites are a living, breathing entity based on the users of that site – thus, they change all the time. Continue to assess what the online business goals are and adjust them to the metrics that make sense. Getting too comfortable will only create useless work and non-actionable data. Consider revisiting these goals every 3 months.

Here are a few other tips that may be useful to associations that want to maximize their web marketing potential.

>Consider hiring a consultant in this area to assess if your web analytics software is setup properly. Incorrectly implemented systems can cause a lot of damage by providing your organization with analytics that are inaccurate, inconsistent, and provide the wrong action items.
> Enable a direct link between your e-mail marketing and your web analytics package. Keeping them separate leads to multiple sources of confusion and stats that don’t match up. This will also allow you to segment your users and track them in groups. Individual tracking is another option but highly unproductive unless you plan on marketing to a large audience with individual messages.
> Get training for your staff that maintains the software and those that utilize it. Web analytics is a complex system that requires strategy, operations, and action. It involves being able to interpret the data to optimize your business objectives. Training will also keep you up-to-date on the latest tips and techniques.
> If the web analytics package that you have does not provide you with the tools you need to measure the metrics that map to your business objective – reevaluate why you still use it. If you are in the market for a new product – do a Google search for “web analytics” and you will come up with a long list of results. The major players out there are Omniture, NetIQ, and Webside Story. There are hundreds of small to midsize players out there like FireClick, ClickTracks, NetTracker, and Google Analytics. Be sure to ask for that not-for-profit discount, and if you plan it out right – you can attain some of the best rates near quarter-ending time.

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