Volume 43, Issue 10 - October 2008

Online Bylines

Website Toolbox
Starting With Web Analytics

b y S c o t t O r t h

Most people think of analytics as nothing but numbers and spreadsheets, but that’s not entirely correct. More than numbers, analytics is any set of tools or information that allows for analysis of a given situation, process or outcome.

A mechanic analyzes your engine to determine a problem. A physical trainer analyzes your nutritional needs to build a perfect diet. You analyze last quarter’s profits to be sure your business is on track to hit year-end goals. In each example, different forms of analytical information or data are needed to build conclusions or create strategies for next steps.

On the web, analytics are used to evaluate a competitor, monitor a market or industry or, more directly, to analyze your own website, its visitors and overall success at driving business.

So why isn’t everyone paying attention to this data? A study by Web Analytics Demystified in 2007 found that 82 percent of respondents said that web analytics was poorly understood in their organization. Unfortunately, most of us shy away from things we don’t understand, or we put it on the backburner assuming we’ll get around to it someday. Yet, working without this business intelligence is like driving at night with no headlights. Yes, you might make it to your destination, but the odds are against you.

At the very least, get an analytics package installed on your site today. Even if you don’t hire an expert for a few months, with a tool installed you’ll still be able to capture vital data for later analysis.

Your web hosting company may tell you they have analytics installed for you—but be careful. These host-offered tools are often useless, offering nothing more than vague, global data, without the ability to drill further to get the important information you need.

There are plenty of free analytics tools available, but be choosy. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you should jump on it—many of these are just not worth the time it takes to install. I also recommend installing several tools at once to get different perspectives and to verify data integrity.

Analytics tools are available in a variety of designs. Some are highly data driven with charts and graphs. Others are visual, where data is represented in a graphical format.

I recommend starting with Google Analytics. This is by far the most comprehensive free tool available. You can find out more, or sign up for a free account at www.google.com/analytics.

Once you have Google Analytics installed, check out Crazy Egg (www.crazyegg.com). This tool offers a visual representation of usability on your website, showing which pages are most popular, entry pages, path analysis, form use, best converting page (sales) and more. Each of these items can be found in a data-style analytics package as well, but Crazy Egg transforms the data into a visual representation for those not fond of charts and spreadsheets. It is free for a basic account, plus several low cost plans are available if you have a larger website or need additional data.

Click Tale (www.clicktale.com) is another interesting tool. Also free to start, Click Tale is an in-page analytic tool. Click Tale tracks the actions of a visitor within a page, and then plays these actions back to you in the form of a video. Think of it like watching the playback of someone using your website while you’re looking over their shoulder.

Imagine the possibilities when you can see all of the above together.

If you want to emulate what enterprise companies are using, you may be interested in tools like Webtrends (www.webtrends.com) or ClickTracks (www.clicktracks.com).

I don’t recommend these enterprise tools for most companies. Yes, there are benefits to them when you have a large website or when you employ a web analytics specialist. But for most of us, they offer an extensive array of data—too much data—which is useless to marketing departments and business managers.

If you are a large company, and you don’t mind spending more for some extra benefits, take some time to look at Unica (http://netinsight.unica.com). Not only is this tool flexible and expandable in many ways, it also ties in with your CRM, like SalesLogix or Sales- Force. Through cookies and IP tracking, Unica connects your website visitors to your CRM database, thereby reporting who (if they’re in your database) came to your site, what they looked at, how long they visited and much more.


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