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Ten Questions to Ask About Your Web Analytics Tool December 3, 2009

Posted by Joe Kamenar in web analytics.
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Web analytics can provide significant insight into how your website is doing as far as contributing revenue and leads to your company. Often times, a company will install a web analytics tool and simply use the “out-of-the-box” reports, including visits, visitors, unique visitors, top pages, average time on site, and so on. When used properly, a web analytics tool can provide you with the data you need to make decisions regarding web strategy, content, layout, usability, applications, paid media, referral partners, and personalization. If the goal of your website is to generate sales or leads, the bottom line is conversion of visitors to customers. To get more out of your investment in the tool and personnel who are using it and to increase your conversions, here is a list of ten questions that your analytics tool can answer.

1. Where are your visitors dropping off?

If the goal of your website is to generate revenue, either directly from sales of goods or services on the site, or by generating leads that are followed up off-line, it is important to know how effective your site is in getting to that goal. One of the more useful tools that your analytics tool provides is a conversion funnel.  A “conversion” is loosely defined as the desired outcome of a visit. This can be a purchase, reservation, subscription, registration or a form completion to request more information or be contacted for an offline sale. Depending on your tool, a conversion funnel can be called a “fallout report” or “scenario analysis”. It is set up by defining a list of URLs that represent the desired steps that a visitor should take to get to the goal. In some cases, you need to tag each page ahead of time. In others, you set up the pages in your analytics tool.

Once you have your funnel set up, you can see the percentage of visitors who either make it to the next step or who “drop off” or “fall out” of the conversion process. At first glance, you can see which pages become “bottlenecks”, where you lose a large percentage of visitors. You can then study the pages to better understand why visitors do not go any further. With a proper A/B or multivariate testing program, you can make changes in these pages and then test their effectiveness in increasing conversions, and thus, revenue from your site.

The second item to analyze is where visitors go if they leave the conversion funnel. Here some of the questions you need to answer:

  • What percent of visitors just exit the site?
  • What percent go to the home page?
  • What percent look for product reviews, privacy information, refund policies, FAQs or other content?
  • Do they get distracted by having too many non-conversion links on a key conversion page?
  • Do they have the opportunity to go back and change their mind instead of completing the purchase?
  • Do they read some content then come back to the funnel?
  • What percent use onsite search?

By analyzing the paths that visitors take from your conversion funnel, you can better understand your visitors’ behavior and thus make improvements to your site with the goal of increasing conversions.

2. Is onsite search driving conversions, or driving visitors away?

Onsite search is a powerful tool if your site has significant content or product pages. If they can’t find what they are looking for on your site, you may end up losing a customer. One of the first things that your onsite search report will tell you is what is most important to those who visit your site. If you don’t have pages that adequately cover these key search terms, then create them. Not only will this improve your visitors’ site experience, it can also increase your site’s ranking in organic search for these terms, increasing your site traffic.

If your site has onsite search, it is also important to determine how relevant the search results are. If the search results return pages that are not relevant, then you will tend to lose visitors. You can do your initial testing without using your analytics tool. Pick some in-depth site pages and identify key terms and phrases. Enter these in your site search, and look to see where the desired pages rank. If they can not be found easily, your search tool may not be doing its job properly. Your analytics tool can help by looking at pathing reports from your search results pages plus other metrics. Here are some of the questions you need to answer:

  • What percent of visitors are using onsite search?
  • What percent of visitors are leaving the site?
  • What percent of visitors are getting into your conversion funnel?
  • What percent of visitors who do not find any results leave the site?
  • What percent of searches do not return any result?
  • What are the search terms that lead to no result? What is the conversion ratio of those who use onsite search?
  • What are the top search terms and their corresponding conversion rates?

By answering these questions and making adjustments to your site, you can increase the usability of your site and thus increase conversions.

3. Are visitors seeing your key messages?

Content managers for websites often spend significant resources to create their brand message or “Why Us” message to differentiate your company from its competition. The question is, are visitors seeing it and how can you improve its visibility? Key message pages can be important in creating your company’s unique selling position and convincing visitors to do business with your company. In a typical analytics environment, a “Top Pages” report will be generated that shows that the key message pages received “x” visits and “y” page views, and that they were the number “z” page in ranking. While this top-level information is nice to have, you can go deeper and provide more insight into how these pages are used.

If your site has multiple key message pages or pages that focus on different topics, you can group similar pages into defined content groups. For example, a branded drug website may want to know how well their site does in the following areas:

  • Information about the disease and complications
  • How the featured drug provides benefits
  • Clinical studies and other physician-related information
  • Call to action (talk to your doctor, request more information)
  • Engagement (user tools, calculators, worksheets)

Instead of providing reports on all these page visits and views, you can simplify this by tagging these pages to place them in different content groups. You can then provide high-level metrics or KPIs that show what percent of visitors take part in each of these content areas. This will be more meaningful to those who manage the site’s content. There are several ways to tag pages, including hard-coding each content group onto each page, using JavaScript to identify the group based on the URL, using a content management system to place tags automatically, or even by filtering the content with your analytics tool.

Along with tagging content groups, your team can also identify “quality pages”, or pages that they deem important to either the site, brand or company, then tag these pages as a “quality page”. You can then create a metric that shows how many quality page views per visit your visitors see, and what percent of total page views are quality pages. If these pages are not resonating with your visitors, you can then look to identify reasons why. Some of these reasons can include:

  • Links are positioned “below the fold”, especially on laptops (link is below the initial visible screen area).
  • Links are hard to find
  • Links are embedded in Flash navigation that is not user-friendly

By tagging and testing link placement, you can improve the visibility of the links to the key message pages.

4. Is your site’s content impacting conversion?

Once you have a handle on managing your site’s content, you can then analyze the impact that content has on conversion.  What you want to see is if those who view key content pages convert at a higher rate than those who don’t. You can look at visitors who visit key content before entering the funnel process, or those who exit the funnel to view key content, then return to the funnel.  By providing these metrics to the content managers, you can show what impact or “lift” their content has on conversions and revenue.

Along with measuring the conversion rates, you can also look at path analysis to see what visitors do who view content. Some of the questions you may want to answer include:

  • Do they tend to simply browse the site without initiating a purchase or other conversion?
  • Do they read the key pages and leave the site?
  • Do they engage in tools or other site applications?
  • Do they come back to the site at a late time to initiate a purchase?

Since not every site is designed to sell products or services, and not all initial visits to ecommerce sites end in a purchase, you can use these insights to create other metrics and KPIs that measure how effective content is to the overall performance of your site.

5. What value are you getting from your referral partners?

If your site gets traffic from referral links, either ones your company has cultivated or “organic” links that were done outside of your efforts, you can provide reports that show both the overall percentage of traffic that you get from these sites, plus the revenue associated with these visits. Revenue can be shown as an aggregate from a particular source, or broken down as revenue or leads per visit from each source. Thus, if you are using any “pay-to-play” referral sources, meaning you pay a fee for each click, you can determine how effective that referral source is in generating revenue or leads.

Since most analytic tools provide the ability to show top referral sources, you need to simply add the desired success metric to your reports. If you are paying for clicks from particular sources, you can compare the data that is reported from your analytic tool to the data that your vendor is providing to identify any discrepancies and prevent being overcharged. It is a way to keep these vendors “honest” in what you are being charged.  While there will always be a difference between clicks from a source to counted visits to your site, this difference needs to be agreed upon and monitored. Tracking visits to the site and revenue per visit can help fine-tune what your company is spending to deliver this traffic and increase profitability.

6. Are you generating sales but losing money?

The previous topic can be extended to cover all of your pay-per-click (PPC) vendors, and even cost-per-impression (CPI) vendors.  PPC marketing is typically paid search, while banners are the main source of CPI marketing.  While you may be getting sales or leads from these marketing channels, are they profitable sales? To answer this question, you need to either have to know your cost per visit and conversion rate, or have a tool that give you a metric titled “ROAS”, which stands for “return on advertising spend”. With either of these sets of data, you also need to know the average gross profit margin of the products or services you are selling. If you are measuring return on CPI spend, you also need to know the click-thru-rate (CTR) of these banners. Your cost-per-click (CPC) would be the CPI divided by the CTR.

If all you have is your cost per click (CPC) data for paid search, you need to be able to segment your data based on keywords, as different keywords have a different CPC. More general terms will have a higher CPC, while long-tail keywords will typically have a lower CPC. When setting up your tagging, you need to identify the start point of the conversion ratio as the paid search or banner landing page. Keep in mind that there will be a discrepancy between the reported clicks that your CPC vendor is telling you and the reported visits that your analytic tool is telling you. Since the reported visits are most often lower than the reported clicks, your true cost-per-visit (CPV) will be higher than your CPC.

Once you have your CPV and revenue per visit (RPV), you can immediately determine if you are in the red. If your CPV is higher than your RPV, your site may be losing money. I say “may be”, as it is possible that visitors return later to the site from a bookmark and convert. You will need more advanced analytics tracking to determine this.  Even if your CPV is less than your RPV, you can not tell if the spend is effective until you look at the gross profit margin (sale price less cost of goods sold) on a percentage basis. For example, if you are selling $1,000 worth of software where you get $200 per sale, you can afford a higher cost per visit than if you were selling $1,000 computers and getting $100 per sale.

One you know your average profit margin per sale, and your conversion rate of visits to sales, you can determine the maximum you can spend per visit to attract a customer. Knowing this, you can fine-tune your PPC bid management down to specific keywords to optimize your company’s revenue.

7. How is Social Media bringing you business?

Sites like FaceBook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, along with blogs and Ezine article sites can bring traffic and revenue to your site. With these sites, you can create newsworthy events, videos, widgets, tweets, articles and other “buzz”. Sometimes, videos or widgets become viral in nature, meaning they propagate to thousands of web users with no effort on your part. Unlike regular referral links which may come directly to your site’s home page with no tagging, links from these sites can be tagged with a campaign ID, and linked to targeted landing pages. By creating unique campaign ID tags for each source and embedding these links in the targeted media source, you can measure traffic to your site from each source, and track the visits into your conversion funnel. From this, you can determine which sites are worth investing in, as far as content or increasing friends or followers, as you can measure revenue or leads from each site by adding the appropriate metrics to your analytic report. You can also measure the results of specific campaigns on each site, with targeted messages that direct visitors to specific landing pages.

8. How can segmentation help you understand visitor behavior?

One of the most common terms in web analytics is “average”. We have average pages per visit, average time on site, average revenue per order, and so on. While averages are very useful for trending purposes and comparing metrics from month-to-month or year-over-year, you must keep in mind that there is no such thing as an “average” visitor. Each visitor to your site is unique, and to better understand visitor behavior and how to optimize your site, you need to segment visitors based on something in common.

Some of the most common segments are as follows:

  • New vs. return visitor
  • Paid search vs. organic search
  • Direct visit vs. referrer link
  • Google vs. Bing vs. Yahoo!
  • Geographic location
  • Returning customer vs. returning visitor
  • Paid search vs. banner vs. email campaigns
  • Online vs. offline marketing
  • Weekday vs. weekend visits

One you have the appropriate forms of segmentation, you can then look at metrics such as average time on site, average pages per visit, average searches per visit, average revenue or leads per visit and so on for each segment. By analyzing specific group behavior, you can create more targeted action plans to better talk to each type of visitor. By using cookies to store segment categories on each visitor’s browser, you can later read these cookies to enable more personalized or targeted content, with the goal of increasing conversions.

9. Are you measuring interactions with Flash objects on your site?

Developing Flash objects can often require significant resources in terms of man hours and budget. With proper planning and tagging, you can track the usage of these assets and determine if they bring value to your site and business.

At the most basic level, you can insert tags in the Flash source to count the number of times an object is “touched”. You can also go further by tagging interactive buttons on the object and then links to other site pages. If the Flash object is playing a video or an animation, you can insert tags at key stages in the progress. These can be at percentage points, such as 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% viewed, or when specific topics are reached. Depending on your analytics tool, you can create “events” at these measurement points, pseudo pages, or conversion variables.  You may be able to correlate visits to particular points in the Flash to orders or leads. You can also see how much of your message was viewed by those who engaged with the application.

If your Flash application has a “Call to action”, you can measure what percent of those who engage with the app take the next step to reach the action page. By tagging this as the start of a conversion funnel, you can determine the conversion rate of those who take the desired action, compared to your overall site traffic. By developing metrics around your Flash objects, you will be able to provide data on the effectiveness of the application, and whether to refine it or ditch it.

10. Is your tagging telling you how visitors use your site?

Many sites have tools such as onsite search, and some have third-party tools such as click-to-talk and click-to-chat. If these links are not tagged, your reporting can provide inaccurate or incomplete results. For example, if you have a reservation-based site, and on the payment page there is a click-to-talk or click-to-chat button, it is important to tag these links as pages. If not, your reporting may show that the “abandonment rate” is higher than it really is. If the visitor decides to click to speak with a representative and completes an order over the phone, or through a chat interface, your reporting will show that they simply exited the site. It would be more accurate to report that the visitor “visited” the chat or talk page instead.

It is also important to track where visitors are either clicking on click-to-chat or click-to-talk buttons along with using onsite search to better understand their behavior.  If there is a high use of these services on particular pages, it may indicate a usability issue on your site, or missing information that is needed to continue. In the case of onsite search, if you can capture the search terms associated with each step in the conversion funnel process, you can gain some insight to where visitors may be lost or missing information they need to continue with their purchase, reservation, registration or other desired action. By looking at patterns, you can make adjustments to your site and reduce these distractions, increasing conversions.

By properly tagging these actions, you may also be able to look at pathing from these stages to see where visitors go after they do an onsite search or click to talk or chat. By understanding their behavior, you can make the needed improvements. You may also be able to measure what percent of these actions still lead to a conversion, and which ones do not.

In summary, by creating a more robust analytics platform, you can obtain data that provides insight into how every aspect of your site is doing in increasing conversions at a profit.  From analyzing paid media to your landing pages, content, tools, applications, visitor segments, and so on, your overall web strategy will become more data-driven, more actionable, and more accountable.

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