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Understanding Multichannel Analytics January 29, 2010

Posted by Joe Kamenar in web analytics.
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While web analytics can give you a pretty accurate picture of how well online buyers respond to online marketing activities, it fails to tell you anything about how your online marketing affects offline purchase behavior and how offline marketing affects online behavior. If you website has a 3% conversion rate, what about the remaining 97% of your visitors? If you send out 50,000 coupons and get a 2% direct response rate, what about the other 98% of those who got the coupons? Is there a way to measure what they do? Enter multichannel analytics.  Multichannel analytics is a process where all marketing channels are analyzed to develop a more complete view of visitor behavior.

The Four Marketing / Purchase Quadrants

While there are four quadrants of multichannel analytics as outlined in the figure on the right, this post will discuss the two online/offline combinations shown in red. I will briefly explain some of the issues regarding multichannel analytics, some methods of tagging offline marketing and offline purchases, and show you some of the benefits.

The biggest problem with tying in offline efforts or offline conversions is lack of a common point between the two. You have two different databases, one of online data and one of offline data. Unless you have the equivalent of a primary key, you cannot join the two data sets together. Imagine a customer walking into your store or calling your order link and giving you their unique visitor cookie. That would make it fairly easy to tie in their online behavior to their offline purchase. You would be able to track what brought them to your website and what they did before coming to your store.  Unfortunately, in the real world we cannot tie these efforts together, so we need to develop solutions. Solutions for both of the red quadrants will be discussed as they relate to the multichannel analytics integration process, as shown in the following figure:

Tracking Offline Marketing to Online Purchases

There are two solutions to tracking your offline marketing efforts. The first solution is to use vanity URLs in your offline marketing efforts. For example, if you go to DellRadio.com, you will be redirected to a dell.com URL that has some tracking code. In the URL string, you will see a parameter titled “cid”, which is used by SiteCatalyst as a campaign ID. Thus, any purchases from visits to DellRadio.com will be credited to their radio campaign.

You can do the same thing with all of your offline efforts. Put vanity URLs on your newspaper or magazine ads, in your mailers and coupons, on billboards and other forms of display advertisements. Use specific vanity URLs in your radio and TV ads, and simply have your IT department do a “301 redirect” that converts these vanity URLs into coded mainstream URLs that your analytic tool can process.

The second solution to the offline marketing effort is to promote the use of tracking codes in your offline media such as infomercials. Someone watching the infomercial can either call the phone number or order online. If they enter the promo code on the website, you will know that the order was the result of the TV ad. However, what this will not tell you is the percentage of those who came to the site from the infomercial but did NOT buy. If you simply want to allocate revenue to an offline marketing effort, a promotion code will work well with any offline media that drives traffic to your main URL. Within your analytic package, you would tag the code entry as an event, and then look at the revenue that is associated with each event (specific code for each offline activity).

Tracking Online Marketing to Offline Purchases

Now that you have a way to track how your offline efforts work to get visitors to your website, how do you measure what they do when they don’t order online?

Capture Visitor Intent

If your business is both online and retail (physical store), you can measure intent to come to the store by tracking results of your store locator and directions links. By setting these as goals, you can then see what searches were done by visitors who have expressed intent to come to your store. To help capture the buyer while he or she is in the buying mood, some stores like Barnes and Nobles offer the ability to enter a zip code to see if a book of interest is available at a local store. If so, the customer can reserve it online and go pick it up right away. If you can offer this type of service, you need to tag this event so it can capture what brought the customer to the website, and be able to tie in the physical purchase (offline) to the online marketing that resulted in the purchase.

Generate Campaign-Based Coupons for Offline Purchases

It is also possible to have your website generate a unique coupon ID that can be for the particular product that was searched.  By creating an ID that represents marketing segmentation (campaign type, campaign source, media placement, keywords, and so on), you can store this information in both your analytics package and your store database. If you use a campaign translation file for your analytics platform, you will want to include the same campaign ID as a prefix to your coupon. The same coupon concept also applies to service businesses such as insurance, reservations, home and professional service businesses, etc…, where you give the prospective customer a coupon ID that they can use to get a discount. If your business takes orders or inquiries over the phone, you could have your site coded to include the coupon code next to the phone number on all pages. By tracking the redemption of these coupons, you can compute a click-to-store conversion rate, and factor in offline revenue that was attributed to specific online marketing campaigns. This will give you a higher ROI and perhaps provide justification for more web-related investment.

Implement Phone Number- Based Tracking

Unique tracking phone numbers can also be used to measure the impact of your online marketing efforts to offline purchases. A service like Voicestar provides these tools. You can place trackable phone numbers on your site, or use services like “Click to Call” and “Form to Phone” options. Their system has an API that lets you get data right out to your analytics tool and dashboard. Tracking phone calls is very important, as it is human nature to still want to talk to someone on the phone before making a purchase decision. When using a phone tracking service, or even if you have a block of your own phone numbers to use, it is important to not have the phone numbers as a part of the static content. The phone numbers need to be integrated with an algorithm that can associate the phone number with a particular campaign.  To further tie in the visitor to the phone number, a cookie should also be set that relates to the tracking source. Thus, if the visitor leaves the site, and comes back at a later time, the initial campaign that brought him or her to the site will still receive credit for the sale.

The biggest drawback to this type of campaign tracking is that depending on what level of detail you want for your marketing segmentation, you can end up needing dozens or hundreds of phone numbers. This can possibly become expensive and difficult to manage. Instead, you can create a 3 or 4 digit “extension” that is tied to a web-related order number, and when someone calls the number, the phone operator asks for the extension. This has no incremental cost to implement.

Another phone tracking service is offered by Mongoose Metrics. Their service integrates with most web analytics tools to create an automated URL postback after each call is made.  You can perform the same type of analysis, ecommerce conversion and segmentation that you would from any other page to be analyzed. You can see instantly how well your online marketing activities are generating online revenue.

There are many ways to implement phone-based tracking, and they all require integrating your site code with your analytics platform and your backend system. Edgewater Technology can provide you with the needed expertise to implement such a program.

Utilize Site Surveys to Understand Buying Behavior

Another way to gauge consumer intent is to use online site exit surveys. Companies like iPerceptions, ForSee and others can provide you with surveys that your site visitors can take regarding their online experience. You can ask about the likelihood of them making a purchase offline, and how much their online experience would influence their buying decision. On your online order forms and lead forms, you can also ask the question, “How did you hear about us?” in the form of a drop-down select or radio buttons. Include your offline marketing methods as choices. If the online traffic source is “direct entry”, then you can assign credit for the sale to the way the customer said they heard about your site.

Assign Values to Online Leads

If your business model is to let visitors fill out a form to be contacted by an agent or representative, there are a couple of different ways to tie success (revenue) to a campaign. Some analytic packages let you assign a dollar value to goal conversion pages, such as filling out a request for information form, a pre-application, or other form of customer contact. This dollar value is based on two factors – the average close rate of online leads, and the average dollar value of each deal. For example, if your company closes 15% of all of its leads, and the average deal is worth $500, then the value of each lead is $75 (15% of $500). Thus, your web analytics package can compare that value to the cost associated with generating the lead, and the nature of actions that lead up to it (pages visited, items downloaded, actions taken, and so on). If your analytics tool is set up to give credit to the first campaign touch point (PPC campaign, banner ad, referral site, etc…), you can still assign credit for the lead to the original campaign, even if the visitor does not convert until a later date.

The drawback with this method is that you are dealing with averages as far as the value of a lead. With average lead values, you cannot measure if a particular campaign brings in a higher-value customer than does another campaign. You can, however, get an average picture of how effective your online campaigns are right within your web analytics tool, without having to import any external data. For many organizations, this will provide much more insight than they are already getting about their offline purchases. It does require fine tuning the value you are using as the average lead value, based on your close rates and average dollar value of a new customer.

Track Campaign IDs with Lead Form Submissions

An alternative to this is to create an offline method of tracking online campaigns when a form is submitted. Your campaign code that you use in your web analytics package can be stored in a cookie and submitted as a part of your lead form. If all these leads are entered into a database, the campaign code can also be entered, and later receive credit for an eventual sale. The exact dollar value of the deal can then also be assigned to the campaign, just like for an eCommerce site. The integration of the online and offline data would then need to be done. Edgewater has expertise in merging online and offline data and can help you develop a comprehensive measurement system.

Reaping the Benefits of Multichannel Integration

So far, I have touched on some of the ways to “tag” offline marketing activities so they can be read by your web analytics program, and how to tag offline behavior that is due to your online marketing efforts. However, to put it all together requires access to all the data, both online and offline, plus an integration plan that combines strategy, technology, business logic, web analytics data, BI data, implementation, analytics and other disciplines to provide the desired results. Since this process cannot be explained in a blog post, your choices are to use vendor-specific tools or the expertise of Edgewater to work with your business to develop a true multi-channel analytics capability. As a result of such a capability, you will be able to obtain actionable insights, such as these (some are industry-specific):

  • Enhanced ROI – Once you are able to assign additional offline revenue to your online marketing efforts and online revenue to your offline marketing efforts, you will see a higher ROI, enabling you to justify additional spending on both your online marketing and other web efforts, such as site testing and optimization.
  • Retail Merchandising Decisions – If your business is retail, your online data can be mined to see what items tend to be purchased together, enabling your retail operation to group these same items together for in-store customers.
  • Upsell Opportunities – If your offline customers tend to respond to particular upsell opportunities when they call in or get called back, you can use this information to target similar online customers or visitors, based on data that can be stored in tracking cookies.
  • Re-marketing Intelligence – If you know what online customers come back to your site to buy later, you can use this knowledge to market similar products or services to your in-house mailing or phone list.
  • Additional Retail Outlets – If you see a significant request for retail outlets in areas that you are not currently serving, you can have the data you need to consider expanding your physical presence.
  • New Promotional Activities – If you know that your online visitors express an interest in finding a store based on looking at particular products that they want right away or that tend to be expensive to ship,  you can create geo-targeted online campaigns that are designed to get more buyers to your store. This can also work well for seasonal or event-driven items (snowstorm, hurricanes, extended deep freeze, etc…), where the need for a product is now, not 7 to 10 days from now. By tracking these click-to-store visitors, you will be able to measure the success of these campaigns.

Hopefully, this post will give you some insight into how multichannel analytics works, some of its challenges, how it can benefit your organization, and how a company like Edgewater Technology can help you put it all together.

SEO – Its Not All About Content! January 21, 2010

Posted by Joe Kamenar in SEO / SEM.
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Most SEO (Search Engine Optimization) experts will tell you that the key to ranking well in organic search is having relevant content and making sure your keywords are properly used in the Meta Keyword Tag on your web page. Pages are ranked for content, and to be a “quality page”, the content must be relevant. However, this is not always the case. Consider a Google search for ‘automotive lighting’. One of the top sites is www.Sylvania.com. If you look at the landing page – http://www.sylvania.com/BusinessProducts/AutomotiveLighting you will see that there is not much content on the page. On the page, the term ‘automotive lighting’ is only used twice (not including the heading and breadcrumb). Even worse, if you view the source of the page, the keyword meta tag does not even mention lighting, and the page heading is not even in an <h1> tag, which is another SEO trick. Not only that, but none of the images have any alt text, and for good SEO one typically would use the keywords in the alt text for each image.

So, why does this page rank in the Top 3 results out of over 19,000,000 page results?  There are four reasons:

  • Page Title
  • URL
  • Meta Description Tag
  • Inbound Links

Page Title. The page title of the landing page contains the search term, “Automotive Lighting”. This follows recommended SEO strategy. Ideally, the search term should be near the front of page title.

URL. The URL of this page also contains the term AutomotiveLighting. When creating page names, it is important to use the most relevant term as a part of the URL. Proper keyword research and monthly searches on suggested terms should be used to use the proper term in your landing page URL. If you have multiple subject pages, give each one a URL containing the targeted keyword.

Meta Description Tag. The content of the Meta Description Tag is often used as the text that Google shows as a part of the search result. It should be used to convince the viewer to click on your page. For the page in question, the tag reads “SYLVANIA automotive lighting products are found as original equipment in many popular cars and trucks”. While this tag does use the keyword, it is does not really compel the viewer to click. Perhaps a better description tag would read “SYLVANIA automotive lighting products are an excellent choice if you are looking for a replacement automotive light”. This tag still uses the keyword term, and puts the idea into the viewer’s mind that he or she is indeed looking for a replacement light. I believe that Sylvania would get a higher click-through rate with this description tag.

Inbound Links. The key to the success of Sylvania’s page is in the fact that there are hundreds of other sites that link to Sylvania’s site. Many of these sites are resellers of their products, or they are news articles or press releases. The key take away is that the site has a high external link popularity. If you go to http://www.altavista.com and enter this search: link:www.sylvania.com, you will see a list of what other sites are linking to their site.

To summarize this and give you some useful advice, if you want your site to rank well in organic search, you need to pay attention to more than just content. You will want to ensure that your page title, the URL name and Meta Description tag all contain your keyword term, and that you work on creating plenty of external links to your site. One way to do this is to create informative press releases and submit them through services like PRWeb. Another way to get external links is to write articles and submit them to the many ezine article sites that exist. Be sure to include a link back to your site in each article. If feasible, create informative videos and host them on all the social video sites (YouTube, DailyMotion, MetaCafe, and others). You can get an extensive list of video sharing sites at http://www.iyiz.com/63-social-video-sharing-sites.

10 Actionable Web Metrics You Can Use – Part 2 January 13, 2010

Posted by Joe Kamenar in web analytics.
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In Part 1 of this post, I discussed 5 percentage-based metrics that can provide actionable insight. In Part 2, I will go over 5 index-based metrics that can also provide insight to problems that may need to be addressed in order to maximize the value of your website.

1. Campaign Quality Index (CQI)

This index measures how well targeted your campaigns are at driving qualified traffic to your site. Suppose 40% of your traffic comes from a particular campaign, but the traffic only provides 20% of your overall conversions. The CQI for this campaign would be the percent of conversions from the campaign (20%), divided by the percent of visits from the campaign (40%). A value of one means that a visitor from this campaign is as likely to convert (purchase, sign up, request information, etc…) as from any other campaign. A value less than 1.0 means they are less likely to convert, while a value greater than one means they are more likely to convert. If the value is less than 1.0, then you need look at the reasons. You can break this down to individual search engines, or even keyword groups for each search engine, and for each individual banner campaign or other paid campaign you use, including referral partners. Perhaps the targeting is not sufficiently narrow, or the message is not being carried through the site (high bounce rate). You will want to work with your SEM team and landing page design team to make the needed changes. When you make improvements, you can track their effectiveness by watching the index change. Ideally, your analytics dashboard should be created so that you can see the changes over periods of time.

2. New Customer Index (NCI)

This index is focused on transactions (not revenue) from new customers. It is defined as the percent of transactions from new visitors divided by the site percentage of new visitors. For example, if 40% of your transactions are from new visitors, and 60% of your traffic is from new visitors, your New Customer Index is 0.67. A value of 1.0 means that a purchase is equally likely to come from a new or returning customer. A value less than one (as in this example), means that a new visitor is less likely to become a customer. A value greater than one means that a new visitor is more likely to become a customer than a returning visitor. Your goal is to strive for a value of one or better. If the value is less than one, you will need to look at factors that contribute to a low value. To do this properly, you would want to create a New Customer Index for each type of campaign you run, and compare that to those who come to your site from direct entry. A low performing index for paid search or banner campaigns can mean that you are not targeting the correct market, or that your search terms are not correlated to those looking to purchase your product or service. If the campaign is a banner campaign, either the message is not on target, or the media partner you are using is not attracting the correct demographic.

3. Return Visitor Index (RVI)

This index is simply defined as the percent of return visitors divided by the percent of new visitors. A value of 1.0 means that your site has an equal distribution of new vs. return visitors. A value greater than 1.0 means that your site is more likely to attract return visitors, while a value less than 1.0 means your site is more likely to attract new visitors. Depending on your type of site and your effort on attracting new visitors or keeping existing visitors, you can see how effective your efforts are and can then focus on how to improve this index. If your goal is to encourage repeat visits, then you need to be concerned with how fresh or relevant your content is, or how effective any email campaigns are in getting registered visitors to come back to your site. Any anomalies need to be investigated. As an example, I once saw a huge jump in new traffic in a client’s site that was the result of an email campaign, according to the analytics report. However, the email campaigns were only to registered visitors, so in order to have received the email, you would have first had to have visited the site. Thus, the email campaign visits should show up as return visitors. What happened is that the email contained an offer for a free exercise DVD, and the link URL was hijacked and placed on a few deal sites. When visitors clicked on the link, they were attributed to the email campaign, as the link contained the email campaign code! By looking at the RVI, I was able to see that there was an issue that needed to be addressed.

4. Branded Search Index (BSI)

Organic search can consist of generic terms that relate to content on your site plus searches that include your company name or your brand name.  Each can be of interest to your search manager. If more visitors come to your site from generic keywords or terms, it means that your site is well optimized for content. If more of your search visits come from branded terms, it means that more people are finding your site by your brand name instead of from non-branded terms.  You can track this by creating a BSI metric. This is defined as the percent of visits to your site from branded terms divided by visits from non-branded terms. Values greater than 1.0 mean that you are getting more of your traffic from branded terms, while a value less than 1.0 indicate that generic terms are winning the organic search battle. Depending on your search strategy and goals, you can use this information to help adjust your optimization or brand promotional efforts.

5. Site Search Impact (SSI)

Site search is very important for many types of sites. Visitors who come to your site may use site search to help them quickly find what they are looking for. If they find what they want, they may be more likely to continue to reach a goal, such as a purchase or lead submission. If they don’t find what they are looking for, they may just leave the site. The SSI index can tell you the impact your site search has on your revenue. To calculate it, take the per visit revenue from those who use site search, and divide it by the per visit revenue of those who do not use site search. “Per visit” revenue is defined as the total revenue or lead value for the month, divided by the number of visits. If your SSI index is greater than 1.0, this means that your site search is making you money, compared to those who do not use search. If the index is less than 1.0, it means that your site search is costing you money, meaning those who use site search are less likely to either make a purchase or become a lead. This can be the result of not getting desired results from the search, or result pages that don’t satisfy your visitors’ needs. To solve this problem, you would then need to dive deeper into your site search report to identify and correct the issues.

Hopefully this two-part post on 10 actionable web metrics you can use has given you some insight into how to make your web analytics program more actionable. While some of these metrics are fairly easy to construct, others may require filtering, segmentation, calculated metrics and integration with offline data. Depending on your analytics tool, you may want to use a presentation package like Xcelcius to create and display your gauges and create a dashboard. Edgewater Technology can help you develop an actionable analytics program based on the goals of your company, and can create the appropriate tagging and reporting strategy that will let you see your actionable metrics at a glance. Contact Edgewater today to learn more about how we can help you get more out of your web analytics program.

10 Actionable Web Metrics You Can Use – Part 1 January 13, 2010

Posted by Joe Kamenar in web analytics.
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The end goal of a web analytics report should be to provide some guidance on how to take an action to improve how your website is meeting its goals. However, many analysts simply generate canned reports using their analytics tool and send it to their management for review. In this two-part post, I will share with you 10 different web metrics that can “at a glance” tell your management how well a particular campaign or goal is performing, plus provide some relevant actions that can be taken to improve the underlying performance of the metric.

In Part 1, I will look at five metrics that are expressed in percentages. In Part 2, I will look at five metrics that are expressed as an index. Ideally, these metrics would be designed to be seen as gauges on a dashboard, and some can have the ranges color-coded (green/yellow/red) to quickly show the impact of that metric. Here are the first five actionable metrics.

1. Campaign Margin.

If you are running any paid campaigns for an ecommerce site or lead generating site, you need to know your margin. In simple terms, your campaign margin is defined as your revenue from a campaign less its cost, divided by the revenue. Your goal is to stay as close to 100% as possible. You can create a report that shows the campaign margin for any campaign that involves external spend (banners, paid search, sponsorships, etc…), or an internal spend on employees’ time (social media marketing, forum and article posts, etc…). The smaller your margin, the less money you are making. With this metric, “0%” is breakeven. If you have a negative margin, you are losing money on that campaign. If you have a positive margin, you are making money. This type of margin can be shown as a gauge and placed on your analytics dashboard. If your margin is negative or near zero, you need to take action to look at why the campaign is costing so much or how you can increase the campaign’s effectiveness.

2. Percent Revenue from New Visitors.

This metric tells you how likely visitors are to order from you on their first visit, compared to ordering on successive visits.  In order to create this metric, you need to be able to segment your traffic by new vs. repeat visitors. To calculate the metric, take the revenue generated from new visitors and divide it by the total revenue.  If the percentage is more than 50%, you get more of your sales from first time visitors, If it is less than 50%, you get more orders from repeat visitors. If you see this percentage is low and you have limited repeat buyers, then perhaps you would want to do a better job to get a visitor to purchase on their initial visit. If you have a low percentage of revenue from new visitors, and you have a more expansive product line, then this metric is telling you that you get more of your sales from repeat visitors or customers, and you may want to focus on keeping your content fresh and maintaining campaigns such as email or social networking to keep your visitors coming back.

3. Engaged Visitor Percentage (EVP)

This metric is defined as the number of visits that contain an action or event that indicates engagement divided by the total number of visits. To use this metric, you must first determine what defines an engagement. This can be any of the following – visit a specific number of pages, visit particular pages of interest, subscribe or register to something on your site, post a comment, rate something, click on an ad, use a tool, navigate a map, download something, play a video, forward to a friend, or do anything else you wish to show engagement. By monitoring this metric over time, you can determine if your site is doing a better or worse job of engaging your visitors, if this is one of the goals of your site.

4. Utilization Factor (UF)

Some types of organizations have developed their website to encourage its users to conduct business through it instead of calling or submitting paperwork. For example, an insurance company may want claims to be processed via the web. A financial agency may want its brokers to process transactions via the web instead of sending in forms. If one of your goals is to encourage the use of your site to accomplish tasks, one way to measure this is to track the percentage of activities that are conducted on the web divided by the total number of activities conducted online and offline. This metric is a bit more complicated, as to do it entirely online you need to import the offline data into your web analytic program. You can also export the online data and create an Excel-based report that combines the online and offline data. Your UF can also be used to measure the percent of registered users who use the site to transact business. By monitoring the Utilization Factor over time, you can determine how well your efforts are to shift your transactions to the web. Specific actions can include training of your users on how to use your site to process transactions, or ongoing communications that remind your users to use the site.

5. Self Service Factor (SSF)

If your site is to be used to provide customer service, one of your goals could be to reduce the percent of customer service issues that are handled through the phone. Thus, the SSF would be calculated as the number of service issues that were resolved on the web divided by the total number of service issues (web + phone + chat + email). In order to do this, you would either need to import your offline data into your web analytics program, or export your online data into a spreadsheet to combine it with your offline data. If your company has a target goal for resolving service issues via the site, you can create a gauge that shows how well the actual percentage is compared to the goal, or color-code the result as red or green to show if the SSF is above or below the target. Part of your site’s optimization efforts would include analyzing the issues that are most often called in and updating the content on the website, or making the top 10 most frequent issues a sidebar on the customer service site.

In Part 2 of this article, I will show you how to use these five additional actionable metrics:

  • New Customer Index
  • Campaign Quality Index
  • Return Visitor Index
  • Branded Search Index
  • Site Search Impact

Is Your Web Analytics Program on Solid Footing? January 5, 2010

Posted by Joe Kamenar in web analytics.
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Web analytics can provide a company with insight into how well its web assets are doing to increase the company’s revenue, and to provide data to make business decisions regarding web strategy, web marketing and other business-related initiatives. In order to make the right decisions, the web analytics program needs to be built properly to provide the supporting data. If any of the pillars of your program are built incorrectly, your whole program can crash, leading to lost opportunities and wasted financial investments.

In this post, I will share with you the top ten fundamentals that you need to consider when building your analytics program, to enable it to support your company’s business decisions.

1. Determine Business Goals and KPIs

The first step in the process is to determine your company’s business goals, as they pertain to its web assets. What role does the site play in providing revenue or business leads? Will the site be used to provide various audience segments with the tools needed to conduct the company’s business? Will it be used to provide corporate branding information and build interest in your company’s product or service? Will it be used to provide employees with information? Will it be used to provide the first level of customer support, in an effort to reduce incoming calls to your call center? Will it be used to keep customers loyal to your product or service?

To properly understand your site’s business goals, you need to conduct interviews with all of the stakeholders who touch the website. This can involve staff from your marketing department, HR, , IT, sales, customer service among others. Find out what information is important to them and how your reports will help them do their job better. This can help you identify any data collection gaps you have.

Once the goals are identified, they need to be mapped to key performance indicators, or KPIs.  KPIs are metrics that are tied to your company’s goals and are measured over time. They should be able to reflect the effects of any future optimization efforts. They need to be agreed upon by those who are impacted by the website’s performance.

2. Understand the Fundamentals of Web Analytics

The next step is to understand the fundamentals of web analytics. It is important to know how unique visitors are measured, how a bounce rate is measured and what it means. You need to understand the difference between new visitors, return visitors, and repeat visitors, and how time on site is calculated. You need to understand the difference between dimensions and measures, and how your analytics tool uses each. You need to be able to build a conversion funnel, and identify the relevant steps in the process. You need to understand terms like CPC, CPA, CTR, ROAS, ROI and others.  Ideally, you also need to have an understanding of JavaScript, server-side includes, first and third party cookies, and HTML. Think of all of these topics as ingredients in your analytics program’s concrete. If any of the ingredients are missing, your platform may not be as strong as it should be.

3. Select the Proper Analytics Tool

The next step is to either select the proper analytics tool, or evaluate what you are using now to make sure it meets your needs. These days, you have the choice between log files and tagging, free analytics tools and paid tools, and software vs. hosted solutions. Here are some of the decisions you must make:

  • Log files vs. tagging – There are pros and cons to using either log files or JavaScript tags to collect your data. The discussion on this could become another blog topic entirely. Do your research and determine which option (or a combination of the two) best meets your needs.
  • Free vs. paid – Depending on your analytics budget, you may be able to afford an enterprise-level tool such as WebTrends or Omniture. Depending on the size and complexity of your site, these solutions can cost tens of thousands of dollars per year. If your budget is small, consider using Google Analytics. Over the past year, Google has made significant improvements to its Analytics tool, to the point that many larger companies are now using it.
  • Software vs. hosted – Some tools, like WebTrends, provide you with the option of installing the software on your own servers, or using a hosted, “on demand” service. Each has its tradeoffs, in terms of cost, ease of use, and data availability.
  • Data privacy vs. data collection restrictions – If you organization needs to keep its web data private, your web analytics tool choice would be limited to either log files or a server-based data tagging software package. If you need or wish to collect personally identifiable information (full names, email addresses, credit card information, addresses, phone numbers, etc…), you can not use Google Analytics as your tool, as its terms of service prohibits capturing and storing this information on their servers.
  • Self-service help vs. tech support – If you are using a free tool such as Google Analytics, your tech support may be limited to its online help center, plus forums, blogs and discussion groups. If your organization is not that tech-savvy, it may need to have an account rep or phone-based tech support that comes with a paid tool.
  • Standalone vs. third-party integration – Tools like Google Analytics do not integrate well with other third-party tools used for pay-per-click bid management or email marketing. Google Analytics works well with their own services, such as AdWords.  Enterprise-level tools such as Omniture and WebTrends have optional modules that integrate with other vendors’ products, giving you a more complete picture of the overall performance of your web marketing activities.
  • Reporting vs. data mining – Some organizations need the ability to dig deeper into the collected web data to identify trends, new segments or correlations, or to more advanced analysis such as calculating the lifetime value of a customer. If your needs go beyond simple reporting, you may need to use a more advanced tool.
  • IT capabilities – If your organization has neither the talent nor the budget to implement advanced tagging methods into your website, you may need to use Google Analytics in its simplest fashion – simply paste a block of code on each page and include their “js” file on your website. Implementing more robust data gathering mechanisms with any analytics tool can require significant IT capabilities.
  • What are your peers using? – If you want to keep up with what your peers or competitors are doing, it helps to know what tools they are using. Simple Firefox browser add-ons, such as WASP, will show you which analytic tools are being used on any website.

4. Use Your Tool Properly

Once you have chosen your analytics tool, you need to use it properly, just as a builder would do with his tools. If you don’t, you can get poor results, or draw inaccurate conclusions.  Depending on the capabilities of your analytics tool, you may want to look at options such as segmenting, event tracking, conversion funnels, custom variables, pre and post analysis filtering, setting up profiles, templates, reports, custom metrics, calculated metrics, and conversion funnels.

Next, you need to determine what you are going to track. You can start with the basics, such as visits, unique visitors, page views,  average time on site, average pages per visit, top entry and exit pages, top pages, and traffic sources, then move on to landing page bounce rates, referral sources, organic and paid search keywords, internal site search results, visitor segments, visitor information, path analysis, traffic variables, conversions, tracking registered user visits, tool usage, interaction with Flash or video, downloads of PDFs or podcasts, events, products viewed, shopping cart actions, form completions and more. Each tool handles these differently, so you need to read your instruction manual first.

5. Develop Actionable Campaign Tracking

In a previous post, I talked about tracking all of your campaign activity. A campaign is any method, whether paid or organic, that gets visitors to your site. Some of these activities include pay-per-click, banner ads, email, newsletters, blogs, articles, social media, classifieds, forums, referral partners and affiliates. In the other post, I provided recommendations on how to set up Google Analytics and Omniture to provide you with a methodology to create and track the performance of all of your campaigns. When done properly, you can determine how well these campaigns do in bring not only visitors to your site, but qualified visitors who become customers or leads for your company. Once you know the value of your campaign efforts, you can provide recommendations on which campaigns work and which ones do not, letting your organization optimize its marketing budget.

6. Evaluate Your Data Quality

The expression “garbage in, garbage out” applies to your analytics program. If the quality of the data you are processing is suspect, the quality of the reports will not be any better. Some of the items you need to pay attention to include:

  • Filtering of internal and development partner traffic
  • Exclusion of images, spiders, bots and external site monitoring services from being counted as visits and page views
  • Merging together same pages with different URLs (case differences, “www.” vs. no “www”,”/ index.htm” vs. “/” at the end of a home page or path)
  • Removing query parameters from same page names
  • Test and verify your tagging structure and data collection to make sure you are capturing all the data you think you are.
  • Ensure that all your pages are tagged and that your custom tags are firing properly.
  • Testing all other JavaScript on your site. Any JavaScript errors that occur on a page before your analytics tag will prevent that tag from being executed.

7. Avoid Information Overload

Some organizations go a bit crazy when collecting web data. For example, I’ve seen a client set up a traffic variable that collects an internal search term and then combines it with the page where they went on the site. Yet no report was being used with this information (nor should it have been). Enabling all the parameters you have available can increase the overhead on your analytics tool, and can sometimes cause you to hit limits on the amount of data that can be processed. If any data that you are collecting (other than out-of-the-box) data does not serve a purpose in relating to your KPIs (business goals), then stop collecting it.

8. Set up an Optimization Process

Once you have your analytics program running smoothly, it is time to add an optimization process to it. This involves selecting any aspect of your metrics that can use improvement. For example, an easy win would be to reduce the bounce rate from targeted landing pages, or reducing the exit rate from pages that should lead to a call to action. Longer term, you will want to improve the performance of campaigns to lower your cost per lead or sale, to reduce the fallout rates in your conversion process, or to increase page views or reduce calls to your call center, and so on. Items that can be tested include landing pages, conversion funnel pages, forms, body copy, headlines, offers, colors, graphics, processes and segmentation.

The optimization process starts by implementing a tool that will let you conduct A/B split testing and multivariate testing. Since this is more advanced topic and requires strategic planning and execution to administer properly, you will either want to work with your optimization tool vendor or a company like Edgewater Technology to show you the way. To do this effectively, your organization will want to create a team that merges strategy, technology and creativity together. After you run a given test, analyze your results, make the recommended changes, and test again.

9. Understand How to Measure ROI on Activities

The end goal on any phase of testing is to increase your ROI for that cycle. But, how do you measure that? It helps to understand the ROI formula. Basically, it is the gain from an investment minus the cost of the investment, divided by the cost of the investment. Suppose for example, you have a baseline of an average of 10,000 orders per month from 434,000 visitors. That is a conversion rate of 2.30%. If your average revenue per sale is $50, your total revenue would be $500,000 from these visitors. If, through your optimization efforts, you raise the conversion rate to 3.1%, your resulting number of orders would be 13,454, for a revenue total of $672,700, or a difference of $172,700. If it cost your company $50,000 to make these improvements, your ROI would be ($172,000 – $50,000) / $50,000, or 245%. Note that this ROI was based only on the gross revenue, and does not factor in the cost of goods or services sold.

10. Implement an Analytics Roadmap

Just as a builder uses a blueprint to help guide his team, your web analytics program should also use a blueprint. At Edgewater Technology, we call this a “road map”. It is designed to help move your organization from simply collecting web data to building a comprehensive reporting platform that gives you a 360 degree view of your customer. In this road map, some very important questions are answered, including:

  • Where is your analytics program now?
  • Where do you want your analytics program to be?
  • How will you get there?
  • What are the goals of the various stakeholders?
  • What data to they want to see?
  • What data are you not collecting?
  • Do you need to integrate online data with offline data?
  • What challenges will you face in getting to your goal?
  • What specific tasks does your team need to do to get there?

To learn more about how Edgewater can help you build a strong web analytics foundation, be sure to visit our Web Analytics Services page to review our offerings.