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How to Start a Tagging Project November 20, 2012

Posted by Joe Kamenar in web analytics.
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Tagging a website can be a very challenging process. If not done properly, you will end up with a lot of data being collected, but without any information. Also, the data you collect may be inaccurate and segmentation non-existent. It is very important to have a process or methodology to implementing web analytics tagging Some of what I have learned from working with various clients will be presented in this post.

Understand the Purpose of Your Website

When building out a new site or implementing web analytic tagging on an existing site for the first time, there is a process you need to follow. The typical way a new project gets done is that someone just decides to use Google Analytics, opens an account, gets their tracking code, sticks it on each page and then just waits for the data to flow through and reports to be populated. But the problem with that approach is that there is no clear value to the data you are getting, other than just knowing visits, page views, traffic sources, top pages and time on the site. Your goal as a web analyst is to be able to do the following:

  • Answer the business questions about the site
  • Provide measurement as to the effectiveness of marketing campaigns
  • Identify user bottlenecks in the site
  • Provide insight on how to increase the site’s conversion rate
  • Know who your users are
  • Know which content areas users are most interested in
  • Know if you are reaching the right types of users with your marketing
  • Determine how the company can save money by moving offline actions to online
  • And many more!

Business Questions

Before you can start defining KPIs and supporting metrics, you first need to know what business questions need to be answered. The most fundamental question is – “Why does your website exist?” Other general questions include:

  • 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 promote a social cause?
  • 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?

Other more specific examples of business questions are:

  • How many unique visitors does our site get?
  • What percent of  unique visitors use the various tools on our site?
  • What percentage of visitors register on our site?
  • What are the user roles of our registered visitors?
  • What parts of the country does our traffic come from?
  • Are visitors reading important content on our site?
  • What is the login frequency of our registered visitors?
  • Is our site-search helping visitors find what they are looking for?
  • What are the best-selling products on our site?
  • How many users are using the self-service tools on the site?
  • How effective is our QR codes in attracting prospects?
  • What content is being consumed by mobile visitors?
  • What pages are not being viewed?
  • What is the subscriber email address saturation rate for each marketing channel?
  • What is our conversion rate by product vertical or country/region?
  • Which products respond better to email marketing campaigns?
  • Where on the site do potential customers decide to use the phone to complete a transaction?
  • How well is our cross-sell marketing working to put new products or services in front of existing customers?

These are just a few of the literally hundreds of different types of questions you may be asked about your company’s website. The best way to gather all of these questions is to simply interview the “stakeholders”. A stakeholder is someone who has an interest in how the site is working or how the site is being used. Stakeholders can be in departments such as HR, IT, Sales, Marketing, Customer Service, and others.

Align Data Collection to Support KPIs

Some organizations go a bit crazy when collecting web data. For example, I’ve seen a client set up a traffic variable that collects which checkboxes a customer would select as his shortcuts for a portal. Yet no report was being used with this information (nor would one have been useful). 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. You can phrase this another way – If you can’t derive actionable insights off of any collected data, then don’t collect it.

Develop Your KPI Framework

Once you know the business questions and how to use your analytics package, you can then determine the site KPIs, as I had discussed earlier. For each business question, you need to define a metric that can provide a benchmark for that particular question. Another approach is to look at the key business objectives, then determine what goals and initiatives are needed to achieve these objectives, and then finally look at the KPIs. This is known as a KPI Framework.

Here is a sample KPI framework for a pharma company that uses its websites to promote their brands to health care practitioners (HCP’s), and to educate HCP’s on how specific diseases respond to treatments using their products. The end goal is to get these HCP’s to prescribe that drug or therapy to patients who have that particular disease or condition.

Key Business Objective Goals / Initiatives Sample KPIs
Motivate Physicians to Prescribe the Brands
  • Connect with more HCP’s
  • Increase participation in webinars
  • Increased engagement with brand content
  • Increase the number of motivated HCPs
  • Increase the number of HCP’s who request samples
  • Channel visits (Connect), response rate
  • Newsletter registration rate (Motivate)
  • Webinar registrations, registration rate
  • Percent of Motivated visitors
  • Request for samples (Motivate)
Increase engagement with the website over multiple platforms
  • Deliver content that can be consumed over mobile and tablet platforms
  • Increase  utilization of mobile apps
  • Keep content fresh to encourage return visits
  • Visit rate from mobile and tablet users
  • App downloads
  • Percentage of Limited, Light, Deep and Extensive engagements (Educate)
  • Return visit rate
Increase Reach and Marketing ROI
  • Reach more HCPs
  • Increase email response rate
  • Increase paid search clicks
  • Increase banner CTR
  • Increase use of social media
  • Decrease cost per engagement
  • Email link click-through (Connect)
  • Change in visits month-over-month from paid channels (Connect)
  • Change in visits from social media channels (Connect)
  • Change in cost per campaign visits

As you can see here, for this pharma company, their key metrics are – Reach, Connect, Educate and Motivate. A report would show the total number of visitors and percentage of visitors who fall into each of these categories, along with a visit report that shows what percentage of visits included a particular key metric. Let’s look at what these KPIs mean.

Reach – Sample KPI

In the global sense of your website and online marketing, there is the concept of “Reach”. Every time a person receives an email from your campaigns, or sees a banner at (including rich media ads), sees a branded paid search ad, reads a sponsored post in a Facebook news feed, gets a tweet where a brand/product or company name is mentioned, and so on, this is known as a Reach. Essentially, you have reached someone with your message. From a web analytics standpoint, this can be difficult to measure, as in most cases, web analytics measurements start when the visitor reaches your website. So, in order to measure Reach, you need to have access to offline data. This can include the number of banner and paid search impressions from your marketing agency reports, along with any stats from social media partners. One key item that I ignored is organic search page results. If your SEO is good, then whenever your company name and message appear to a prospect in an organic search results page, you have also reached this person with your message. You can get this data from tools by Google, Bing and Yahoo. Each of these three companies has their own suite of “webmaster tools”. Look into these tools to get a better picture of your overall Reach.

Connect – Sample KPI

Once a visitor responds to your company’s message via Reach by clicking through to your website, you have a “Connect”. A Connect is visit to your site that is not from where a visitor either types in the URL or bookmarks the site.  It is a visit that comes directly from a marketing campaign.

Educate – Sample KPI

If you want to measure the percentage of you visitors that you Educate, you would look for visits where particular success metrics (or goals) have been met. An Educate visit can be defined as one where two or more pages were viewed, or if an information PDF was downloaded, or a video watched. In the pharma world, videos can include topics like “mechanism of action”, clinical trial studies, or presentations from subject matter experts. If a visitor watches any of these videos, you better believe that this person has been educated on the drug and how it is used. You as an analyst can segment this metric based on new visitors or repeat visitors. It is the new visitors that you may be more interested in educating, as these visitors may be more likely to use your product or service than a visitor who does not take the time to get educated on your brand.

Motivate – Sample KPI

In the pharma world, an HCP does not purchase drugs right from the website. Unless, of course, the drugs are vaccines, which can be purchased by validated users. Some pharma companies allow validated users to request samples of a drug online, so this would be one example of a motivated HCP. Other actions that would count toward a Motivate KPI include registering to receive more information (get on the email list), subscribe to a newsletter, register for a conference or webinar, or any other action where the visitor provides personal information to the company. Thus, your “Motivate” KPI would be the percentage of visits where a Motivate action was taken. As a practical way to do this, you would create a visit segment where a Motivate event occurred.

Engagement Rate – Sample KPI

Another type of metric that can be used to determine how successful a website is in engaging the visitor is to look at an engagement rate. Here are some standard definitions that a pharma company uses when measuring how engaged their site visitors are:

  • Limited – Those who bounced (viewed just one page)
  • Light – Non-bounced visits that are of a duration of a minute or less in time on site
  • Deep – Visits that are between 1 minute and 5 minutes, or who engaged in a survey, poll, or who downloaded key content, or who shared an article via social media
  • Extensive – Visits that are greater than 5 minutes, or where they watched key videos or webcasts.

To determine the engagement rate for each engagement type, simply divide the number of visits for each type of engagement by the total number of visits. Depending on your analytics tool, you may be able to create visit segments for each type of visit, then track the number of visits in each defined segment, divided by the total number of visits.

Getting Ready to Tag

Once you have an understanding of the key business questions of the site and have created a KPI framework, you are ready to start developing the tags that will collect that data. However, before you can start tagging your website, you need to come up with an overall tagging process. Here are some of the considerations you will need to make:

  • Account Profiles
  • Metrics vs. Dimensions
  • Scope of Tagging
  • Report Design
  • Page Naming
  • Success Events & Variables
  • Tagging Persistence
    • Page-Level Tagging
    • Visit-Level Tagging
    • Visitor-Level Tagging
  • Standard Variables
  • Custom Variables
  • Variable Map
  • Creating a Tagging Strategy Guide
  • Creating a Deployment Guide
  • Debugging & Testing
  • Creating Test Cases

Account Profiles

An account profile (or report suite, as it may be called), is key to how your data will be captured and reported. When you create reports, you will be reporting on all data that is captured in that profile. Typically, a profile or report suite would contain data from one specific site, or country-specific site. You can also have data report into a second report suite, called a global, or roll-up, report suite, which looks at all of your site metrics in aggregate. Some reporting packages let you then look at pathing across the various sites, and de-duping of visits to each site, so you can get a total look at unique visitors to all of your sites.

Even within a single site, separate profiles can be used to segment what visitors do and who your universe of visitors is for different portions of your site. The best example is for a portal, where you have an area for non-registered visitors to use, along with a section that is only for those who are logged in. If you have each part of the site reporting to a separate account profile, then you will have an easier time separating the activities of these two types of visitors without the need for segmentation. Some of the key metrics you can then do on the authenticated side of the site is to look at what percentage of visitors or unique visitors use key features in the portal, along with knowing what the top pages or sections are, and perform other visit-based ratios, where you only want visits from authenticated users. Another good use of separate profiles is where your site has several versions (fixed web, vs. tablet vs mobile web), and you want to report on key activities on each platform.

Scope of Tagging

Depending on the complexity of your site and how your business team and UX (user experience) teams want to use the data, you need to come up with a list of high level activities or items to be tracked. In the case of the auto dealer finance portal, here is an example of the scope of tagging:

  1. Content Consumption
  • Top content groups
  • Top content sub-groups
  • Top used features on the site
  • Least used features on the site
  • Percent of dealers who use shortcuts
  • Percent of visits where site search is used
  • Percent of site searches that turn up no search results
  • Top 20 site search terms
  • Percent of visits where the FAQ is accessed
  • Dealer ID
  • OEM (Chrysler, Ford, GM, Toyota, Honda)
  • User role (management, accounting, finance, sales, service)
  • User Profile
  • Password Resets
  • User ID Management
  • Challenge questions
  • Top tools used
  • Retail sales & service guides
  • Management & reporting
  • Leased vehicle return guides
  • Messages & bulletins
  • By OEM
  • By region
  • Vehicle service contracts submitted
  • Vehicle credit applications submitted
  1. Site Navigation
  1. Login Frequency, segmented by
  1. Self Service Capabilities
  1. Access of Core Dealer Resources
  1. Audience Segmentation
  1. E-Commerce Activities

During your stakeholder interviews, you would typically learn this information. Another way to get this is to look at the business requirements document or site design document and determine how to measure each item listed. Then, filter this down to a key set of high-level tagging, like I did here.

Coming up later will be more information on tagging a website, including how to design reports and create a tagging deployment guide.

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.

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.

Advanced Web Analytics Using Google Analytics December 15, 2009

Posted by Joe Kamenar in web analytics.
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In the past, Google Analytics was seen as simply a quick “DIY” analytics tool that gave some useful reports. All you did was just add some code to each page, include a JavaScript file on your site, and you were finished. The tool costs nothing to use as far as license fees, and the learning curve was simple. However, no “real company” would use Google Analytics (GA), as it did not provide any real insight that would let management make any data-based decisions. Most mid to large size companies would use enterprise-level tools, such as Omniture’s Site Catalyst, WebTrends, CoreMetrics, or other subscription-based tools. However, the cost of using these tools can add up to some serious coin, making it hard to justify an ROI on the results you would get.

In the past year, GA has narrowed the gap in functionality between its older versions and paid services like Omniture and WebTrends. Now, more and more larger internet retailers and service providers are using Google Analytics, including Garmin.com, RitzCamera.com, FatBrainToys.com, several BCBS websites, UnitedRentals.com and many more. So, what kind of enterprise-level features does Google Analytics now provide that have caused companies to take a second look? In this article, I will show you some of the features that you can now get with Google Analytics.

Multiple Profiles

Within GA, you can set up multiple profiles for an account, and apply specific filtering to each profile to create specific views of visitor behavior. For example, you can have a profile that is only for paid search traffic, or for events, or for segments of the site that are for specific departments. It is recommended that you keep one unfiltered profile, to retain all non-filtered data, as once you filter the data, you can’t go back to the raw data. Specific filters can be done to create profiles that are for content groups, paid search, internal traffic, and so on. Within the unfiltered profile, advanced segmenting can be performed on historical data to drill down on specific types of visits or visitor behavior.

Conversion Funnels

A conversion funnel is simply the desired path you want a visitor to take to become either a customer, a lead, a registration, or whatever other goal you have in mind. It is a list of pages that represent the start of the path to the end. Within each stage, you can see what percent of visitors made it to the next step, and what percentage left the “funnel”. In the past, GA limited you to just 4 goal conversion funnels across your site. Now, you can have up to 5 goals in each of up to 4 profiles, for a total of 20 goals to analyze. Conversion funnels can help you pinpoint where your site is not delivering, as far as meeting your company goals.

Event Tracking

GA can now do event tracking, similar to SiteCatalyst. It is done a bit differently, but you can assign an event to any activity broken down to a category, action, label and value to any site interaction. An event can be used to track how videos and Flash objects are used on your site. You can see how many times an item is viewed, how far they get through it, and if your desired message is being viewed. Using events, you can see how specific actions impact conversions on your site. On a per-visit basis, a total of about 500 page views and event calls can be sent to GA by a visitor. Once you have these events captured, you can then segment on these events to look at things like conversion rate. For example, you can tag a “Get Quote” button, and then see what percent of those who clicked this button converted.  If you have a retail site, you can tag a “shipping cost” link, and then see what percentage of those who go to this link make the purchase. When used properly, events  can let you capture more than just page views and visits. It can truly let you see how visitors are using your site. Google is looking at creating event-based goal conversion funnels as well as page-based funnels. With an event-based funnel, you can track visitor actions to see how they get to your end goal. Just by using the event tracking properly on a site, you can now get more granular insight into visitor behavior.

There is no limit to the number of events as they are not assigned to a particular variable as in Omniture.. The total number of calls to GA on a per-visit basis is about 500. Also, with the event tracking, it gives you a total count of each item, and a unique, per-visit count.

As an example, suppose you run a truck rental site. You want to track specific events. The event tag looks like this:

_trackEvent (category, action, optional_label, optional_value)

Thinking along the lines of rental activities, you can set up the tagging like this:

  • Category: Itinerary, Pick-Up Location, Drop-Off Location, Contact Info, Trucks and Options, Quote and Payment, Review
  • Action: Get Quote, Search Pickup Locations, Search Dropoff Locations, Select Pickup Location, Select Dropoff Location, Add to Quote, Change Quote, Enter Payment Info

The label and value are optional. For the label field, if you are tracking Flash videos, you would do something like this:

  • Category – video
  • Action – press play (or reached a certain percentage of the file, or any other embedded action)
  • Label – [title of video]
  • Value – time to load, perceived dollar value, quality points, etc…)

When you think about the event method, you can use the optional label field to store something about the visitor as well. If you were to store a unique ID for the visitor, or segment type (see below), you can then do a query on the label field to see what actions were taken by a particular visitor or segment.

Segmenting

Segmenting is a powerful tool that lets you see how specific audiences act on your site. We often talk about analytics in terms of averages – average time on site, average pages per visit, average revenue per sale, and so on, but in reality, there is no “average” visitor. They can be segmented into specific groups, and the behavior of each group analyzed to gain insight into how they can be better served. Segments can be based on visitor type (new vs. return), visit method (direct, paid search, organic search, referral), key words (branded, unbranded), and even a custom defined segment (more on that later). Within each segment, you can apply filtering to extract visits that meet you desired criteria. Filtering an include queries like matches exactly, does not match exactly, contains, does not contain, starts with, ends with, equals, greater than, less than, and others.

GA also lets you set up a custom segment variable, and then set it as you wish. Suppose you have a health insurance site that caters to various audiences, such as non-registered users, subscribers, brokers, employers, providers (doctors and hospitals), and employees. Depending on how they identify themselves as in logging in, which type of login they use, and so on, you can segment these individuals into their respective groups. You can then see how users in the particular segments behave on your site, and to see if your site is meeting the desired goals.

You can also do your conversion analysis or other analysis based on the values stored in each segment. The user defined segment cookie lasts two years, and can be overwritten on subsequent visits. The biggest problem that I see with this variable is that it is read at the beginning of the session, and any changes that are made during the visit are not used until the visitor later returns to the site. Thus, if someone comes to the site an anonymous, then later registers, any activity will be attributed to the anonymous segment. Only when the visitor returns does this change to “logged in” or “member”. Thus, the next time the visitor returns, he or she is tagged as a “member” or “logged in”, even if they do not log in on the next visit. Thus, while having this user-defined segment can be useful, it can also give misleading segment information.

Google is planning on expanding the number of user-defined variables shortly. Right now, if you want to store multiple types of data, you would create a string that can be parsed or joined in JavaScript, then store the entire string in the user-variable cookie. To access the data, in the profile you would then create a custom segment that extracts out the portion of the string that contains the section of interest. You can then correlate that with other items in the string to create a more narrow segment. I have seen some JavaScript code available that creates mini-functions that either add an item to the string or remove an item from the string.

Essentially, you can store anything in this variable, including a login ID. Google, of course, prohibits storing any personally identifiable information, and this includes things like an email address, SSN, full name, drivers license number, address, phone number, credit card number, etc…

Google now gives you 5 custom variables that you can use to do segmenting and analysis. Within each variable, you can store data that is either permanent, session-based or page based. With each variable, you can set a name-value pair that lets you create a segment that can be visitor-based, visit-based (expires after 30 minutes or when a browser closes or visitor exits the site), or page-based, such as defining content groups for each page. This new feature give you much more power to create reports that have meaning.

Traffic Sources

One of the most misleading stats I see in web analytics is in the organic search area. Often, the top search terms are the website’s URL. If you know the URL, why search for it? The answer is in the sneaky way that browsers’ home pages are loaded. If you have Internet Explorer and your default start-up page is MSN.com, the curser drops right into the search field. On FireFox, often the default load page is the Google page. Instead of moving the curser to the URL bar, many users simply type the name of the site they wish to go to in the search box, then they click on the top result, which is the site’s home page. If the top result is also a “paid search” link, and the visitor click on it, the search engine makes money, as do the browser folks. Thus, the organic or paid search results can get skewed.

To keep your stats in line, GA lets  you change the traffic source from “search engine” to “direct” or “referral site” to “direct” by adding some lines of code to the GA code that goes on your pages. Thus, those who come to your site by entering the URL in the search field will not be classified as search visits.

Custom Reports

GA also lets you create custom reports, where you can select your dimensions and drag it to the report, then select which metrics you want to show for that dimension.  With the dimension section, you can add sub-dimensions to the list, such as “Keywords -> Search Engines -> etc…”. You can then add a series of metrics to the report, letting you drill-down on each dimension to get more refined data. This feature is seen in the paid analytics tools, and lets an experienced analyst create multiple views of visitor behavior.

Search Filtering

Within searches, such as keywords, instead of getting a massive list, you can apply filtering, to only look at keywords or other items (like page views) based on a metric range.  You can “nest” conditions to include or exclude specific terms or metrics to generate a more refined search.

Motion Charts

A new feature titled “Motion Charts” lets you create a 4-dimension view of specific metrics, such as keywords. It lets you assign x and y axis values, then show additional metrics in the form of the size and color of a dot. You can place the chart in motion to show how the performance of any keyword changed over time. You can see the dots move up and down or left and right across your grid to see changes in two of the dimensions, along with seeing the size and the color of the dots change to see changes in the other two dimensions.

Internal Site Search

Internal site search is a very useful tool that lets you see how easy it is for visitors to find what they want on your site. It is important to see what visitors do when they find or do not find what they are looking for.  Internal site search can also be tracked to show additional metrics, such as average pages per visit, time on the site and conversions for those who find site results and those who do not.

API

The API tool lets you export out a complete report, based on specific queries that you make. The GA API tool seems fairly robust, as you can send URL based queries via the API and receive an XML file in return. There are a variety of third-party tools that have already been developed using the API that integrate GA data with Excel data and display it within PowerPoint, desktop applications, email marketing platforms, and mobile platforms.

Alerts

GA also provides analytics alerts that notify you when specific thresholds change, similar to the alerts that the paid tools provide. If your conversion rate drops below a specific threshold, or the number of orders you get exceeds a threshold, you can be notified right away, instead of waiting until you or your analyst does the report.

E-Commerce

Google Analytics collect two types of e-commerce data: transaction data and item data. Transaction data describes the overall transaction (transaction ID, total sale, tax, shipping, etc.) while item data describes the items purchased in the transaction (sku, description, category, etc.). Here’s a complete list of the data:

Transaction Data

  • Transaction ID: your internal transaction ID [required]
  • Affiliate or store name
  • Total
  • Tax
  • Shipping
  • City
  • State or region
  • Country

Item Data

  • Transaction ID: same as in transaction data [required]
  • SKU
  • Product name
  • Product category or product variation
  • Unit price [required]
  • Quantity [required]

When the e-commerce reports are enabled, you get additional reports, such as number of visits until purchase and the time to purchase. The Visits to Purchase (VTP) report shows how many visits a visitor generated before they converted. The Time to Purchase (TTP) report shows how many days it took from the first visit to make a purchase. If the TTP is “0”, it means it was on the same day, but not necessarily on the first visit.

For lead-generation sites that are NOT e-commerce sites, the e-commerce code can still be used to apply segmenting information and value information to leads or registrations that are submitted. By doing this, the e-commerce functionality can be enabled, letting the user see the VTP and TTP for a visitor who submits a lead or completes a registration form.

Third Party Integration

While Google supports its own A/B test tool, Google Website Optimizer, it does not integrate with third party tools from other vendors. Such tools can provide more advanced testing and behavioral targeting tools, email clients, multi-platform PPC management and so on.

Summary

Google Analytics can provide small to mid-size companies with the tools they need to create an actionable analytics plan and increase the value of the website. However, just like using paid tools such as Omniture, WebTrends or other more advanced packages, the tool is only as good as the mechanic who uses it. Companies like Edgewater Technology can help you develop a road map that looks at your company’s goals and creates an analytics strategy that helps you meet these goals. Edgewater can help you define key business metrics, create profiles and reports, define tagging specifications, tag your site, set up site optimization using the Google Website Optimizer, and train your team how to use these reports and continue to enhance your site.

With all the new tagging capabilities within Google Analytics, there is a fair amount of analytics enhancement can be done for those who are using this free tool. It can be a lot more involved than just placing the GA code on each page and the ga.js file on your site. By creating the right tagging specifications based on business strategy, Edgewater can help you get a better look at how visitors are using your site, and how you can better serve them.

To learn more, visit http://Edgewater.com or contact Joe Kamenar, Manager of Web Analytics, at 215-480-2737.

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.