Analyze This

Q: How do you find the right information to maximize your website’s effectiveness? A: Web analytics.
by : 

Phillip M Perry

May 1, 2012
Analyze This

Do you count the customers who come into your store? Do you watch how they walk the aisles and pick their merchandise? Do you know what days of the week are most popular and what people purchase on those days?

If you answer “yes” to those questions, you have an important clue to the puzzle of making your website as profitable as your brick-and-mortar operation.

“You need to ask the same sort of questions about your website as you do about your traditional store,” says Stefan Tornquist, VP Research at New York City-based Econsultancy.com. In other words, you have to track how many visitors come to your site, where they come from, how they navigate through your pages, and how many end up buying. The results will help you increase your profits by fine-tuning the details of your website to inspire visitors to stay longer and buy more.

How to do all that? You need something to take the place of the eyeballing and nose counting you employ in the real world to see what’s happening with your point-of-purchase displays and end caps. That “something” is Web analytics, which is any one of the many software programs designed to monitor what happens on your site and provide ideas for improvements. “Analytics gives you a way of finding out what’s working online and what’s not,” says Tornquist.

Select a program

Search the internet for “Web analytics,” and you’ll get a big list of vendors. Some programs cost money. Others, such as Google Analytics and Yahoo! Web Analytics, are free.

Choosing the best program can be challenging. And coming to a decision can soak up a lot of time—maybe too much. Some consultants say you could better spend your time merchandising and selling.

“The question of which Web analytics platform is better for any given retailer can be argued to death, but it’s a conversation that doesn’t need to take place 99 percent of the time,” says Chris Leone, director of digital marketing at WebStrategies, a consulting firm based in Richmond, Va. (www.webstrategiesinc.com). “As much as you may hate to admit it, your business situation is not likely to be super unique, so most of the major Web analytics platforms will be able to do the job.”

It’s true, adds Leone, that every Web analytics program accomplishes some things better than others and falls behind in other areas. “I’m not suggesting it’s not important which platform you use. But it’s easy to fall into the trap of spending too much time deciding which program is best.”

The best approach, says Leone, is to do some serious soul searching, deciding which information will be most important for building your profits. Then select a tool that can provide that information. “The time you free up from excessive program shopping can be better spent analyzing the data that any of the major platforms can provide.”

Get help

The myriad program choices can present an intimidating wall to anyone not already comfortable with technology. If you’re like many retailers, your first step will be a call to the technology expert who has already been working on your store’s website.

“Consider hiring a consultant if you’re not comfortable and don’t have any interest in touching your site code,” says Leone. “There are complexities that come along with certain sites that may make it worth engaging a consultant.”

On the other hand, if you already know your way around your computer’s bits and bytes, you can enjoy a real advantage by learning some of the basics of Web analytics and getting a general handle on what the various services offer.

“You absolutely want to do it yourself if you can,” says Tornquist. “First, there’s no reason for the majority of small businesses to pay to install and set up the program. There’s a wealth of information out there from users and from the services themselves.”

Second, says Tornquist, you want to know how Web analytics work so you can know what a program can and can’t do. “If you don’t understand the basics, you can’t be creative with the questions you set out to answer.”

Realizing how intimidating Web analytics can be, vendors are trying hard to make their offerings user friendly. “Our goal is to take the data that your Web presence generates and translate it into information from which you can make decisions,” says Jim Bennette, CEO of VisiStat (www.visistat.com), a Web analytics program maker based in Campbell, Calif. “We try to make it as simple as possible for the small to medium sized business to increase its Web presence and thus its overall business.”

Improve your marketing

Web analytics platforms allow you to measure a bewildering number of parameters, from the number of visitors to your site to the keywords they use to find you and the paths they take to reach a “buy” decision.

Which data are most important to your business? The best way to reach a decision is to answer this question: What kind of data will allow you to make more money by altering the design of your website?

Here’s an example: Suppose you recently started paying for a banner ad promoting your store on a hobbyist site. Wouldn’t it be great to know how many visitors clicked over to your site from that banner ad, what they did on your site, and how many orders those people placed? And how about an analysis of how many of those visitors signed up for your store newsletter, or returned for multiple purchases after a few weeks?

Now imagine getting that same kind of information for all the banner ads you have placed, as well as for your radio spots, special sales events, and your other marketing efforts. Finally, imagine a program that instantly tracks all of the above in real time, giving you an immediate update on your computer screen—even ranking all your promotional efforts by effectiveness in terms of return on your dollar invested.

Wouldn’t that information allow you to tweak your marketing efforts, increasing your investment on sales programs that proved their worth and building your profits as a result? This is one of the many ways that Web analytics can make a real difference to your bottom line.

“One of the most valuable reports a retailer can obtain is what we call ‘Results Measured by Traffic Source,’” says Leone, speaking of just the kind of analysis described above. “This is a beautiful, top-level report that tells you, first, here’s how people got to your site, and second, how well (or not so well) those people accomplished your site’s goals. It tells you ‘what’s going on.’ From there you can begin to explore the ‘why.’ Then you can do some tweaks on your marketing programs, or pull the plug on the ones that are not delivering.”

Don’t try to do too much too fast. “Take small steps,” says David Koopman, chief technology officer at GoDaddy.com, Scottsdale, Ariz. “Work on one or two areas at a time. You’ll be able to better measure the results of your site modifications.”

Watch your visitors

You want your website visitors to be enthralled by the visuals on your landing page, then respond to your attractive offers by clicking through to your order pages. But how often does that happen? Are people being turned off by one of your pages? Are they encountering technical difficulties dealing with the all-important order form?

“Use analytics to find out what your visitors are doing today and establish a baseline for your data,” suggests Koopman. “Monitor for changes in traffic and behavior so you can recognize upward and downward trends and react appropriately.”

By tracking “click paths,” a well-designed program can answer questions such as: What are people looking at? Why are they leaving? And why do others complete transactions? What are your conversion rates? “We can do very sophisticated conversion rate analysis,” says Bennette. “How and why do people buy your merchandise?”

Referral reports can be valuable planning tools. “You can obtain information about where your site visitors are coming from, such as a search engine or another website,” points out Koopman. “This will help you determine if marketing campaigns are working. It also shows if other websites are linking and sending traffic, which can help a webmaster with potential business partnerships.”

Perhaps most important, these programs can help you track and analyze customer behavior. “If your visitors are leaving your site before they even see your high-value pages, that is a problem,” says Bennette. “A Web analytics program can help you understand how visitors travel through the pages on your site.”

Take action

Getting solid data is one thing; acting on that information is another. What’s the point in achieving insight if you’re not using it to drive decisions?

“Do something with the data you receive,” says Tornquist. “It sounds so simple, but this can be one of the hardest battles to win. Too many times I’ve seen a great website analysis go to waste because a key decision maker either didn’t want to believe the results or preferred to rely on instinct instead of facts.”

Write new ads. Change a landing page. Reallocate your online advertising budget. “Make the simple changes first,” suggests Tornquist. “Look for the ones you can accomplish with a minimum of designer or programmer time.”

Koopman points to an example of how a simple change can quickly spark profits: “One retailer had a single image on the header of their website. The analytics program found visitors were clicking the image frequently. By modifying the image to link to the site’s most important page, the retailer drove more sales.”

Once you have made the simple changes, you can then identify the changes that might involve more work. “The internet gives us the opportunity to experiment with things that might have a big impact on conversion,” says Tornquist. “For example, video product demonstrations might have a much greater impact than simply tweaking the headline font on your landing page.”

Whatever the steps you take to increase your profit, says Tornquist, your decisions will be enlightened and empowered by data from a careful analysis of how your customers use your website. “Web analytics are how we know what’s working, and how well.”


What can you learn from web analytics?

Your Web analytics program will answer questions that help you increase profits by fine-tuning your site. Here are some examples:

  • What search engine did your website visitors use to find you? What search terms did they use?
  • How many of your visitors are new versus repeats?
  • Where, by percentage, are visitors spending their time on your site?
  • What specific merchandise are the visitors searching for?
  • Are certain pages being ignored?
  • On what pages are customers abandoning your shopping cart?
  • How is a certain radio spot or banner ad performing?
  • How good is the traffic from your referral links?
  • Which keywords in your pay-per-click advertising are leading to sales?

Phillip M. Perry is a freelance business writer with more than 20 years experience in the fields of workplace psychology, employment law, and marketing.