Web analytics is the cornerstone of any brand's digital presence. Without it, you can't possibly know whether your online marketing activity is hitting the right people. Its use dates back to the internet boom of the mid-1990s, and as more companies established an online presence to reach customers and sell product, the need for robust data to optimize the online channel grew.
Fast forward to 2010 -- and web analytics continues to be big business. From my perspective, Adobe's purchase of Omniture and, more recently, IBM's purchase of Coremetrics are good signs. When the technology industry's bellwether, IBM, gets in on the action, you know there's some serious growth potential afoot.
But let's back up for a minute. What exactly is web analytics? Ask five different people, and you'll get five different explanations. No matter how you define web analytics, it needs to speak to your business objectives -- and ultimately, that needs to be the starting point.
If you're new to the analytics game -- or feel like you need a better understanding of the field in order to better coordinate your overall digital strategy -- read on for a discussion of the fundamental principles and starting points for successfully harnessing your data.
Web analytics tools enable companies to build a holistic view of their customers, enabling better decision-making across all business functions. The purpose of identifying the behavior of visitors to your website is to uncover actionable marketing intelligence that can contribute to the development (and success) of your digital marketing campaigns.
The data provided by web analytics technology don't just represent how many website visitors you have, on which keywords they come in to your site, and so on. Rather, data represent marketing insight and knowledge. Understanding website visitors' behaviors enables site owners to make their pages more usable, ultimately helping users to achieve their goals more efficiently.
What are the benefits?
- Web analytics tools help digital marketers improve their marketing strategies by understanding issues such as the search behavior of a visitor when looking at the keyword that brought that visitor to your website.
- Web analytics show you which path visitors took through your website. Is this the one you want them to take to achieve your goals?
- Web analytics show you which devices and technology visitors are using to view your website.
- Web analytics show you what visitors are doing on your website. How does it impact your design and broader digital strategy?
Once you understand the mindset of your website visitors, you can hone your digital marketing campaigns and ultimately optimize your website. This will ensure that you are not only connecting with the right people, but also boosting the likelihood that you can influence them to behave in a way that matches your objectives.
Where to start?
While most companies have an idea of what web analytics is, levels of understanding vary. I work with companies all over the world whose web analytics needs range from basic implementation to anything from KPI setting to advanced data analysis. With some clients, for example, it's more about educating them as to why they need it and what value it can bring, whereas others are more sophisticated in their use of web analytics tools.
The power of seven
So, where do we start? Regardless of a company's size, location, industry, or digital marketing experience, there are seven key questions that need answers.
1. What are your business objectives?
You need to select a core list of business objectives that will enable you to focus your strategy. Once defined, this list will enable you to determine which metrics are relevant to these objectives. Once you are clear on these measurements, you can choose your technology.
Aligning web analytics with overall business objectives will require careful planning but will ultimately enable companies to derive more actionable information from customer data. Of course, no two businesses are the same -- therefore no two websites are the same. Which leads to my next question...
2. What other digital strategies are you following?
Your website is just one element of an overall online presence. Whichever web analytics tool you choose, you need to be sure that you are measuring the performance of these initiatives. It could be actively tracking these campaigns or integrating data from all these other strategies. This will give you a 360-degree view of visitor behavior and a perfect platform to remarket to customers who perhaps didn't purchase after visiting your site, left the site before downloading the newsletter, or generally failed to demonstrate the desired behavior.
3. What do you want to measure?
Challenge the norm and ask hard questions. Why do you want to see hits? You need to be able to report on the key objectives that have been highlighted and agreed upon by the business.
One core piece of advice is this: Don't over-complicate the measurement aspect. Rather, focus on how the data are helping your digital campaigns to deliver on the company's business objectives. These are the high-level numbers that your senior management team will want to know and will reinforce the value of the website. Give them what they want but also surprise them.
Take social media, for example. Instead of measuring followers, friends, and mentions, think about metrics such as volume and quality of participation. These can be defined as interaction and strength of interactions respectively.
4. How do I choose the right technology?
The key factors to consider here are:
- Ease of implementation
- Integration possibilities
- Reporting capabilities
5. Do you have a technical team?
As stated above, if you are to get the maximum value from your web analytics tools, you need to ensure they will work with your existing technologies. Integrating disparate systems can require significant development work. And when it's all up and running, who will you assign to make the technical tweaks required to optimize your marketing campaigns? Can you call on an internal technical team to handle this, or will you need external help? My advice here would be to get that team involved from the beginning to ensure buy-in.
6. Do you know how to interpret the data?
In the recent 2010 Online Analytics Benchmark Survey by Omniture, 68 percent of respondents stated that analysis of data is too time consuming. Lack of talent was also highlighted as an issue. So, in short, the answer to this question is probably "no." You need to find someone that you can partner with who understands your data. Over time, that party can transfer this knowledge to you if there is a knowledge gap -- or remain a partner if it's a resourcing issue.
7. Is your analytics team working hand in hand with your web marketing team?
This question might sound obvious. But more often than not, the various teams that are actively involved in developing the website from marketing to search seldom talk to the analytics team. Often, they're not even in the same room. The teams operate as individual silos, never stopping to consider that by sharing information the company's return on digital marketing could be enhanced 10-fold. I know of at least one global brand facing the challenge of its analytics and online marketing teams sitting on different continents. The remedy is to communicate and take the time to discuss your online strategy as a group. When the initiative starts, ensure you are all on the same page and keep communicating on a regular basis.
The online market place is a fluid and evolving environment. The type of information tracked one day does not necessarily remain the same over time. And as your campaigns change and the target audience shifts, the information you track and the resulting data that you receive will also change and need to be refined (see diagram below).
There are many web analytics solutions available today. Most, if not all, enable you to capture customer online behavior with a degree of certainty. However, these solutions vary considerably in how they collect the data, the type of information they maintain, and their capabilities to analyze and take action on the data.
As more marketing resources move from offline to online channels, web analytics will continue to grow and grow in complexity -- but remember keep it focused.
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