SEMA News -- April 2009
SEMA Internet

By Joe Dysart

See and Study the Paths Visitors Take DAVID
 

Google offers a number of free videos to acquaint users with how its web analytics works.

While web software has been around nearly as long as the web itself, the latest crop of upgrades make it easier than ever to precisely study what’s working best on your site and ensure that those best practices are replicated on every page. Indeed, as too many businesses learned the hard way in the early days of the web, a site that often seems easy to navigate in the eyes of company creators can actually represent a major challenge to visitors. Too often, this results in visitors clicking away in frustration—and often logging on to a competitor’s site.

Web analytics software packages solve this problem by enabling web designers and marketers to see and study the paths visitors take through a website, precisely determine where those visitors are having trouble and then make necessary fixes.

Plus, the programs enable companies to see which website pages are most popular; which media on a site are most popular; which search engines send the site the most business; and gather myriad other insights into design elements on the site that are working well—or not working at all.

Simply put, web analytics make it easy “…for businesses to really get inside their customers’ heads—either by analyzing macro trends or by drilling deep into individual behavior,” said John Squire, chief strategy officer for Coremetrics (www.coremetrics.com), a leading software solution. “Then we take it to the next level by helping marketers gauge their business performance against their competition.”

While there are dozens of analytics solutions on the market, the packages most often recommended by analysts include Coremetrics, WebTrends (www.webtrends.com), Omniture (www.omniture.com) and Google Analytics (www.googleanalytics.com).

Like the web itself, these solutions are continually evolving and continually offer users deeper insights into how to achieve the best in web design. All have also received major upgrades during the past year.

The phenomenal growth of social networking on the web, for example, recently spurred web analytics solutions provider Omniture to add a social networking analysis module to its package, which studies how a website discussion forum, blog and similar features can trigger other behaviors on the site. One application of the tool, for example, enables a company to determine how participation in a company’s discussion forum can result in longer customer relationships and increased revenue.

Many of the solutions providers also now enable companies to study how reviews posted on their sites impact their overall company images. Generally, these providers partner with BazzarVoice (www.bazzarvoice.com) —a firm that helps organizations build, maintain and optimize customer feedback forums on their products or services—for help in developing the module.

Meanwhile, responding to the YouTube craze, WebTrends has beefed up its analysis of how visitors interact with video on a website and has won an award for the effort from StreamingMedia.com, which singled out WebTrends as the best tool for analyzing audio and video use on the web for 2008. The module allows a company to track the use of all major video formats on a site, including Flash, FLEX, Microsoft Silverlight, Windows Media, Real Media and Apple Quicktime. Plus, users can determine where web visitors go and what they do after viewing a video as well as follow overall daily viewing trends and statistics.

Solutions providers have also been working hard to enable non-technical company users to generate more reports and delve deeper into website activity with their solutions without being forced to rely on the IT department for help. Coremetric’s latest upgrade, for example, enables company web designers and marketers to independently create custom reports on the fly and retrieve that analysis immediately rather than being forced to wait for results that often take weeks from often overworked IT departments.

Many of the retreaded solutions have also added a mobile analytics module that enables companies to determine if a significant percentage of visitors are accessing the company website with iPhones, smart phones and other handheld wireless devices. Indeed, such insights have inspired some companies to design entirely new, mobile-friendly portions of their websites—or create a separate website that is especially designed for mobile users.

The latest crop of analytics software enables firms to get a more granular look at website activity. The new version of Google Analytics, for example, not only allows companies to determine which visitors requested a white paper or a quote while visiting a site, but can also analyze which of those requests came from paid search links and which came from visitors who clicked in via unpaid links. Google’s latest solution also shows companies how visitors are searching through their websites, what they’re looking for in those searches and which pages they ultimately end up at.

Meanwhile, Coremetric’s focus on added granularity enables a company to track and keep in memory every visit a specific person makes to a website, enabling firms to easily unearth the user trends and patterns associated with those visits.

Bottom line: Before investing in any web analytics solution, you’ll probably want to give Google Analytics a try, since the online service is free and is considered fairly sophisticated for the price. Google also offers a number of informative videos online that illustrate how various features of its solution work (www.google.com/analytics/features.html). These videos give a decent introduction to how web analytics works in general. There are also a number of market research firms, including Forrester (www.forrester.com), IDC (www.idc.com) and Gartner (www.gartner.com), that regularly issue in-depth reports on the state of the web analytics market.

For one of the most comprehensive looks at web analytics, definitely check out CMS Watch (www.cmswatch.com/analytics/report). It’s most recent report, “The Web Analytics Report 2008,” runs 340 pages and slices and dices virtually every major solution on the market today with a take-no-prisoners, no-stone-left-unturned approach.

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan, New York.
Voice: 646/233-4089
E-mail: joe@joedysart.com
Website: (http://www.joedysart.com/)

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