You can't manage what you can't measure and you certainly can't monetize it either. Analytics is the single greatest opportunity you have as an Internet professional to determine how your website is performing. But analytics also indicate how much more you can get out of your investment in your website, both in terms of financials and time commitments. This is high performance analytics.
Performance analysis involves gathering formal and informal data to help not just ourselves, but also our customers and sponsors define and achieve their goals. Several perspectives on a problem or opportunity, determining any and all drivers toward, or barriers to successful performance, and can help propose a solution system based on what is discovered. Consider performance analysis the front end of the front end - it's what we do to figure out what to do. You can call it planning, scoping, auditing, or diagnostics, but you'll need to roll up your sleeves, prepare yourself to be shocked, and immerse yourself in a lot of creative thinking if you want to move the needle in a positive direction.
It might be the least sexy of all Web responsibilities, but analytics is arguably the most important to an online business' success. Unfortunately, it is an area where most enterprises fail to focus their attention.
Website analytics refers to the measurement that occurs once a visitor arrives on your website and even how they arrived and what they did during a visit - ideally a conversion. The entire undertaking of website analytics is inextricably tied to performance indicators (or key performance indicators - KPIs) that help define and evaluate the success or failure of a particular marketing (SMO or SEO) or advertising (PPC) campaign.
More often than not, many are content with seeing the most basic charts (unique visitors or page views) move up or down and base important decisions on those simple metrics alone. However, there are an endless number of factors and elements that can and should be measured instead. Identifying what is really important to the stakeholders of your enterprise is what will define your level of engagement with your analytics solution.
Perhaps the most difficult part of Web analytics as it stands today is determining which KPIs to use. The sheer volume of available KPIs can be overwhelming, as can the multitude of ways to compare the data they present and how they align with the objectives of different departments within a company. To help cut through all the KPI confusion and clutter, we've come up with a list of a few basic KPIs that will give the most insight, while requiring the least amount of time and specialty knowledge.
Visitors per Conversion, Lead or Order
How many visitors does it take to achieve your website goals? Whether the objective of your site is to generate leads for the sales team or to have visitors purchase goods or services, this measurement indicates if your website and its promotional channels are working together. Consider this example: You decide to offer a whitepaper because you have exclusive content that will appeal to your target audience. You receive 100 visits to your whitepaper download page, but only 5 people complete the download (convert). This is a good indication that there is a problem with the landing page. Most likely, the layout design is poor, the copy itself is confusing, or the page requires visitors to provide too much personal information. Knowing this, you can tweak these aspects of the page, examine the KPI, and determine what was preventing downloads so that you avoid those mistakes in the future.
Many analytics solutions offer heatmaps to help identify where users are clicking on certain page sections but new tools, including SiteTuners' AttentionWizard.com (in beta) use advanced artificial intelligence algorithms to simulate human visual processing and attention, creating an "attention heatmap" of your Web page. This can predict where people will look during the all-important first few seconds of their visit.
Cost per Lead
For any organization interested in streamlining processes to get the maximum amount of value out of their promotional investments, the cost per lead measurement helps show what techniques or channels are paying off and those that might need to be eliminated. Returning to the whitepaper download example, let's say the aggregate cost of your project (including research, copywriting, design, etc.) was $1,000. If you generated two leads, you would be paying $500 per lead. Since that would be completely unacceptable, it is our responsibility as someone keen on high performance analytics to find ways to cut costs or make modifications to improve response rates and, ultimately, the number of conversions, driving our cost per lead down.
Reviewing the number of page views per visit enables us to measures how deeply a viewer delves into the website content. That is important information, but measuring the level of involvement and length of time a visitor spends within a specific content area will show areas of potential improvement. If viewers are highly engaged in a specific content area, you may decide to keep the section the same, or put links to other parts of your site that relate to that content. If visitors are not spending as much time in a section as they once did, it's probably time to update that content. In some cases, if visitors are not going to a page at all, it can signal a problem with your navigation or promotional channels - perhaps the user did not find what they expected after clicking on a confusing ad, for example. Most Web professionals are concerned only with the activity that occurs on their own websites and for good reason - since we can manage that portion of our business we are better able to actively monetize it. But performance analytics can go much further beyond the posts and pages that comprise our Web properties. By taking full advantage of available analytics, we can discover areas across the Web where consumers are interacting with our businesses, and improve our presence across any number of channels.
Website Load Time Matters
It should come as no surprise that fast-loading sites increase user satisfaction but a great many online destinations still suffer from poor performance. Google Site Performance, an experimental Webmaster Tools Labs feature, was released in early December and informs webmasters of their website load time.
Internet Supervision: Page load times are affected greatly by geography of the user. This tool enables webmasters to check latency from nine different servers across the globe - including Sydney, Beijing, Chicago, Santiago, Gloucester, Los Angeles, Dortmund and Washington DC.
Video continues to spread across the Web, making it an important consideration in online marketing programs.
Comscore reported that nearly 28 billion videos were watched during November 2009, although the number of unique visitors dipped slightly to 167 million in October from 168 million in September. While video giants like Hulu.com are experiencing phenomenal rates of use by consumers, plenty of opportunities exist for content marketers looking to make their mark with online video. With each and every marketing opportunity, however, comes a responsibility to measure performance and improve upon prior activity. Fortunately, there are video analytics solutions on the market that make the process a breeze.
YouTube released its video analytics tool (YouTube Insight) back in March 2008, enabling all users to view statistics about the videos they upload to the site. Video content marketers can see not only how often videos are viewed in different geographic regions and how popular they are during a given period of time, but can even dig deeper into the lifecycle of videos. For example, YouTube Insight provides the ability to see how long it takes for a video to become popular and what happens to video views once their popularity peaks. While this might not seem like much of a value-add, knowing the day a video reaches this tipping point and/or within what region might provide some informed guidance on production schedules and even geo-targeted advertising in the future.
YouTube took its Insight tool in a completely different direction in July 2009, giving users the ability to make the analytical information publicly available to anyone watching videos on YouTube.com. Now, when users watch a video they are presented with metrics - views over time, its popularity in different parts of the world, the top drivers of traffic and the video's top three audience demographics, under the "Statistics & Data" section. Content producers have the option to make this information public by adjusting their privacy settings. By providing this information you might be able to drive additional views and sustain a more engaged audience. For example, if a viewer sees that the video is popular among those in his or her region or age group, the user might be more inclined to recommend that video to a friend, or simply watch the entire video.
Where YouTube provides a starting point for those new to producing and marketing video content, there remains a host of other outlets - making analyzing the performance of this distributed environment much more challenging. However, companies like LiveStream (formerly Tube- Mogul) have all but solved the problem. The company's free inPlay analytics technology now tracks 15 different video sites; including Brightcove, DailyMotion, MetaCafe, blip.tv, Break.com, Howcast, eBaum's World, Graspr, GrindTV, Sclipo, Webcastr, Viddler, 5min, Streetfire.net and Sevenload. LiveStream's inPlay provides some valuable data including standardized per-second audience drop-off, referral sites and terms, and geography.
Analytics can be a confusing area of focus for Web professionals. What's most important to understand is that all the data you will ever need is available right now in your analytics account or the third-party tools that you use to measure conversions and engagement. The gold in these hills is not found solely in the metrics that we review each and every day - it is in the connections that we make between often disparate sets of data that will enable us to move the revenue needle in the positive direction. While requiring deep and critical thinking, being able to align empirical data with corporate objectives will always result in higher performance.