Everyday & Everywhere Web Analytics
By Peter Prestipino, Editor-In-Chief
Collecting, understanding and acting on business-related "intelligence" is critical to digital operations today.
As a result, paying regular and rigorous attention to website performance and analytics is considered fundamental to the success of each and every digital enterprise; but it's only the first step.
While most view the default graphs, statistics and charts available in the myriad technology solutions used by 'Net professionals daily as sufficient (be they marketing automation, customer relationship management, Web experience or e-commerce platforms), it is possible to dig far deeper into an enterprise's available data pool and gather insights and answers into what may just be the primary issues websites are experiencing and, more importantly, what can be done about it.
Web workers and the enterprises that employ them simply need to know where to look and how to use that information once it's been found - and do so from a mature and sound perspective. Most of the data companies have at their disposal is simply ignored. Regular performance reports are out of reach completely (unavailable entirely in some cases) from key personnel. Data is discarded at crucial moments of the digital experience, or was never collected in the first place.
It is difficult to deny that customer data is not being used to its fullest potential within many enterprises and it is preventing companies from cross-selling, upselling, planning, and most importantly, innovating and making measurable improvements.
It's tough, if not impossible, to retain customers, plan inventories, personalize experiences and/or eliminate rogue actors in relation to fraud and security, without a deep understanding of customers and the information that results from their online activity. Those that do take advantage of the available data tend to have a significant competitive edge (and greater revenues as a result) and that's reason enough to pursue the practice with a great deal more rigor. And it should start now.
According to a new study by the Economist Intelligence unit, commissioned by Wipro, there is a strong relationship between earnings growth and the strategic use of data. Adapting to this new reality will not, however, be easy. Seventy-four percent of executives surveyed expect the range and types of data they collect to expand in the next two years. While it could prove to be a breakout moment and validate the investment into analytics offerings up to this point, to maximize data use, today's brands need to find opportunities to cope with the overload, the worries about quality and the general lack of skills within their enterprises now as well as in the future. They need to prioritize analytics and business intelligence (BI) initiatives every day, and everywhere.
The goals for any enterprise's analytics initiatives are relatively straightforward - assist in delivering growth and identifying growth opportunities, control costs and manage risk. In order to make sense of the vastness of information available, analytics solutions and enterprise processes must be in place so the delivery of those goals becomes a reality.
Not everyone is comfortable with diving into some of the complexities of analytics and lucky for them, there's another way to get a decent understanding of how users are interacting with a website (and its content) thanks to visual analytics solutions. Heatmap software solutions, like the oft-mentioned Crazy Egg, do an excellent job of revealing action and interactions taken by users, but there are also numerous other solutions. Discover five powerful visual analytics solutions at wsm.co/visanalytics.
The Right Tools (and Tactics) for the Job
What Web professionals really want to know (the reason they are even moderately interested in analytics and intelligence tools in the first place) is if their efforts and resources are resulting in some positive effect - revenue, awareness, engagement.
To get the most useful information, however, requires using the right tools for the job to reveal the right data (at the right time and for the right people during their brand journey). Fortunately, there is no shortage of solutions available.
Google Analytics, which offers a suite of powerful features and benefits, is arguably one of the most popular (just over 69 percent of the top 10,000 sites use Google analytics according to BuiltWith), but there are many others worthy of closer examination.
Its closest and most significant rival at the enterprise level is that of Adobe Analytics. While the company's Marketing Cloud offering is considered pricey in relation to similar offerings, Adobe's real-time data and reporting functionality, as well as its advanced segmentation capabilities (and integration with other Adobe products including its development and testing tools, and new Audience Marketplace, which will allow advertisers and marketers to buy and sell second-or third-party data), make it an ideal solution for those with more sophisticated demands or those who are planning on scaling their enterprise up and expanding the capabilities of their analytics and data initiatives. Adobe and Google garner a great deal of attention among business-focused consumers of analytics solutions (and for good reason), but there are, as most likely know, plenty of other powerful options that do not nearly receive the awareness they merit.
The Power of Segmentation
One of the most significant mistakes that Web professionals make is viewing all of their analytics at once but it is more useful to view the data in smaller batches and groups and there are numerous, incredibly useful ways to do so. For example, traffic can be segmented by the source of traffic, by device type or browser, by returning versus new visitors and a whole lot more. Segmenting traffic in this way offers an opportunity to understand how well a website is satisfying users.
Piwik comes highly recommended among Internet retailers thanks to the platform's strong e-commerce tracking capabilities, integration plugins for leading providers including Magento and PrestaShop, as well as its advanced reporting mechanism. Kissmetrics is also a very popular business analytics tool lauded by the digital community and known to be particularly good at making it easy to build and interpret funnels. Its path report, for example, identifies the most common steps between the first visit and a conversion.
With integrations available for numerous third-party tools, it too (if not always) tops the list of considerations of analytics tools often among Web professionals (particularly Internet retailers). These are just some of the most utilized website analytics solutions on the market and they serve Web professionals well in their pursuit of insights that matter when the aim is delivering improvements and growth. No enterprise is alike, however.
There are solutions available that were designed for specific types of companies, industries and markets. Fuel's new Fuel Gauge marketing Dashboard, for instance, provides a good example of a solution that serves a niche industry segment well. Hotel and resort mangers using the platform can gain insights into their website, booking engine, email marketing, social media, online reputation, guest satisfaction, organic and paid search and more, in one system.
Brittain Resort Management & Hotels (BRM) is the first to utilize Fuel Gauge to for its 14 properties and will track each resort's marketing efforts, as well as conversion, occupancy and revenue tracking in real-time.
While Fuel's industry-based approach will be logical for hoteliers, location-based marketing technology provider SIM partners approaches the analytics opportunity from another perspective. The company recently launched Velocity Insights, a suite of features for its local marketing automation platform that aims to help companies move beyond simple performance metrics to provide actionable analysis of their local presence. The solution provides insights into the visibility and performance of a brand's location pages, measuring "listing health" by applying a proprietary scoring algorithm that assesses factors such as location data accuracy and reach across influential data publishers and aggregators.
The system also provides demographic, Web and ranking insights to help companies optimize performance.
OPTIMIZED FOR SCALE
As analytics technology solutions become increasingly more sophisticated, enterprises are focusing on the value it provides across the enterprise. Amazon Web Service (AWS), for example, launched QuickSight in early October, a solution to make data analytics available and understandable to any employee making business decisions, no matter how technically advanced their skill level.
QuickSight is an aggressive player in the cloud data analytics software market as Amazon can likely offer more advanced, less expensive tools that will enable its customers take advantage of insights from data analytics at every level of the organization. QuickSight will start at $9 per user, much lower on average than the cost of the traditional BI services. The new tool also integrates with AWS's data services, so organizations can scale to hundreds of thousands of employees to crunch data, run search queries and create data visualizations quickly. The new tool uses a new "Super-fast, Parallel, In-memory Calculation Engine" (SPICE) to perform calculations and render visualizations.
The point of profiling the variety of analytics and intelligence solutions is to reveal that there are offerings available, powerful ones, which can provide an enterprise the information it needs to make decisions that will benefit the bottom line. Even with the best approach, however, other challenges remain.
Hurdles & the True Power of Analytics
When Website Magazine launched 10-plus years ago, it was not uncommon to hear the word "hits" used as a means to convey website performance (as if it were an accurate representation, which it wasn't).
Today, the industry has become far more sophisticated (moving from elementary activity reporting in the past to advanced event-based performance tracking and predictive intelligence functionality today) and there are many challenges to overcome in the course of a brand's digital life as a result. The first challenge is often in understanding the industry terminology as well as the broader concepts and theories of analytics and BI.
As enterprises begin their journey toward success with these initiatives, however, the following are the basic terms and phrases that will serve as the foundation for most analytics efforts. Yes, industry veterans should already know these, but a regular revisiting will ensure initiatives are staying on course (and improving).
Visits, Sources, Bounce Rate, Time on Site, Pages per Visit - these are the fundamentals of website analytics.
These relatively self-explanatory metrics can provide an immense amount of insight into campaign and business performance. It is when they are used in association with each other (and in tandem with supplementary data), however, that their true power becomes apparent. One of the most significant problems in the realm of analytics today is that those responsible for these initiatives tend to group all website data together, instead of segmenting by source, referral, demographic or device.
The sheer number of variables in aggregated data makes it incredibly difficult to see patterns, which can reveal potential tactics, channels or processes. The aim that should ultimately be pursued is one of action. The whole point of gathering and examining analytics data is to be able to act on the real information available and that cant be done without knowing what is causing action and activity.
The reason Web professionals struggle with Web data analysis is because they tend to act quickly, instinctively and (as are all humans) often subject to emotions, jumping to (often incorrect) conclusions accordingly. There is, of course, a better way.
It is necessary to connect data at a deeper level by focusing on the metrics that ultimately matter most to an enterprise's goals. As a result, it's exceedingly important to communicate what's happening - and those basic metrics outlined previously do not suffice. The solution is to build in key performance indicators from the outset that will satisfy analytics initiatives.
Start & End with Goals & Events
Today's businesses work in a performance-driven world; a world no longer content to measure unique visitors and page views, but rather with the satisfaction of goals and the occurrence of events. As acquisition costs continue to rise, this shift was inevitable.
Goals can be pretty much anything that indicates a conversion - such as making a payment or donation. Not all goals defined by an enterprise, of course, must be so closely tied to revenue; goals can also be set up for indirect revenue actions including creating an account or making a form-based inquiry. Say for example that a website offers an email newsletter; with a confirmation/thank you page in place, tracking the success of marketing and promoting that asset and channel is possible.
Goals are essentially specific actions that when tracked can provide an opportunity to produce improvement - more revenue, more registrations, etc.
Whether for direct or indirect revenue, tracking activity through the goal funnel provides an opportunity to analyze the entrance and exit points that impact a goal. Analytics systems can often do much more than this though; it's actually possible to measure any and every action that takes place on a website through the use of event tracking.
Web pages, just like the companies that create them, are made of many parts. There are links within content, calls-to-action (CTAs), sidebar navigation, the list is long. While clicks on these links may not always tie to some measurable goal, they do and can provide an opportunity to understand performance on a more granular level.
Say for example that a marketer wants to track the performance of on-site content marketing efforts in relation to the number of people that express interest in a newsletter. A form may be set up on the company's own page, but it is important to track how strong CTAs are in generating a response. Event tracking those CTAs can be done quite easily by appending some unique event tracking code to each, which will provide data on the effectiveness of every click.
If a form is getting plenty of visits, but not conversions - the CTAs in the content are working, but it's the form that may need work.
Event tracking can be used to track a variety of activity, from file download and video plays, to link clicks on interactions on embedded AJAX page elements. Since there can be so many different events that can be tracked, Web professionals should consider grouping events by category or type (e.g. link or file), defining the action (e.g. click or download), labeling it appropriately (to know which event it is specifically) and adding a value depending on its worth.
Events are really meant for tracking activity on any page element that des not have a destination URL (such as a thank you page). That being said, some incredibly useful insights can be gathered from using events (that just are not possible with goals).
Say for example that there are videos on a website and a marketer is interested in measuring if users are skipping through them (because they are insufferably boring). By appending event tracking code on forward and rewind buttons, this insight can become very clear, indicating whether videos are engaging or not. Hopefully enterprises have moved beyond basic activity reporting and are investing their time and resources into capitalizing on the true power of analytics - understanding on a finite level what's making a difference.
With a clearer picture of how well an enterprise is performing, it's time to put that analytics data to use.
Developing an Analytics Initiative
The real problem with Web analytics is that it is a real challenge to make good use of the data collected.
Calculating return on investment (ROI), for example, is no easy task as most fail to include the costs associated with the entire production and deployment of a project. It can prove useful however when there is a plan in place.
If enterprises want to convert as many visitors to customers as possible, and are tracking goals in addition to key metrics like sessions and pageviews, follow this three-step plan to ensure analytics efforts mean something to the success of an enterprise.
+ Define the Audience Need: Consumers want a specific product or service because it satisfies a need. When brands know what need that is, they are able to craft experiences that address their wants and desires. Analytics systems are useful in that they provide cues and clues about the audience including their interests, the manner in which they access a site, not to mention how well an enterprise is at capturing their attention. Do users consume more long-form or short-form content? Do videos produce greater time on site than other assets?
+ Establish Baseline Conversion Rates: Conversion rates will be different for every enterprise, but when you know what it is (and for every referring source and channel) it is possible to emphasize the efforts and processes that yield the greatest result. Websites don't often have one conversion rate, but rather many. Group similar offerings on a site to determine what, if any, discrepancies exist. Employ testing (A/B, multivariate) to identify what works.
+ Assign & Calculate Revenue: Each action and interaction can be given a value. While an actual sale should be given a greater value than a click-through, as one requires further nurturing, analytics can be used to help assign and calculate or determine real-world value. From there, it's just a matter of assigning dollars to action. When you know what is working and what is not, it is possible to prioritize decisions for the benefit of the bottom line. Managing improvements spurred on by a rigorous analytics initiative is made much simpler thanks to the influx of business intelligence tools, solutions that aggregate essential data, analyze information from disparate sources, and help executives make sense of the data and more importantly, to drive change more quickly.
Business Intelligence: Generating Dollars from Analytics Change
To help guide Web professionals through the business intelligence landscape, Website Magazine has developed a whitepaper exclusively for our readers, which can be downloaded at wsm.co/bidollars.
Analytics Everywhere and Every Day
Analytics can be a full-time job and it can often take a dedicated professional to wade through the volumes of data available. If you know where to look and what to look for, only then can your brand be on the fast track to 'Net success. Enterprises must adopt a data-driven culture, enable data access to all business users, and create a consistent understanding and interpretation of data.