Time to Remodel the Kitchen?

Although determining full and realistic corporate valuation is a task I’ll leave to people of sterner stuff than I (since Facebook went public, not many could begin to speculate on the bigger picture of even small enterprise valuation), I’ve recently been working with a few clients whom have reminded me of why one sometimes needs to remodel.

Nowadays, information technology is often seen as a means to an end. It’s a necessary evil. It’s overhead to your real business. You joined the technological revolution, and your competitors who didn’t, well… sunk. Or… you entered the market with the proper technology in place, and, seatbelt fastened, have taken your place in the market. Good for you. You’ve got this… right?

I’m a software system architect. I envision and build out information technology. I often like to model ideas around analogies to communicate them, because it takes the tech jargon out of it. Now that I’ve painted the picture, let’s think about what’s cooking behind the office doors.

It’s been said that the kitchen is the heart of the home. When it comes to the enterprise (big and small) your company’s production might get done in the shop, but sooner or later, everyone gets fed business processes, which are often cooked in the kitchen of technology. In fact, technology is often so integral to what many companies do nowadays that it’s usually hard to tell where, in your technology stack, business and production processes begin. Indeed, processes all cycle back around, and they almost certainly end with information technology again.

Truly, we’ve come a long way since the ’70s, when implementing any form of “revolutionary” information technology was the basis of a competitive advantage. Nowadays, if you don’t have information technology in the process somewhere, you’re probably only toying with a hobby. It’s not news. Technology graduated from a revolutionary competitive advantage to the realm of commoditized overhead well over a decade ago.

Ok… ok… You have the obligatory kitchen in your home. So what?

If you think of the kitchen in your home as commoditized overhead, you probably are missing out on the even bigger value an update could bring you at appraisal time. Like a home assessment, due diligence as part of corporate valuation will turn up the rusty mouse traps behind the avocado refridgerator and under the porcelain sink:

  • Still rocking 2000 Server with ActiveX?
  • Cold Fusion skills are becoming a specialty, probably not a good talent pool in the area, might be expensive to find resources to maintain those components.
  • Did you say you can spell iSeries? Great, can you administer it?
  • No one’s even touched the SharePoint Team Services server since it was installed by folks from overseas.
  • The community that supported your Open Source components… dried up?
  • Cloud SLAs, Serviceability?
  • Compliance?
  • Disaster Management?
  • Scalability?
  • Security?
  • Documentation…?
    • Don’t even go there.

As you can see… “Everything but the kitchen sink” no longer applies. The kitchen sink is transparently accounted for as well. A well designed information technology infrastructure needs to go beyond hardware and software. It considers redundancy/disaster management, security, operating conditions, such as room to operate and grow, and of course, if there are any undue risks or burdens placed on particular technologies, vendors, or even employees. Full valuation goes further, looking outside the walls to cloud providers and social media outlets. Finally, no inspection would be complete without a look at compliance, of course.

If your information technology does not serve your investors’ needs, your CEO’s needs, your VP of Marketing and Sales’ needs, as well as production’s… but most importantly your customers’, your information technology is detracting from the valuation of your company.

If the work has been done, due diligence will show off the working utility, maintainability, security, scalability, and superior added value of the well-designed enterprise IT infrastructure refresh.

To elaborate on that, a good information technology infrastructure provides a superior customer experience no matter how a customer chooses to interact with your company. Whether it’s at the concierge’s counter, in the drive-through, at a kiosk, on the phone, at your reseller’s office, in a browser or mobile app, your customers should be satisfied with their experience.

Don’t stop with simply tossing dated appliances and replacing them. Really think about how the technologies work together, and how people work with them. This is key… if you take replacement appliances off the shelf and simply plug them in, you are (at best) merely keeping up with your competitors. If you want the full value add, you need to specialize. You need to bend the components to your processes. It’s not just what you’ve got.  It’s how you use it.  It’s the critical difference between overhead and advantage.

Maybe the Augmented Reality Kitchen won’t provide a good return on investment (yet), but… there’s probably a lot that will.

Adobe, IBM, WebTrends, and comScore named leaders in Web Analytics

Independent research firm Forrester recently released their annual “Forrester Wave: Web Analytics, Q4 2011” report naming Adobe, IBM, comScore, and WebTrends as the current leaders of the web analytics industry. AT Internet and Google Analytics were also included as “strong performers” while Yahoo Analytics took 7th place as the lone wolf in the “contender” category.

Not surprisingly Adobe Site Catalyst and IBM Coremetrics stood out with the top two scores overall but WebTrends Analytics 10 and comScore Digital Analytix showed major stengths as well. Unica NetInsight, another offering from IBM did not make the list because of its inevitable fate to be merged with Coremetrics. In 2010, IBM acquired both Unica and Coremetrics. The Forrester report states, “IBM is incorporating the complementary and notable features of Unica NetInsight into a merged web analytics solution based on the Coremetrics platform.”

The full report can be downloaded from Adobe or WebTrends and will likely show up on other vendor sites soon.

Multi-Touch Attribution Campaign Tracking with WebTrends

This article is a follow-up to the webinar

All web analytics platforms have some way of tracking marketing campaign performance usually out-of-the-box or with a little bit of set up. Generally they all do a pretty good job of this and provide key reports to make important business decisions about which campaigns to invest more money in, which to reduce spending on, and which to get rid of altogether. But often these decisions are made without insight into the whole picture. Why? The answer is simply because most campaign reports are set up in the industry standard way of attributing all conversions to the last or most recent campaign clicked. This is and has long been the industry standard, but it is time for a change as this method ignores the fact that people often go through multiple campaigns before converting.

So what other attribution options are there? And why wouldn’t I want to attribute conversion credit to the most recent campaign? – There are typically 3 options for campaign attribution:

  1. Last Touch (Most recent campaign)
  2. First Touch (Original campaign)
  3. Multi-touch (All campaign touches)

Technically there are two options for multi-touch attribution. One option is to give full credit to all campaign touches and the other option is to give partial credit to each touch. For example, if 3 different campaign touches resulted in a sale of $30 you could credit each touch with $10. But for the purposes of this article we will focus on the full credit option. As for the question “why wouldn’t I want to attribute conversion credit to the most recent campaign?” – this is not really the right question to ask. The better question to ask is, “Do I have the best possible insight into the performance of my marketing campaigns?” The answer to that question is almost always “no” if you are only analyzing a single attribution method. So rather than replacing industry standard last touch reports, adding first touch and multi-touch to your arsenal of reports is the best course of action.

Fortunately for WebTrends users, there has been a great method for gaining insight into all campaign touches for quite some time although a little work up front is necessary to gain the full power of this. If you are already doing basic campaign tracking within WebTrends then the visitor history table is already turned on and with minimal effort you can set up two new custom reports which report on the first touch campaign and all campaign touches respectively. To do this you need to make use of two features of the visitor history table and create two new custom dimensions, one based on WT.vr.fc (the fc stands for “first campaign”) and another based on WT.vr.ac (the ac stands for “all campaigns”). Once you have the dimensions set up you create custom reports using those dimensions and whichever metrics you want applied. To make things easier, copy the existing campaign ID report and just change the dimension to base the report on.

The “first touch” report ends up looking nearly identical to the existing campaign ID report but the rows of data will be different since the revenue and other conversion credit is applied to the first campaign that referred the conversion as opposed to the last.

Standard Campaign ID Report Sample
First Touch Campaign ID Sample

The “all touches” report is where you’ll notice more differences. You will see some or many (depending on the date range you have selected) rows of data that have multiple campaign IDs separated by semi colons. To view only the data that contains multiple campaign touches just filter the report by a semi colon.

Multi-Touch Campaign ID Report Sample

So what do you do with this information? What does it all mean?
Spending some time with this new data will likely reveal some patterns you never had insight into before. For example, you may notice certain campaigns appear to perform poorly according to your traditional last touch reports but the same campaign’s performance as a first touch is much better, or vice versa. Since the first touch report is so similar to the out of the box campaign ID report it is fairly straightforward. The only difference is that the first touch gets the credit. The all touch reports are more complicated though. What I find most useful about this report is the ability to determine a campaign’s total reach and compare it to its absolute reach.  Take for example campaign ID 32. In the above screenshots you will notice that this campaign ID has $63,441 attributed to it as a last touch campaign, $35,839 attributed to it as a first touch campaign, and $82,036 attributed to it when you search for it in the all touches report (See fig. 4 below). What this data is telling us in this particular case is that:

  • $63,441 in revenue was most recently referred by campaign 32
  • Only $35,839 in revenue was initially referred by campaign 32
  • But overall campaign 32 at least partially referred $82,036 in revenue

As you can see, there can be very significant differences in campaign performance depending on how you look at the data. Taking the easy way out and looking only at a single attribution method can lead to less than fully-informed decisions being made about your campaigns. What if you were relying solely on first-touch reports in this example? That could lead you to reduce your budget on campaign 32 when in reality it was performing much better than your first-touch report told you.

Multi-Touch Report Filtered by Campaign ID 32

Ok, so all that is well and good but manually analyzing campaign IDs one at a time is a lot of work! Yes it certainly is using the methods I just provided as examples. But there is a much better way to approach this. Taking things a step further we can export each of these reports and combine them together in Excel using the campaign IDs as our key values. What we want to end up with is something like the following which will allow us to analyze first, last, and multi-touch all within a single interface.

Multi-Touch Reporting in Excel Sample

In part two of this article I’ll show you how to set this all up in WebTrends. But for now, follow the steps discussed in this article to get these super handy reports in place so you’ll be ready for the next part.

10 Actionable Web Metrics You Can Use – Part 2

Show your analytics results with gauges

In Part 1 of this post, I discussed 5 percentage-based metrics that can provide actionable insight. In Part 2, I will go over 5 index-based metrics that can also provide insight to problems that may need to be addressed in order to maximize the value of your website.

1. Campaign Quality Index (CQI)

This index measures how well targeted your campaigns are at driving qualified traffic to your site. Suppose 40% of your traffic comes from a particular campaign, but the traffic only provides 20% of your overall conversions. The CQI for this campaign would be the percent of conversions from the campaign (20%), divided by the percent of visits from the campaign (40%). A value of one means that a visitor from this campaign is as likely to convert (purchase, sign up, request information, etc…) as from any other campaign. A value less than 1.0 means they are less likely to convert, while a value greater than one means they are more likely to convert. If the value is less than 1.0, then you need look at the reasons. You can break this down to individual search engines, or even keyword groups for each search engine, and for each individual banner campaign or other paid campaign you use, including referral partners. Perhaps the targeting is not sufficiently narrow, or the message is not being carried through the site (high bounce rate). You will want to work with your SEM team and landing page design team to make the needed changes. When you make improvements, you can track their effectiveness by watching the index change. Ideally, your analytics dashboard should be created so that you can see the changes over periods of time.

2. New Customer Index (NCI)

This index is focused on transactions (not revenue) from new customers. It is defined as the percent of transactions from new visitors divided by the site percentage of new visitors. For example, if 40% of your transactions are from new visitors, and 60% of your traffic is from new visitors, your New Customer Index is 0.67. A value of 1.0 means that a purchase is equally likely to come from a new or returning customer. A value less than one (as in this example), means that a new visitor is less likely to become a customer. A value greater than one means that a new visitor is more likely to become a customer than a returning visitor. Your goal is to strive for a value of one or better. If the value is less than one, you will need to look at factors that contribute to a low value. To do this properly, you would want to create a New Customer Index for each type of campaign you run, and compare that to those who come to your site from direct entry. A low performing index for paid search or banner campaigns can mean that you are not targeting the correct market, or that your search terms are not correlated to those looking to purchase your product or service. If the campaign is a banner campaign, either the message is not on target, or the media partner you are using is not attracting the correct demographic.

3. Return Visitor Index (RVI)

This index is simply defined as the percent of return visitors divided by the percent of new visitors. A value of 1.0 means that your site has an equal distribution of new vs. return visitors. A value greater than 1.0 means that your site is more likely to attract return visitors, while a value less than 1.0 means your site is more likely to attract new visitors. Depending on your type of site and your effort on attracting new visitors or keeping existing visitors, you can see how effective your efforts are and can then focus on how to improve this index. If your goal is to encourage repeat visits, then you need to be concerned with how fresh or relevant your content is, or how effective any email campaigns are in getting registered visitors to come back to your site. Any anomalies need to be investigated. As an example, I once saw a huge jump in new traffic in a client’s site that was the result of an email campaign, according to the analytics report. However, the email campaigns were only to registered visitors, so in order to have received the email, you would have first had to have visited the site. Thus, the email campaign visits should show up as return visitors. What happened is that the email contained an offer for a free exercise DVD, and the link URL was hijacked and placed on a few deal sites. When visitors clicked on the link, they were attributed to the email campaign, as the link contained the email campaign code! By looking at the RVI, I was able to see that there was an issue that needed to be addressed.

4. Branded Search Index (BSI)

Organic search can consist of generic terms that relate to content on your site plus searches that include your company name or your brand name.  Each can be of interest to your search manager. If more visitors come to your site from generic keywords or terms, it means that your site is well optimized for content. If more of your search visits come from branded terms, it means that more people are finding your site by your brand name instead of from non-branded terms.  You can track this by creating a BSI metric. This is defined as the percent of visits to your site from branded terms divided by visits from non-branded terms. Values greater than 1.0 mean that you are getting more of your traffic from branded terms, while a value less than 1.0 indicate that generic terms are winning the organic search battle. Depending on your search strategy and goals, you can use this information to help adjust your optimization or brand promotional efforts.

5. Site Search Impact (SSI)

Site search is very important for many types of sites. Visitors who come to your site may use site search to help them quickly find what they are looking for. If they find what they want, they may be more likely to continue to reach a goal, such as a purchase or lead submission. If they don’t find what they are looking for, they may just leave the site. The SSI index can tell you the impact your site search has on your revenue. To calculate it, take the per visit revenue from those who use site search, and divide it by the per visit revenue of those who do not use site search. “Per visit” revenue is defined as the total revenue or lead value for the month, divided by the number of visits. If your SSI index is greater than 1.0, this means that your site search is making you money, compared to those who do not use search. If the index is less than 1.0, it means that your site search is costing you money, meaning those who use site search are less likely to either make a purchase or become a lead. This can be the result of not getting desired results from the search, or result pages that don’t satisfy your visitors’ needs. To solve this problem, you would then need to dive deeper into your site search report to identify and correct the issues.

Summary

Hopefully this two-part post on 10 actionable web metrics you can use has given you some insight into how to make your web analytics program more actionable. While some of these metrics are fairly easy to construct, others may require filtering, segmentation, calculated metrics and integration with offline data. Depending on your analytics tool, you may want to use a presentation package like Xcelcius to create and display your gauges and create a dashboard that can be shared with your site’s key stakeholders.

Is Your Web Analytics Program on Solid Footing? (Part 2)

pillars of support for your web analytics platform

In Part 1 of this topic, I covered four of the top ten fundamentals in building a strong web analytics platform. In this post, I will discuss the remaining six pillars.

5. Develop Actionable Campaign Tracking

In a previous post, I talked about tracking all of your campaign activity. A campaign is any method, whether paid or organic, that gets visitors to your site. Some of these activities include pay-per-click, banner ads, email, newsletters, blogs, articles, social media, classifieds, forums, referral partners and affiliates. In the other post, I provided recommendations on how to set up Google Analytics and Omniture to provide you with a methodology to create and track the performance of all of your campaigns. When done properly, you can determine how well these campaigns do in bring not only visitors to your site, but qualified visitors who become customers or leads for your company. Once you know the value of your campaign efforts, you can provide recommendations on which campaigns work and which ones do not, letting your organization optimize its marketing budget.

6. Evaluate Your Data Quality

The expression “garbage in, garbage out” applies to your analytics program. If the quality of the data you are processing is suspect, the quality of the reports will not be any better. Some of the items you need to pay attention to include:

  • Filtering of internal and development partner traffic
  • Exclusion of images, spiders, bots and external site monitoring services from being counted as visits and page views
  • Merging together same pages with different URLs (case differences, “www.” vs. no “www”,”/ index.htm” vs. “/” at the end of a home page or path)
  • Removing query parameters from same page names
  • Testing and verifying your tagging structure and data collection to make sure you are capturing all the data you think you are. Make sure that all pages are tagged and that custom tags fire properly.
  • Ensuring that all tag parameter variables are accounted for, even if you have no data for a particular parameter
  • Ignoring currency formatting on e-commerce data that is passed in your tracking code
  • Testing all other JavaScript on your site. Any JavaScript errors that occur on a page before your analytics tag will prevent that tag from being executed.

7. Avoid Information Overload

Some organizations go a bit crazy when collecting web data. For example, I’ve seen a client set up a traffic variable that collects an internal search term and then combines it with the page where they went on the site. Yet no report was being used with this information (nor should it have been). Enabling all the parameters you have available can increase the overhead on your analytics tool, and can sometimes cause you to hit limits on the amount of data that can be processed. If any data that you are collecting (other than out-of-the-box) data does not serve a purpose in relating to your KPIs (business goals), then stop collecting it.

8. Set up an Optimization Process

Once you have your analytics program running smoothly, it is time to add an optimization process to it. This involves selecting any aspect of your metrics that can use improvement. For example, an easy win would be to reduce the bounce rate from targeted landing pages, or reducing the exit rate from pages that should lead to a call to action. Longer term, you will want to improve the performance of campaigns to lower your cost per lead or sale, to reduce the fallout rates in your conversion process, or to increase page views or reduce calls to your call center, and so on. Items that can be tested include landing pages, conversion funnel pages, forms, body copy, headlines, offers, colors, graphics, processes and segmentation.

The optimization process starts by implementing a tool that will let you conduct A/B split testing and multivariate testing. Since this is more advanced topic and requires strategic planning and execution to administer properly, you will either want to work with your optimization tool vendor or a company like Edgewater Technology to show you the way. To do this effectively, your organization will want to create a team that merges strategy, technology and creativity together. After you run a given test, analyze your results, make the recommended changes, and test again.

9. Understand How to Measure ROI on Activities

The end goal on any phase of testing is to increase your ROI for that cycle. But, how do you measure that? It helps to understand the ROI formula. Basically, it is the gain from an investment minus the cost of the investment, divided by the cost of the investment. Suppose for example, you have a baseline of an average of 10,000 orders per month from 434,000 visitors. That is a conversion rate of 2.30%. If your average revenue per sale is $50, your total revenue would be $500,000 from these visitors. If, through your optimization efforts, you raise the conversion rate to 3.1%, your resulting number of orders would be 13,454, for a revenue total of $672,700, or a difference of $172,700. If it cost your company $50,000 to make these improvements, your ROI would be ($172,000 – $50,000) / $50,000, or 245%. Note that this ROI was based only on the gross revenue, and does not factor in the cost of goods or services sold.

10. Implement an Analytics Roadmap

Just as a builder uses a blueprint to help guide his team, your web analytics program should also use a blueprint. At Edgewater Technology, we call this a “road map”. It is designed to help move your organization from simply collecting web data to building a comprehensive reporting platform that gives you a 360 degree view of your customer. In this road map, some very important questions are answered, including:

  • Where is your analytics program now?
  • Where do you want your analytics program to be?
  • How will you get there?
  • What are the goals of the various stakeholders?
  • What data to they want to see?
  • What data are you not collecting?
  • Is your collected data accurate?
  • Do you need to integrate online data with offline data?
  • What challenges will you face in getting to your goal?
  • What specific tasks does your team need to do to get there?

Once you have a road map, you will be able to break down all the required tasks and determine what level of effort is needed to implement your analytics program.

Summary

By understanding the fundamentals needed to build a strong web analytics platform, you will be able to provide reliable data that supports your company’s business goals and provides you with actionable insights that can be used to optimize all aspects of your web program.

Understanding Multichannel Analytics

While web analytics can give you a pretty accurate picture of how well online buyers respond to online marketing activities, it fails to tell you anything about how your online marketing affects offline purchase behavior and how offline marketing affects online behavior. If you website has a 3% conversion rate, what about the remaining 97% of your visitors? If you send out 50,000 coupons and get a 2% direct response rate, what about the other 98% of those who got the coupons? Is there a way to measure what they do? Enter multichannel analytics.  Multichannel analytics is a process where all marketing channels are analyzed to develop a more complete view of visitor behavior.

The Four Marketing / Purchase Quadrants

While there are four quadrants of multichannel analytics as outlined in the figure on the right, this post will discuss the two online/offline combinations shown in red. I will briefly explain some of the issues regarding multichannel analytics, some methods of tagging offline marketing and offline purchases, and show you some of the benefits.

The biggest problem with tying in offline efforts or offline conversions is lack of a common point between the two. You have two different databases, one of online data and one of offline data. Unless you have the equivalent of a primary key, you cannot join the two data sets together. Imagine a customer walking into your store or calling your order link and giving you their unique visitor cookie. That would make it fairly easy to tie in their online behavior to their offline purchase. You would be able to track what brought them to your website and what they did before coming to your store.  Unfortunately, in the real world we cannot tie these efforts together, so we need to develop solutions. Solutions for both of the red quadrants will be discussed as they relate to the multichannel analytics integration process, as shown in the following figure:

Tracking Offline Marketing to Online Purchases

There are two solutions to tracking your offline marketing efforts. The first solution is to use vanity URLs in your offline marketing efforts. For example, if you go to DellRadio.com, you will be redirected to a dell.com URL that has some tracking code. In the URL string, you will see a parameter titled “cid”, which is used by SiteCatalyst as a campaign ID. Thus, any purchases from visits to DellRadio.com will be credited to their radio campaign.

You can do the same thing with all of your offline efforts. Put vanity URLs on your newspaper or magazine ads, in your mailers and coupons, on billboards and other forms of display advertisements. Use specific vanity URLs in your radio and TV ads, and simply have your IT department do a “301 redirect” that converts these vanity URLs into coded mainstream URLs that your analytic tool can process.

The second solution to the offline marketing effort is to promote the use of tracking codes in your offline media such as infomercials. Someone watching the infomercial can either call the phone number or order online. If they enter the promo code on the website, you will know that the order was the result of the TV ad. However, what this will not tell you is the percentage of those who came to the site from the infomercial but did NOT buy. If you simply want to allocate revenue to an offline marketing effort, a promotion code will work well with any offline media that drives traffic to your main URL. Within your analytic package, you would tag the code entry as an event, and then look at the revenue that is associated with each event (specific code for each offline activity).

Tracking Online Marketing to Offline Purchases

Now that you have a way to track how your offline efforts work to get visitors to your website, how do you measure what they do when they don’t order online?

Capture Visitor Intent

If your business is both online and retail (physical store), you can measure intent to come to the store by tracking results of your store locator and directions links. By setting these as goals, you can then see what searches were done by visitors who have expressed intent to come to your store. To help capture the buyer while he or she is in the buying mood, some stores like Barnes and Nobles offer the ability to enter a zip code to see if a book of interest is available at a local store. If so, the customer can reserve it online and go pick it up right away. If you can offer this type of service, you need to tag this event so it can capture what brought the customer to the website, and be able to tie in the physical purchase (offline) to the online marketing that resulted in the purchase.

Generate Campaign-Based Coupons for Offline Purchases

It is also possible to have your website generate a unique coupon ID that can be for the particular product that was searched.  By creating an ID that represents marketing segmentation (campaign type, campaign source, media placement, keywords, and so on), you can store this information in both your analytics package and your store database. If you use a campaign translation file for your analytics platform, you will want to include the same campaign ID as a prefix to your coupon. The same coupon concept also applies to service businesses such as insurance, reservations, home and professional service businesses, etc…, where you give the prospective customer a coupon ID that they can use to get a discount. If your business takes orders or inquiries over the phone, you could have your site coded to include the coupon code next to the phone number on all pages. By tracking the redemption of these coupons, you can compute a click-to-store conversion rate, and factor in offline revenue that was attributed to specific online marketing campaigns. This will give you a higher ROI and perhaps provide justification for more web-related investment.

Implement Phone Number- Based Tracking

Unique tracking phone numbers can also be used to measure the impact of your online marketing efforts to offline purchases. A service like Voicestar provides these tools. You can place trackable phone numbers on your site, or use services like “Click to Call” and “Form to Phone” options. Their system has an API that lets you get data right out to your analytics tool and dashboard. Tracking phone calls is very important, as it is human nature to still want to talk to someone on the phone before making a purchase decision. When using a phone tracking service, or even if you have a block of your own phone numbers to use, it is important to not have the phone numbers as a part of the static content. The phone numbers need to be integrated with an algorithm that can associate the phone number with a particular campaign.  To further tie in the visitor to the phone number, a cookie should also be set that relates to the tracking source. Thus, if the visitor leaves the site, and comes back at a later time, the initial campaign that brought him or her to the site will still receive credit for the sale.

The biggest drawback to this type of campaign tracking is that depending on what level of detail you want for your marketing segmentation, you can end up needing dozens or hundreds of phone numbers. This can possibly become expensive and difficult to manage. Instead, you can create a 3 or 4 digit “extension” that is tied to a web-related order number, and when someone calls the number, the phone operator asks for the extension. This has no incremental cost to implement.

Another phone tracking service is offered by Mongoose Metrics. Their service integrates with most web analytics tools to create an automated URL postback after each call is made.  You can perform the same type of analysis, ecommerce conversion and segmentation that you would from any other page to be analyzed. You can see instantly how well your online marketing activities are generating online revenue.

There are many ways to implement phone-based tracking, and they all require integrating your site code with your analytics platform and your backend system.

Utilize Site Surveys to Understand Buying Behavior

Another way to gauge consumer intent is to use online site exit surveys. Companies like iPerceptions, ForSee and others can provide you with surveys that your site visitors can take regarding their online experience. You can ask about the likelihood of them making a purchase offline, and how much their online experience would influence their buying decision. On your online order forms and lead forms, you can also ask the question, “How did you hear about us?” in the form of a drop-down select or radio buttons. Include your offline marketing methods as choices. If the online traffic source is “direct entry”, then you can assign credit for the sale to the way the customer said they heard about your site.

Assign Values to Online Leads

If your business model is to let visitors fill out a form to be contacted by an agent or representative, there are a couple of different ways to tie success (revenue) to a campaign. Some analytic packages let you assign a dollar value to goal conversion pages, such as filling out a request for information form, a pre-application, or other form of customer contact. This dollar value is based on two factors – the average close rate of online leads, and the average dollar value of each deal. For example, if your company closes 15% of all of its leads, and the average deal is worth $500, then the value of each lead is $75 (15% of $500). Thus, your web analytics package can compare that value to the cost associated with generating the lead, and the nature of actions that lead up to it (pages visited, items downloaded, actions taken, and so on). If your analytics tool is set up to give credit to the first campaign touch point (PPC campaign, banner ad, referral site, etc…), you can still assign credit for the lead to the original campaign, even if the visitor does not convert until a later date.

The drawback with this method is that you are dealing with averages as far as the value of a lead. With average lead values, you cannot measure if a particular campaign brings in a higher-value customer than does another campaign. You can, however, get an average picture of how effective your online campaigns are right within your web analytics tool, without having to import any external data. For many organizations, this will provide much more insight than they are already getting about their offline purchases. It does require fine tuning the value you are using as the average lead value, based on your close rates and average dollar value of a new customer.

Track Campaign IDs with Lead Form Submissions

An alternative to this is to create an offline method of tracking online campaigns when a form is submitted. Your campaign code that you use in your web analytics package can be stored in a cookie and submitted as a part of your lead form. If all these leads are entered into a database, the campaign code can also be entered, and later receive credit for an eventual sale. The exact dollar value of the deal can then also be assigned to the campaign, just like for an eCommerce site. The integration of the online and offline data would then need to be done.

Reaping the Benefits of Multichannel Integration

So far, I have touched on some of the ways to “tag” offline marketing activities so they can be read by your web analytics program, and how to tag offline behavior that is due to your online marketing efforts. However, to put it all together requires access to all the data, both online and offline, plus an integration plan that combines strategy, technology, business logic, web analytics data, BI data, implementation, analytics and other disciplines to provide the desired results. One of the benefits of a multichannel analytics integration is that you will be able to obtain actionable insights, such as these (some are industry-specific):

  • Enhanced ROI – Once you are able to assign additional offline revenue to your online marketing efforts and online revenue to your offline marketing efforts, you will see a higher ROI, enabling you to justify additional spending on both your online marketing and other web efforts, such as site testing and optimization.
  • Retail Merchandising Decisions – If your business is retail, your online data can be mined to see what items tend to be purchased together, enabling your retail operation to group these same items together for in-store customers.
  • Upsell Opportunities – If your offline customers tend to respond to particular upsell opportunities when they call in or get called back, you can use this information to target similar online customers or visitors, based on data that can be stored in tracking cookies.
  • Re-marketing Intelligence – If you know what online customers come back to your site to buy later, you can use this knowledge to market similar products or services to your in-house mailing or phone list.
  • Additional Retail Outlets – If you see a significant request for retail outlets in areas that you are not currently serving, you can have the data you need to consider expanding your physical presence.
  • New Promotional Activities – If you know that your online visitors express an interest in finding a store based on looking at particular products that they want right away or that tend to be expensive to ship,  you can create geo-targeted online campaigns that are designed to get more buyers to your store. This can also work well for seasonal or event-driven items (snowstorm, hurricanes, extended deep freeze, etc…), where the need for a product is now, not 7 to 10 days from now. By tracking these click-to-store visitors, you will be able to measure the success of these campaigns.

Hopefully, this post will give you some insight into how multichannel analytics works, some of its challenges, and how it can benefit your organization.

Is Your Web Analytics Program on Solid Footing?

build your web analytics platform on a solid footing

Web analytics can provide a company with insight into how well its web assets are doing to increase the company’s revenue, and to provide data to make business decisions regarding web strategy, web marketing and other business-related initiatives. In order to make the right decisions, the web analytics program needs to be built properly to provide the supporting data. If any of the pillars of your program are built incorrectly, your whole program can crash, leading to lost opportunities and wasted financial investments.

In this post, I will share with you four of the top ten fundamentals that you need to consider when building your analytics program, to enable it to support your company’s business decisions. In a later post, I will cover the remaining six topics.

1. Determine Business Goals and KPIs

The first step in the process is to determine your company’s business goals, as they pertain to its web assets. What role does the site play in providing revenue or business leads? Will the site be used to provide various audience segments with the tools needed to conduct the company’s business? Will it be used to provide corporate branding information and build interest in your company’s product or service? Will it be used to provide employees with information? Will it be used to provide the first level of customer support, in an effort to reduce incoming calls to your call center? Will it be used to keep customers loyal to your product or service?

To properly understand your site’s business goals, you need to conduct interviews with all of the stakeholders who touch the website. This can involve staff from your marketing department, HR, , IT, sales, customer service among others. Find out what information is important to them and how your reports will help them do their job better. This can help you identify any data collection gaps you have.

Once the goals are identified, they need to be mapped to key performance indicators, or KPIs.  KPIs are metrics that are tied to your company’s goals and are measured over time. They should be able to reflect the effects of any future optimization efforts. They need to be agreed upon by those who are impacted by the website’s performance.

2. Understand the Fundamentals of Web Analytics

The next step is to understand the fundamentals of web analytics. It is important to know how unique visitors are measured, how a bounce rate is measured and what it means. You need to understand the difference between new visitors, return visitors, and repeat visitors, and how time on site is calculated. You need to understand the difference between dimensions and measures, and how your analytics tool uses each. You need to be able to build a conversion funnel, and identify the relevant steps in the process. You need to understand terms like CPC, CPA, CTR, ROAS, ROI and others.  Ideally, you also need to have an understanding of JavaScript, server-side includes, first and third party cookies, and HTML. Think of all of these topics as ingredients in your analytics program’s concrete. If any of the ingredients are missing, your platform may not be as strong as it should be.

3. Select the Proper Analytics Tool

The next step is to either select the proper analytics tool, or evaluate what you are using now to make sure it meets your needs. These days, you have the choice between log files and tagging, free analytics tools and paid tools, and software vs. hosted solutions. Here are some of the decisions you must make:

  • Log files vs. tagging – There are pros and cons to using either log files or JavaScript tags to collect your data. The discussion on this could become another blog topic entirely. Do your research and determine which option (or a combination of the two) best meets your needs.
  • Free vs. paid – Depending on your analytics budget, you may be able to afford an enterprise-level tool such as WebTrends or Omniture. Depending on the size and complexity of your site, these solutions can cost tens of thousands of dollars per year. If your budget is small, consider using Google Analytics. Over the past year, Google has made significant improvements to its Analytics tool, to the point that many larger companies are now using it.
  • Software vs. hosted – Some tools, like WebTrends, provide you with the option of installing the software on your own servers, or using a hosted, “on demand” service. Each has its tradeoffs, in terms of cost, ease of use, and data availability.
  • Data privacy vs. data collection restrictions – If you organization needs to keep its web data private, your web analytics tool choice would be limited to either log files or a server-based data tagging software package. If you need or wish to collect personally identifiable information (full names, email addresses, credit card information, addresses, phone numbers, etc…), you can not use Google Analytics as your tool, as its terms of service prohibits capturing and storing this information on their servers.
  • Self-service help vs. tech support – If you are using a free tool such as Google Analytics, your tech support may be limited to its online help center, plus forums, blogs and discussion groups. If your organization is not that tech-savvy, it may need to have an account rep or phone-based tech support that comes with a paid tool.
  • Standalone vs. third-party integration – Tools like Google Analytics do not integrate well with other third-party tools used for pay-per-click bid management or email marketing. Google Analytics works well with their own services, such as AdWords.  Enterprise-level tools such as Omniture and WebTrends have optional modules that integrate with other vendors’ products, giving you a more complete picture of the overall performance of your web marketing activities.
  • Reporting vs. data mining – Some organizations need the ability to dig deeper into the collected web data to identify trends, new segments or correlations, or to more advanced analysis such as calculating the lifetime value of a customer. If your needs go beyond simple reporting, you may need to use a more advanced tool.
  • IT capabilities – If your organization has neither the talent nor the budget to implement advanced tagging methods into your website, you may need to use Google Analytics in its simplest fashion – simply paste a block of code on each page and include their “js” file on your website. Implementing more robust data gathering mechanisms with any analytics tool can require significant IT capabilities.
  • What are your peers using? – If you want to keep up with what your peers or competitors are doing, it helps to know what tools they are using. Simple Firefox browser add-ons, such as WASP, will show you which analytic tools are being used on any website.

4. Use Your Tool Properly

Once you have chosen your analytics tool, you need to use it properly, just as a builder would do with his tools. If you don’t, you can get poor results, or draw inaccurate conclusions.  Depending on the capabilities of your analytics tool, you may want to look at options such as segmenting, event tracking, conversion funnels, custom variables, pre and post analysis filtering, setting up profiles, templates, reports, custom metrics, calculated metrics, and conversion funnels.

Next, you need to determine what you are going to track. You can start with the basics, such as visits, unique visitors, page views,  average time on site, average pages per visit, top entry and exit pages, top pages, and traffic sources, then move on to landing page bounce rates, referral sources, organic and paid search keywords, internal site search results, visitor segments, visitor information, path analysis, traffic variables, conversions, tracking registered user visits, tool usage, interaction with Flash or video, downloads of PDFs or podcasts, events, products viewed, shopping cart actions, form completions and more. Each tool handles these differently, so you need to read your instruction manual first.

To be Continued

This completes Part 1 of this two-part look at how to improve the fundamentals of your web analytics program. In Part 2, I will take a look at the following topics:

  • Develop Actionable Campaign Tracking
  • Evaluate Your Data Quality
  • Avoid Information Overload
  • Set up an Optimization Process
  • Understand How to Measure ROI on Activities
  • Implement an Analytics Roadmap

Once you implement all ten of these pillars, you will find that your analytics platform will be able to support all of the data your organization needs to get the most out of its web assets.

E-Billing Expose – Part One

Designed correctly, E-Bills are a great use for the web, allowing insurance companies to communicate critical financial and census data to their customers in a controlled fashion while increasing efficiency and accuracy for the customer and themselves.

Unfortunately, it has been my experience that there’s a lot of misleading information about E-Billing “products” and “systems” on the Internet. In my upcoming posts, I’m going to wade through this morass of information and detail the approach that works – both from the company and customer standpoint.

The bill I’m speaking of is for group insurance. In the paper world, it’s that complicated, multi-page, already incorrect when it’s mailed, document that details what the insurance company believes the customer owes them. In the group insurance world (especially worksite marketing), where products may be voluntary and usually involve payroll deductions, I contend the bill is always wrong when received by customer due to the nature of the beast. By the time the bill arrives, the customer has employees who have joined the company, left the company, added dependents, etc. The poor customer then moves to try to reconcile said manual bill at a “point in time” that has nothing to do with the insurance company’s computer system used to generate the bill. The customer remits the reconciled (from their standpoint) bill, and it starts all over at the company end. There, it’s a reverse reconciliation as the company tries to figure out the entries the customer made on their end. It’s not unusual to see bills arrive at an insurance company with lines marked out, additions written in the margins, incorrect calculations, etc. How can it be right? The customer doesn’t know the insurance company’s business rules.

A statement about E-Billing products – based on the complexity of insurance billing systems (especially legacy systems), the inherent dynamic nature of the customer’s census and the integration needed to design posting for a true E-Billing System (Presentment, Reconciliation and Payment) back to the billing system after a bill is finalized, products haven’t met the mark.  I have yet to see a product that meets the needs of an insurance company requiring true branding, specific process flow, true self-service automation, and SOA compliant integration.

Contributing to this state of confusion, I’ve seen three completely different levels of E-Billing as requested by clients. All are referred to as E-Billing and in many cases, in previous engagements, the client visualized more and received a lot less.

Stay tuned for a discussion of (1) E-Bill Presentment, (2) E-Bill Presentment and Payment and (3) E-Bill Presentment, Reconciliation and Payment (true E-Billing).

Image appears courtesy of graphicalwonder.com

Chrome: Apple Looks Better All The Time

I should be biting my tongue, but the pain exploding in my brain by thinking this prevents me from doing anything further to my anatomy.  As one who escaped IBM’s totalitarian regime of the 1980′s (run Apple 1984 Super Bowl commercial), I can not believe I want to return, even if Steve Jobs is cool and IBM was not.  Chrome is what is sending me there.

Does anybody think of the poor slobs shoveling coal in the bowels of IT support when they think up a new browser or (shudder!) yet another toolbar.  These unsung heroes are just turning the corner on the Safari onslaught — every user with an iPod (99.999998% approx.) had this disease ridden Typhoid Mary installed on their PC auto-magically (thank you for the opt out Apple, not).  At least Chrome is “voluntary” at this point, requiring a mouse click for download, but given Google’s track record with their Toolbar, it is sure to be foisted on every unsuspecting PC in short order.  I can’t wait.

The best part about all of these revolutionary browsers is playing malware shell games with their developers: “We fixed some bugs, but we are not going to tell you which ones (Ha Ha Ha).”  Nothing personal, but what happened to “Do No Evil”?  It is an oxymoron, name one marketing/advertising entity with morals (it started with Josef Goebbels and has been downhill ever since).

This weeks Economist has a much more interesting insight in its technology section. The bulk of the world will be accessing the Internet through their cell phones based on cost, penetration, and true ubiquity.  This is the platform of the future and the one most in need of innovation and development (the greatest good for the greatest number I always say).  Putting all of the resources of the Internet in the hands of the poor and repressed and truly flattening the world as put forward by Friedman seems so right, squabbling over the desktops of the rich developed world seems so Evil (well trivial and venal in any case).

I am not a Luddite (argh! I am having an existential moment), Chrome does have value beyond firing up the trade press and blog traffic (oops, did I say Chrome in my blog too?).  It legitimately tries to move the user experience up a level in terms of trying to derive an informational level of interface instead of gratuitous data groveling at a list level.  More research needs to move in this direction as the data volumes increase to the absurd.  One question we discussed: Would cartoon character representation assist C-level executives understanding?  The answer is of course, Yes! Only The Family Guy could illuminate those fixtures.

Chrome: a new browser from Google. Or a new Web OS?

I’m very excited about the news breaking out today of Chrome: the new browser from Google. It will launch tomorrow and you can read all about it on Google’s blog and see their tech friendly comic book(that is brilliant by itself).

I have to admit that both the last release from Firefoxand especially the half baked lackluster IE8 beta from Microsoft were disappointing. While providing relatively minor improvements to most users, they failed to address the biggest challenge confronting the continuing growth of the web: inherent support for rich applications. All we want is to use our email, IM, Search and Facebook without it crashing every few hours taking all windows and tabs with it.

The browser had become the master application where most of our work and play on the computer is done these days. As Google had nicely put it in their blog post “All of us at Google spend much of our time working inside a browser. We search, chat, email and collaborate in a browser. And in our spare time, we shop, bank, read news and keep in touch with friends — all using a browser.” … “What we really needed was not just a browser, but also a modern platform for web pages and applications, and that’s what we set out to build”

So it seems that the smart guys at Google finally understood that if they base their entire business on ads presented while web browsing, they better make sure that browsing experience is fast, secure and continues to flourish. Counting on Microsoft to do that for you is not a smart business strategy.

The new Chrome browser was built from scratch not as a browser but as a platform. Most of the features and improvements are taken form the OS playbook for stability and security: process containment, sand boxing, efficient garbage collection, tight security model.

Here is a short list of some of the innovation the Chrome is introducing:

  • Process isolation for tabs and plugins within tabs. Awesome. No more will a single window force me to kill the browser with all 30 tabs I have open gone with the wind.
  • New Javascript virtual machine that will product compiled machine code. If Java script is to be the future of rich web interfaces (as opposed to the proprietary Flash or Silverlight) it needs to run fast and be more robust and that’s exactly what the new virtual machine is providing.
  • Gears Integration: with Gears support for persistency and OS level access, developers can build client level applications for the web with reasonable portability
  • Security: the new security model offers a strong foundation for ongoing security schema that can be used by application coders and plugin providers.

Google will also make the whole thing open source, allow plugins and invites everyone to add and extend.

That’s the kind of innovation we need in order to keep the web growing and becoming the robust platform for work and play.

I can’t wait to give it a full try tomorrow.