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.

2 thoughts on “Is Your Web Analytics Program on Solid Footing?

  1. Pingback: Is Your Web Analytics Program on Solid Footing? (Part 2) « Edgewater Technology Weblog

  2. Thanks for this post. It has some really good insights in to how you should look at your analytics. I was looking for ways to track individual users that have registered and found your site in Google. Any idea when you’ll have “part II” of this? Or maybe you did already post it but haven’t seen it yet.
    Thanks.

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