Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Analyzing Analytics: More Than Just Page Visits

With web analytics 2.0 we have so many ways to gather and interpret data.  Not only are there a whole host of companies and tools to choose from, but there are numerous types of analytics at our disposal too.  In the past, most businesses focused on clickstream data because that’s what they had.  Today, our level of knowledge in analytics has caused an increase in both the quantity as well as the quality of our data.  With all these options, it can be hard to figure out what would be best for your particular company when considering how to approach collecting and analyzing data from your consumers.  Large companies may want to go with the expensive tools that Omniture can provide whereas a small startup company will most likely want to start out with the free tools that Google and others provide.  

If I’m completely honest, Omniture is not just for big companies that have been around for years.  They have packages that are geared toward smaller companies as well.  These packages are designed with businesses that may have a tight budget.  Another company like Omniture that is very good at providing services to businesses of all sizes is Mixpanel.  The way I should classify businesses in this post is not on their size, but the size of their analytics budget.  For those with a large budget, you have a lot of options to choose from and the right tool depends on your business.  For those companies with a very small budget or absolutely no budget, there are still quite a few options.  Of course, you have Google Analytics, but you also have other inexpensive or free tools.  Here are a few:

  • Piwik - Open-source software that uses MySQL protocol and allows you to use custom variables and run manual queries.  The only catch is that you’ll need your own server to store the data.
  • AWStats - Log-file analysis software that can report on FTP logs, email logs, and web logs.  It also has the capability of tracking web crawlers.   
  • FireStats - Installed as a plug-in and works particularly well with WordPress.  Most notable for protecting users’ privacy, although this statement has been questioned.

When it comes down to it, most of the tools today will provide the same services and what you choose will come down to needs/wants and costs.  The more critical choice in my opinion would be what types of data you collect and how you put it all together to see what is really going on.

Let’s look at an example of what I mean.  For many, gathering data from the web has become a natural thing.  They base critical business decisions off of what they collect and of course they want these numbers to be correct.  With the explosion of smartphones over the last few years, a lot of the traffic that was on the web has been shifted to mobile instead.  This wouldn’t seem like an issue until you realize that web analytics programs use a method called Page Tagging for extracting data.  Page tagging is done using javascript and most mobile devices don’t support this.  This makes it necessary to engage in both web and mobile analytics and then bring all the data together to be able to see the big picture.  For companies that fail to do this, it will just seem like they are slowly losing visitors to their site and could cause problems.  That is why it is important to look at all your options and data so that you can have the best insights possible.  

Your tools strategy should try to utilize all five pillars of web analytics.  Here are several tools that can help with accomplishing that:

  • Traditional Web Analytics - Used to understand where your visitors are coming from and what is most popular on your site.
  • Webmaster Tools - These help you detect any broken links, errors, and problems with pages, all of which can decrease user experience and drive them away.
  • User Testing - Can be expensive but it is a great way of getting qualitative feedback.
  • Brand Monitoring - Allows you to monitor and respond anytime your brand name is mentioned online.  It can even alert you when a competitor’s name or product is mentioned.
  • Social Engagement - This Monitors you traction on things like forums, Facebook, and Twitter.  
  • Eye Tracking - A way of testing to learn which parts of your site “pull” a user’s gaze.  This can be used to determine how to organize your site so that people are looking at the things you want them to look at.
  • Competitive Intelligence - Shows how you compare to the competition.

By using a myriad of tools you can start to get a clear picture of what your company is doing right and what it may be doing wrong.  Simply knowing how many people visited your site on a given day is not enough anymore to be competitive.  You need to know things like Time On Site, return visitors, new visitors, locations, how deep visitors get within the site, et cetera.  One company I came across in my research that has embraced web analytics 2.0 is USA Triathlon.  Triathlon is a fast growing sport, and with popularity comes site visitors.  Being the central source of information on triathlons here in the US, they want to make sure that user experience on their website is usable, interesting, and informative.  They recently turned to a company called Digitaria for help in achieving this.  Digitaria specializes in online marketing, creative content, and user experience and were able to make huge improvements to USAT’s site, which will ultimately keep people more engaged when they visit the site and encourage them to return.  The reason they knew the change was necessary was because of web analytics.  They tracked their own data as well as their “competitors” data and this allowed them to see what needed to be changed and what worked perfectly fine.  Without these analyses they would have never known where to even begin to improve.

As you can see, simply knowing how many people visit your site is not enough to help you make beneficial decisions for your business.  To be truly successful with web analytics you must be aware of the different types of data that you can collect and what that data actually means.  Knowing this can be a big advantage because when done correctly it can increase revenue, one of the goals of any business.  Now that you’re aware of the incredible amount of resources that are literally at your fingertips, I suggest you get out there and start taking advantage of them.  Good Luck!





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