- Category: September - October 2008
The days of basic Web statistics are coming to an end. In fact, Web statistics are rapidly evolving into Web analytics.
We now have the ability to monitor very reliably users’ paths through our sites. We can see what content is attracting them, and even from a visual perspective we can determine which sections of landscape on our pages are attracting
people’s eyes most effectively. We can easily measure how modifying a few words/links, or moving a picture will impact final conversion events such as product sales or user registration. We can understand which pages people are getting hung up on, and even which fields in a form people are getting bored or frustrated about, and abandoning the process! These insights and more can enable us to make intelligent predictions and decisions, based not at all on gut feeling.
Webmasters and Web marketers are beginning to understand that hits and session counts, while interesting, provide little if any value when analyzing the productivity and efficiency of your website.
Advanced Web analytics are evolving quickly, and giving us incredible insight into users’ behaviors, enabling us to make intelligent decisions with our Web content.
Until recently Web statistics have been generated by passing raw Web logs. There are several disadvantages to this approach:
Time and resources consumption
On a larger website, the amount of sheer processing power required to analyze log files necessitates an additional server simply for that purpose. And depending on the processing schedule, these stats can be anywhere from a day to a week behind.
Log files track users by their IP addresses. In today’s world, where ISPs pool IP addresses and proxy servers cache data to serve to multiple users, this is simply unacceptable. Trending algorithms can only guess at users’ paths and sessions by a text trail of IP logs. And a thousand people may be viewing your website from a cache on the proxy, leaving you with information on only one hit from the proxy server itself!
There is really only so much information that a server can detect and record from a visitor. A few minor browser details can be seen, and the pages that are viewed. Nothing can be detected from the client’s perspective that tells what he or she does while on a particular page.
Enter Web Analytics
Coming of age however, is the on demand, hosted ASP Web analytics technology platform. According to many in this field, not only does this technology answer the limitations of log file solutions, but it also provides for a far more advanced, insightful perspective of Web users.
How on-demand, Hosted ASP Web Analytics works
A side benefit to this method is that search engine and spider traffic is not counted as valid hits to your site, only real people! And the amount of information exchanged is so insignificant that it will not disturb the user’s visit to your site. So, what sorts of unique advantages does this model provide webmasters and Web marketers? You’ll be surprised just how many there are, so read on!
The Advantages: Path Analysis
With log file solutions, path analysis was at best not very good. It was in no way a proven science, but actually observed and applied trending techniques.
This is because an analysis solution would have to process an enormous text log, try to identify a series of hits from the same IP address, and try to map them together.
If the user hit the back button, the path was thrown off. If the session timed out, the user was granted a different IP from their ISP (common with DSL), then the path all but disappeared. It’s also important to note that even if a true path could be obtained, it was by the filenames of the pages viewed, which are incredibly unreadable and useless in a large, managed website!
With on-demand analytics, the path analysis is incredibly accurate. You can very easily see a snapshot of the top 10 most common paths by visitors, and plan your Web strategy and e-marketing based on that.
These are pages where users are ending their visit to your site, either by closing the browser window or moving on to another website. With log file solutions, these could only be assumed by an end to the IP trail. But based on how unreliable we’ve established this to be, it’s very difficult to trust these stats.
With ASP solutions, it’s quite reliable. While at first this may seem like just another statistic, it’s very important for two reasons: It enables us to examine the pages where people are dropping off, and change them. Are we not providing clear direction or navigation from that page to the rest of the site? Is the content boring or confusing? Making modifications where necessary will decrease drop-off.
The ASP solution can now build and deliver conversion funnels.
A conversion funnel is basically a representation of the following: how many visitors, originating at point X, end up completing conversion event Y. Very importantly, it also tells us how many drop out along the way, and at which stage. You could very easily set a certain paid keyword as the point of origin, and depending on how many people come to your site and eventually buy your products after clicking on a particular keyword, you could determine the value of each click. This will help you strategically decide in which keywords to invest the most.
You could make comparisons between channels (email, direct mail), see which are generating the highest conversion rates, and determine where to invest marketing time and money.
When you look at the funnel, you can examine where in the process people are dropping off, and make necessary modifications to keep them from leaving. Are instructions too lengthy, or form error messages too frustrating? A conversion funnel will enable you to have this kind of insight. In fact, some of the more advanced offerings even enable you to see which fields in a form people are getting to before abandoning the process!
A very powerful tool that many vendors provide is a visual mapping or overlay for your site that clearly identifies hot zones on each page -- indicators that visually display which links were clicked on, and how many times. This is a very powerful way to understand which pieces of content, which action words, and which sections of landscape are attracting peoples’ eyes, and generating clicks. This enables you to know where to strategically place campaign related links, so that they’ll receive the most clickthroughs. It will also identify underperforming links, so that they may be moved or removed, leaving more attention for performing links.
Most of the top solutions are incorporating pay-per-click campaign tracking suites into their applications. In a situation where you’re bidding on keywords from multiple search providers, these suites would allow you to consolidate the information from all campaigns, permitting you to monitor the performance of your keywords, and make suggestions as to which keywords to juggle to generate the best returns.
It’s one thing to know which pages are the so-call "drop-off" pages, but it’s entirely separate and infinitely more insightful to know exactly where they’re going to. The more advanced solutions are able to monitor users’ clicks, and identify which of those clicks are on links pointing to pages external to your site or domain. If you can identify common exit pages, you can have these open in new windows, or devise another means of allowing users to retrieve that external information while still remaining on your site.
This is of course where the power of hosted Web analytics shines through. No longer must we manually compile the needed reports from data that’s actually a week old. Not only are the reports real-time and instantaneous, but most solutions provide canned reports common to B2C or B2B websites. With common functionality ranging from regularly emailed reports to Excel integration, it’s extremely easy to have relevant reports delivered to decision makers at all levels.
Advanced Web analytics solutions are going to be the "next big thing" as far as the Web is concerned. Marketers are being held more accountable to deliver tangible numbers as results of their marketing spend, and the Web is no exception. So be prepared and arm your company website!