The World Wide Web is home to millions of online businesses that compete against each other for top Search Engine Optimization (SEO) page ranks. So what sets your business apart from your competitors and what will attract users to visit your website or search engines to rank your site at the top? Before planning your SEO campaign you should have a fair understanding of your targeted online audience and how they navigate the web – i.e. web analytics. By aligning your website to improve the user experience as a result of web analytics, you’ll also increase your SEO.

If you want to see successful returns from SEO, then you’ll need to step back and consider the construction and design of your website as a starting and focal point. Has it been built and designed to be user friendly while at the same time providing relevant information to your visitors? How do online visitors interact with your website? Can you get repeat visitors and hold them?

Web analytics is all about understanding the behavior of visitors to a website: what they look for, what they expect, and how they find the information they’re looking for. Understanding the user’s journey around your website gives important insights into how to further enhance your site to improve the user experience. Web analytics records each visit to your website and track the actions. From these records a quantitative report is compiled providing data of the website’s performance. Your website can then be improved and this in turn, is a major boost for SEO.

Wanting to learn more about the dynamic world of web analytics, Asian eMarketing caught up with Indian web analytics stalwart, Nabler. Founded in 2004 with the objective of helping companies succeed online, Nabler started out as an online marketing company but within a year, decided to focus solely on web analytics. The company’s goal is to be the best web analytics company based out of India.

Seby Kallarakkal, CEO, Nabler, expands on web analytics’ definition, saying, “The formal definition as defined by the Web Analytics Association is: Web analytics is the objective tracking, collection, measurement, reporting, and analysis of quantitative Internet data to optimize websites and web marketing initiatives. In simpler terms, it involves figuring out what’s happening on your website and taking decisions based on that.”

As to why web analytics has become so crucial, he points to the fact that the Internet as a medium is becoming more and more powerful and effective. “People now spend more time on the Internet and obviously the advertising money follows that track. Transactions on websites are on a steady increase; more people shopping, banking and doing all kinds of things. No one signs a contract these days with a company without studying their website. So as the web becomes more important, web analytics too become an important tool for companies to leverage this medium,” Kallarakal elaborates.

So, just how is Web Analytics tied to SEO and how does it help here? Summarizing this in a nutshell, Kallarakkal shares, that web analytics helps you understand where to focus on. In addition, you can also use web analytics to find if what you are doing is right. Even better, you can show objectively what the ROI on SEO is.

He gives specific examples of each of the three things he mentioned above.

“Let’s say that you are looking at which keywords and which pages to focus on. Here are a few ways”:

  • Look at the pages that get the least amount of direct traffic from search engines.
  • Segment the data based on geography. Look at the top pages. These are the pages that people are interested in. Ensure that these pages rank very well.
  • Look at internal search data. These are the keywords people are using to find things within your site. Try to get good ranking on these key phrases.
  • If you have ever run a PPC campaign, look at the key phrases that have brought maximum conversion. Focus on those key phrases.
    Now, let’s say you have done some amount of SEO and you are trying to figure out if it worked. Here are a few ways:
  • The simplest method – Look at traffic from search engines over the previous couple of months. Compare that trend with the rest of traffic.
  • Look at the search data after segmentation. For example, if your company’s customer base is Europe, you would want to look at the search traffic trends from Europe.
  • Look at how deep the search engine is bringing visitors. For example, if you have an ecommerce site, you would want the search traffic to land on the product detail page. Look at how search traffic has increased to these inner pages.

So just what are the main benefits of Web Analytics? Shedding light on this, Kallarakkal says, “You can stop guessing and start taking decisions based on data. This is perhaps the simplest way of putting it. Let me take two phrases from the definition I mentioned earlier that summarizes the benefits – optimize websites and optimize marketing initiatives. Irrespective of the nature of your business, there is a possibility of making your website better. It doesn’t matter if it’s a new site or a site that has undergone 10 design iterations. Web analytics help companies figure out where to focus and if the efforts are bringing in the desired results. It provides a great framework so that decisions can be taken objectively. If you are confused about which deal would work – do an A/B test. Not sure which content is good and which isn’t? Look at the pages that have the highest bounce rates.”

He continues, “Like I mentioned above, there is a lot of money now being funneled into the online world. And it’s possible to measure this very closely and figure out what’s working and what’s not. Not sure if you should spend more money in email marketing or PPC? Run a test campaign and look at results. The possibilities here are endless. Essentially, web analytics can truly bring in the metric of ROI for online campaigns.”

So, does Kallarakkal believe that web analytics is going to keep rising in importance? His response: “One simple answer is to follow the money.  I keep coming across more and more companies moving their advertising spend online. If you are going to spend money online, you would want to know what’s happening to all that money. You would want to know which campaigns are doing well and which ones are not. That is Campaign Analytics. But as you spend money to drive traffic to your website, you are also going to start wondering about the effectiveness of your website. When you see conversions like 1% on your website, you are going to jump and scream, especially, if you are not used to the online medium. So, there is going to be a lot more questions about websites and their performance. And this is the place where web analytics can step in and provide answers.”

Kallarakkal concedes that there is a lag in the Asia Pacific when it comes to understanding web analytics. “Just look at the top blogs in the area of web analytics. You don’t see many from people working out of the Asia Pacific. Or look at the web analytics forum on Yahoo groups. Most of the involved, complex conversations seem to be driven by analysts working in Europe and North America. However, having said this, we are also seeing a lot more interest in web analytics in this region, more specifically in India,” he observes.

So there are positive signs then when it comes to Web Analytics in Asia? “I will have to restrict my answer to the scenario in India,” says Kallarakkal. “One of the positive trends I do see is that more and more people want to move into web analytics as a career. We have people coming from other industries who have read and researched about web analytics and now they want to make the switch. So, there is a certain momentum picking up. Another positive sign is that we have companies approaching us asking if we can partner with them in providing web analytics solutions to their end customers.

With web analytics becoming more of a buzzword, just what are the current trends in the market? Here’s what Kallarakkal observes:

Presentation – Reports are now becoming more and more visual. Analysts are constantly striving to make the reports look better and read better. As reports become easier to read and easier to act on, the usage of web analytics will increase.  There could also be new players in the market whose primary service is building fantastic looking reports.

Testing – Only the serious players have used testing on websites. With Google optimizer offering a free platform, we see a lot more interest and we believe that this is going to evolve. Testing will become easier to do, algorithms will improve and companies will be able to do lot more testing in the future.

Web analytics tools – I mention this as a trend because tools can influence how people use the data. For example, Google Analytics (GA) changed the web analytics landscape completely and now suddenly lot more companies are able to do web analytics without spending a lot of money. IndexTools is a lot more powerful than GA and if Yahoo decides to make it free, there is going to be a bigger push towards more companies doing serious web analytics. GA has limited segmentation while IndexTools has fabulous segmentation. So the availability of a tool can change the way people work. There are a lot of other lesser known tools coming up and I think the tools are certainly going to keep changing the scenario. Another group to watch out for is companies who build Business Intelligence tools. They too are likely to jump into the fray. If that happens and if it is affordable, the game will change again.

Use of statistics – We believe that companies are going to do lot more statistical analysis on web data than before. We also think the tools will start supporting more statistical functions.

Tighter integration with other marketing channels – We have started to see this where web data is presented along with print and TV data. There is going to be a lot more innovation in terms of marketing channels. And web analytics is going to enlarge a little to accommodate these channels.

Word in the market is that web analytics is no piece of cake What does Kallarakkal have to say about this? “We agree. Web analytics is tough. You are dealing with so much data and data that are not necessarily very accurate. In some cases, just getting consistent, reasonably accurate data in itself is a challenge, especially when you are collating data from multiple tools. Then there is the challenge of deriving meaningful insights from the data. This requires analytical ability, understanding of online marketing and exposure to web design principles. You could be looking at some 100+ reports and the manager wants to know the top 3 things that she should know. Simplifying data is a challenge.”

Other challenges include:

  • Getting the right people. It is extremely difficult to get a person who understands online marketing, technology and is analytical by nature.
  • Apart from the course from UBC, there are not many web analytics training courses out there. So companies themselves have the onus of training employees in this field. 
  • To make organizations see value in investing into web analytics.

However, Kallarakkal firmly believes that these challenges can be overcome, explaining that change is going to be a huge driver here. “As the Internet becomes more pervasive and persuasive, it will automatically happen that the number of people who are aware of the web and web analytics will go up. Organizations will start seeing the value of web analytics. It is also important to create more training courses so that people with the right skills can be made available,” he elaborates.

He also willingly shares with us what he feels are the most important facts that companies should bear in mind when it comes to web analytics:

  • Objectives and KPIs - Write down the objectives of the websites you are doing analysis for and then break it down to Key Performance Indicators.
  • Choose the tool carefully - If you are just starting web analytics as an initiative, it would be better to invest in people than in the tool. It might be a good idea to work with a free tool first, get used to the whole cycle of web analytics and then invest in a tool that will do a lot more.
  • Roll out in phases - Pick up the low hanging fruits first. Start looking at things that can improve the effectiveness of your website immediately. If investment is an issue, Google Analytics is a good tool to start with. The important thing is to keep the initial phases tight and ensure that people can start seeing the benefits.
  • Work on presenting the data – Data in pure number format is not very interesting for a lot of people. So analysts need to work extra hard to make the reports look good and easy to understand.
  • Audit the data and tags – It is very important to do this in the beginning of the project. Ensure that the filters are set right and the tool is configured right. Ensure that all pages have tags and they are tagged right.
  • Insights and Analysis - Insist on writing both the objective and the conclusion on all the analytical reports. This will force everyone to understand why a certain report is made and what all those numbers mean.

The road to better web analytics and even more people understanding and using them certainly looks rosy. Commenting on the future of web analytics, Kallarakkal concludes, “We can only speculate on where the web analytics is heading. One possibility is that it embraces all new marketing channels like mobile, SMS, etc. and could eventually become marketing analytics. There could be a lot more automation. The tools are likely to give more insights without user having to do anything.”

By Shanti Anne Morais