Web Analytics Tips for Non-Practitioners
The Web analytics community is active and vibrant, full of intelligent, articulate practitioners who are willing to share their insights with the world for a fee and for free. There also are dozens of blogs offering incredibly valuable advice on the art and science of Web analytics. Unfortunately, however, the Web analytics space has evolved to such a point that any non-practitioner new to the space is easily overwhelmed, confused or bored by the current topics of discussion.
One of the first mistakes of Web analytics practitioners, though, is the assumption that everyone with a Web site needs to become a Web analytics practitioner. But to say that everyone needs advanced Web analytics is like saying every business needs "business intelligence" tools, or that every company with customers (i.e., every company) needs a "customer relationship management" system. BI tools and CRM systems exist not for their own benefit, but to help companies accomplish their business goals in the most effective, efficient manner. Such is the case with Web analytics: You don't need them because you have a Web site; you need them because your business has goals, and you've determined that the Web is going to help achieve them.
The first thing beginning Web analysts learn about when dipping their toes into the Web analytics world is key performance indicators (KPIs), which are quite simply "the thing you want to measure." Unfortunately, the first instinct of most Web analysts is to measure things that are important to the Web site, as opposed to things that are important to the business. As a result, the vice president of marketing ends up with lots of detailed reports about unique visitors, page views and conversion rates. Or worse yet, he gets lots of great charts showing the trends in visits per visitor, time spent on site, top referrers and cost per visit. While these metrics appear to be conveying useful information, without context they are completely useless. Web analytics vendors exacerbate this problem because these metrics typically are included in most out-of-the-box analytics packages.
KPIs need to be determined by business managers and should be specific to the business and to a particular task. The webmaster or site designer trying to do landing-page optimization may need bounce rate, time spent on site, and pages-per-visit data for new and repeat visitors. But almost no one else needs that information or would know what to do with it. The marketing programs manager needs clickthroughs and conversion rates segmented by marketing program, including cost-per-conversion data. The sales manager probably cares more about average order value and lifetime customer value. The customer support team wants to know that customers are finding what they need online without resorting to a telephone call that is much more expensive to service.
Another reason why KPIs must be defined by business users is that while most Web analytics packages are designed for online retailers, most Web sites don't sell anything. (While the No. 1 company on the Fortune 500 list is Wal-Mart, retailers and merchandisers make up less than 20 percent of that list. Similarly, online retailers comprise much less than 20 percent of all Web sites.) If your company sells to other businesses, then maybe a "conversion" is anyone who registers on the "send me more information" page, or it could be someone who requests a sales rep call, or anyone who signs up to receive a free monthly e-newsletter. Even a simple KPI like "conversion" needs to be further defined by the business users.
Producing actionable reports from Web analytics data should be the goal of every practitioner, regardless of experience level. While conversion rates are interesting, conversion rates for visitors from search engines are more valuable. Conversion rates by keyword for a Google pay-per-click campaign is actionable. Another example? Total leads captured last week may be an important measure of site success. Total leads captured last week from visitors referred by partners would tell me more about the quality of the leads. And total leads captured last week from repeat visitors who were referred by partners and who viewed the online demo is actionable. The whole point of Web analytics is to find the data that's actionable and get it to the person who can take action.
It's important to remember that Web analytics is an individual process and whether you're a business-to-business company, content publisher, advertiser or retailer, it's important to take the time to customize your KPIs, and thus your results, for your business.
Steve O'Brien is vice president of Internet solutions marketing at Unica, a Waltham, Mass.-based provider of enterprise marketing management solutions. Reach Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org