What’s new in web analytics

When we attended the Technology for Marketing & Advertising show in 2007, we analysed the enquiries among attendees and categorised about 10 per cent as “education”-these enquirers did not really know what web analytics was and just wanted information. A year later we went to the same show and categorised only 2 per cent of the attendees as needing this same basic education. The main reason for the change: Google Analytics. Businesses of all sizes have dipped their toe in web analytics by installing Google. It’s free, it provides the basic stats, and, by using it, you soon learn what the issues are and what you really need.

This greater awareness of web analytics-what it is and what it can do for your business is arguably one of the most significant recent changes in the field. Below are some others:

  • Divergence of free traffic stats and paid for analytics. The recent acquisition of IndexTools by Yahoo! has further reinforced the divergence that is taking place within the industry. At one end, the mass-market vendors such as Google provide simple, free-of-charge website traffic statistics. At the other end, the specialist vendors provide visitor behavioural analysis and integrate this information with content management systems, customer relationship management (CRM) software and email tools to provide complete closed-loop management and optimisation.
  • Mobile tracking. The use of mobile phones to browse websites is now common, and web analytics systems have had to evolve in order to be able to record this traffic. The huge variety of mobile devices creates some interesting challenges. Within the past 12 months, most of the serious web analytics vendors have responded with mobile solutions.
  • Interactive content-video, Flash and now Silverlight. As sites become more interactive the concept of the “page view” as the primary unit of measurement for website traffic becomes less relevant. Web analytics systems now have to be able to record that a visitor transitioned from one image to another within a Flash object or viewed a particular piece of video. Microsoft’s launch of Silverlight has added yet another format within which web analytics vendors must be able to record visitor activity.
  • Focus on marketing return on investment. The recent financial turmoil has brought the need for tight control of marketing expenditure into greater focus. The adage “You can’t manage without measurement” has never been more relevant. Over the past six months, we’ve seen a sharp increase in the number of enquiries about marketing campaign analysis. Clients need to know if their budgets are best spent, for example, on email or pay per click and within these which email campaign or keyword drove the best results.
  • Information granularity – the detail and the big picture. In order to succeed, it is no longer enough to simply know how many page views and visits a site receives. And it is no good patting yourself on the back when this increases unless you know exactly why it increased and you know you can build on this success. Winning is in the detail. It’s all about completely understanding how visitors use your site. Which campaign drove the best conversion rates for product A? Is this the same for product B? Does this vary by country, time of day, visitor type or a combination of these? The new breed of web analytics systems provide the ability to easily get at the detail without losing sight of the big picture.
  • Making complexity easy to understand. Website activity is inherently complex, and web analytics vendors have put a huge amount of effort into making their reports easy to understand. Graphical visualisation is now the norm within the specialist vendor marketplace, with tables and lists generally used in support of the visualisation. The mass-market stats tools have focused on page views and visits, avoiding the more complex visitor behaviour analysis and the need for multidimensional analysis.
  • Redefining the visitor as an individual. Most web analytics systems think of a browser-cookie combination as a “visitor”, and this is how the standards authorities define it. Most people, though, use more than one computer and hence have more than one cookie. They browse using their phones and in some cases share an access device with other people. If there is another way to identify a visitor, such as through a registration or login process, you can more accurately identify a visitor and potentially allow a system to build up a picture over time that shows the multiple devices used by an “individual”. This allows each individual’s preferences to be more accurately analysed. A number of the enterprise-class vendors are now differentiating between a “visitor” (used for stats reporting) and an “individual” so as to be able to accurately record a person’s use of a website.
  • Closed-loop marketing. The identification of an “individual” enables the integration of behavioural information with email, CRM and campaign management systems. Recording that a website visitor came from a particular email campaign and feeding this back to the email system with the associated individual’s behavioural profile enables further segmentation to take place. Subsequent follow-up emails can be based on this information, closing the loop and optimising email open rates and marketing return.
  • Content management integration. The ability to serve personalised website content has existed within the ad serving industry for some time. It is now becoming more common in the website itself. A number of publishers reposition key content based upon the previous hour’s readership by feeding web analytics information straight into their content management systems. Over the next 12-18 months we believe that personalised content will become more common. Multivariant testing tools will become a standard part of enterprise-strength content management systems, and the serious web analytics vendors will provide feeds to these systems. This will enable the content served to be based on the preferences of the individuals as exhibited by their web behaviour.

by David Hudson, director of sales and marketing at Intellitracker, a provider of web analytics solutions.

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