Assessing Your Website's Effectiveness With Analytics

Do you count the customers who come to your store? Do you watch how they walk the aisles and pick their merchandise? Do you know what days of the week are most popular and what people purchase on those days?

If you answer "yes" to those questions, you have an important clue to the puzzle of making your website as profitable as your brick-and-mortar operation.

"You need to ask the same sort of questions about your website as you do about your traditional store," says Stefan Tornquist, VP Research at New York City-based Econsultancy.com. In other words, you have to track of how many visitors come to your site, where they come from, how they navigate through your pages, and how many end up buying. The results will help you increase your profits by fine tuning the details of your website to inspire visitors to stay longer and buy more.

How to do all that? You need something to take the place of the eyeballing and nose counting you employ in the real world to see what's happening with your point-of-purchase displays and end caps. That "something" goes under the name of "web analytics," a term that refers to any one of the many software programs designed to monitor what happens on your site and provide ideas for improvements. "Analytics gives you a way of finding out what's working online and what's not," says Tornquist.

Select A Program

Search the Internet for "web analytics" and you'll get a big list of vendors. Some programs cost money. Others, such as Google Analytics and Yahoo! Web Analytics, are free.

Picking the best program can be challenging. And coming to a decision can soak up a lot of time — maybe too much. Some consultants say you could better spend your time merchandising and selling.

"The question of which web analytics platform is better for any given retailer can be argued to death, but it's a conversation that doesn't need to take place 99 percent of the time," says Chris Leone, director of digital marketing at WebStrategies, a consulting firm based in Richmond, Va. "As much as you may hate to admit it, your business situation is not likely to be super unique, so most of the major web analytics platforms will be able to do the job."

The best approach, he says, is to do some serious soul searching, deciding which information will be most important for building your profits. Then select a tool that can provide that information. "The time you free up from excessive program shopping can be better spent analyzing the data that any of the major platforms can provide."

Improve Your Marketing

Web analytics platforms allow you to measure a bewildering number of parameters, from the number of visitors to your site to the keywords they use to find you and the paths they take to reach a "buy" decision.

Which data are most important to your business? The best way to reach a decision is to answer this question: What kind of data will allow you to make more money by altering the design of your website?

Here's an example. Suppose you recently started paying for a banner ad promoting your store on a hobbyist site. Wouldn't it be great to know how many visitors clicked over to your site from that banner ad, what they did on your site, and how many orders those people placed? And how about an analysis of how many of those visitors signed up for your store newsletter, or returned for multiple purchases after a few weeks?

Now imagine getting that same kind of information for all the banner ads you have placed, as well as for your radio spots, special sales events, and your other marketing efforts. Finally, imagine a program that instantly tracks all of the above in real time, giving you an immediate update on your computer screen — even ranking all your promotional efforts by effectiveness in terms of return on your dollar invested.

Wouldn't that information allow you to tweak your marketing efforts, and increase your investment on sales programs that proved their worth and build your profits as a result? This is one of the many ways that web analytics can make a real difference to your retail bottom line.

Watch Your Visitors

You want your website visitors to be enthralled by the visuals on your landing page, then respond to your attractive offers by clicking through to your order pages. But how often does that happen? Are people being turned off by one of your pages? Are they encountering technical difficulties dealing with the all-important order form?

"Use analytics to find out what your visitors are doing today and establish a baseline for your data," suggests Koopman. "Monitor for changes in traffic and behavior so you can recognize upward and downward trends and react appropriately."

By tracking "click paths," a well designed program can answer questions such as: What are people looking at? Why are they leaving? And why do others do transactions? What are your conversion rates? "We can do very sophisticated conversion rate analysis," says Bennette.

Referral reports can be valuable planning tools. "You can obtain information about where your site visitors are coming from, such as a search engine or another website," points out Koopman. "This will help you determine if marketing campaigns are working. It also shows if other websites are linking and sending traffic, which can help a webmaster with potential business partnerships."

Perhaps most importantly, these programs can help you track and analyze customer behavior. "If your visitors are leaving your site before they even see your high-value pages, that is a problem," says Bennette. "A web analytics program can help you understand how visitors travel through the pages on your site."

Take Action

Getting solid data is one thing; acting on them is another. What's the point in achieving insight if you're not using it to drive decisions?

"Do something with the data you receive," says Tornquist. "It sounds so simple, but this can be one of the hardest battles to win. Too many times I've seen a great website analysis go to waste because a key decision maker either didn't want to believe the results or preferred to rely on instinct instead of facts."

Write new ads. Change a landing page. Reallocate your online advertising budget. "Make the simple changes first," suggests Tornquist. "Look for the ones you can accomplish with a minimum of designer or programmer time."

Koopman points to an example of how a simple change can quickly spark profits: "One retailer had a single image on the header of their website. The analytics program found visitors were clicking the image frequently. By modifying the image to link to the site's most important page, the retailer drove more sales."

Once you have made the simple changes, you can then identify the changes that might involve more work. "The Internet gives us the opportunity to experiment with things that might have a big impact on conversion," says Tornquist. "For example, video product demonstrations might have a much greater impact than simply tweaking the headline font on your landing page."

Whatever the steps you take to increase your profits, says Tornquist, your decisions will be enlightened and empowered by data from a careful analysis of how your customers use your website. "Web analytics is how we know what's working . . . and how well."

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

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