Is Your Website Pulling its Load?

Phillip Perry Square Headshot

Smart, sexy and great sales producers: That’s how retailers like to think about their websites. But how realistic is that view? Consider your own website: Is it pulling its load by attracting enough visitors and turning them into profitable customers?  

The answer is more complex than “yes” or “no.” Internet success lies along a continuum: Retailers need to continually assess the performance of their websites, then take steps to improve their profitability. That means redesigning pages, rewriting headlines and modifying sales pitches in response to current visitor activity.  

Customers first

Before you can perform an effective redesign you need to find out how people are currently interacting with your site. To do so, you need to take a look at your web analytics, which tracks just about every action your visitors make. 

“From a marketing standpoint, web analytics is probably one of the most useful tools retailers have in running their businesses,” says Andre Kasberger, an Internet consultant and founder of Suncoast Internet Marketing Masterminds, Sarasota, Fla. “It allows you to measure and track actions in ways never before available.”

Such as? 

“Web analytics can answer important questions about customer behavior,” Kasberger says. “Some examples are: How many people came to your site? Where did they originate? What device did they use? What pages did they view, and how long did they stay? What items did they look at? The answers to those questions can help you fine tune your site to make more sales.” 

Pay special attention to visitor behavior in the initial moments of interaction. “Remember that you have about eight seconds or less to get your visitor's attention — and when you do, you want to encourage the visitor to stay with you,” Kasberger says. That's where analytics really shines: It shows you the actions visitors are taking when they first land on your site.

In addition, Kasberger notes web analytics can provide you with important demographics about people who follow you on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Because people make personal information available on those sites, you can build a useful profile of your ideal customer. 

Internet activity

Web analytics have become more important as the Internet has become a more vital part of the retailer experience. “You need to look at your own store in the context of the overall retail transformation,” says Andrew Warren-Payne, senior research analyst at Econsultancy.com. “Twenty years ago, the Internet did not exist. Now 24 percent of all retail spending is done online. This will only keep growing.” The upshot: Retailers need to analyze their customers’ Internet behavior.

The mobile revolution has made dynamic websites even more critical to success. “The landscape is shifting quickly,” says Warren-Payne. “Now everyone has a smart phone. Your competitor is not located on the next street or in the next town—but in your customer’s pocket.” You need to make sure your web presence satisfies the needs of the mobile customers and draws them to your store.

You need to use web analytics even if you do not sell directly online, adds Warren-Payne. “People will still be going to your website to find out what you have on your shelves, your store location and hours.” Just finding out what merchandise visitors search for on your site can give you powerful insights into fine tuning your in-store selection and reforming displays. Once you track how customers behave on your site you will be better able to meet their needs when they arrive at your store. 

Get focused

So how do you get started? When it comes to selecting web analytics software, most experts caution against over-shopping. Most of the available tools will provide similar customer data. “You want to start measuring and collecting data as soon as you can so you can get to decision making,” says Chris Leone, Chief Operations Officer of Webstrategies, a consulting firm based in Richmond, Va. So select one tool rather early and get to know it inside and out. That one tool, in the minds of most consultants, is Google Analytics, described by Leone as “the best free tool available.” (For more information: google.com/analytics/).

If installing the software is fairly straightforward, the more difficult task is deciding how to manage the cascade of data you’ll soon be looking at. The secret to avoid getting overwhelmed, says Leone, is to focus your efforts on meeting specific business challenges. That will also save you from spending time and money chasing data that will not really help you. For example, “vanity metrics” such as “total traffic to your site” might sound great but really mean nothing when divorced from an analysis of the buying patterns of different demographic groups. 

Identifying your most pressing challenges will keep you focused on productive data analysis, says Leone. “The very first step is to ask yourself this question: ‘What business problem am I trying to solve?’”

Don’t rush to answer that question just yet. Instead, says Leone, engage in a three-step decision process. “First, talk with as many stakeholders as you can. Ask your staff members what problems they are encountering. You might hear things like ‘Our lead generation has slowed down.’ Or ‘Our average order volume is declining.’ Second, come up with hypotheses to explain these problematic trends. Finally, gather the data from web analytics to test your hypotheses.”

Leone offers one caveat: Make sure the problem investigated is a valid one before you invest time attempting to discover its causes. “You need to dig deep,” he says. “Maybe someone says, ‘We need more visitors to our website.’ Stop and ask why. The answer might be ‘More people mean more sales.’ But is that really true? It’s easy to get a lot of visitors. You can buy ads, write blogs, and do more social media posts. But not all visitors are created equally.” The time spent attracting more non-buying visitors might better be spent elsewhere. 

Social media

Social media—and their related costs—have come under a tremendous amount of scrutiny by retailers. A member of your staff might say this: “Our problem is a diminishing number of Facebook posts.” But is that really a problem? Do Facebook posts really result in more sales for your store? 

That question suggests a more encompassing one: Is your social media strategy as a whole really paying off? “You are spending all this money to manage your social media campaigns,” notes Leone. “But what kind of payback are you getting?” 

Web analytics can help you answer that question by reporting the sources and buying behaviors of site visitors. For example, the data may show you get fewer visitors from your Twitter posts, but those people end up spending more money on higher margin products than the visitors who emanate from your Facebook feed. Your conclusion might be to spend more time and effort posting Tweets. 

You can also measure how various types of Tweets attract visitors who buy. Perhaps practical or “how to” posts work better for you than sales announcements. If so, you can increase the frequency of the former.

This social media example illustrates a key point: You must avoid the common trap of overreliance on the process of data collection to the detriment of productive action. “A lot of companies believe they are data driven because they capture and report data,” says Leone. “Each month they get a huge report, read the numbers, and then move on. They don’t do any analysis or make productive decisions. If you are doing this you are fooling yourself.” 

Cast a wide net

As the above comments suggest, web analytics can tell you where your most profitable visitors are coming from, thus allowing you to take effective steps to draw still more of the right people to your site. Another way to attract more of the best visitors is to increase your effectiveness with search engine optimization. That technology is described by Kasberger as “the science behind getting you found when people search for what you have.” In other words, SEO is intended to get your web site listed higher in the results when people use search engines such as Google to find relevant merchandise or services.

“Analytics and SEO go hand in hand,” says Kasberger. “SEO gets people to your website, and web analytics helps you understand what actions those people are taking once they arrive. Where did they come from? What pages did they visit on our site? How long did they stay there? And perhaps more important, did you have what they were looking for?” 

As you use the information from web analytics to fine tune your marketing strategy, your SEO will improve correspondingly. The result will be a happier, better-served customer pool and a healthier bottom line.

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