Analytics continue to improve Web traffic

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Analytics continue to improve Web traffic
Analytics continue to improve Web traffic
Tracking response to your Web page will give you an edge

Although Web analytics have been around nearly as long as the World Wide Web itself, the latest crop of software upgrades in this space makes it easier than ever to precisely study what's working best on your site, and what's in sore need of change.

“Sometimes it's as simple as finding pages that no one is visiting,” says Ben Jones, CEO at Left Brain, a Web design firm that manages Web sites for Cardinal Ritter Senior Services and Wisconsin Home Care. “It doesn't make sense to maintain pages that no one is reading.”

Indeed, as too many long-term care providers learned the hard way in the early days of the Web, a site that often seems perfectly rendered and easy to navigate in the eyes of company creators can actually represent a major challenge to visitors.

Too often, this results in visitors clicking away in frustration—and going to a competitor's site.

Web analytics software packages solve this problem by enabling Web designers and marketers to see and study the paths visitors are taking through the Web site, precisely determine where those visitors are having trouble, and then make necessary fixes.

Plus, the programs also enable long-term care providers to see which Web site pages are most popular, which media on their site are most popular and which search engines are sending the site the most business. They also gather myriad other insights into design elements on the Web site that are working well—or not working at all.
Essentially, Web analytics enables businesses to completely study every visitor interaction associated with its Web site, as well as a wealth of information associated with that visitor, and make changes so that the site is easier to use and easier to find.

Simply put, Web analytics makes it easy “for businesses to really get inside their customers' heads, either by analyzing macro trends or by drilling deep into individual behavior,” says John Squire, chief strategy officer for Coremetrics, a leading software provider.

Provider support

Eve Stern, president of SNAPforSeniors, an online directory of assisted living facilities that also licenses its data to other Web sites, swears by Web analytics.

Each day, SNAPforSeniors pores over its Web analytics results for clues on what's going on at its site, and how it can use that information to become more competitive, Stern says.

“We found with our Web analytics, for example, that people weren't using ‘senior housing' as a keyword to search for facilities as much as they were using ‘senior living' or ‘assisted living.' So we added those keywords to our Web site.”

SNAPforSeniors also added ZIP codes to its keyword list after Web analytics revealed people used those more often than a city name to find a facility. Plus, the company even changed its hours of operation after discovering that people were using its directory and calling the firm during typical business hours rather than during evening hours.

“We originally thought people would do their research on senior facilities at night.  But we found with our Web analytics that they were actually searching during work,” Stern says.

Meanwhile, Left Brain's Jones says he has long used Web analytics results to show clients that those showy “splash” pages that began adorning Web sites about five years ago were non-starters. (Splash pages generally render as little animated movies that momentarily prevent site visitors from interacting with a Web site.)
“Our data showed that people found the experience of splash pages so distasteful, they immediately clicked away the moment they saw movement on the page,” Jones says.

While there are dozens of analytics solutions on the market, the packages most often recommended by analysts for companies not engaging in direct sales on the Web include Coremetrics, WebTrends, Omniture and Google Analytics.

Like the Web itself, these solutions are continually evolving, and continually offer users deeper insights into how to achieve the best in Web design. In addition, all have also received major upgrades recently.

The phenomenal growth of social networking on the Web, for example, recently spurred Omniture to add a social networking analysis module to its package,. The module studies how a Web site discussion forum, blog and similar features can trigger other behaviors on the site.

One application of the tool, for example, enables a company to determine how participation in a company's discussion forum can result in longer customer relationships, and increased revenue.

Customer feedback

Many of the solutions providers also now enable companies to study how reviews posted on their sites are affecting their overall company images. Generally, these providers partner with Bazaarvoice, a firm that helps organizations build, maintain and optimize customer feedback forums on their products or services—or help in developing the module.

“These Bazaarvoice partnerships point the way towards a new type of Web measurement that takes the customer voice into consideration,” says Bryan Eisenberg, co-founder of FutureNow, a Web analytics consulting firm.

“Marketing execs can now quantify customer-to-customer conversations into results that can be understood by the CEO and the Board.”

Meanwhile, responding to the YouTube craze, WebTrends has beefed up its analysis of how visitors interact with video on a Web site. It has won an award for the effort from StreamingMedia.com, which singled out WebTrends as the best tool for analyzing audio and video use on the Web for 2008.

The module allows a long-term care provider to track use of all major video formats on a site, including Flash, FLEX, Microsoft Silverlight, Windows Media, Real Media and Apple QuickTime. Plus, users can determine where Web visitors go and what they do after viewing a video, as well as follow overall daily viewing trends and statistics.

Solutions providers also have been working hard to enable non-technical company users to generate more reports, and delve deeper into Web site activity with their solutions, without being forced to rely on the IT department for help. Coremetric's latest upgrade enables Web designers and marketers to create custom reports and retrieve that analysis immediately.

Getting on track

Many of the retreaded solutions also have added a mobile analytics module, which enables companies to determine if a significant percentage of visitors are accessing the company Web site with iPhones, smart phones and other handheld wireless devices.

Indeed, such insights have inspired some companies to design entirely new, mobile-friendly portions of their Web sites, or create a separate Web site that is especially designed for mobile users.

Such analytics can be especially handy in long-term care, Left Brain's Jones indicates, since the people searching the Web for facilities are more often children of seniors, rather than the seniors themselves.

The latest crop of analytics software is also enabling firms to get a much more granular look at Web site activity.

The new version of Google Analytics, for example, not only allows companies to determine which visitors requested a white paper or a quote while visiting a site; it also can analyze which of those requests came from paid search links, and which of those requests came from visitors who clicked in via unpaid links.

Google's latest solution also shows companies how visitors are searching through their Web site, what they're looking for in those searches, and which pages they ultimately end up at. Keep an eye out for updated versions for this and other companies.

Meanwhile, Coremetric's focus on added granularity enables a company to track and keep in memory every visit a specific person makes to a Web site, enabling firms to easily unearth the user trends and patterns associated with those visits.

Bottom line: Before investing in any Web analytics solution, you'll probably want to give Google Analytics a try since the online service is free and is considered fairly sophisticated for the price.

Google also offers a number of informative videos online that illustrate how various features of its solution work and explain analytics.

For one of the most comprehensive looks at Web analytics, definitely check out CMS Watch.

Analytics/Report/). Its most recent report, “The Web Analytics Report 2009,” runs more than 400 pages and slices and dices virtually every major solution on the market today with a take-no-prisoners, no-stone-left-unturned approach.

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Joe Dysart speaks on Internet issues. He is a business consultant based in New York City.