A tour de force

ShawTake-up of analytical tools is rising aswebsite owners seek to plot the journeys of users –data which, if interpreted well, gives crucial insight. By David Benady

Sales of Web analytics packages continue to boom in the UK as online retailers tap into an apparently invaluable resource for improving their Web presence. These packages enable website owners to track visitor journeys, the links they click and the pages they visit before making a purchase or jumping off to another site. A website can then be redesigned to make it more effective in directing users to the “buy” button.

However, the software can be complicated and often requires experienced staff to interpret the data. Such expertise is becoming increasingly hard to find, and there are tales of inexperienced site owners getting themselves in a pickle over complex analytics.

Top suppliers such as Omniture, IndexTools, ClickTracks and WebTrends offer packages that are becoming a must-have for transactional sites. The market is increasingly crowded and is expected to continue growing strongly for the next five years. For marketers, the critical issue is how the insights gained from analysing website behaviour can be tied into brands’ wider marketing strategies.

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Electronics products company Casio, which makes G-Shock watches and cameras, started using an Omniture analytics package two years ago for its corporate website and transactional site Casioatcarnaby.co.uk. Digital marketing manager Alex Dibble says: “Until a couple of years ago we were just crunching the weblogs and looking at top-line information. Implementing the Web analytics package was a big step for us. For instance, previously we didn’t know the impact of design changes to the site. The package has given us the opportunity to see how changes to the site affect sales” The package also allows Casio to see which search terms were typed into Google that led to a visit to one of its sites. While Google makes such information available, Dibble says having all the data in one place makes it easy for him, rather than having to check different sources. The package also helps analyse the way affiliate sites and bloggers are pushing traffic to Casio’s sites. However, it is not all plain sailing. He says: “It’s quite complicated. Our IT department that manages it is learning on the go, which probably isn’t the best way to do it, and we have made mistakes that have lost data. But we are pretty pleased with the package overall.”

Meanwhile, Rob Shaw, chief technology officer at search marketing agency Latitude, says Web analytics packages permit powerful analysis of websites that can have a strong impact on sales. He says: “When people first started doing analytics, they would be tracking the fact that somebody bought something from the site. That has evolved to looking at what they searched for in the first place. It is not so much the fact they used the buy button, but what was the journey? Were they happy with the page they landed on? Once you know the user’s journey, you can enhance your marketing campaign.”

He gives the example of one company that used analytics to find out which size buy button leads to most sales. Another website worked out exactly how many sales it was losing by not accepting payments via debit cards. “We use tracking to demonstrate that search is working for our clients. I can prove 100% that what you spent brought you ‘x’ amount of profit,” he says.

Shaw adds that analytics can also play a key role in assessing the effects of offline marketing campaigns. “One of our online search clients is also doing a large television campaign. The moment one of the ads goes up, internet search traffic spikes it within seconds. We see people’s searches and what they look at. You have people watching TV with their laptops on their knees, they search for the product they see advertised. Obviously that tells you it is important to ensure the brand appears prominently in the paid-for search lists at the times your TV ads go out. And Web analytics will show that it was a particular search term that caused the spike in visits.”

For some, the ultimate aim of analysing Web behaviour is to target offers at different segments of customers. Dan O’Sullivan, website and data manager at clothing catalogue Boden, says: “We can start to send tailored offers to people looking for kids’ clothing or women’s trousers, and get a complete picture of what the customers are doing, as opposed to Web analytics being a standalone source of information. We are trying to integrate it into the marketing strategy so it becomes a complete customer relationship management system.”

Rise of the automatons
However, with so much data available, making sense of it all is getting harder. According to Neil Morgan, vice-president for marketing at Omniture, which claims to be the world’s largest Web analytics software provider, this is creating a demand for automated analysis of the data that leads to actions such as bidding on key terms on Google AdWords to be carried out automatically. “We are seeing automation working, and are selling it as an extension to clients such as Centre Parcs and Sony, which uses it for its site that sells consumer products across Europe,” he says.

However, Boden’s O’Sullivan is sceptical: “I would be suspicious of automating the process. It depends on the market you are in and the audience you have. We had a cross-selling package that our Web analytics provider Call Metrics was trialing, but it didn’t really work as well as expected. We are close to our customers and know what they expect. The best way is to trial things, but I would be hesitant about using that stuff.”

Either way, sales of Web analytics packages look likely to grow strongly over the next five years and those with the skills to interpret their results will be ever more in demand. 

David Benady is a contributing editor at Marketing Week

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