The Art and Science of Web Analytics: Going Beyond the Status Quo

by Chris Golec

Posted on May 5, 2009

Every business today is looking to improve on the ROI of its online marketing. From placing more compelling ads, to strengthening the return on specific marketing initiatives, to increasing customer conversions… getting customers to go from the click to the buy is the real endgame for most marketers.

The explosion of search engine marketing (SEM) has made getting potential customers to Web sites even easier—but what about the journey of visitors once they’re arrived on your Web site?

Imagine if marketers could be clairvoyants, knowing which pages were most effective in getting a customer to make a purchase, whether a particular campaign is what drove the visit, or which search terms were most effective in driving site visits. Well, the good news is that marketers can be, as even the most basic analytics programs will do all of that and then some.

However, marketers need to really look at the analytics solutions that they are using, as most of the products in the marketplace today are really one-size-fits-all companies, whether you are selling to consumers or businesses. Firms that concentrate on business-to-business (B2B) sales have a different set of needs than those that target consumers; marketers need to know what industries are responding to the message, the size of the companies, and where the clicks are coming from to optimize ad campaigns.

At the same time, companies are realizing that in today’s competitive business environment, marketers must go beyond the status quo of a Web site that acts like an e-brochure if they are to induce user behavior and enter the world of opportunity outside of counting visitors and click-throughs—a world where your company understands visitor intent and needs, how and why visitors are interacting with your site, and what will most swiftly and effectively encourage a sale.

And that’s where the real clairvoyance makes its entrance, combining art and science to understand your customers and maximize your marketing mix. While analytics are definitely a starting point, B2B firms need to move beyond that to turn their Web sites into a lead-generation tool.

Roll up your sleeves, it’s time to get started

Most savvy marketers understand Web analytics at a basic level: using the measurement, collection, analysis, and reporting of Internet data to optimize Web site usage. However, that’s often where the activities end, and many have yet to realize what analytics can deliver to monitor and supercharge marketing campaigns.

After all, if you are collecting all of this data about where your site visitors are going, what content is resonating, and what drove them there, shouldn’t you be using that information to not only improve the usability of your Web site but also increase the return on your marketing investment?

Before getting started, you have to realize as a marketer that analytics programs are truly built for Webmasters, not the marketing and sales team. Knowing that your job is a little harder because the data is not geared towards your goals, you must clearly define the purpose of the campaign and identify what you plan to achieve after you have analyzed the Web data.

We know that the endgame for most marketers is to get to the “buy” as efficiently as possible, but there are important milestones that get you there, such as increasing downloads, pageviews, or lead volume.

Of course it’s great to know how many people visited your Web site or the amount of time they’ve spent on your site, but there’s even more information that you can glean if you use the data correctly. Before you begin researching a Web analytics provider, start a checklist and ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • What do I think are the important steps to get me to my end game: Overall traffic and awareness? Downloads? Lead volume?
  • Which metrics will help me reach my goals?
  • Can I make changes based on what I find?

Determine which analytics provider is best for you

Once you answer those questions, you have some homework to do. A multitude of analytics solutions on the market are designed to meet the needs of large and small businesses, from Omniture to Google Analytics. Which one is right for you?

First, regardless of the size of your Web site or company budget, when evaluating Web analytics you want to decide which marketing capabilities are crucial, which solutions are most flexible, and what analysis functionality is available that goes beyond visitor tracking.

Second, although search engine marketing has become an integral part of most analytics packages, it’s important to make sure that specific SEM information will be handled by your selection, enabling you to determine exactly where your visitors come from, whether referred by search engines, ads, email, blogs or affiliates. Knowing which where your primary visitor traffic comes from will allow better-targeted future campaigns.

Get the most from your Web site

Today’s Web sites must go beyond brochure-ware to really engage and convert customers. Analyze the data to determine whether your Web site is drawing customers in and moving them around the site in the desired route.

Are you creating a call to action once people arrive at your site? How quickly are Web site visitors answering that call? How easy is it to improve on Web-site content and marketing campaigns based on this information?

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Hit that target

Marketers become addicted to the colorful charts and graphs of aggregate data that shows the source of the visits, the most commonly used keywords, and the most-visited pages. However, many marketers get to this point and still have unanswered questions about Web traffic, including these:

  • How can I figure out which businesses within my target market are coming to my Web site?
  • How can I identify and reach high-potential businesses that visited my Web site, yet didn’t register or submit their information?

Marketers are putting a lot of energy into driving traffic to Web sites and are likely working just as hard to improve conversion rates. Rather than taking a macro view of this aggregate data, it’s important that marketers drill down to these numbers and use analytics not merely to drive traffic, but to drive the type of traffic that is going to most benefit your bottom line.

Once that information is gleaned, marketers can tweak campaigns to increase quality traffic and capture more targeted selling opportunities from existing traffic. After all, thousands of clicks alone aren’t going to get you anywhere if the site visitors don’t meet your criteria for potential customers.

Think post-click marketing

Once the click is generated, your “pre-click” marketing dollars have been spent and your “post-click marketing” efforts kick in.

Many marketers get themselves buried with data in the pre-click phase but don’t also assess the trends after the click. Marketers can easily implement cost-effective software options, in addition to Web analytics solutions, that go beyond statistical data and clicks to assign value to Web traffic and identify previously unrecognized selling opportunities.

Those options would allow you to really get to know your visitors: who they are, what industry they’re in, what they are looking for when visiting your site, and what brought them there. Only then will marketers be able to convert the “silent majority” that arrives at your Web site but is never converted.

Yes, there’s a little science and a little art to Web analytics. And when you bring both together, you can move beyond the status quo and swiftly reach the endgame.

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