If you have anything to do with internet-based communications, then the phrase “web analytics” is one you’ve no doubt heard many times. But what does it mean for communicators?
What is web analytics?
It’s a great tool for measuring how your message is getting across to your audience. It can give you information on how effective your advertising / marketing campaigns are, whether people can find what they want on your website and the strength of your brand among your target audience.
What is web analytics not?
It is not the only tool for measuring these things. For most companies, your website isn’t the only way you interact with customers. You will likely have call centres, customer support staff, sales teams and maybe even products for sale in high-street shops or through third-party distributors.
All these groups can also provide information on what your customers think about you and your website. Non-customer-facing colleagues can also give you valuable information that will help you get a more complete picture.
Take this simple example. You run a campaign encouraging people to visit your site and buy a certain product. Afterwards, your web analytics people say the number of visitors trebled but the percentage that actually bought the product (in web analytics speak, your conversion rate) halved. Overall then, that’s more people using your site to buy your product, so your campaign seems to have worked.
But what about offline sales? Have you actually increased sales or just shifted the balance of sales channels? If you don’t ask your sales people, you’ll never know. And then IT says the conversion rate fell because your servers couldn’t handle the extra traffic and kept crashing on visitors. Now you have a lot of annoyed customers – or should that be ex-customers – who are telling their friends your site’s no good. That’s bad for your Net Promoter Score, and potentially very bad for your end of year sales. And you thought you’d done a good job?
The numbers don’t matter…
Web analytics tools give you very precise-looking numbers. For instance, they will tell you the exact number of visitors to a page and how long they spend on the page to the nearest second. However the truth of collecting web data is that these numbers can never be completely accurate. But then, what does knowing 22,376 people visited your site last week really tell you?
The strength of web analytics is in monitoring trends and effects. If traffic to your site goes up 20% after an advert you know the ad had an impact. However, most sites have patterns of usage, with repeating peaks and dips throughout the week, month and year. To see the true impact of your ad, you need to compare data from similar points within those cycles. Moreover, understanding those usage patterns can help you time your advert for maximum effect.
You should also be aware of your site’s range of normal usage. If traffic on your site regularly fluctuates by ±30%, your 20% increase may just be part of that noise rather than the result of your efforts. Your web analytics team should be able to tell you what the range is for your site, or else you can use something like Excel to calculate the standard deviation of your traffic data.
…neither does the tool
With so many different tools available, how do you choose the one that’s right for you? According to a survey published by eCommerce in its Web Analytics Buyers Guide, all the popular web analytics tools offer more-or-less the same metrics. The differences are down to how they collect and present the data.
In other words, for most companies, the actual tool you use has very little impact on the success or otherwise of your web analytics program. It’s how you use the tool that counts.
Set sensible goals
Perhaps the most important thing to remember about web analytics is that you aren’t doing it for its own sake. You are doing it to improve your business somehow. It’s easy to get caught up in improving your traffic numbers and conversion rates – but what you really want to improve is your turnover and your customer satisfaction.
You need to set yourself achievable business objectives based on your corporate strategy. You can then break those down into specific web analytics goals that you can use to monitor your progress towards your objective. But always remember that your web analytics goals are just milestones along your route, not your end destination.