Clarifying the issues involved in managing and measuring Web analytics is critical to e-business success. My goal isn't to recommend one product or another. I want to arm you with the right questions so you can make up your own minds.
The four basic factors we use to evaluate the best provider follow, with a little added detail. They'll help you determine which is the solution that best meets your needs.
What do you need to measure? This depends on your Web site's objectives. Once they're determined, focus on what level of insight the product supports for your business strategy. Without clarity about business requirements, no solution will provide meaningful data.
Software package or ASP? Factors to consider include volume, cost, and technical integration. Does your company have the ability to implement technical applications? Don't base this decision on upfront costs alone. You're making an ongoing investment in hardware, as well as managing and distributing the information.
If considering an ASP-based solution (Java bug or tag), how many pages on your site must be tagged? Are the cookies from a third party? Can visitors be tagged with first-party cookies? Perhaps your site can't implement cookies at all (an important privacy concern). Will you have problems loading pages completely if the provider's servers are having their own problems?
How often do you require updated reports? Are real-time reports a necessity?
You don't want thousands of reports (that's information overload). Differing reports meeting marketing, IT, and executive needs are probably necessary. Is available report data enough to help you make decisions? Can you dig deeper into report data should the need arise?
Don't think only of today's needs. What's required down the road? Today, it may suffice to know conversion rate by search engine. Tomorrow, you might be sophisticated enough to analyze conversions by keyword.
How accurate and reliable are reports? Running different programs on the same logs often produces different results. What methodology is used to interpret data? Will you need to access older reports for comparative purposes at a later date?
Is the analytic solution compatible with your current site configuration? Does it accurately measure dynamic content? Can it analyze parameters in dynamic URLs (e.g., if the URL is www.yoursite.com/products.asp?category=4&product=95&option=3, can the software report more than www.yoursite.com/products.asp?) and decipher the parameters? Can you filter visitor segments in and out of results (e.g., internal users)? Can a visitor session occur across multiple servers and still be measured? Does the product work on different types of server platforms?
What are the options and costs should you add more servers in the future?
Based on current revenue, how much can you afford to spend for a metrics solution on a monthly or annual basis?
Product Breadth and Depth
Is the solution scalable? Can it handle increasing volume load? Will you recognize any latency in pages loading? Does it have a redundancy center? Are there customizable degrees of insight and analysis?
How fast are reports produced? If you want a particular report for a non-predefined time range (e.g., first half of the month), can the software analyze the data independently of your time frame? If not, you may wait twice as long for reports.
Is the interface easy to use? Don't settle for the snazziest GUI. An interface that looks terrific may limit the level of insight and depth of reporting. There's often a tradeoff between insight and ease of use. If the product alone determines what's important for you to know, it probably will be easy to use.
Are reports and terminology in plain English? Can information be presented in other languages if that's a requirement?
Is the solution configurable based on your custom infrastructure? Does it have an open API you may need to tie in your CMS or CRM solution?
Have you tested the provider's technical support? What hours is it available? Are there associated costs?
Does the provider offer education services and/or training, online or off-?
Is there community support around the product, such as user groups or customer feedback sessions?
Are installation services offered?
Company Track Record
How stable is the company you're considering? Is it profitable? How long has it been in business?
Is Web metrics its core business?
Is there a simple way to test the product without a long-term commitment?
Is the company clear about pricing, or are answers ambiguous?
Is there ongoing commitment to research and development?
How often are updates and new versions of the solution released?
Jim Novo, with whom I wrote an e-metrics guide, says:
Instead of constantly having fights about the technology, let's get more people using it intelligently and successfully. Let's talk more about "how" instead of "which" software or Web site analytics will be the next CRM: all about the software, instead of what can be accomplished with it. Back in 1998, I used a primitive, engineering-focused log analyzer and used some key direct marketing principles to create metrics that helped me increase the conversion of visitors to buyers.
Any analytics solution is a tool. Imagine a paintbrush. You can use that brush to paint your house or to create a painting. You can paint a mess or a masterpiece. The primary variable is you and your capacity to use the tool.
Bryan Eisenberg is coauthor of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times bestselling books "Call to Action," "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?," and "Always Be Testing." Bryan is a professional marketing speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as SES, Shop.org, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, SEM Konferansen Norway, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others. In 2010, Bryan was named a winner of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation's Rising Stars Awards, which recognizes the most talented professionals 40 years of age or younger in the field of direct/interactive marketing. He is also cofounder and chairman emeritus of the Web Analytics Association. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of SES Conference & Expo, the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and several venture capital backed companies. He works with his coauthor and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at BryanEisenberg.com.