In Search of Web Analytics Excellence

ClickZ is still gathering nominations for its 2004 Marketing Excellence Awards. I suggest you cast a vote. I don’t normally comment about awards, but as there are three or more categories related to Web analytics this year, I feel compelled to share a perspective on the state of the Web analytics industry today.

In 2003, ClickTracks was awarded the ClickZ Marketing Excellence Award for Best Web Site Analytics Tool. Many of the other vendors grumbled publicly and privately. They weren’t happy with the choice, but this was ClickZ readers’ decision.

John Marshall, CEO of ClickTracks, truly made some innovative leaps in an industry that needed a loud wakeup call. His version of analytics simple hit the mark. ClickTracks overlays the analytics report right on the site being analyzed. That absolutely gave him a unique marketing edge for a product at the low end of the price scale.

That was then. This is now.

These days, most major analytics vendors offer an overlay option to their products. We’ve seen offerings from WebSideStory, Coremetrics, Omniture, and, most recently, WebTrends. Now, not only can you generate all the usual charts, graphs, and tables with these products, you can also view results right on your own Web site. This information can be very powerful in the right hands.

My only reservation regarding this feature is most of these tools only provide on-page measures. They don’t provide data on how that information relates to paths or predefined scenarios. Interactivity and clickstreams are where visitors display their behavior as they navigate a Web site. To ignore clickstreams is to ignore the fundamental nature of the online medium.

This isn’t the only place where tools are converging. As the Web analytics industry matures, it’s getting harder to differentiate between product offerings. Most tools have similar feature sets. If one vendor comes out with a new killer feature, the next vendor will probably have it in the next version release. This has been an edge ASP vendors have exploited for a while. If you’re trying to make a decision between products, how do you choose?

Last April, I explained how to choose a Web analytics solution. Not too much has changed, but let me share where my emphasis is today.

Dozens of companies come to us every month to help them choose an analytics solution. Our first question is always, Do you have the resources in-house to maintain the infrastructure to run it on your own? If not, choose an ASP solution.

What are the site’s objectives? Some tools have more focused reports aimed at retailers. Others are more general in scope. We ask how many page views, unique visitors, and transactions they have. Of course, the killer question is always: What’s your budget?

For the average company, most tools are beginning to look alike. It would be better if companies spent less on the tool and instead focused their resources on the individuals who utilize that tool. Let them be well trained and well informed about how to maximize and leverage that tool. The tool by itself can’t improve your business. The return is from the insights and judgments people make when using a Web analytics tool. If you’re already a sophisticated user, you can benefit from the upper edge of the tool’s feature set. This isn’t the case in probably 99 percent of companies.

Other important areas to consider include campaign management, segmentation, and data integration. With data integration, look at how well the tool provides options to flow external data in and merge it with other data sources, such as sales data or back-end sales automation tools.

Several programs, such as WebTrends’ SmartReports and WebSideStory’s HBX Report Builder, have splendid tools that allow you to build incredibly powerful, detailed reports with Microsoft Excel. If you manage large campaigns, how well does the tool let you drill down into the details? Can you easily see how well any particular keyword performs at any product level? Can you leverage data from your Web channel and segment it to use in email marketing messaging?

That brings me to what I believe should be the deciding factor in the 2004 ClickZ Web Analytics Marketing Excellence Award: support. By that, I don’t mean is there someone at the vendor company who can help get you implemented. That’s the bare minimum to expect.

What’s the vendor doing to make sure you know how to use its tool? To help you to understand what the reports mean? Can you take advantage of training and insights it’s gained from working with others? I don’t care if the vendors have these capabilities in-house or if they partner with other companies to bring you the resources you need to make money from using your tool.

Several vendors offer conferences or seminars where you can learn how other users and experts leverage the tools. When you evaluate vendors, ask for names of event attendees. Contact them and ask if they gained valuable insight at such events on how to take advantage of the tool.

So where’s the Web analytics industry headed? We see some exciting times ahead. To help with education and advocacy of Web analytics tools, I recently partnered with Jim Sterne and Andrew Edwards to establish the Web Analytics Association. We’re now gathering resources and individuals to help the cause, and we’ll launch in full force this September.

We want vendors to make their tools even simpler for us users. We want to develop curricula for education and to educate organizations on the value of Web analytics. We also want to be sure users understand what Web analytics is for and how analytics should only be used to make their buying experiences better.

We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, and we’re looking for some fine people to help us along. Could one of them be you?

Nominations are open for the 2004 ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards.

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