Design by metrics

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If the Great Recession has taught marketers anything, it's that measuring what's working—or not working—is essential to wringing value from websites and online marketing efforts. Marketers increasingly are relying on Web analytics to help them move beyond simple brand-building to turn Web traffic into relationships, leads and sales.

Some companies are fine-tuning their Web analytics to focus on measuring which activities generate sales leads. They then use the information they gather to make design changes to their websites.

Indium Corp., for example, is focused on monitoring how the Web drives sales leads. "I don't get paid on click-through rate or bounce rate," said Rick Short, director of marketing communications for the supplier of electronics assembly components. "I get paid when people buy something. So I focus on generating bona fide, opt-in leads—period."

That's not to say that Indium ignores standard Web statistics such as page views, site visits, bounce rates and average time on site. It uses that information to help determine what content on the site is best engaging visitors and driving them to register and contact the company. "I'm a businessman; I'm here to sell," Short said.

Indium's perspective isn't universal. P2Energy Solutions doesn't believe it's practical to track which site visitors turn into bona fide leads. "Our industry is still old-school in that relationships are still important to a sales rep," said Rob Walter, interactive marketing specialist for P2Energy, a vendor of software for energy exploration. Customers visit the site, research products and technologies, then pick up the phone and call a salesperson with whom they already have relationship, making it difficult to connect site activity and sales.

But even companies that rely on offline sales channels have found ways to map online metrics to sales leads. 4 Walls, for example, provides online apartment listings for owners of rental housing. The company uses unique toll-free numbers connected to its ads, so it knows when one generates a lead for one of its business-to-business customers. "We'll consider any connected call over 10 seconds a lead," said co-founder Lawrence Portnoff. Engaging content measured Web analytics prove particularly useful in helping marketers determine what website content is engaging users and what is not, and make changes accordingly.

Budnick Converting, which custom-converts tapes for industrial manufacturing customers, relies on the data to determine when to break out microsites for hot products or target particular geographic regions or industries from which it is getting a lot of incoming traffic, said Lance Schneider, e-business manager for Budnick Converting. Sales reports can take five to six months to deliver information, but Web analytics delivers in real time.

Budnick makes site decisions based on a variety of metrics, including external search traffic, internal search engine analytics and spikes in searches on particular keywords. Based on that information, Schneider has a number of actions he can take: Put a featured ad on the home page to drive more people to look at a particular product, geo-target content, develop new landing pages or adjust keywords to improve search standings.

"I figure out what's working and enhance it, and add peripheral things to make it work even better," Schneider said.

Wittenstein North America also uses Web analytics to help redesign its site. The company makes motion-control systems for machines, manufacturing and aeronautical systems. Wittenstein rolled out a product selector in June with low expectations for the tool's popularity, but Web analytics showed it was a hit with customers. "It was amazing to see the interaction people were having with that tool," said Marketing Manager Miriam Metcalfe. As a result, Wittenstein is now developing a full-blown configurator to deploy on its site.

Marketers rely on a variety of tools to track Web analytics, but several reported that the free Google Analytics software is their service of choice. "That's the key tool," Indium's Short said. Indium augments Google Analytics with custom tools written by a consultant to provide additional metrics.

Wittenstein also relies on Google Analytics, and doesn't use any paid analytics tools at all. "I don't know whether you should tell Google that; they're saving us money," Metcalfe said.

4 Walls uses Google Analytics, along with the open source AWStats and Sawmill from FlowerFire, to measure metrics. Portnoff said the company needs all three largely for legacy reasons, having built some tools and systems to work with each package.

Over time, 4 Walls expects to "ditch everything" except Google Analytics, which Portnoff compared with QuickBooks. "Whether it's good or bad, it's become a standard," he said. "It's the tool that marketers know how to use."

Paid tools aren't dead, of course. In addition to Google Analytics, P2Energy Solutions relies on HubSpot Inc.'s HubSpot to track e-mail marketing and other push marketing. HubSpot doesn't just provide the company with data; it helps it optimize the P2Energy Solutions Web site.

Despite marketers' widespread use of Web analytics, social media remain largely unmeasured by b-to-b companies. Indium, however, is an exception—with 70 blogs feeding to Facebook and YouTube. Social media help the company build community, Short said. "This is a great way to build familiarity, which ultimately leads to trust," he said. The company uses tools to track which bloggers and topics generate the greatest number of sales leads.

Likewise, mobile marketing and measurement are not yet on the radar for most b-to-b marketers. "We don't see a need for it," Metcalfe said. "Our customers are primarily engineers working on development teams in offices; that's where they're using the website. It will be interesting to see if in the future, in the next year, if it's something we should be doing."

Originally published March 8, 2010

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