Digging into Web analytics a low priority

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While digital increasingly dominates marketing tactics, the rate of adoption for Web analytics solutions has been comparatively slow, according to a new study by BtoB. The study, “Web Analytics: Practices and Trends From the Field,” found that 44% of marketers are not at all or only somewhat involved in analyzing website performance. A sparse 7% say they are fully engaged with Web analytics, and just 6% report they are very effectively using Web analytics for measuring online activities. “I'm not terribly surprised by these numbers,” said Jim Sterne, chairman of the Web Analytics Association. “First, the survey is heavily skewed toward smaller companies. Second, it's b-to-b, where adoption also is low.” BtoB's study was based on an online survey sent to subscribers in May that generated 458 responses. Marketers were well-distributed according to size, although with a decided tilt toward smaller companies: 56% reported annual revenue of less than $24 million, with another 24% reporting revenue of $25 million to $499 million. “But the lack of Web analytics-adoption isn't necessarily attributable to lack of budget,” Sterne said, citing the easy availability of the free Google Analytics. “It just may not be seen as a priority. People already are overwhelmed by opportunities to improve. They might think they don't need another one.” Among those obstacles to the adoption of Web analytics, 71% of survey respondents cited lack of resources, followed by low priority for management (38%) and personal lack of knowledge (37%). Marketers' staffing plans this year also may be playing a part. Only 17% of marketers indicated they planned to increase staff for online analysis this year; 81% indicated no change, and 2% said they planned to decrease staffing for that function. The marketing department is home to the Web analytics function, according to 82% of respondents, up from 69% who last year reported the function was “owned” by marketing. Google Analytics is overwhelmingly the solution of choice among those that employ Web analytics solutions. It is being used by 85% of respondents to get a handle on website visitor behavior and the appeal (or lack thereof) of Web pages, content and offers. “We code every ad to track where visitors come from and check the hits, bounce rates and page views to evaluate our mix and shift the numbers,” said Kathleen Drake, marketing specialist at California State University, Fullerton's Mihaylo College of Business and Economics, and a Google Analytics user. Drake said that even if the content of a particular Web page looks effective, high bounce rates signal that it doesn't match well with the search terms or the ad that drove visitors to view it. While such paid solutions as Adobe/Omniture and Webtrends are used by just 14% and 13% of respondents, respectively, their ability to handle more complex analyses is appreciated by marketers that need that level of sophistication. One example is SAE International, an association of engineering professionals in the aerospace, automotive and commercial vehicle industries. As with most businesses, SAE uses its website to attract new customers (i.e., members), promote its numerous live events and prompt registrations and exhibitor business. SAE is best known for its standards, and it sells its peer-reviewed papers on its website. “We have this three-ring circus going on and, because of that, went with Webtrends for our Web analytics solution,” said William Cariello, manager-Web strategy/operations at SAE. “We use it not just at the macro level—visitors, unique visitors, impressions, etc.—but also down to the business unit level, so we're able to gauge what content is being consumed to help tweak our editorial products and judge the efficiency of the sales process taking place on the site.” Seventy-nine percent of survey respondents said they measure the number of visits each visitor makes to a website, with 60% reporting they are able to measure the activity of individual visitors. Email (71%) and search engine optimization (64%) are other key areas where respondents deployed Web analytics to gain insight. Sherpa Software offers business intelligence solutions for email. Kristen Parise, Sherpa's marketing coordinator, said the company uses display ads, paid and organic search, and social media to drive traffic; it also relies on Web analytics to measure performance. “We're just trying to find out what's really working or not—what is bringing traffic that converts into real sales and what doesn't,” Parise said. “And it can depend on the messages we put out there. Maybe the channel works, but we aren't addressing it properly. If we get 1,000 visitors and only two of them convert, we know something is wrong.” Using Google Analytics, Parise discovered that the registration page for software demos or white paper downloads discouraged submissions as it contained too many required fields. Parise worked to slim the form down. One field eliminated was the classic “How did you hear about us?” Instead, Sherpa used Web analytics to link campaigns to particular sources that produced visitors. Using Web analytics to analyze registration page conversions improved performance by 40%, Parise said. However, Sherpa is unusual in pegging Web analytics to ROI. According to BtoB's study, 81% of survey respondents said they do not measure the return on investment of their Web analytics efforts. And two-thirds of respondents reported that their Web analytics results were not linked to their customer relationship management application. Not understanding Web analytics ROI is the same as throwing money away, the Web Analytics Association's Sterne said. “People think of their websites as brochures; but, in fact, it's burning money every day in running and maintaining it and picking up the phone to explain why it doesn't work too well,” Sterne said. But the cost of Web analytics doesn't have to be a barrier, he said. “If I'm only a $20 million business and I hire a full-time person to run Google Analytics for me, earning an extra $2 million more this year than last—that's a great return,” he said. While company size tended toward the SMB sector in BtoB's survey, industry verticals were diverse. Technology companies comprised 32% of respondents, followed by manufacturing (18%), consulting (9%), financial services (6%), health/pharmaceutical (6%), advertising (5%), publishing/media (4%) and wholesale trade/distribution (4%).
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