With the World Wide Web's data-generating capabilities, information-hungry marketers are now awash in statistics and site traffic reports. The result can be mind-boggling.
"You can do nothing all day but analyze server logs," said John Nardone, director of media and research services for Modem Media, a Westport, Conn., interactive agency. But, he quickly adds: "Swimming in data every day for the hell of it doesn't make sense."
The key to profiting from Web statistics is understanding what information in the endless data stream is meaningful.
DECIDING WHERE TO INVEST
"Web reports are like a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week focus group," said Jonathan Nelson, CEO of Organic Online, an interactive agency in San Francisco. "People are voting every time they choose to go somewhere online."
For marketers, the trick is not only to learn how to make sense of a Web report, but how to make it work for them.
"The most important thing for us is determining where we want to invest in the site," said Sal Abramo, electronic marketing manager for Hewlett-Packard Medical Products Group.
"If one area gets a lot of interest, that's something we want to do more of. And we've shut down areas that have been awkward or haven't been used," he said.
DEVELOPING TARGETED CONTENT
Federal Express Corp. found the seeds for new online content based on its analysis of its Web site traffic, said webmaster Nancy Raileanu. After discovering the site got a high percentage of Canadian visitors, FedEx developed special pages with shipping information relevant to that audience.
Similarly, Hewlett-Packard's medical group developed a new customer information channel on its Web site when it saw that customers were very willing to provide information online.
Most marketers, however, are still trying to learn how best to use the data.
"We're still in the infant stages of how to effectively use information coming in, though we're getting better at interpreting it," said Jeff Ratner, VP-associate director of Young & Rubicam New Technologies, New York. "In the past we just said, `Hmm, that's interesting.' Now, we're trying to act on it by moving pages around or redesigning pa ges."
For marketers, Web site analysis begins with "determining what you want to achieve," said Ariel Poler, chairman of Internet Profiles Corp., a San Francisco-based Web measurement company. "For example, if you're trying to get information to prospective customers, you want to analyze your visitors and determine what percentage are prospects. If you're very focused on an industry, then anyone not coming from those industries is not a prospective customer."
Paul Grand, chairman of Web measurement company Net Count, based in Los Angeles, advises marketers to analyze who is looking at specific pages.
"If you're trying to reach people from the computer industry and you notice that 90% of your traffic is coming from people in the publishing industry, you need to change your content."
At the same time, Mr. Grand said, the Internet is an excellent opportunity for reaching new audiences.
"Some of our customers have products that are not available overseas, yet over 60% of their traffic is from international companies."
Generally, business-to-business marketers get a daily or weekly top-level report of their Web site, which tracks Web behavior over time, and a more detailed monthly analysis.
A typical top-level report includes:
- Total hits.
- Number of visits or sessions.
- Number of pages viewed.
- Number of pages divided by the number of sessions, which shows how deeply on average a person went into a site.
- Actual pages requested.
- Number of visitors (where there is registration or an identification method).
As marketers become more sophisticated in Web traffic analysis, studying other features of a Web report makes sense.
"You can see which organizations and specific customers spend the most time on a site," said Terry Myerson, president of Interse Corp., a Web measurement company based in Sunnyvale, Calif. "And you can integrate that with your sales and marketing information."
Other tracking information that marketers can find useful includes:
- Country of origin. This helps marketers determine if they are reaching the right audience.
- Amount of time spent on a page. This shows how much attention a particular page is drawing.
- Type of organization visitors are coming from, such as educational, military, government or corporate, and whether they are accessing the site from an online service. This helps marketers determine if they are reaching their target markets, such as the college market or government, and also points to new market opportunities.
Online service usage, meanwhile, gives marketers a handle on the small-business market. If a person visits a site on a business day through an online service instead of a corporate network connection, it's assumed they are a small-business owner.
While all this information adds insight to marketers' understanding of how their Web site is being used, most don't yet understand how users navigate through a site. Next-generation measurement tools are expected to provide that kind of data.
"It's like leaving a little bread trail," said Tom Jones, VP-marketing for Industry.Net, which is developing its own proprietary measurement tools. "It's not only knowing where a user clicks, but stringing events together so you can see two or three clicks at a time. You can see where they are going and what their likes or dislikes are. These could be prime advertising areas or interesting areas to promote other aspects of the system."