Unlocking the mysteries of measurement

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Web site measurement is suffering from a bad rap. Companies burned a few years ago by unrealistic expectations are reluctant to experiment again. Yet aggressive experimenting with Web measurement techniques to increase sales and identify hot products is more important than ever before, experts said.

A few years back, software to look at Web server log files or identify individual user sessions was widely touted as nirvana for b-to-b marketers. Using Web site measurement, the marketer for the first time in any type of media would be able to see exactly how individual customers and prospects were reacting to marketing and public relations vehicles in real-time.

Then, reality set in.

Making the commitment

Marketers discovered that merely turning on the spigot for information did not necessarily yield any useful information. Web site measurement was also pricey, sometimes reaching $200,000 annually. And business managers often soured on noodling over Net numbers within a month or two.

As a result, many projects have been abandoned and sales have slowed. Companies will spend about $100 million on Web site measurement in 2001 and only $500 million by 2004, which makes it a low-growth information technology, according to Gartner Group Inc.

Also, industry leaders in Web site measurement have suffered mightily. For example, Accrue Software Inc., Fremont, Calif., has seen market valuation fall from more than $12 billion in January 2000 to $10.9 million this month.

Despite the negativity, many are now finding value in using Web site measurement for b-to-b marketing.

Software from Accrue, NetGenesis Corp., SaneSolutions L.L.C. and WebTrends Corp. can glean where a site is effective, and services from such companies as WebMiner Inc., IBM Corp.s SurfAid Analytics, WebSideStory Inc., Keylime Software Inc., SAS Institute Inc. and Informatica Corp.s eSite can be tapped to discover new sales leads, potential hot products and weaknesses in the sales chain.

"Web site analysis is the hardest work we do," said Ian Lurie, president of the Web consulting firm Portent Interactive, Seattle, whose company handles everything from concept and design to infrastructure. "Yet it can be extraordinarily valuable in b-to-b when one has good perceptions about what they want to accomplish and a head for statistics."

For example, Portent uses WebTrends to analyze traffic on the site of client, a b-to-b shoe distributor.

Specifically, is interested in when consumerswho are not prevented from visiting the b-to-b site though they do not purchase directly from the companye-mail a Web page to a friend. Youd expect the products that get viewed the most are the most e-mailed, but it doesnt always work that way, Lurie said.

Using what you learn

Product pages that are heavily e-mailedthough not frequently viewed because of their location in the sitehelp the company spot a winning product earlier than it used to be able to, he said.

Heating, air conditioning and refrigeration manufacturer Carrier Corp. has increased per-visit revenues from $1.47 to $37.42 using Web site measurement from WebMiner, said Paul Berman, manager of global e-business for Carrier, Farmington, Conn.

The company compares zip codes by b-to-b and consumer customers with previous Web site and marketplace purchases to immediately recommend products most commonly used in those zip codes, Berman said.

"We have a terrific product selector on our Web site, but weve found that suggesting products based on predictive models is also effective," Berman said.

Others are also meeting with success. Reid Carr, director-iGroup for full-service public relations and advertising firm McQuerter Group Inc., San Diego, says Web measurement is a key to every b-to-b campaign. For client, an Internet service provider, it tracks referral Web addresses for all press releases and print advertising.

"The type of Web site measurement you use depends completely on the point of the Internet strategy," Carr said. "If you are a passive site, you probably should just be looking at aggregated data. But if you are trying to generate sales leads, you ought to be, by now, able to identify individual users."

Old rules still apply

It takes time for b-to-b marketing departments to adjust to Web statistics, said Denise Goluboff, Web content group manager with National Instruments Inc., Austin.

A NetGenesis customer, NI began measuring Web site traffic about a year ago, and just about everyone in the company was interested. Then, the allure wore off.

Today, a core group of NI marketers uses NetGenesis to make newsletters more effective, distribute effective sales collateral and identify weak Web pages.

"At first, we did not know how to use all of our Web site data," Goluboff said. "We thought it all had value. Now, were making decisions based on whats really valuable and meaningful. Our top three goals from Web statistics are to build a more efficient site, increase brand loyalty and save money," she said.

Dr. Peter Fader, associate professor of marketing at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, has spent an entire career analyzing relationships between marketing and customer behavior. Through the years, hes poured over activity from grocery store scanners and researched airplay patterns for record albums. Even he was initially fooled by the promise of Web site measurement.

"I entered electronic commerce thinking that the information coming from Web sites would be different, that the old rules behind good customer research didnt apply," Fader said. "But you know what? The old rules do apply."

Define an ROI strategy

So what are the rules? Web site measurement should be tightly structured, he said.

"You should come into an analysis anticipating a pattern," Fader said. "Too often today, marketers are counting on the Web site to do everything. Thats about as satisfying as drinking from a fire hose. Really, you should structure Web site measurement queries to tell a particular, and particularly important, story."

Duane Lyons, senior manager for the customer solutions consulting practice at Braun Consulting Inc., Chicago, agreed its critical for b-to-b marketers to define their objectives for a Web site, as well as their return on investment strategy, before crunching the numbers.

"To start collecting the data without knowing how to use it is almost a surefire path for disaster," Braun said.

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