Web analytics use on the rise

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Web analytics have moved from the IT department into the marketing department permanently, if recent vendor announcements are any indication.

WebSideStory introduced HBX, which allows users to view site visitors down to an individual browsing session. Watchfire announced a new version of its online business management platform—Webfire WebXM 3.0—with Web analytics built in. Meanwhile, Sane Solutions launched a new version of its analytics program, NetTracker 7.0, which incorporates ad campaign analysis and lets marketers sort results by demographic. Coremetrics also added online marketing performance functionality to its offering, Online Analytics 2004. Finally, Webtrends, a business unit of Net
IQ, rolled out the newest version of its self-titled analytics tool, Webtrends 7.0, which was designed specifically to accelerate adoption in marketing organizations.

Nathan Miller, e-commerce marketing manager for Northern Tool, which sells construction equipment, said he knows why these vendors are courting people such as himself: Web analytics makes marketing a lot easier.

"[Coremetric’s analytics product] is the first thing we log into in the morning and the last thing we look at in the evening," Miller said. "We base almost all our decisions on it. We use it to track sales, visitors, page views, time spent on the site, the average order size, conversion rates. It really helps us target our promotions."

Evolution of analytics

When Web site analytics were first introduced, they helped Webmasters find bottlenecks and broken links. Today, as Northern Tool’s Miller found out, they change the way a marketer handles an online campaign.

Miller is just starting classic A/B testing on his site, he said. But, unlike traditional media, he can use his analytics program to evaluate results almost immediately. He can make changes to the site that same day, so his home page always reflects the better ad, he said.

"Throughout the day we serve two home pages and measure which one gives us a better conversion rate," he said.

Decker Marquis, marketing manager of Sane Solutions, said client Administaff, which offers an online human resources service, uses the Sane analytics program to boost conversion rates.

Administaff was using an online form for lead generation, but its conversion rate wasn’t as high as it wanted, Marquis said. By analyzing its metrics, the company discovered it was losing people because it was asking for too much personal information.

"When [Administaff] reduced the form, it had a 100% increase in the number of people completing the form," Marquis said.

"We’re seeing that marketing tends to drive Web analytics use," said David Chatsky, an analyst with Jupiter Research. "Marketing is the department that’s in charge of the presentation of the brand—the look and feel of the site. They are the ones who are making the changes to a site."

And they’re not just making changes to their own sites. Marketers can use results to tweak other ad campaigns such as paid placement, e-mail marketing and direct mail campaigns, Chatsky said. For example, because analytics software lets users see exactly how Web visitors feed into a site, companies can use it to determine which paid placement offerings are most effective on a minute-to-minute basis.

Chatsky said the latest versions of these analytics tools have improved ease of use and ability to integrate with other data sources.

"Those things are both important because the tools can’t help if they are not being used by the right people," he said.

"The second point is important because we’ve long recognized that online and offline affect each other, so ability to integrate the tools with data from offline systems can help vendors understand and exploit cross-channel influence," Chatsky said.

Use on extranets, intranets

Marketers say that Web analytics also help them serve two of their most important constituencies: their own employees and resellers. By doing so, they enable outside salespeople and affiliates to use that information in their own marketing and sales efforts.

It’s a trend that vendors are seeing, too. "We consistently sell multisite licenses because customers say they want to track intranets and extranets," Marquis said. "In some cases b-to-b vendors say their extranet sites are more important because those are the people who are coming for tools and information that will help them make sales," she said.

Web analytics are also helping marketing managers tweak their online self-service applications. Companies can examine how site users are searching—what they were doing right before they access self-service help and what terms they searched for—and make changes accordingly.

This helps reduce the number of calls into the call center and lets agents in the center find information more quickly. Web analytics vendors are acting quickly to upgrade this important functionality: WebTrends last month acquired FirstPlace Software, the developer of WebPosition Gold search engine optimization software.

Meanwhile, marketing managers and IT departments are still using Web analytics in the original manner for which they were intended, said Jeff Kasten, director of business development for Hirebridge, a Web-based hiring management solution. Kasten, who uses Alertsite, said that although he’s looking at analytics for marketing purposes, his bottom line is site uptime.

"We’re an ASP, so we have to guarantee uptime and availability," Kasten said. "Web analytics help us analyze problems and help us manage our systems internally."

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