Three analytics you’ll meet in 2.0

Are you ready for Web Analytics 2.0? It’s okay to wince at yet another 2.0 buzzword, but open your eyes just wide enough to scope the opportunity. Like many retailers, your Web analytics past may have left you drowning in data, buried in reports and puzzling over generic key performance indicators that have limited application to your own unique business problems.

Take another look. The next generation of Web analytics is less about reports and more about actions and outcomes. It’s about what happens on your Website, but also about why. It’s less about waiting for an elusive “big win” to justify expensive software and more about investing in people and a series of changes that can make a real difference to your Web business’ bottom line.

But what exactly is Web analytics, anyway? According to the Web Analytics Association, it is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of Internet data for the purposes of understanding and optimizing Web usage.

Before you hand this article to your engineer or data cruncher, hang on: Programmers and analysts play a vital role here, but so do the marketer, merchant, or owner. Remember, Web Analytics 2.0 is about people — all kinds of people.

Another definition: People are the intelligent, irrational, distracted, and determined folks your site needs to serve for your business to succeed. Some of them are clicking through your Website, others are sitting in the cube near you. Sadly, this special interest group — people — has been historically underserved by Web analytics.

For years, Web analytics software vendors chased marketshare by offering increasingly complex tools with more and more features — these were the reports that eventually buried their customers. To be fair, it was often the customer who asked for the latest report, hoping that one more fix might finally lead to insight rather than to the frustration of plenty of data but no clear course of action.

A related challenge, and one that remains, was the lack of trained analysts needed to extract value from the tools that companies purchased.

The past two years have seen notable changes. Google rocked the competitive landscape with its free Google Analytics software. While large multichannel retailers often still have sound justification for purchasing a premium tool, there’s no question that “free” commands attention. (Google has now introduced a multivariate testing tool, too. Like Google Analytics, it’s free with an Adwords account.)

Also significant, Web 2.0 technologies have diminished the primacy of the page view and other key metrics in first-generation Web analytics. With rich Internet applications, entire visitor sessions can occur on a single page, and with RSS feeds, your customers may read pages of your content without ever visiting your site. Cookie deletion and Javascript breakage have always been challenges to metrics accuracy — and they haven’t gone away.

These three factors — too many reports and too few analysts, a credible free tool, and disruptive technologies — drew the curtain on the first generation of Web analytics. Now let’s meet three people who can shape the outcome of the next generation of Web analytics — in your business.

Iintroducing the decision maker. The first person we’ll meet in Web Analytics 2.0 is you. You might be the owner, site manager, or the vice president of e-commerce who signed the check, but let’s assume you’re the person who decided to launch (or fix) a Web analytics program in your firm and that you’re interested in extracting maximum value.

To guide your program to success, start by looking away from the screen — and all those reports. You need to answer a vital question, and then ask a few more.

Answer this question, in 15 words or less: Why does our company have a Website? Your answers may look something like this:

  1. To sell product
  2. To generate catalog requests
  3. To collect e-mail addresses
  4. To answer customer questions

Of course, your answers may vary — for instance, you may be a lead generation site, or a customer service site. The point is to isolate the critical few business outcomes that spell success for your site. As a leader, your responsibility is to keep your Web analytics program laser-focused on attaining these outcomes.

Focus your team by asking the right questions. What are the key business questions you need your Web analytics program to answer? (Hint: They must have true potential to influence your desired outcomes.) Sample questions:

  • How does our Website affect sales in our call center?
  • Which of the articles in our help center are really helping conversion?
  • Which of our online marketing channels are most efficient?
  • Would a Flash demo help us sell more of this new product?

To answer questions like these — and the ones that keep you awake at night — you need more than clickstream reports. Let’s meet your go-to people for the answers.

Meet your customer. Listening to the voice of your customer is the secret to shaping a Web analytics program that tells you not just what people do (or don’t do ) on your site, but also why. Without the why, it’s easy to reach the wrong conclusions and make unproductive changes.

Avinash Kaushik is Google’s official “Web Analytics Evangelist,” author of Web Analytics: One Hour a Day, and a true leader in the field. He advocates using simple online surveys to ask site visitors three critical, “primary purpose” questions.

  1. What is the main task you’re trying to complete on this Website today?
  2. Were you able to complete it?
  3. If no, why not?

With insight into what people are really trying to accomplish, and how the site helps or hinders, you can help your visitors meet their goals. You can look at customer’s desired outcomes and understand how they align with the outcomes your business seeks.

When you hear your customer’s voice, you may find opportunities to remove obstacles to purchase, but you’ll also learn that not every customer shows up to buy. You gain a more realistic look at the true size of your conversion rate opportunity. And you get the chance to help more customers complete their current tasks and leave satisfied, increasing the likelihood that they’ll come to you when they are ready to buy.

Qualitative, voice-of the-customer tools to include in your Web Analytics 2.0 arsenal are surveys, usability tests, follow-the-customer home studies, and heuristic site assessments. Each has strengths and limitations; evaluate and try more than one.

Enter the Web analyst — The third person we’ll meet in Web Analytics 2.0 is your Web analyst. How will you recognize this person when you meet him? He’ll be expert with your chosen Web analytics software, of course, and able to work with data from offline channels as well. Excellent quantitative analytic skills are mandatory, but they’re also just a starting point.

Here are a few of the key questions to consider as you recruit or grow the right Web analyst for your team. (Depending on your organization, these questions can apply to a Web analytics manager, as well.)

  • Does he know the difference between reporting and analysis? A true analyst presents findings that spell out an actionable insight, and points to clear next steps that can be tested for impact on your business.

  • Does she embrace qualitative, voice-of-the-customer data as a vital and valid complement to quantitative/clickstream data?

  • Does he see the big picture? A great analyst pays attention to detail without getting lost in it. He never loses sight of that crucial handful of desired business outcomes. He doesn’t start from reports; he starts by seeking answers to specific questions, with an eye that zooms in and out to the appropriate level of detail.

  • Can she tolerate ambiguity? Like people, data are often imperfect. A top analyst is not paralyzed by imperfect data. She knows when directional data is enough to warrant a decision, as well as when more data is needed.

  • Is he a great communicator? Can he tell a story with data and let it persuade stakeholders who disagree with him and may outrank him?

  • Does she partner with the internal customer? An effective Web analyst synchs up with all the teams that shape a company’s Web business. She goes beyond traditional numbers departments like marketing and merchandising and helps IT, creative and customer service articulate their Web business questions.

She presents data in a way that makes sense to her audience and uses words and pictures to help numbers tell a story. She can also refocus her coworkers away from their pet analytics projects and back to the crucial business outcomes.

Does it sound like your searching for some kind of superhuman? Don’t worry, they’ll be partnering with you. Remember, to satisfy your customer and meet your business goals, your Web analytics program’s primary investment is in people.

Larry Becker is vice president and principal, Website effectiveness at the Rimm-Kaufman Group, an online marketing agency offering Website consulting and paid search services.

Recommended Resources: Web Analytics 2.0

The Web Analytics Association
The central educational and professional development site for Web analytics practitioners.

Occams Razor
The blog of Avinash Kaushik, Google Web Analytics
Evangelist and author of Web Analytics an Hour a Day.

Web Analytics Demystified
The Website for the company led by Eric Peterson, author of Web Analytics Demystified. Look also for the related Yahoo! discussion group.

Google Analytics blog
The official blog for Google’s Website analytics tool.