By Monte Enbysk (Great Article)
Now that you have a company Web site, it pays to track your site’s statistics to help assess your customers’ actions
You’re not likely to take on a new partner without some way of tracking the revenues, benefits, or efficiencies gained from the relationship. So why do so many small businesses build Web sites, invest in online marketing campaigns and then devote little or no effort to analyzing the return on their investment?
"It’s more common than you would ever realize," says Elisabeth Osmeloski of Beyond Ink, a search-engine marketing consultant based in Portland, Maine. "People are not taking the time to look at Web log files or traffic trends — even those who spend a lot of money on online advertising," Because a vast number of small businesses are still relatively new to the Web, many have yet to take the next step of tracking their return on investment (ROI), she and other experts say.
"Many other people do look at the [Web site traffic statistics], but have trouble making sense of the data" because of the way it is compiled and presented, Osmeloski says.
Internet-savvy businesses know there are easy to use, easy to understand and affordable Web tools available today to monitor and analyze their site traffic. (Microsoft Office Live, for instance, offers Site Reports, a Web-based tool that monitors your site traffic.)
These business people also know that by using site-traffic analysis tools, they can do a great deal more than track how many people are coming to their sites. They can assess their visitors’ online behavior (enabling changes to be made to their Web sites, if necessary), and evaluate the effectiveness of their online marketing dollars (enabling them to increase, cut back or re-deploy their budgets).
If you have a Web site that means more to you than just a brochure for your business, here are five ways a Web analytics tool can help:
You can evaluate the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. If you’re spending a lot on search engine ads and keyword buys, you need to see which ones are performing and which aren’t. Web analytics tools let you see which search engines are sending you traffic as well as the most popular keywords used to find your site. What if you aren’t spending any money at all on online marketing? A Web monitoring tool will show you the gaps and holes in your search engine rankings and results, and very likely how you can shore them up with search engine submissions and/or keyword buys.
You need to know where your traffic is coming from, and why. Are search engines your site’s biggest source of traffic? Or do you have little-known but significant on-ramps from other Web sites, perhaps complementary companies who are potential business partners? Also, are your efforts to generate new customers and sales leads (such as newsletter signups and free product trials) working or not? Microsoft Office Live Essentials, for example, contains a "referrer" section showing who is sending you traffic.
You need to know what users like and don’t like about your Web site. Web site monitoring tools identify your site’s most requested pages, as well as your most common entry pages and exit pages. "If you know what is working well, you can optimize your site to provide more of it," says Helen Chan, a small-business technology analyst with The Yankee Group, a technology research firm. But knowing your most common exit pages can be just as beneficial, Osmeloski says. "Where users bail out is important. Maybe you’re losing people because of the content on that page," and you need to change it to something more intriguing or compelling, she says.
You need to know about any defects on your site. Most Web monitoring tools enable you to see the operating systems and browsers your users have. It should help you to know, for example, the percentage of your users who have Macintosh systems (versus Windows) and who use Netscape browsers (versus Internet Explorer). What’s the customer experience using a Mac or Netscape? "These pages are a bad reflection, not just on your Web site but also on your business. People may draw conclusions about your customer service," Chan says. "The more you know about how the customer views your business, the better off you are."
It’s how you’ll really get to know your customers. The Internet — and all of the technologies associated with it — allows you to understand your customers and prospects better than other media and marketing channels. "In the online world, not everybody is going to come to your site to buy a product or service. But the Web allows you to track where they go and what they do on your site, so you can make changes to your site based on their behavior," Chan says. "You’ve become smarter. You can do that online."
Web monitoring tools also can track conversions (sales) and trace the steps leading to conversions in a way no offline medium can, says Andrew Goodman, a Toronto-based search engine marketing consultant. Such tools, he says, "have forced people to do different things with their Web sites. They’re working harder now on their Web sites and their businesses."
Some additional tips
A complaint among some users of Web monitoring tools is that the data is hard to analyze, with mountains of numbers and code words in no discernible order or pattern. Experts say this is often heard among users of their companies’ own internal tools, or by those using some of the free or nominal log files and Web page stats offered by Web hosting companies.
The best solution: Switch to a tool with more elaborate data that you can read and understand. Most of these services are inexpensive and are worth the investment.
Also, make sure the statistics and other relevant data reach the people at your company who value it the most, Osmeloski says. "You want your marketing people looking at these numbers — frequently."
Monte Enbysk is a lead editor for the Microsoft.com network and writes occasionally about technology for small businesses.