According to John Marshall, the CEO and founder of ClickTracks, there's a big difference between the number of hits your Web site gets and the number of sales. A good Web analytics program, used properly, can increase a small business's customer conversion rate (hits that turn into sales) by 15 percent, he says.
But before you rush out to buy an analytics package, it's important to determine if you're ready to invest the time and money necessary to regularly analyze the data and implement changes.
The Power of Web Analytics
Don Becklin, the president of Motorcycle-Superstore.com, was quick to open an online store and equally quick to recognize the power of Web analytics.
Motorcycle-Superstore.com opened for business in late 1998, and just over a year later the company purchased software from WebTrends, a leading Web analytics provider that serves large enterprises as well as small.
"We had a tough time deciphering where we were lacking in sales, in terms of traffic," says Becklin. "One of our biggest goals was to see where people were going and where people weren't going, and then trying to compare that against where sales were coming from."
With WebTrends, Becklin discovered that Motorcycle-Superstore.com was losing a lot of customers during the checkout process somewhere between the time they put an item into the cart and when they made the actual purchase. While the software couldn't pinpoint exactly what the problem was, Motorcycle-Superstore.com was able to identify a few things that it thought could make people feel more comfortable when they were making a purchase and thus increase conversion rates.
Similarly, again using WebTrends data, Motorcycle-Superstore.com was able to find out what a customer interested in a cruiser motorcycle wanted and what he did on the Web site versus a customer who was interested in a dirt bike and then make both user experiences unique and satisfying.
Understanding Customer Behavior
That kind of insight into customer behavior is a key reason why many e-commerce sites, large and small, turn to Web analytics programs. Such programs tell you not only where your customers are coming from, but how they use or don't use your site.
That's a part of the reason why Barry's Ticket Service turned to ClickTracks, another leading provider of Web analytics tools.
"We found that some pages, nobody visited them," says Mohamed Bennani, the Web developer for www.barrystickets.com, the online arm of Barry's Tickets that provides tickets for just about any game, concert, or event nationwide. "So we needed to find out why they didn't explore those pages and fix the problem."
According to Brent Hieggelke, vice president of corporate marketing at WebTrends, this is a pretty common problem. "A lot of companies will just put things up on their Web site, just making assumptions," he explains.
For example, by examining the data he receives from ClickTracks, Bennani discovered that where you put a "buy" link on a page can make a big difference. (For Barry's Tickets at least, "buy" buttons at the bottom of the page don't sell nearly as many tickets as putting the link at the top of the page and offsetting it with a different color.)
Barry's Tickets also found ClickTracks to be a tremendous tool for understanding where visitors were coming from.
"Our goal is to show up first on the search engines, so people always come to our site," says Bennani. "So in order to do that and to get some feeling of what people are really going for, which keyword they use to come to our site, we use ClickTracks. Then we know that, say, fifty visitors came from Google typing this key word."
Helping You Target Your Advertising Dollars
Knowing from where or how people come to your site is also critical in terms of how to allocate precious marketing and advertising dollars.
Indeed, "the largest factor that drives a small business owner to buy a Web analytics program," according to ClickTracks CEO John Marshall, "is spending a lot of money, usually on pay-per-click advertising. And one of the classic problems that Web analytics will solve for you, that basic Web stats really can't, is the difference between paid and organic searches.
"A lot of our customers are doing pay-per-click advertising, and they're also doing search engine optimization," explains Marshall. "That means that for a given key word, a Web site listing could appear twice on the page, because they could have that organic listing and they could also be buying that keyword over on the right. So a classic use of Web analytics is not just giving you conversion rates but distinguishing between paid and organic search and predicting which one works better. The end result is that the user of Web analytics will spend more money on what works and less money on what doesn't work."
Brent Hieggelke, vice president of corporate marketing at WebTrends, agrees.
"We let you know if somebody went to Google and searched and found your site, and how they found it; through the regular search result (the organic search result) or whether they clicked on your paid advertisement," he says. "And if they came to your Web site, are they actually a qualified visitor, meaning did they actually make a purchase? Did they stay for a long time? Did they look at a lot of pages? Did they end up registering? Or did they just hit my home page and say 'forget it'?"
What You Can Expect In Terms Of Pricing
So, how much are these wondrous diagnostic tools going to cost you? Probably not as much as you think.
ClickTracks offers small business users a $49.95 a month hosted option for basic service and a Pro version for $179.95. Or you can buy the basic version for $495 for a single-user license or the Pro version, with unlimited users, for $3,495. ClickTracks also offers a 15-day free trial.
WebTrends, similarly, offers a hosted version, WebTrends On Demand, for as little as $35 a month, and a Professional Edition for as low as $100. Pricing depends on how many page views you have. The more page views, the more you have to pay. You can also buy the software, WebTrends 7, starting for around $1,000, which carries no monthly fee.
Whichever way you go, both companies offer technical support and provide online resources to customers.
Advice for SMBs Who Still May Be On The Fence
"There's an awful lot of information out there, and it's really important that if you do make the investment [in a Web analytics package] that you're prepared to use the data," advises Motorcycle-Superstore.com's Becklin. "If you're not going to take the time to dig into it and try to make some sense of it, it might not be one of those things that you're ready for."
Put another way, says Becklin, "We view it as insight into the customer walking into our store. If you own a grocery store, you can watch the customers walking through your aisles. With a Web site, you don't have that insight until you get into an analytics program. And to me, it's the same sort of thing: you need to get a higher-level impression of what's working and what's not."
For Motorcycle-Superstore.com, Barrystickets.com and many other small and mid-size e-commerce businesses, using a Web analytics product has made a "huge difference. Search-engine marketing is our number one way of driving sales," says Becklin, "and with Web analytics we've been able to identify what's working and what's not."
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