ClickTracks Keeps Analytics Simple

by Dan Muse

Does your e-commerce business suffer from data overload? In its newest version, ClickTracks continues to focus on making Web analytics accessible and meaningful — even for first-time e-tailers who don't know exactly what they're looking for.

If anything, small and mid-size e-commerce businesses have too much data these days. Thanks to Web analytics software — which allows you to track visitor behavior patterns in the most granular of detail — information abounds on where visitors came from, where they went, how long they stayed and so on. However, being able to interpret that data is still a challenge. That's where ClickTracks attempts to step in.

In previous versions, ClickTracks made strides to make analytics more intuitive by placing click-through figures directly on your Web pages. Want to compare apples and oranges? The number and percentage of page views is right there on your Web page. Since then, other analytics packages began offering that capability. However, today ClickTracks looks to up the analytics ante again with the announcement of version 5.0 of both ClickTracks Analyzer and ClickTracks Professional 5.0. (Prices are $495 and $2,995, respectively. Upgrades are free if you have a current support contract.)

Who's Mining Your Data?
Following its keep-it-simple approach, ClickTracks doesn't attempt to overwhelm you with a long list of new features. Perhaps the most significant of the handful of new features is the What's Changed Report, which is available only in the Professional version. When you log onto ClickTracks, it searches for what it considers unusual shifts in the numbers of visitors, search queries, referrers, campaigns, entry pages, visited pages, and countries of origin since your last visit.

"You can quickly see what's rising and what's falling," ClickTracks CEO John Marshall said. For example, if five days ago your most popular search keyword was "Boston," but today "Boston" is only fifth among searchers, ClickTracks automatically highlights that change. If your top referrers have changed significantly, you'd be shown that automatically as well. Conversely, if there is no significant change in a particular area, ClickTracks doesn't waste your time by displaying statistically unimportant data.

The only drawback is that you can't customize the software to show changes that trip user-configured thresholds — for example, it's impossible to restrict the software from limiting the What's Changed Report to pages with pageviews increases of greater than 25 percent. Marshall said that while customizability could be useful, providing the current level of data mining is already a complex technique.

"The algorithm is pretty hairy," he said.

Now and Then Analysis
Another area where e-commerce companies spend a lot of time is in trying to determine the effect of marketing campaigns, paid-search programs and design changes. The Before and After feature (available only in the Professional version) is designed to help you pinpoint those results.

"It's also useful for tracking the effect of things out of your control — a link from an article, a mention in high-profile blog," Marshall said.

One of the challenges for analytics software, Marshall said, is that users often don't know exactly what they want to know. In the new version, the ClickTracks Way feature is designed to be a context-sensitive tool offering tips, articles and other appropriate content to help customers understand the meaning of the reports and to offer ways to interpret data.

Marshall described it as a built-in advisor that answers the "what does it mean?" question. "It's more than online help or an online manual," he said.

The new version also allows you to analyze visitors' country of origin, export multiple pages to PDF or Excel, view the average number of pages a visitor views, and compare six months' worth of data — the previous version allowed six weeks.

ClickTracks has also changed the terminology a bit. In previous versions, you would highlight areas you wanted to further analyze by tagging the data. In 5.0, you label the information. Marshall said some the term "tagging" confused some customers, who mistakenly believed that it referred to writing HTML code.

Go to Page 2: In the Real World >

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In the Real World
Matt Bailey, Web marketing director at The Karcher Group, said he had been using ClickTracks with e-commerce customers because of its focus on site visitor behavior, but relying on other Web analytics products for deeper technical analysis.

"We have been using ClickTracks primarily for usability studies, to see where the roadblocks were for getting from Point A to Point B, to find out where people were dropping out."

The Karcher Group has been testing version 5.0 prior to its release, and Bailey said he was impressed by the new features. "5.0 lets us show in one screen what it would have taken us three hours to get across in text and graphs. The What's Changed Report is a huge addition."

What sets ClickTracks 5.0 apart from competitors is that rival solutions aren't as intuitive to set up or use, he added.

"WebTrends has always been the biggest and the baddest, but you almost need an advanced computer science degree to set it up," Bailey said. "You need a network admin, a marketing person and an IT person to run it."

"It's possible set up ClickTracks Analyzer in the time it takes to get a cup of coffee — it's the easiest thing I've seen," he added. However, using the Professional version is a little more complicated, he said. "You need someone who understands servers."

Like previous versions, ClickTracks 5.0 is available as both a hosted product and a server-based one. The former works by requiring you to add a small bit of code to each page. The server product analyzes log files, which you may need to get from your hosting provider.

Despite the convenience and real-time analysis offered by the hosted, or ASP-based, version, Marshall and Bailey agreed that the trend is moving toward log-file analysis.

"Most customers are buying the log-file version because they want to use multiple analytics tools," Marshall said. "They like ClickTracks for the non-Web master kind of data. It's like a company executive who uses Excel but also has an accountant."

Bailey said he prefers the log-file approach for another reason. "We chose to keep the pages as light as possible. It's just a little JavaScript, but it adds up." He also describes the need for real-time data as "not so important" as most customers are looking for trends.

Overall, Bailey said, e-commerce businesses are using some kind of analytics if selling over the Internet is their main objective. Where that's not the case is with "larger offline, brick-and-mortar companies that decide to go online. They spend a lot of money with no idea."

Dan Muse is executive editor of internet.com's Small Business Channel and EarthWeb's Networking & Communications Channel.

This article was originally published on Thursday Apr 8th 2004
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