In this week’s series of 10 Questions, we talk with The Lost Agency’s David Iwanow on the importance of web analytics, the biggest mistakes most businesses make with their website data, and what it was like co-authoring the Google Advertising Tools book.
Question 1: You own an analytics business (amongst other things) what made you take this direction and what is it that interested you most about web analytics?
DI: There is an old business model that is built around pure commission where you only make money when you sell something and I saw that there was no reason why your website shouldn’t be doing operating along a similar model. I’ve never really found a pure sales role interesting as there is only so many hours in the day and only so many sales leads that you can expect your staff to generate each day.
But I saw that by using software like web analytics it could provide a semi-automated solution so you can now measure your websites performance as you do with a physical store or another employee. Every day or hour you can get an accurate update on your websites current performance, make tweaks to your email campaigns, Google AdWords traffic or even search optimisation campaigns to ensure it continually improves its value to your business. I’ve seen that time and time again we can use that same data captured by your web analytics to understand what is broken or not performing on the website and working with smart developers like DBG Tech you can make updates and tweaks to landing pages, contact forms and even content to improve leads/sales.
I find that there are so many websites that business owners are ashamed to promote their website address because it doesn’t reflect their vision for the business. The bigger issue is the number of other web development firms out there that while building flash looking websites don’t actually have the ability or understanding of the benefit of web analytics to help a business owners recognise new opportunities and use that data to rebuild their online business model.
I see that websites are a 24/7 machine for harvesting leads, making sales and continuous promotion of your business day and night but they need web analytics to understand the true value of the site and why it may not be working.
You can think of web analytics as part of your sale support it never forgets the details on a lead source, it never turns away a possible enquiry and it measures and records everything to review later.
Question 2: What is the biggest mistake made by businesses in this area?
DI: It sometimes feels like they bought something on one of those late night TV ads offering a magic pill to cure all your problems. Business is slowly starting to understand that if you want quality business intelligence from your web analytics then don’t follow the set and forget herd as they are currently failing. A number of website changes and updates can break code analytics tracking code and you don’t want to be a sheep you want to be a leader. Also consider checking to see if you need to refresh your existing website analytics tracking codes to ensure you can utilise all the recent feature updates.
Hosted web analytics packages like Google Analytics usually refreshes its tracking code every 6-9 months and it can pay to update your tracking code as they are always rolling out new features and nifty little updates.
Google has just expanded the use of their asynchronous tracking code to improve the way that you track visitors with Google Analytics. It enhances the speed which the tracking code is loaded which reduces load time for visitors to your website and improves accuracy in tracking every visitor. The old version will continue to work but doesn’t always offer new features so business owners should check they are at least using the recent GA.js script and they replace any old Urchin.js scripts. I still see a lot of businesses with the old Urchin.js tracking code, they can keep their data and just replace it with the new tracking code and instantly get new features and better quality tracking of visitors.
A common theme seems to be throwing traffic at a website and hoping that it sticks or at least makes the phone ring, but it’s fairly clear once you add web analytics into the site that either the traffic is crap quality or is not generating any leads or enquiries.
A common theme I see is unscrupulous AdWords & SEO companies buying traffic and links without any traffic benefit and just hoping that at some point they will strike gold or send enough traffic that eventually the website makes a sale or generates a lead.
One good little trick I’ve been starting to use with my clients is campaign phone measurement as this allows some great feedback on the campaign such as:
1. more understanding of how the campaign is performing
2. more transparency on how many leads are generated
3. more of an understanding about how consumers want to contact business
Question 3: How important are website analytics for a business?
DI: Most people link running a website without website analytics is like flying a plane with a blind fold and trying to pick the best flight path to get to your destination. It’s pretty much impossible to run a successful website off gut instincts and not tracking your results will only lead to hit and miss which makes it hard to scale resources and evaluate should you be investing in a new website.
The effective use of web analytics can make the difference between understanding the visitors who visit your website that will lead to business and those who are just stopping by to kick the tyres while looking for some information.
Question 4: You recently worked with Harold Davis as co-author on the latest edition of the Google Advertising Tools book. Can you tell us how this came about and what that experience was like?
DI: It originally started with a tweet that they were looking for a technical review of an upcoming book and through various emails and discussions around the recent massive AdWords interface update Google started, I was requested to assist doing some major updates to the book’s chapters. It is still one of the few books on the market that covers the new interface and still remains current close to a year later after all Google’s updates.
Working with O’Reilly Media was a wonderful experience and showed me how much hard work and effort goes into a single publication. They have a great team there such as my editor Julie Steele who helped me through the process but it was fairly stressful at times working to have text, images and captions done in time for the deadline for printing each section. You can check out the book Google Advertising Tools 2nd Edition on the O’Reilly website.
Question 5: How do Web server stats compare to Web Analytics products?
DI: Typically web server stats packages capture a lot more technical data from your web hosting log files but do not often present the data in such a user friendly manner and cannot be easily customised. Web analytics packages focus on the human visitors to your website and ignore visitors like search engine crawlers and other information such as bandwidth or data usage. Urchin which is the original technology behind Google Analytics is closer to where web server stats packages should have been heading but is still regarded as a web analytics platform it’s just self hosted. It seems that a majority of the web server stats packages have stopped innovating and are slowly dying off as most web hosting companies no longer automatically enable them on their accounts.
There are a number of free packages available on most web hosting companies such as Webalizer or AWStates they do not offer the ability to bring in business intelligence with your standard web data. The stats packages can typically be useful for technical analysis of website traffic such as:
- How often Robots/Crawlers visit
- Bandwidth usage
- Every file on your server viewed/downloaded (no tracking scripts required)
- Visitor IP Address
- Find error pages by type 404,403,303,302,301
- Worm attacks
Web stats packages have their place for technical analysis by your web developers but they provide limited commercial benefit and no ability to integrate business intelligence such as sales or leads into your reports.
Question 6: Why would a business want to pay for a free tool?
DI: There are limitations to any free product and hosted solutions like Google Analytics start with a slight concern around privacy and security of your data as it’s hosted on their servers.
The other limitations of free tools is that the customisations possible with enterprise solutions like Coremetrics, Omniture or WebTrends are simply not yet possible with free platforms like Google Analytics. Typically the limits of free web analytics packages are:
- you cannot capture visitors demographic information
- you are limited on the ability to import/export data
- you cannot reprocess data once its captured
- you cannot host the data on your own servers
- you have to trust that they will never lose or close down
- they may charge for the service at some point in the future
- there are limits on goals/ecommerce/search/filters
Platforms like Google Analytics are reporting platforms and designed to present data in workable and user friendly reports so with that usability in mind some enterprise level functions and abilities are missing or hard to find.
Question 7: What is the benefit to business for using the services of a paid analytics consultant?
DI: The process required for analytics setup can vary between 1-2 hours, to up to several months depending on resource limitations, complex specifications, testing data quality, refining tracking & filters and project schedules. Mostly the biggest benefit in using an analytics consultant is because we have the understanding about what others in your industry are already using their web analytics to track such as whitepaper downloads, newsletter subscriptions, member registration or lead generation activities. There are even more specific tracking elements that are possible such as visitor engagement, onsite search behaviours, visitor segmentation and finally ecommerce value that are often far too time consuming or technical for a most employees or even IT departments to be expected to undertake.
There is also the aspect of knowing what the technical and budget limitations would be on a particular web analytics platform. So a paid analytics consultant will have a good idea of how much time a particular project may require based on past projects and what can be done within that budget/time frame. A bigger trend is for larger enterprise level websites to start to look to moving away from Omniture web analytics to Google Analytics and a paid analytics consultant is often required to advise and discover what might not be possible to track or measure before they migrate.
Question 8: How does it impact on my Google AdWords campaign?
DI: Most of the web analytics platforms integrate fairly closely with Google AdWords via APIs but obviously the best integration is between Google Analytics and Google AdWords which was shown with their new feature Search Funnels. This allowed you to use Google’s internal AdWords data and your Google Analytics data to form a better picture about what keywords impressions and clicks helped lead or assist a conversion which was not possible in the past.
Any of the popular web analytics packages will benefit your business by showing you much more detail about your AdWords traffic than the AdWords dashboard can provide. Using web analytics to visualise and undertake detailed analysis on your AdWords campaign traffic will almost guarantee an increased chance that you will be successful and profitable when buying traffic using AdWords. The screenshot below shows the benefits of complete integration between your AdWords campaign and Google Analytics is that you get ROI and profit margin data from websites running ecommerce.
One of the better uses of a web analytics platform and bid management platform was the recent announcement that Webtrends integrated with Marin Software providing business a perfect end-to-end solution. This type of end-to-end solution will benefit business by allowing them to use the web analytics data to focus on what keywords drive business and not miss data that falls though the gaps.
Question 9: Having all the stats in the world is great but there is the potential to be overwhelmed with all that information – what tips can you give to businesses wanting to take action on the data they get?
DI: It seems that not enough focus is on increasing conversion rates via testing elements onsite using platforms like Website Optimiser or even Landing Page platforms like Performable. You need to be exploring the idea of always testing and never standing still.
Question 10: Where do you see the analytics industry heading and what metrics / technology do you think we’ll be tracking next?
DI: There is a strong move towards consumer privacy as the increasing innovations and tracking has started to concern consumer groups as to where business needs to draw the line between tracking visitors and profiling consumers. The other area which is possibly set to inflame the issue is the improvements and ongoing developments towards a fully automated sales platform where you just setup the account and it does everything. Some web analytics platforms are almost advanced enough to start picking keywords, building ad copy, developing landing pages, buying traffic, testing & refining everything to continually buy more traffic which continues to increase revenue exponentially.
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David owns The Lost Agency, a web analytics focussed search agency providing businesses with web analytics, social media, and other online solutions. For more information on The Lost Agency visit www.thelostagency.com.