Many website owners have finally bought into Amazon’s belief that constant improvement, ongoing small wins and never accepting that the status quo is good enough are foundational aspects of a successful web strategy. Web professionals now recognise the powerful commercial effect that even something as simple as removing a step in a buying process, or a click in a product view has on the performance of our websites.
Central to the ethos of constant improvement is the need for relevant, accurate and meaningful web analytics; indeed implementing a rigorous analytics solution (technology and processes) is an essential aspect of succeeding online. Without these you will be unable to calculate the effectiveness of your site, online marketing campaigns or overall online business objectives. This void leaves website owners in the impossible situation where the future direction of their online property is driven not by evidence, customer feedback and identified market need, but by conjecture, internal political struggles, latest trends and the whims of the marketing and IT departments.
And that is the road to nowhere.
Measurement requirements need to be built into your website from the off. The following technical and process considerations will impact your measurement strategy, your report accuracy, what you wish to measure, and your ability to make reasonable assumptions and decisions based on the data.
Without knowing what you want to achieve commercially it is impossible to know what you need to measure. And without knowing what you need to measure it’s impossible to put a solution in place which meets your needs. You cannot improve the results of your analyses without first defining your KPIs.
Your measurement plan will be impacted by the scale and type of your business and nature of your website. For instance on an e–commerce site you will need to closely examine conversion rates, shopping–cart abandonment, and product view patterns, however a publishing website is likely to make best gains by keeping a close eye on subscription conversion rates, advertising impressions and average time spent on the site.
Coherent Data Collection
It should be too obvious to merit inclusion, but every page on your site must be tagged and included in the reports which are generated, including pop–up windows, micro–sites, third–party sites and custom applications.
If you run your site with a content management system it also includes all new pages added to the site once it goes live. Because analytics software examines different pages users visit on your site, to work accurately it must identify each page uniquely. This means that in situations where pages run through a single template or series of templates, it puts the onus on the site editor to ensure that pages have meaningful unique titles and meta data, so that best sense can be made of the statistics.
Your site search strings are one of your web strategy’s best friends and therefore you must record all of the searches which are made on your site. In all probability they will indicate patterns of user need and are likely to give big clues about information on your site which is important to your customers but which is difficult to find. Record it and act on it.
If you include PDF files, Microsoft Office files, Flash or AJAX on your site, and they are elements that you wish to analyse, you will need to add this on a bespoke basis as these file types and technologies do not naturally lend themselves to analytic tracking. Evaluate how and why you are using them, and have a keen grasp of the measurement trade–off.
Your website and online strategy should be as unique as your business itself. How you measure it therefore needs to reflect your custom priorities, bespoke needs and unique business goals. Make sure if you are investing significant money on your web strategy that you give yourself to the tools to answer the questions “was it worth it” and “how can I improve it?”