In the old days, we measured how quickly our web servers were serving. Speeds and feeds were what it was all about because our visitors were sipping our content through tiny 14.4 kilobit-per-second data straws. We needed to do anything we could to keep them from permanently collapsing their cheeks.
But then came web analytics, and we could start measuring what people actually did on our web sites. How many pages did they see? How long did they stay? How often did they come back? If these are the things you’re measuring—the only things you’re measuring—then your perspective has improved but only to 56 kilobits per second. You’re going to have to live up to a higher standard to work in a broadband world.
You should know how many visitors come to your web site and how often. You should be able to point to a chart on the wall that indicates the general health of your site. But your role as a web site doctor goes deeper than that.
‘People who have purchased items A and B from you in the past and who have looked at content X and Y on your web site within the last five days are 83.4 percent more likely to respond to offer No. 43.’
Page views (a single page view is a request made to a server for a page) and visits (a series of requests from a unique IP address—or computer or unique cookie) are the heart monitor and the mirror-under-the-nose of your web site. These measurements should always increase over time, and you want to watch them for slowing down, becoming irregular or skipping a beat. They are your first indication that something might be going wrong.
Web site path analysis is the blood pressure check of your web site. Are people flowing through from page to page the way you intended? Are there arterial blockages where people get confused and hit the “Back” button rather than move forward? Are there hemorrhagic leaks in the flow where people bail out of your web site altogether?
If the patient is properly converting food, water and air to energy, then your attraction (advertising), persuasion (marketing) and conversion (online sales) are all in working order. But if those numbers start getting out of whack, you need to take immediate action to set things right.
Surveys and focus groups will act as your EKG and psychological assessment tools. How do people feel about your web site? Your products? Your brand? Any dip in customer attitude is an indication that not only is all not well but also that the bad attitude might be contagious and spread via blogs to the rest of the population.
The minimum role of the web site doctor is to ensure that the patient is healthy. But then it’s time to become proactive.
The personal trainer cares about breathing and blood pressure and mood but concentrates on performance. In human terms, we’re talking about lifting more weight, running faster or improving endurance. For a web site, improvement comes in many shapes and sizes depending on the goals of the organization.
This requires a slight shift in the conceptual approach to your web site. Rather than think of your site in terms of a pile of content divided up into pages, think of it in terms of verbs. Start with the subject: Who comes to your web site? What kind of people are they? What motivates them? Next, why are they there? That’s where the verbs come in. What are they trying to accomplish?
The results are the visitor processes you want to measure and improve. Those are the areas where, as a personal trainer to your web site, you want to see increases in performance and capacity. You have now made the switch from measurement to web site optimization. This is where web analytics shifts from producing “interesting” reports to becoming a seriously powerful tool.
Consider the web analysis task handed to Tim Hart, institutional research head for the J. Paul Getty Trust. The Getty is an international cultural and philanthropic organization serving both general audiences and specialized professionals. So how would you measure success?
Inundated with what well-meaning department functionaries thought were intelligent questions about the number of people who viewed specific pages and the paths they took to get there, Hart countered with, “What would you like to know about our web site that would help you do your job better?” The responses were revealing:
- Are we considered an authority?
- Is there something we’re not producing that our audience wants us to produce?
- What’s the value of a web visit compared to a museum visit?
So Hart and his team looked for online citations in the form of links from other sites to Getty sites. They analyzed the top on-site searches site to see what people were looking for and whether they:
- Got lost looking for it
- Viewed closely related content on the site
- Came up empty handed with null search results
Then they conducted quarterly museum visitor surveys and several focus groups to piece together the value of online and offline visits. Were they looking for hits? Page views? No. Their focus was on organizational goals.
Once you have your web data, your next step is integrating it with the rest of your business intelligence. We’re leaving Web Analytics 101 well behind at this point. This is not a task for you to engage in tomorrow. But you need to understand the direction this is all heading so that the decisions you make tomorrow are in alignment with how things are going to work the day after tomorrow.
The corporate data warehouse is filled with information about your customers. Where do they live? What did they buy? What is their purchase recency, frequency and monetary value? The day after tomorrow, you will correlate that information with their online behavior. The result? Automated marketing.
People who have purchased items A and B from you in the past and who have looked at content X and Y on your web site within the last five days are 83.4 percent more likely to respond to offer No. 43. Your marketing automation tools can then kick out an email, a mobile message or a direct mail piece—or advise the advertising department to buy additional newspaper space because there are a cluster of these people in a given ZIP code.
But that’s the advanced class. For now, get to know your web site statistics, so you’ll be aware of any anomalies and start figuring out how to improve performance through optimization.