Over the past couple of months I have spent quite a bit of time researching analytics and its role in increasing website performance. I help clients with search engine optimization, so I work with traffic data on a daily basis. There’s an almost intuitive understanding that what gets measured gets managed, so how far can we take this when talking about impacting a company’s bottom line through web traffic? I am amazed at the wealth of knowledge available to the savvy marketer. I’ll outline some tools and strategies that can help inform your marketing strategy.
Any effort begins with a web analytics package. This should be a no-brainer. If you have a website you need to know how much traffic you’re getting and where it’s coming from. Are search engines sending you traffic? Are the blog posts that you’re writing generating any traffic for you? Even the simplest analytics packages can provide this data for you. There are dozens of choices so initially I’d say don’t get too bogged down in this feature vs. that, just start collecting data. You can switch later if something becomes important.
Here’s a handful of options, in no particular order.
- Google Analytics – probably the most popular. It’s free and feature loaded. 95% of sites on the web will never need more than this. The only drawback is that the data isn’t instant, today’s traffic shows up in tomorrow’s numbers.
- Woopra – a very good choice, feature rich tool with live data (see today’s data right now), campaign and conversion tracking, and more. Pricing is reasonable and is based on the number of pageviews a site recieves, but there is a free version which should be sufficient for most small sites.
- Piwik – this is another free tool, and bills itself as an open source alternative to Google Analytics. It has all of the features of the most robust tools, with the added benefit that all of the data is entirely yours because it runs on your own webserver.
- KISSmetrics – this is a newly available tool, and has an interesting twist on other options. They track people, not visits. This likely makes them a great choice for those new to web analytics. Pricing starts at $149 per month.
- SiteCatalyst – this has traditionally been the choice of larger sites that require advanced reporting. There is no free version, but the data is customizable and real time.
Taking it a Step Further – As soon as you begin working with web analytics, you’ll probably start to have questions about which visitors are the most valuable. This is where things begin to get interesting. Suppose you’re running two campaigns, an AdWords campaign and a web banner campaign, which of them is generating the most business for you? Which of them generates repeat visits or the most pageviews? Any of the packages listed above can provide this information for you. For more information try reading Avinash Kaushik’s web analytics blog or the SEOmoz blog.
Once your site has some traffic to work with, you’ll want to identify what on your site is working for you, and what isn’t. Does the site’s navigation structure do a good job of drawing people further into the site? Does one section of the site continually underperform in relation to the others? Web analytics can only take you so far, now you need tools to evaluate how effective your site’s layout is. Heatmaps to the rescue.
A heatmap is a tool that shows you where visitors are clicking on your site. While that sounds pretty simple, the data is VERY revealing. Here are the tools to provide this data.
- Clickdensity – very affordable tool with nice data presentation. And, they include a hover map, which can give you information about which content your visitors are reading.
- ClickTale – this tool has some nice features over the others, in the way of reporting. The heatmaps can be displayed a couple of different ways, data sets can be filtered, and they also provide information on form conversions. They also provide complete click paths and hover maps. This is the most expensive tool in the list, but you get the most data.
- CrazyEgg – fantastic tool, beautiful interface, and quite affordable as well.
- ClickHeat – this tool is different than the others. It’s an open source package that you install yourself. It’s not as feature rich as the others here, but its free which is what you may be looking for. This will be sufficient for most users, but advanced skills will be needed for installation & setup.
One quick note, anyone familiar with Google Analytics will know that there’s a site overlay that shows you where people are clicking. This is not the same thing, and if you rely on this you’ll be missing data. The site overlay tool only shows the LINKS that people are clicking on. If they click on an image hoping to leave the page, and it isn’t a link, you’ll never know that you’re misleading your visitors with that image. Unless, of course, you’re using a real heatmap tool such as the ones listed above.
If your site is having trouble with converting the traffic that it receives, give one of these tools a try and find out where your visitors are getting stuck. It’s simpler than it sounds, and the imagery is both fun and informative.
Taking it a step further – Hover maps will tell you where your visitors are looking (assuming that the eyes follow the mouse, which is a fair approximation in most cases). This will tell you which content on your site is getting the most attention.
Once you know which parts of your site are drawing the most attention, you’re going to want to make changes to the other areas to increase conversions. Don’t just wing it, test everything and find out what works the best! A/B testing is the process of trying two versions of one piece of content (text, button, image, etc) to find out which works best. Most of the time you will be testing a call to action, but the tool isn’t limited to this.
Here are the tools available.
- Google Website Optimizer – this is the most popular tool. It’s likely the most well documented and it’s free. It’s also capable of A/B tests or multivariable testing.
- Genetify – this tool is a free, light weight script that you install on the pages that you’ll be testing. It provides all of the information needed to determine what’s working and what isn’t, but there aren’t pretty graphs or charts on the reports.
- Visual Website Optimizer – this is a fee based service for website optimization that’s loaded with features. It is capable of handling multivariable testing, and it even includes heatmaps. This service also includes real time reporting. The pricing is reasonable and they’re loaded with features.
A/B testing is real work. It takes time to determine what to test and create multiple versions of the same content. It’s time well spent though. The lessons learned here produce real results, because you’re actively involved in improving your conversion rates. Every major website that you see today does this, whether it’s to increase sales or draw more user comments.
One thing to keep in mind as you’re testing the attributes of your site is that it takes time to determine the results. Without getting too technical, statistics comes into play, so the smaller the data set you’re working with, the less accurate the results will be.
Take it a step further – You really should be A/B testing everything; website content, calls to action, conversion funnels, imagery, navigation structure… everything. This is the tool that will make your website and all of your marketing materials a well tuned machine for bringing in new business. Once you’re comfortable that your website is doing everything it can, A/B test banner creative, AdWords messaging, landing pages, email marketing, etc. Obviously the tools listed above can’t help with anything outside of your website, but don’t let that stop you. Once you have the data from the tests, plug it in to Split Test Calculator and it’ll tell you which is the better, as well as how confident it is in its answer.
If A/B testing is a new thing for you, there are a couple of resources which will help you through the process. There’s an Ultimate Guide to A/B Testing at Smashing Magazine which is quite good. Which Test Won & ABtests.com both show the results from tests, which is pretty informative.
By now you can tell that when you pay attention to the details, there is plenty that you can do to bring in business through your website. The primary benefit of these strategies is that they’re all quantitative. If you find something that works, you’ll know it, and vice versa. As you apply these methods, they can inform your entire marketing effort. If you know of other tools, or other strategies give a shoutout in the comments.