Web analytics used to be an arcane science reserved for web developers. But the digital revolution and the push toward data-driven everything is quickly changing that. Professionals in every line of business are facing increasing pressure from senior management to be more analytical and harness big data to gain a strategic advantage.
Marketers, in particular, have been investing more time and money into web analytics as a business tool. According to VentureBeat Insight, brands will increase their spend on “marketing analytics” by 73 percent over the next three years.
Access vs. Need
Web analytics can be a powerful marketing asset in the right hands, but there’s a big difference between what you can know and what you need to know. Do you really need to know that 1.06 percent of your site visitors are using Windows Phones from a public Wi-Fi network in Cincinnati? Well, it depends on what you’re selling, but probably not.
The key to a successful web analytics strategy is to stay focused on practicality. Don’t just collect and analyze data for the sake of it. The data you collect should be decipherable in a way that directly relates to business goals.
Sachin Kamdar, CEO and co-founder of Parse.ly, says it this way…
“People get caught up in the number of page views or visitors without thinking about what they mean for the big picture, [and] without connecting them to other key performance indicators like revenue or conversions.”
This focus on practicality should also come into play during your web analytics software comparison. Don’t pick some unwieldy specialized platform that takes nine months to learn and does way more than you’ll ever need. Choose a product that offers quick utility and makes sense for your marketing needs.
Moving Past Vanity Metrics
The challenge with web analytics isn’t necessarily an over-abundance of data, but rather a failure to connect data with meaningful business objectives and key performance indicators, as Kamdar says. Data points that fall outside of those criteria are usually referred to as “vanity metrics.” They might be interesting, but they fail to provide insight where it matters.
A few common examples are page impressions and social media shares. Just because a lot of people are seeing your content doesn’t mean they’re engaging with it — and certainly doesn’t mean they’ll become business opportunities.
In a marketing context, your best bet is to concentrate on people. People are not “sessions” or “page views” or “clicks.” They’re visitors, prospects, and leads. Instead of getting hung up on arbitrary numbers and vanity metrics, use web analytics to understand how people engage with your site and its content. The most valuable insights will answer one of four questions:
- Who is coming to your site?
- What are they doing there?
- Why are they staying or leaving?
- Are they converting?
Putting Web Analytics to Use
Beyond analyzing your web data in reports, you need to know how to put it to use. By focusing on the data that relates to buyers and the buying process, marketers can steadily improve their campaigns and funnel more visitors toward conversion.
Here are six of the best techniques:
1. Tracking Engagement:
Use web analytics to track engagement with your landing pages and other site content. Are there discrepancies between click-throughs and form completions? What does your conversion rate look like? Do people follow your internal link structure and respond to CTAs (calls to action), or do they “bounce” after 30 seconds?
You can use these insights to see which pieces of content are the most engaging and adjust tactics to maximize lead acquisition and brand awareness (yes, they’re both important).
2. A/B Testing:
As you probably know, A/B testing is when you create two versions of the same asset (landing page, display ad, email, etc.) and test the results with a segment of your audience. If the asset lives on your site, the best way to track results is with web analytics.
Using either a third-party solution or a feature built-in to your marketing automation platform, you can see how each version of the asset performs at varying levels of detail. For example, you might A/B test a landing page by placing the web form on the left side of the screen in one version, and on the right site of the screen in the other. Whichever version elicits the most form completions is obviously preferable.
3. Lead Scoring:
Web analytics are one of the secret ingredients of lead scoring, used to track prospects and leads as they browse various pages on your site, download assets, subscribe, register, and share content. Behind the scenes, a web analytics engine processes these events (known collectively as “digital body language”) and allocates them to specific contact profiles.
With a little help from sales, you can determine the numerical value of digital actions based on how clearly they indicate interest or intent. Combined with other scoring factors (BANT, firmographics, etc.), this behavioral data accumulates until the lead reaches a designated threshold, at which point they become “qualified.”
Applied judiciously, retargeting ads can be an effective way to bring visitors back to your site. If you manage retargeting campaigns through a third-party provider, you may not be familiar with their inner-workings, but web analytics plays a major role.
Using web analytics, you can track conversion goals for specific URLs or URLs that include specific keywords and shut off the ads when a prospect converts or makes a purchase. You can also track ad performance in real time, including impressions, clicks, conversions, and ad spend.
5. SEO Strategy:
Search-engine optimization is the gold rush of the 21st Century, but even if your team lives and breathes keywords, you’ll have no way to accurately gauge success without web analytics. For an end-to-end approach:
Build your keyword hit-list (a list or spreadsheet of attainable, relevant keywords),
write content around those keywords,
and use web analytics to track performance and rankings.
Tracking performance usually involves watching your SERP (search engine results page) rankings, keeping a running list of your top-referring keywords, and using grading tools to optimize your best pages.
6. Attribution Modeling:
Web analytics can help you trace converted leads back to their first digital contact with your brand and see what sequence of touch-points led to their conversion or churn. For example: the customer discovered your brand through a search engine query, read a couple blog posts on your site, subscribed, received half a dozen nurture emails, opened two of them, downloaded an educational whitepaper, attended a webinar, and received three sales calls before closing a deal.
This “set of rules that determine how credit for sales and conversions is assigned” is referred to as an attribution model. Attribution modeling helps marketers measure return on investment and connect end results (revenue) with specific campaign tactics. This also gives you a chance to map out your customer journey and build repeatable, scalable strategies for inbound marketing. Without web analytics, many of these touch-points would drop off the map.
As you make your first ventures into the vertiginous world of web analytics, don’t mistake “practical” for “easy.” Logging enough data to create a baseline and drawing meaningful insights from your web data will take some time, and probably involve a few setbacks. But that’s what digital marketing is all about: test, analyze, recalibrate, repeat. Good luck!
Aleksandr Peterson is a technology analyst at TechnologyAdvice. He covers marketing automation, CRMs, project management, human resources, and other emerging business technology. Connect with him on LinkedIn.