From Web Analytics


Criteria that help you to choose the right web analytics tool without headache

There are endless debates on choosing the right tool for web analytics. Some argue that a free Google Analytics account is more than capable of taking care of the daily jobs, while others are worried about its accuracy and the privacy issues.

I definitely don’t want to add more fuels to these debates. Both sides have their reasons, but tools should be chosen based on your own business purpose and situation: What do you want to measure? What data quality do you need? How much do you want to pay for it? What compromise can you make? Nobody can tell you what is best for your business. You have to do the research.

But I want to share my experience of searching for analytics tools, which was a pure torture to my mind. The first time I type “web analytical tool” into Google, I got a list of results: “30 best web analytics tools”, “top 50 tools to monitor your online business”, “10 analytics tools that you must have”. After enthusiastically going through some top lists, I only got more and more confused. Although each tool has some cool and “unique” features, I still didn’t know which one to choose, but I was pretty sure that I didn’t want 10 tools on my website.

After the initial hype, I understood this blind surfing was leading me nowhere. I needed some decision criteria that can eliminate the candidates. Here I share some of them:

Javascript tag based or Web log based?

It’s another sensitive topic, to which people have many different opinions. I will just make a short summary here, you can find lots of details with Google.

Web log method get data directly from your web server’s log file. The log file contains a huge quantity of data of not only users visits and clicks, but also technical data which you don’t need. To make this raw data meaningful, you need a web engineer to clean up and pre-process the data for you. It’s effort taking, but the advantage is it can capture some information that javascript method can’t, such as search engine spider behaviour. You can find a few commercial and open-source systems for web log analysis, but you definitely need help from professional developers.

Javascript method get data from a short javascript snippet that you’ve inserted on each page of your website. It captures page views as well as actions such as clicking, downloading and scrolling. Installing the tracking code is very easy, which takes no more than 30 minutes . Most tools in the market use this method. It has some shortcomings, such as no spider or bot data is captured and it can’t capture data when javascript or cookie is not supported.

For short, Javascript based method is suitable for most of the cases, unless you have very specific need. Unfortunately this criterion didn’t help me eliminate many options out there since most tools are using javascript. I was ressured that there was no huge difference in the tracking technologies between different tools though.

Aggregated data or Individual data?

Aggregated / individual data type is one of the most important criteria, because it separates analytics tools into two large categories, and one cannot fulfil the purpose of another.

Aggregated data measures overall health and trend of your web visitors. It answers questions such as the traffic of the website, the popularity of the content, conversion rate and funnels, campaign efficiency, comparison of A/B test, etc.

Individual data tracks the behaviour of each individual user. There is usually individual page for each visitor. On the page you can find demographical information collected from web forms and all his interactions with your website presented in a chronological manner. Some tools provide filtering function that help you to retrieve visitors who fit certain conditions. Some tools even let you send emails and push messages to visitors.

To summarise, with aggregated data you know 30% of visitors watched your marketing video yesterday, and half of them were converted. You concluded it was a satisfactory campaign. With individual data, you know Jake watched the video but was not converted. You decided to send him a follow up email.

As I said, one tool rarely does well the two jobs. Google Analytics, for example, does great job collecting aggregated data, but it’s strictly forbidden to send personally identifiable information there. There are hacks that you can do to bypass this problem and identify users, but its capacity will be much more limited than any dedicated tool such as Kissmetrics. On the other hand, individual tracking tools provide some basic functions to aggregate the data and draw charts too. But the ways to analyse the data are much more limited.

Pageview or Event?

Pageview tracking tracks the loading of a webpage. The information you can get include the action of page visit, the previous page, the time that you spend on a page, cookie information.

Event tracking tracks user’s on-page actions such as clicking on a button, adding a item to shopping cart, filling a web form, interacting with embedded multimedia and downloading documents.

Traditional tools track pageviews, but event tracking is gaining its popularity. First people wanted to track outbound links and documents downloads. Then web applications became popular. Some applications use technologies such as Ajax, with which users can do everything without reloading the page. Some people even started to doubt about the necessity to track each pageview.

Although most tools support some level of event tracking now, the setup convenience and trackable event types are very different. The same thing as tracking individuals, tracking event with Google Analytics is possible, but it can be tricky and troublesome if you have high demand for event tracking. Choosing a dedicated alternative is more suitable.

Developer oriented or Marketer oriented?

If you are a marketer and your development team is always busy, then this is an important criterion to consider. After all, the best tool is still a tool, without being correctly implemented, it can do nothing.

Developer oriented tools need lots of effort from web developers. Mix panel is a great tool for event tracking, but you need to decide in advance everything that you want to track and implement them one by one together with your developer. It’s a piece of cake if you work in a small company or your organisation already breath the data-driven culture. In case you work in a larger organisation in which the communication is less fluent, you’d expect difficulties to merely set up the tool.

Marketer oriented tools make the setup process much easier. The typical setup is one single tracking code which captures everything. The tradeoff is that the returned data is much messier. Marketers need more time to clean up the data and decide which report to look at.

Free or Paid?

The price of web analytics tools can be very different. There is the free one: Google Analytics, a large selection of tools at reasonable prices (50$~100$/month), and more expensive ones(>2000$/month).

Paid tools do have their advantages in aspects of data security, data volume, user-friendliness and special features. Don’t hesitate to pay if the tool suits exactly the need of your business. You’ll be paid back but the huge amount of time that you can save, and people’s willingness to use the tool. But don’t pay for a tool if you think the expensive one will surely be better.

Your Specific Needs

Although I’ve covered lots of criteria above, the most important one is not mentioned: your specific needs. More web analytics packages are specialised to deal with your dedicated problems:

If you have a commercial website, then you need to track how people purchase different products, then you need a tool that can track user’s interaction with shopping cart.

If you have a subscription based business, then you are more interested in users’ long term engagement with your product. Cohort analysis and churning behaviour are something necessary to measure.

If you conduct web analytics for usability design, then you might need a tool of eye tracking, heat map, A/B test technologies.

If you want to integrate the web analytics data with other business systems such as CRM, marketing automation and ERP. You need a analytics tool that provide stronger API capabilities.

That’s it. Here are the criteria that you can use to select a web analytics tool to suit your business. But don’t waste too much time doing it; power is the analysis not the tool.


The true value of web analytics to digital marketers

In the management world, there is an old adage “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” For digital marketers a slight switch to this might be more accurate “If you can’t measure it, you won’t get budget for it.”

Since I started my career in digital marketing, I constantly heard marketing fellows complaining about how frustrating it is to get upper managers to support online marketing efforts.

“I don’t think it’s necessary to hire a consultant for ‘social strategy’, won’t an intern do the Facebook job?”

“I understand the website is really important, but let’s focus on contacting clients directly for the moment; the inbound thing might come later.”

All these doubts attribute to one single question “How does digital marketing contribute to the business bottom line?” If you can’t answer this question in a few sentences with quantitative proofs, I’m sure you’d have a hard time getting the budget.

Web analytics is used, or sometimes misused, by online marketers to defend their marketing endeavours. With all the tables, colourful charts and fancy terms, the marketing report instantly looks ten times more convincing. To my great regret, that’s how the first time I get my marketing budget and recruit a few allies on my side.

Evaluating results of digital marketing is one of the important things that web analytics can do for you. But the true value of web analytics is not explaining the past, but guiding the future decisions. Any small thing changed, wether it’s related to marketing, custom services, usability or sales procedure, will lead to some reactions in customer’s online behaviour: visits, new visitors, time spent, bounce, conversion, etc. These small changes accumulate and contribute to bigger change in business results.

Leaving these metrics unchecked, you might still get the final result. But you will never understand what are the factors behind it, and how to make the same miracle again.

By paying close attention to these metrics, we can break down the bigger result into smaller actions; understand how each action moves the metrics up and down.

Let’s suppose your new campaign was a big success. Without web analytics, you might still see more deals were made, but it would be difficult to understand the reason:

Did we get larger audience in the potential market?

Did we improve the conversion rate?

Were the copies or the price make the clients clicked?

Which channel brought us the most effective audience?

Can we improve something to make the results better?

With web analytics, you can measure separately where people came, what they did, how long they stayed and when they left. It would be possible to deduce the recipe of your success.

The true value of web analytics lies on how it helps us to understand better our decisions and make the success replicable.


Web analytic pitfalls you shouldn’t fall into… and what is really important

Tracking your clients’ online behavior is no longer magic today. It’s easy, too easy. Sign up for a Google Analytics account, grab and paste the tracking code and wait for two days. Without paying a single dollar, data flows in automatically and you get tables and charts in all shapes.

I was totally amazed the first time seeing these charts on my dashboard and thought whole night through what I could possibly do with them. But two days passed and I did nothing. Months later I got the tracking code installed on my second website, then on the third one… Before I realized it, my account was flooded with websites, views and reports, and I stopped checking them.

Many marketers face the same problem. After early enthusiasm, they can’t find a good way to use the data. Eventually, they get overwhelmed and give up.

Why do so many marketers fail to adopt web analytics if it’s as easy as inserting a simple code? Because it’s never about the code. It’s not about the tool either, although tool providers want you to think so. It’s about thinking clearly what’s important in your business and what to measure.

What’s important in your business?

With a simple search, you can get tonnes of articles titled “Top XX metrics to keep an eye on”. I can make a list of these popular metrics here to save your time: pageview, bounce rate, frequency, re-visit, abandon rate, media time, active members, conversion rate… But seriously are they important to your business?

Is the business more successful because the number of visitors doubled? Maybe the new visitors brought you more profits. Maybe they were just there to consume the free resource. Maybe they were irrelevant and never came back. Or maybe you just launched the product, increasing the visitor number from 5 to 10 is hardly an achievement.

Nobody can tell you what’s important to you except yourself. But there are ways to think this clearly. Ask yourself the two questions below:

First, what business are you doing and how do you get the money? Do you use the website to promote your local store? Are you holding an e-commercial site that sells goods online? Are you providing subscription-based service? Do you get money from Ads by providing free content? Do you get commission by bridging two-sided markets?

The business type is important because it decides your ultimate goal. An e-commercial site’s goal is selling more, a SaaS’s goal is maximizing customer lifetime value while a media site’s goal is increasing Ad inventory. Goals are different for every business; don’t track something just because it’s in the top list.

Second, what is the stage of your business? Are you struggling to build your first MVP? Are you trying to let the early adopters spread the words? Are you trying to make some bucks from your early market? Is the product already mature and you are more focused on generating steady cash flow? Are you thinking about pivoting the product to another direction?

The business stage is important because it decides your current focus. An e-commercial site’s goal is selling, but based on its stage, you might have different strategies. At the early stage, you want to get more buyers. Then you optimize shopping cart to reduce abandon rate. Later you want to increase shopping cart size or let buyers come back more often. Finally, you think about how to reduce the acquisition cost and increase the margin. Again, focuses are different for every business stage; don’t track something just because it’s in the top list.

Your business and stage basically decide what’s important to measure. Think clearly before inserting the code. You can refer to the great work “Lean Analytics” from Alistair and Ben if you feel confused about what’s important to your business. You can get lots of inspiration there.