Digital Strategy | Antonio Petra

By: Antonio Petra  11-11-2011
Keywords: Tracking

“Digital Marketing and Measurement, how to work out what your users are doing, what they need, and what information on your website can be used for the growth of your business as a whole”

When a business invests in their website, whether as a corporate branding experience or as a commercial endeavour, it is an often challenging and time consuming road process. At the end of that road though how do you measure the success and judge your return on investment?

The ability to judge online investment through tracking and analysis of online has become a significant part of both web development and online marketing. The ability to judge trends, extract business critical information and provide accurate return on investment is rapidly becoming a standard part of any online development.

Currently, reporting tends to be sold as a side item or afterthought with little attention paid to information which could help guide agencies and clients in making better business decisions. Clients are, however, becoming more aware of reporting and are requesting more information about the performance of their investments. Over time this will become more sophisticated and the ability to design, deploy and act on online analysis will become integral to any online marketing or website development.

Part of the evolution of online reporting is the fact that it has become far easier to track user trends and website performance. The two most significant data gathering mechanisms, log file tracking (website information stored on the server in log files) and cookie tracking (small files downloaded onto the users machine which track the user though the website), have many associated tools which can be rapidly implemented to produce high quality reports on online activity. Arguably the most significant of these tools, and the one that has had the most impact on promoting online reporting as a discipline, is Google Analytics. Google provides a free service through Google Analytics, which is reasonably easy to integrate into any online presence. The reporting that is provided by Google Analytics brings it out of the domain of developers and webmasters and places easy understanding of analytics into the hands of the layman.

The learning curve with Google Analytics is not steep, and the information is on the surface generally useful, providing dashboard views of critical information on online performance which can alert website owners to the successes or failures of their online presence.

While this information may be useful for general monitoring of websites, like any of the tools available, it’s real value lies in the information that it provides “under the hood”. The kind of information which can effect decisions about future online development, and in fact the greater business as a whole, are available through this tool. Extracting this information is, however, where the true art of online analysis lies.

Many websites, even small corporate brochures, offer their owners the ability to pear into the mind of the consumers. It is this potential that excites people most about online analytics. You now have the ability to understand the needs of each consumer because it is possible to track every user and user action online, you are limited essentially only by server space and budget. Although, as someone in this position will soon discover, it is at this stage that analytics reaches it’s most murky point, because the mind of the consumer is a murky place, and the tracking and analysis of data is the proverbial rabbit hole from which few analysts return unscathed.

The question is then, how with all the power of tracking available today how do you extract the information that is most important to you? The answer really lies in developing a reporting strategy at the initiation of the project. This is best achieved by roughly dividing up the kind of information you would like to retrieve into the following groups:
1. General website performance
2. User trends and analysis
3. User behaviour
4. Business Critical Information

User trends and analysis are actually something most analytics programmes do pretty well. They track general trends like time of day, frequency of visit and other useful titbits. They can also be extended to track events like printing a page, or configured to track goals and funnels. Goals and funnels are a critical part of tracking user behaviour on a website. Goals are the physical places we want users to either land on or interact with. For instance purchasing a product or registering for a newsletter are goals. The paths to these goals are called funnels, these may be a series of pages. Funnels track the amount of users through each page giving a concise view of where users are falling off in the process. Funnels are useful in instances where we have designed a path for the user that increases their propensity to the specific action on the goal page.

Other significant user trends can include the monitoring of popular content and actions, something which when set up correctly becomes a relatively rudimentary part of reporting. The tracking of these elements needs to be carefully considered before the go live of any project. Isolating and tracking of content with consistency post launch is something of a juggling act, they need to be configured and tested prior to a launch. Tracking these elements most often provides the richest source of information for the future planning of a website and website content. More often than not this is where we turn to when asking the question about what the user really wants.

The example above raises the last and probably most pertinent part of online reporting, which is the ability to react. Having processes in place to identify and solve issues with a website is relatively easy and should be a part of any online reporting strategy, your clients will expect this, however developing strategies to maximise opportunities identified within your reporting requires a coherent understanding of online, a willingness to act, and an understanding client. We often find that proving ROI closes a door as clients become satisfied with their investment and believe that value has already been gained, however, by looking at the examples set by the ecommerce giants like eBay and Amazon, extracting true value is a constant process of re-evaluation and development. The “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” logic simply doesn’t apply online as it leads to stagnation, which in the ever changing world of the web, users are quick to recognise and reject.

Keywords: Tracking

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Flash forward to today, as I sit producing my monthly reports for clients, providing them with rich data which is relevant to their online and offline marketing, and their business bottom line. So what’s changed in that time to create this living breathing thing we call analytics and reporting which can literally change the way we do business for the better.