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The value in web analytics comes not from the tool but from using the data it provides.
Web analytics can be an amazing driver of business performance when it's supplying insights that are used to inform business actions. For this, you need more than the technology, you need the people and the processes as well.
Let’s narrow our focus though to just the web analytics tool, whether a (technically) free solution such as Google Analytics or the paid solutions such as Adobe Analytics, Webtrends, etc.
So many companies say they are doing web analytics because they have a tool installed. Simply adding the basic page tag to your website is not enough to give you useful insights.
From talking to and working with many companies, I have identified the three requirements to get value from a web analytics tool, whether a free or paid solution.
1. Know what you need to know
It might sound simple but you MUST start with your business questions and business actions. Web analytics tools can only answer the questions you ask of it.
For many questions, the tool needs to be customised to provide those answers. For example, to identify internal search terms returning zero results (so that you can develop customised results pages for these terms), you need to record the number of results from each search.
Without knowing the question in advance, no tool can provide the answer.
The first step is to sit down with all key stakeholders. Get everyone to list out what they need to know. Have the website open and go through key processes, use this to identify the visitor behaviour important to you.
Ideally link every information requirement to an action that it will inform. Then you are ready for the next step.
2. Capture this information
So you have a list of requirements. Next step is the actual set up of the web analytics tool. This is where you discover that even Google Analytics isn’t free.
If you want value from a web analytics tool, you need to invest some resources into the set up phase. Whatever tool you use, key considerations here are:
- How do you identify your marketing campaign and other traffic sources?
- Can you use the default page naming convention or must you rename pages?
- What additional information do you require on your visitors or pages?
- What website interactions do you need to capture?
- Are you excluding your own traffic and all robots from your web analytics traffic?
A key consideration is the amount of resources (and therefore cost) is required to capture all this behaviour?
Will you going to be able to use each piece of information or is it just a nice to have? Focus on the information you can use to make an impact on your business.
3. Be able to access this information
Ok, you know the information you need and it is all located within that bit of software you are staring at on your screen. Can you now get your hands on it?
The final requirement is being able to easily access this valuable information. There are two approaches to resolving this:
- Automate your regular reporting.
- Train your team in the use of the tool.
While reporting gets a bad rap, I consider it to be an essential part of informing an organisation. If done properly.
By properly I mean reports are automated (they run within a couple of minutes with minimal human intervention) and they have been built to convey useful information in an effective manner. Not the traditional reports that take hours to produce and are then ignored.
The other element is ensuring the team has the necessary level of skills to use the web analytics tool. This is not training them up to be analysts: that is not possible unless it is their day job.
But knowing how to access the reports relevant to them and use key functionality is the difference between a tool that is used and a tool which is accessed briefly once every six months.
So it is not as easy as you might have thought to extract those useful insights from Google Analytics or whatever tool it is you use.
Like most endeavours, you have to put the hard work in before something becomes valuable. Ensuring that you have these three points right though will put you on the path to achieving some big wins by using your web analytics data.