What does the future holds for web marketeers and the world of online business optimisation?
In February 2007 I attended the Technology for Marketing & Advertising show as an exhibitor and spoke to a large number of people. After the show I analysed the enquiries and categorised about 10% of these as “education”; they did not really know what web analytics was and just wanted information. A year later I went to the same show and only listed 2% as “education”. The main reason for the change: Google Analytics. Businesses of all sizes have dipped their toe in web analytics by installing Google. It’s free, it provides the basic stats and, by using it, you soon learn what the issues are and what you really need.
Divergence of free traffic stats and paid for analytics
The recent acquisition of IndexTools by Yahoo has further reinforced the divergence that is taking place within the industry. At one end, the mass market vendors such as Google provide simple, free of charge website traffic statistics. At the other end, the specialist vendors provide visitor behavioral analysis and integrate this information with CMS, CRM and email tools to provide complete closed loop management and optimisation.
The use of mobile phones to browse websites is now common and web analytics systems have had to evolve in order to be able to record this traffic. The huge variety of mobile devices creates some interesting challenges. Within the last 12 months most of the serious web analytics vendors have responded with mobile solutions.
Interactive Content – Video, Flash and now Silverlight
As sites become more interactive the concept of the “page view” as the primary unit of measurement for website traffic becomes less relevant. Web analytics systems now have to be able to record the fact that a visitor transitioned from one image to another within a flash object or viewed a particular piece of video. Microsoft’s launch of Silverlight has added yet another format within which web analytics vendors must be able to record visitor activity.
Focus on Marketing ROI
The recent financial turmoil has brought the need for tight control of marketing expenditure into greater focus. The old adage of “you can’t manage without measurement” has never been more relevant. Over the last 6 months, there has seen a sharp increase in the level of interest in marketing campaign analysis. Clients need to know if their budgets are best spent, for example, on email or PPC and within these which email campaign or keyword drove the best results.
Information granularity – the detail and the big picture
In order to succeed, it is no longer enough to simply know how many page views and visits a site receives. It is no good patting yourself on the back when this increases unless you know exactly why it increased and you know you can build on this success. Winning is in the detail. It’s all about completely understanding how visitors use your site. Which campaign drove the best conversion rates for product A? Is this the same for Product B? Does this vary by country, time of day, visitor type or a combination of these? The new breed of web analytics systems provide the ability to easily get at the detail without losing sight of the big picture.
Making complexity easy to understand (visualisation)
Website activity is inherently complex and all of the web analytics vendors have put a huge amount of effort into making their reports easy to understand. Graphical visualisation is now the norm within the specialist vendor marketplace with tables and lists generally only used in support of the visualisation. The mass market stats tools have focussed on page views and visits, avoiding the more complex visitor behaviour analysis and the need for multi-dimensional analysis.
Redefining the Visitor as an Individual
Most web analytics systems think of a browser / cookie combination as a “visitor” and this is how the standards authorities define it. However, real people use more than 1 PC and hence have more than 1 cookie. They browse using their phones and in some cases share an access device with other people. If there is another way to identify a visitor such as through a registration or login process then this can more accurately identify a visitor and potentially allow a system to build up a picture over time that shows the multiple devices used by an “individual”. This allows their preferences to be more accurately analysed. A number of the enterprise class vendors are now differentiating between a “visitor” (used for stats reporting) and an “individual” so as to be able to accurately record a person’s use of a website.
Closed Loop Marketing
The identification of an “individual” enables the integration of behavioral information with Email, CRM and campaign management systems. Recording the fact that a website visitor came from a particular email campaign and feeding this back to the email system with the associated individual’s behavioral profile enables further segmentation to take place. Subsequent follow-up emails can be based upon this information, closing the loop and optimising email open rates and marketing return.
Content Management Integration
The ability to serve personalised website content has existed within the ad serving industry for some time. It is now becoming more common in the website itself. A number of of the leading online publishers now reposition key content based upon the previous hour’s readership by feeding web analytics information straight into their content management systems. Over the next 12-18 months I believe that personalised content will become more common. The current multi-variant testing tools will become a standard part of enterprise strength content management systems and the serious web analytics vendors will provide feeds to these systems. This will enable the content served to be based on the preferences of the individuals as exhibited by their web behavior.