Web analytics has advanced rapidly in recent years with better tools now available for free than available at any price a few years ago.
While the web analytics industry itself was worth at least $40 million in 2008 in the UK alone this doesn’t tell the whole story. The ability of internet marketing channels such as natural search, paid search, online PR and affiliate marketing to accurately track their effectiveness and so show their return on investment has given then an edge over less measurable offline alternatives.
Email campaigns and website design, have also benefited from web analytics with improved targeting, split testing and user centred design improving both email and landing page conversion rates.
Given that it is the improved targeting, engagement and accountability of internet marketing aided by web analytics that has provided its advantage over traditional channels so far, here are some of the key features that will define the next generation of web analytics:
Data aggregation, segmentation and visualisation
Customisable action, rich media tagging and goal tracking
Customer identification, screen recording and real-time reporting
Live-chat or screen share with integrated follow-up by phone, mail or email
The ultimate goal is to have a single central interface through which marketing and sales teams can engage key customers in real-time.
- While real-time engagement is not necessary for all websites it’s invaluable under certain circumstances. When you’re selling products prone to comparison shopping your main differentiator may be customer service, particularly if you have minimal advantage in price. Being able to close indecisive customers before they leave is one solution.
- High priced items, particularly B2B services, generally have drawn out sales cycles and so unlike lower priced e-commerce sites their focus on engagement (or lead generation as a stepping stone), as opposed to direct sales, presents additional challenges.
- Affiliate, comparison and referral website need to be sure that they verify and submit leads before their competitors do to avoid losing sales.
- Finally, PR professionals wishing to track negative feedback strewn across the internet will benefit from spotting (and addressing) such issues sooner rather than later.
This dream is close to becoming a reality with the upcoming generation of web analytics and customer contact software.
I’m not going to dwell on the benefits of the features outlined in 1 and 2 above, as these are now included as standard by a range of free and commercial analytics software including Google Analytics.
Google has worked hard to enhance their Analytics software since acquiring Urchin a few years ago and it is now reasonably customisable in terms of its tracking abilities and has a rich, easy to use list of reporting tools. Given that it’s free, for most websites it’s a great place to start.
An interesting complement to Google Analytics is cursor tracking and heatmap analysis software. Two of the leading providers are ClickTale and Crazy Egg.
ClickTale has real-time recording that takes a video recording of a sample of the visitors to your website. You then have to play back the recording to see your customers’ behaviour, so while it’s brilliantly insightful, actionable material, it’s not quite the holy grail of real-time reporting. Also, you will need to upgrade to a premium package for enhanced functionality such as the ability to track SSL pages, which start from $99 per month.
Given that ClickTale currently offers a free starter package there’s no reason not to give it a go, not least as its tags are compatible with Google Analytics’ meaning that the two can be used together.
Crazy Egg, which is quite similar to ClickTale, does offer real-time recording and has packages starting from an affordable $9 per month.
There are still a few advantages to pricier analytics alternatives such as Omniture, however, such as the ability to offer real time reporting, server based software so that you own have exclusive control of your data and aggregation and analysis across large numbers of domains.
Omniture also recently announced that they now provide real-time Twitter monitoring, adding an interesting twist that we will come back to.
The main downside to Omniture is that it’s expensive. Packages start from a few thousand pounds per month and it requires extensive customisation to get the best out of it, adding thousands more to the final bill.
TechCrunch (http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/04/02/betaworks-launches-chartbeat-to-track-who-is-paying-attention-to-your-website-right-now/) recently featured three new real-time web analytics providers Chart Beat, Get Clicky and Woopra.
Get Clickly (http://getclicky.com/help/) offers a free basic account and a host of real-time reporting features including the ability to view user activity live on your website in premium packages starting from $4.99 per month.
Get Clicky may be able to identify the names of visiting corporations, however, the main feature missing is an integrated chat tool allowing for immediate user engagement, instead you’re required to follow up enquiries manually via telephone or email.
Chartbeat http://www.chartbeat.com/) is a spinoff of Betaworks (http://betaworks.com/) a company with stakes in Twitter, Tweetdeck and Bit.ly and so, not surprisingly, is another analytics platform that boasts real-time website and Twitter monitoring.
The main limitation of all of the above packages is that, while they help you to view customer activity in real time, you still have to follow up via traditional channels, as there is no way to engage surfers directly via the website.
The one exception to that, promises to be Woopra, a new analytics service touting integrated live chat, so that you can try to proactively engage visitors, before they leave your website.
Woopra is currently in free public beta and claims to offer some great services including assorted details about the number of people currently using your website, detailed information on individual visitors and integrated live-chat allowing you to engage your website’s visitors in real-time.
The only catch is that I recently signed up to their public beta and, living up to its beta claim, have not as yet been able to make it work on my main WordPress based website.
Status updates on their blog and Twitter profile suggest that their servers were down for a recent update, but are now working again and so that shouldn’t be the problem. Also, the live chat functionality has been temporarily disabled, but once Woopra‘s out of beta, it should be great!
Selecting an analytics package
To conclude, unless you can afford to splash considerable cash on a premium analytics service such as Omniture, you’re probably currently best of by using Google Analytics as your main platform, as it’s capable, flexible, fairly friendly and completely free.
Most websites’ conversion rates would be improved through the use of screen recording software such as ClickTale or Crazy Egg and some sales teams could benefit from the latter’s real-time reporting too.
Woopra, once out of buggy-beta, promises to be (probably) the first single package to offer comprehensive web analytics, real-time high-value visitor identification and an integrated pop-up chat window for immediate customer engagement.
This is approaching the holy grail of web analytics: data so actionable that sales teams can use it to track and engage customers in real-time.
Now, as it happens, while research the web analytics market I also identified several CRM (customer relationship management) suits and a couple of live chat services with integrated real-time analytics. Some of them are also compatible with other services such as Google Analytics, providing the opportunity to benefit from several different, yet integrated solutions at the same time.
Sadly, there’s too much to say to cover everything in a single go, so you’ll just have to stay tuned to find out how to create the ultimate analytics suite in a future article.
To conclude, Woopra may be the future one day, however, in the mean time there are several other packages that can together provide the same powerful functionality right away.