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FEATURE FOCUS: Making Sense of Web Site Metrics

by Aaron Landerkin, August 15, 2007

Many Web marketers talk about Web site statistics in terms of click-throughs, unique visitors and page views, but have little understanding of their value in terms of profits and the bottom line. Thinking in terms of these metrics per se may have nothing to do with actually increasing sales. It's surprising how little marketers know about using Web Analytics to gauge Web site success.

When analytics first came out, webmasters and marketers were obsessed with top-level data for measuring marketing campaigns such as traffic and click-through rates. Not enough attention was paid to profitability, and that contributed in part to the Internet bubble bust in 2000.

Many marketers continue to rely on basic campaign performance data as their primary metric for measuring success, getting bogged down in micro measurements while missing the most important business objective of increasing profitability. While click-through rates are easy to compute and understand, other metrics are more directly related to achieving Web site objectives. Marketers who identify the metrics more closely related to their specific business goals are in a better position to increase their online success.

Identifying Web Site Goals

Start by defining your Web site goals first, which will be related to your marketing campaign goals. Before any marketing campaign, you must define a specific objective, which might be increasing leads, sales, brand recognition, etc., and then apply the appropriate metrics.

What the most appropriate metric is depends on whether you are focused on e-commerce sales, B2B leads, or other site goals. Different metrics are appropriate for sites generating direct sales versus those focused on generating leads that might convert offline. Companies relying on sales personnel should look at the volume of leads a campaign generates. Tracking leads, in this case, is a better metric of campaign performance than click-through rates or unique visitors. Analyzing your business goals will help you identify your most important metrics.

Using Cookies

When you drive traffic to your Web site and can't identify where visitors come from, you can over- or underestimate campaign effectiveness. By using first-party cookies and analyzing all the activities occurring over time, you can better understand the value of the leads generated by your campaign.

Cookies will identify the unique visitors to your site, allowing you to track how many times a visitor is exposed to messaging during the length of your campaign, as well as counting the total number of interactions on your site before the visitors enter their personal information, becoming a lead. However, the unique visitors metric merely shows a basic level of success; you must also consider the number of leads generated to know how effectively your campaign performed.

It is important to track leads throughout the entire sales process to be able to act on the data. By knowing what happens with the lead after it is collected, you can determine keyword effectiveness. The ability of keywords to generate leads varies widely. By identifying which keywords convert best, you can fine-tune your campaign to use those creating quality leads versus those that merely drive traffic.

If branding is your goal, then measuring traffic increases can be appropriate since many keywords generate low-quality leads. If you want to reinforce messaging through multiple media, you must consider a variety of appropriate online metrics. This is why it's so important to establish site and campaign goals before selecting metrics for analysis.

Landing Page Viability

Some campaigns, both in the pay per click space and in the organic search engine optimization space, are erroneously thought to be ineffective because of low conversion rates when the true cause is that the landing page isn't sticky enough. Landing pages should have compelling content such as unique offers to encourage further exploration of the site. Incorrectly designed landing pages that don't encourage visitors to drill deeper could turn away potential leads, so landing page effectiveness is a factor and must be evaluated. Measure conversion rates after visitors start coming to the landing page. If a campaign is performing poorly, revise the landing page by adding more compelling content.

Some software applications measure landing-page performance. For example, WebTrends Dynamic Search will evaluate the ability of your landing page and keywords to match specific company objectives. Salesforce also provides this capability and suggests landing page content optimization can increase the percentage of clicks converting to leads as much as a factor of ten.

Click to Sales Analysis

The best metrics will link traffic gains or click-through percentages to overall business objectives such as increasing sales and profitability. You can apply offline break-even sales analysis to internet marketing by calculating how many sales (based on your profit margin per average sale) must be generated to determine whether or not a campaign is a good investment. This can be estimated for all marketing investments, including offline investments such as trade shows and online investments such as search marketing campaigns.

Currently, linking Web analytics and sales data is a manual process requiring spreadsheets. However, major Web analytics firms such as Omniture, WebSideStory, and WebTrends are addressing this need with applications and services that can link Web and sales data to simplify calculating your return on investment. These applications will be able to incorporate Web data such as traffic analysis, email marketing, and search marketing performance with customer relationship management (CRM) sales data. Web data should also be combined with higher-level key performance indicators (KPIs) such as cost-per-visit, cost-per-lead and cost-per-sale.

The ability to tie marketing metrics with sales metrics can be a challenge. Salesforce for Google Adwords can address the difficulty of understanding the impact of keyword purchases on sales. This software (sold as a service) traces the leads generated by keyword purchases and follows them through the sales process to determine their return on investment. In closing, the sheer volume of statistics contained in your monthly Web analytics reports can make it a challenge to interpret the metrics that matter most. When interpreting your data, don't forget to focus on the bottom line.


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