How to Select a Web Site Analytics Tool

It happens all too often.  Companies buy or contract for a Web analytics tool, expend much effort coding the site or installing the software and perhaps buying new server hardware.  Then they discover they cannot easily extract usable information that will help them improve their business.  Exasperated, they find themselves drowning in data but thirsty for information.

This is an unfortunate situation but not surprising because selecting a Web site analytics tool is complex.  A myriad of different tools exist, supplied by an estimated 80+ vendors.  Problems that arise after installation typically aren’t the fault with the tool but are due to an incomplete requirements analysis during the selection process.  So before considering which tool to pick, make sure you are clear about why, where, when and how the tool will be used.  Be ready to manage the inevitable tradeoffs amongst features, so that you select the tool that allows you to measure what’s important to your organization and works with your business and technology infrastructure and constraints.

What’s the best practice for selecting a Web site analytics tool?  Clearly define your needs before you begin reviewing tools and interviewing vendors.

Define needs.

Resist looking at the features offered by various tool solutions until you’ve defined your needs.  Understand first what’s important for your organization’s Web analytics effort.

We’ve grouped the factors that affect Web analytic tool selection into six (6) main categories.  Use these questions as triggers to get you started in developing your own evaluation criteria.  Not all of these factors apply equally to all Web analytics projects.  And you might think of more factors to consider specific to your situation:

  1. Business needs.  You’ve already identified your Web site analytics business measurement goals and received executive commitment for Web analytics.  Now it’s time to think at a more granular level, drilling down beneath high level business goals.   Exactly what is it you need to measure and improve?  Content conversions, search engine marketing, email conversions or online buying?  Do you have to track forms or downloads?  Is real-time access needed to detailed data or will you be circulating periodic, summarized reports? Who do you need to send reports to, and how often?  What will they do with these reports?  Do you have partners, distributors or affiliates who need information?  How important is accuracy? What are your future needs?
  2. Availability of business resources.  What’s your total budget?  How many staff do you have to handle analysis of the data from a business point of view?  Because data that isn’t analyzed or circulated on a timely basis is of limited value, staffing is very important.  If you’re short on in-house business analysis resources, look for tools that are easier to use, intuitive, require minimal start-up training, have strong vendor start-up support, or a pool of vendor or third-party consulting services for ongoing analysis.
  3. Web site technical architecture.  Is your Web site static or are the pages dynamically generated by a database or other content management system (CMS)?  Do you have a lot of flash-only pages, videos, modal windows, sliders or other rich media? Will you be using tag management?  Will your company’s firewall block or allow hosted server scripts?  Are there multiple sub-domains, third-party applications providers?
  4. Availability of internal technology support.  Some tools require more technology start-up or maintenance support than others.  Understand the difference in support requirements and capabilities for installed software and hosted applications.  Both options require some technical support for installation and troubleshooting.   Additional hardware, firewall modifications, Web page redesign or CMS changes may be required.  The availability and capability of internal support may influence which tool will deliver the best outcome for your project.
  5. Level of vendor support required.  How much support will you need during the tool evaluation phase, start-up and maintenance?  Is there a downloadable evaluation version or hosted demo available for a trial period?  Verify if start-up or maintenance support is part of the package or incremental.  What amount of technical support and problem response will you need?  Is ongoing or more advanced training available?  Is training available online anytime or periodically in person?
  6. Linkages to other information data sources.  Does your organization have a business intelligence or business data warehouse application?  You may have to integrate Web analytics data with these data sources to generate meaningful recommendations.  This is an advanced analytics requirement but one that requires careful consideration if it’s a significant key to successful measurement in your organization.

Assess Web analytics tools based on needs.

Although consolidation amongst Web analytics tool vendors continues, there are still plenty of options.  Common vendors are Omniture (Adobe Analytics), IBM (previously Unica & Coremetrics), WebTrends, AT Internet and Google.  Having identified your organizational needs, you are ready to assess these five (5) basic aspects for the tools you are considering:

  • Type of application.  Is the application tool a server-side installed software, a hosted application, or a hybrid?  (See sidebar on the right for definitions)  How easily can be be deployed with 3rd party tag management tools or will you be using that vendor’s CMS?
  • Reporting capability.  Availability of reports, ease of customization, ability to automate report distribution, ease of data integration with other sources, search engine marketing tools, email service providers and online advertising campaigns.
  • Scalability.  For future expansion and growth, in the foreseeable future.
  • Total cost.  In addition to initial software purchase cost or hosted analytics set-up, include installation, training, support, maintenance and hardware.  If your organization seeks a proof of concept trial, be sure to include this cost.
  • Vendor track record.  For reliability, support and service.  If your project has complex or unusual needs, ask to speak to references for similar implementations.

When assessing reporting capability, a great way to descend from the hypothetical into reality is to have some specific analysis scenarios ready.  To construct these scenarios:

  • Think about at least three actual situations where you’ll have to deliver analysis to staff and managers at different organizational levels.
  • Identify specific types of campaigns (e.g. PPC, email, banner ads…) or geography or content areas that may require analysis.
  • Identify some KPIs you’ll have to report on and analyze.
  • Brainstorm some questions the people you are reporting to will ask you once they see the numbers.  What kind of drill down will you need to be able to answer their questions?

Use these scenarios when discussing with web analytics vendors what their product can specifically do for you.  And then use these scenarios again to put the web analytics tool finalists to the test when you do a proof of concept trial.

Some trade-offs will be necessary.  But having taken the time to think through what will drive success in your Web analytics project, you are well positioned to make informed trade-offs and select the best fit solution for your organization.

If you would like more advice or help selecting your Web analytics tool, contact us.

Definitions of Data Sources and Types of Analytics Tools

Logfile:  Traffic data is collected on your web servers or your Web host’s servers.  All activity is logged, regardless of whether it is by Web bots or humans. Also referred to as server-side data collection.

Page Tagging: Web pages or elements are ‘tagged’ with JavaScript data collection code. Traffic data is then collected by the code deploying when a page is viewed by a browser.  Also referred to as client-side data collection.

Server-side Software: Web analytics reporting tool available as a piece of software. Processes your website server’s logfiles into more usable and useful reports.

Hosted application:  Web analytics data is collected by software on Web computer servers “hosted” by the Web analytics vendor.  Your Web site pages, images or forms are coded with a page-tagging script.  When the page is viewed, traffic information is sent to vendor’s servers.

Hybrid:  Typically an installed software application, with additional page-tagging scripts provided by the vendor.  Client-side data collection, in addition to logfiles, are stored on your Web servers.

Need more information? More available in the Web Analytics Resource Center.  Links to articles, books and online courses.

 

 

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