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Web Analytics Turn Art Into a Science

What's the secret to running a successful Web site? Web analytics tools can help track and analyze online behavior, opening up a world of possibilities that brick-and-mortar businesses never dreamed of.

Searching For Profits

It's hard not to achieve greater profitability with even a cursory glance at how users interact with a Web site. A tantalizing recent statistic from a study by the Patricia Seybold Group and analytics provider WebSideStory is that shoppers who use the "site search" feature on an e-commerce site buy 270 percent more than shoppers who don't.

Automotive Web sites are among those in the forefront of analytics use. One sophisticated automotive tool is NewLeadsPlus, a lead-generation product developed for franchise dealers to reach active new-car shoppers in their area, launched by Cars.com in January using proprietary search-engine technology. An analysis by Experian Automotive of approximately 300,000 new car leads generated by Cars.com between February 2005 and January 2006 showed that more than 60 percent of those leads purchase a vehicle. The product captures active shoppers who submit their information when shopping through top search engines, including Google and Yahoo. Cars.com verifies these leads and sends them directly to the dealership within seven minutes of submission. With nearly nine out of 10 new car buyers using search engines to research vehicles they're considering, NewLeadsPlus lets dealers reach car buyers they might otherwise miss.

Ford Motor Company's FordDirect.com site lets consumers click on the vehicle of their choice, select the colors and options they want, and get a price quote from a local dealer. Based on what people are surfing on the Ford Web site, the company understands that people in the Southeast are looking for, say, beige convertibles; by analyzing the different categories in searches, they determine what vehicles they should be shipping to different areas. "This is unique among auto companies," says Sterne. But to show how underutilized such capabilities are, Sterne reports that after FordDirect was the subject of a presentation at an analytics summit, somebody stood up and asked incredulously, "Do you mean to tell me people are actually looking at Web analytics?"

Analytics Across The Channels

A third wave of the Web analytics market is beginning and involves cross-channel reporting and analysis, reports Gartner's Gassman. External users (customers, citizens, Internet surfers) interact with an organization in multiple ways, such as talking on the telephone, walking into a store, reading a newspaper ad and being visited by salespeople. While the Web is a channel with unique characteristics, it's simply another channel. "A strategic Web channel can't stand alone for long. Some organizations are already integrating Web-site-derived metrics with back-office metrics. Of these, many organizations are crafting integrated reports only several times a year," Gassman says. He believes organizations will soon demand cross-channel features from vendors that support online and offline channel management. Examples of integration include exchanging segmentation definitions, reconciling purchasing information, portal integration, and correlating Web site visits with in-store purchases across online and offline systems.

Web analytics tools could grow beyond the Web into a general customer analysis platform, reported Forrester Research's Bob Chatham last year. To find out if firms were really starting to use them that way, he surveyed Forrester's Web Analytics Peer Research Panel--admittedly, a group of early adopters. He found that while firms are most comfortable producing basic reports, they also have started exploring more valuable, complex uses, such as merging Web traffic stats with data from other channels and performing regular analysis. "Web analytics has traditionally been the domain of a small constituency within marketing," Chatham states, "but firms are finally breaking through internal barriers and connecting Web analytics to other departments, like customer service and IT." Two-thirds of respondents linked site analytics to site performance data at least monthly, and 75 percent of respondents used their analytics packages to analyze non-purchase-related self-service transactions, data that the customer service department owns.

Although such integration may not be the norm, use of the technology in most companies is somewhere in the middle. "There are companies doing it well in specific areas, but those doing it well are very shy about sharing," WAA's Sterne says. One example Sterne cites is National Semiconductor, which does a good job tying in Web site behavior with its contact-management system, letting its sales force see what customers have been searching for on the Web site.

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