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Web Analytics – limited data, insight and value…

Published: Monday, 17 December 2012 12:00 by Katharine Hulls, VP Marketing
Big Data Analytics

Since WebTrends launched the original web log analyser, Web analytics has been held up as the sole beacon of light in that dark place called the internet, where the very make-up of the medium dictates that you have no personal interaction with the visitor. The internet store can be described as having been set up by a solid professional team at significant cost, which is then followed by the web marketing team spending literally millions of pounds with Google via PPC, and others, in the hope of outdoing their contemporaries by getting millions of visitors through the door.

All good so far, however, this is where it all goes wrong. This smart team then retire to their desks to watch how many millions of people walked through the door, then walked straight back out again, without any knowledge of what they did, what they touched or who they were. How can Web analytics professionals make that picture look valuable and strategic?

The answer is that they typically embark on a mission to get more data from the website. This requires them to develop a JavaScript tagging strategy, which relies on the team identifying what it is that they need to know from the outset. This is often a long process in its own right; however, it pales into insignificance against the time which is then taken to actually do the tagging. This can often take months if not years, and requires the IT team to give up their valuable resource to write the code into the website. But the website changes often – it’s the nature of the beast – so the IT team has to give up further valuable cycles to maintain the code base.

Shifting the burden

Newer Tag Management Systems backed by "in the know" analysts, claim to have fixed the issue. However upon closer inspection, what they have done is move the tagging issue from the IT team to the marketing team - who still require the necessary knowledge of knowing what to tag for. Web analytics consultants have highlighted that this fixes the issue of governance only, not the issue of tagging itself. The result is that website owners end up coding just for the basics or facing the alternative - a project to tag up the site properly which could take years.

This time to data issue is further exasperated by the fact that the data is then aggregated. Does this not defeat the objective? An organisation now has detailed, granular data on each and every one of its customers and then it throws away that insight in favour of an aggregate view of what big chunks of them do - otherwise known as "trends". Why not opt for having detailed data, down to the level of the individual, with no delays and in context, feeding directly into a warehouse? And what’s more no tagging is required.

So what is the alternative?

Web analytics, when deployed properly and managed by competent Web analytics professionals, can deliver true value and strategic input to how a business can improve its services and revenue. Their primary function is to ascertain how people use the website, which page they drop out on and why, all with a view to driving more people to a conversion. Critical as this activity, and its associated value is, it is eclipsed when using detailed individual-level data to drive targeted, one-to-one communication.

Knowing more about the journey taken by an online customer and visitors’ reactions to particular offers helps to work towards a personalised experience for each individual customer. An appreciation of the products a customer has already purchased, or indeed the offers that have failed to drive customers to convert, allows for targeted advertising of more suitable offers or the cross-selling of other products. The insight gained can streamline and truly personalise marketing to customers, as opposed to a marketing strategy to audience segments, the members of which we presume will all react in a similar fashion.

By treating website visitors as actual individuals Web analysts have an opportunity to move way beyond their focus on conversion into a realm of true one-to-one marketing in which they will not only increase conversions, but also build customer loyalty and enhance the experience. With those achievements under their belt which senior manager isn’t going to take their Web analytics professionals seriously?