I am often asked about the essentials of setting up a web site. While the discussion usually runs toward getting the right URL, site architecture, and navigation, I don’t usually get to talk about another essential part of setting up your website, web analytics.
Web analytics is essential to getting your site off the ground. It helps you gauge your progress and, if you record the changes you make as you move forward, web analytics will help you evaluate the effect of those changes over time.
There are two types of tools you need. The first was originally for the IT department to debug site issues and evaluate traffics load but have evolved to provide key marketing information. These server-based web log based tools are more statistical than analytical in nature and track all activity to your site, including spider activity, search phrases, page errors etc. They will help you evaluate visitor traffic, page views, and help you find problems that you didn’t know existed.
The second tool you need includes some of the statistical information of logs but is geared more for the marketing side of the house. These tools typically place a small java script in your pages, which is executed by the browser. You will not get spider or error page information with these tools, but you will be able to evaluate how you site is being used, which phrases are most effective in converting visitors to customers.
You might say that web log analyzers are to web analytics what Excel is to QuickBooks.
For analyzing web logs, I have used AWStats , 123LogAnalyser , Urchin 5 and ClickTracks . AWStats and 123LogAnylyser are free, and are fine for smaller sites. Most shared hosting programs include one of these in their package. Turn it on and check it often.
For commercial sites, Urchin and ClickTracks software ($895 and $995 respectively) may be a better choice. ClickTracks Optimizer (the software not the hosted version) is cool product and has a definite appeal. I have a lot of time in the trenches with Urchin 5 (the base product) and prefer it for getting to the numbers.
For Web Analytics, I use Google Analytics on a daily basis for a number of websites. It’s a good package and using the 80/20 rule, it covers the bases on the 20 percent of the things you most often need. I have also looked at ClickTracks’ hosted solution and it is a good product and might be preferable to Google Analytics if you are looking for more than the basics.
I recommend that e-commerce sites evaluate the more featured analytics products. If you don’t adopt a good package and you competitors do, you will loose ground.
I evaluated number of packages for a client in 2005. During the evaluation I looked at Omniture Site Catalyst , WebTrends , Unica’s NetTracker , and WebsideStory’s HitBox . These are all products and can configured to examine virtually any metric you can think of. While they are more expensive and can be complex, they can give you insights into your traffic that can make a significant difference in you bottom line.
StoneTemple Consulting reviewed the major web analytics packages and presented the results at a SES session I attended in San Jose.
Omniture’s Site Catalyst was the strongest product at the time and it was ultimately selected. To give you a feel for the level of complexity we are talking about, The IT person that implemented the code and I each went to Omniture headquarters in Provo Utah for a weeks worth of training. This was a very thorough training program. He was on the technical track and I was on the marketing track. Even with all the training, I would say we spent the next year fully grasping the scope and power of the tool and we made at least three major changes to tune the way we collected data over that period. It was worth the effort and I encourage taking the leap as soon as you feel you can afford it. Once you have it, you won’t want to run your business without it.
I recommend that you get the free stuff working as soon as possible.
Google Analytics, free – www.google.com/analytics/
Google webmaster tools, free – www.google.com/webmasters/tools/
Urchin 5 for Web log Analysis – www.google.com/analytics/urchin_software.html
Yahoo webmaster tools, free – siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com/
Microsoft webmaster tools, free – webmaster.live.com/
added 2008-03-10 >> Getting started with Webmater Tools