Articles in the Benchmarking & Measuring Success Category

August 10 2009

It Takes a Village to Raise a Culture of Web Analytics

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The last 2 years have seen an influx of business men and women getting involved with Web Analytics. Owners, Presidents, VPs, Directors, Marketers, IT personnel and even Administrative Assistants have all taken an interest in this still relatively new dimension of the internet.

While it’s great that so many folks are diving head-first into the ocean of analytics, it’s very important to understand that one individual cannot do it alone. Everyone — even one man / one woman shows — needs a village…a community of individuals that can support, educate, and collaborate with one another to install, upload, and subsequently measure and take meaningful, useful insights from their analytics data.

Each person needs to rely upon any one (if not all) of the following types of people to truly achieve Web Analytics success:

1. The Web Analytics “Champion”
Each organization needs that one person who stands proud and champions the cause to their colleagues. This person takes command and learns everything possible about Web Analytics, and can eat and drink metrics and reports for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This person can calculate search campaign ROI and Average Order Value figures in their sleep. He / She is the quarterback / point guard / captain of the team.

2. A Colleague who Shares the Vision
Forging a relationship with a co-worker who can get as excited and enthusiastic about Web Analytics as the “Web Analytics Champion” is key to promoting a culture of data insights throughout your organization. It becomes contagious to the rest of the company when they see that others are being positively influenced by Web Analytics, and they’ll want to be a part of it.

3. A Friend in Need is a Friend in IT
No matter what type of Web Analytics program you choose to run with, a technical / IT person is going to be necessary at one point or another. IT folks can help you upload any necessary scripts, code your website’s pages, manage APIs, parse server log-files, fix and repair bugs, and anything else needed for Web Analytics success. Making friend(s) in the IT department is a crucial, often overlooked step.

4. Don’t Forget the Marketers
At the end of the day, the purpose of Web Analytics is to understand the behavior and actions of your website’s visitors. Marketing / advertisement is what drives traffic to a website, be it a pay-per-click ad or a couple of months of hard-nosed SEO optimization work. The marketing department is going to need reports and statistics from Web Analytics to be able to refine their efforts, and evaluate which are working and profitable, which ones are wastes of money, and which ones have potential.

5. Sell, Sell, Sell!
Sometimes, the concepts and the philosophy of Web Analytics are hard to explain throughout an organization — anyone who has ever heard “Why Should I Spend Any Time with This?” will understand. This is a great opportunity to get a sales rep, or even the VP of Sales on board with Web Analytics. They can probably share with you some persuasive techniques that can be used to attract interest.

6. Who’s The Boss?
Not Tony Danza — unless he IS your boss. The Senior VP, Chief Technical Officer, Executive Vice-President, or perhaps the CEO themselves should be on board the Web Analytics gravy train. This is, understandably, a vital part in the ultimate success of building a culture of Web Analytics within your company — important colleagues or co-workers who were on the fence before may be strongly persuaded to jump on the bandwagon if a supervisor, partner, or even the owner supports the efforts.

In a lot of situations, people do not have the ability to take the reigns and create this prosperous culture of finding actionable insights. They work alone, in a small group, or in large companies where teams are spread across several offices, making building a community near impossible. Fortunately for us, MoreVisibility is that culture of Web Analytics. We are a Google Analytics Authorized Consultant, a Google AdWords Qualified Company, and have an entire organization of colleagues who champion the cause for Web Analytics.

July 6 2009

Should I care about my Direct Traffic?

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Even though Direct Traffic is not what you thought it was, it is still a segment of traffic worthy of your valuable time. If your analytics data is currently suffering from self-referrals, redirects, or untagged email marketing campaigns, then today’s thread should be of great interest to you, as your direct traffic volume could be artificially inflated.

Direct Traffic

What exactly is “Direct Traffic”?

Direct traffic is traffic that comes to you “directly”, without the help of an organic, referral, or cost-per-click source. Folks who type in your website’s URL manually into their browser’s address bar, or folks who copy / paste your URL into the address bar are counted by Google Analytics (and most other Web Analytics platform) as “direct”.

What else can be counted as “direct” traffic?

If someone visited your website by manually typing or copy / pasting your URL into their address bar, and they bookmark your site and visit you again from that bookmark, they will be counted as “direct”. This is the good kind of direct traffic. The bad kind of direct traffic – the kind that can be destroying and polluting this valuable segment – can be caused by redirects, improper / incorrect tagging set-up, and things like banners and email campaigns that are not tagged for Google Analytics (or your favorite WA program).

How do I fix these issues?

It depends on the complexity and severity of your situation, but there is no reason why you can’t collect proper, unpolluted direct traffic data. If you are doing banner advertising or email blasts, ensure that every single link embedded within the email or every destination URL of your banners is tagged for analytics. Google Analytics offers a URL Tool Builder page that can quickly set this up for you for free.

If your site is redirecting visitors, ensure that all pages have the necessary tracking code present (even on the redirecting page itself). However, if at all possible, try to slow down the redirect, so that the tracking codes have time to fire off.

If your site spans multiple domains, please ensure that both sites and all links to and from each site are properly set-up, according to your vendor’s specifications on tracking 3rd party websites. Any analytics program will be able to do this – visit the help section of your site or contact your account rep for assistance.

It bears repeating that there should be NO REASON why your direct traffic should be a big bucket of traffic from lots of different types of sources that couldn’t be tagged properly or coded correctly. Ask your email vendor / media manager / press release guru to help you with tagging / coding issues (and if they give you any grief, tell them I said it was very important :)).

Everything is tagged and coded properly, and my direct traffic is only counting what it’s supposed to count. What next?

For the most part, your direct traffic will remain fairly steady from month to month, with the occasional lift or dip here and there. Hopefully, over the long haul, your direct traffic will have increased, as your website becomes more and more popular over time. However, if you do any type of offline advertising (TV, Radio, Print), you can use the direct traffic segment to evaluate the success / failure of your offline efforts. Did you just run a commercial on prime-time network TV featuring your website’s URL? Check your analytics data the next morning and you’ll probably find a nice spike in direct traffic. The same thing happens when your monthly catalog or special offer gets delivered to your customer’s mail boxes. Collect a few of these spikes from offline efforts and in a couple of months you may be able to gauge the pulse of your offline audience and how they respond to what you are sending them / showing them.

Your direct traffic can also increase if your latest press release just got sent out, or you just turned up the dial on your Google AdWords campaign – not everyone clicks on a link, sometimes, they copy / paste it, which will count them as direct, despite your proper implementation. For this small group of copy / pasters out there, there really isn’t anything you can do, but you should be confident enough with your clean data to still obtain great insights anyway.

Direct traffic doesn’t have to be a big pile of unorganized and useless data. It can be exactly what you thought it was, as long as you put in the work to make it happen.

June 26 2009

What is the “User Defined” report, and how do I use it?

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User-Defined ReportHave you ever been in the Visitors section of your favorite Google Analytics profile and wondered what the heck “User-Defined” was? Did you ever want to know how you could make use of it? Do you have any idea what I’m talking about today? If you answered “Yes” to any of the three questions I just asked, continue reading.

Along with powerful features like Advanced Segmentation and Custom Reporting, Google Analytics allows the option for website owners to add an additional label to visitors who reach a certain point or complete a certain action on a website, such as visiting a key website page or purchasing something from a merchant’s online store. These labels are usually known as Custom Segments (or Custom Segmentation), and it’s a very powerful tool in obtaining deeper insights into website visitors who perform specific tasks and accomplish specific actions.

Making use of the User-Defined report in Google Analytics requires a bit of extra coding help from your IT department or webmaster, but it’s totally worth the short amount of time it takes to implement. For example, let’s say that I wanted to add a label of “customers” to any visitor who reaches my shopping cart’s “Thank You” confirmation / receipt page. What I would do is add an additional line of code to my Google Analytics Tracking Code (GATC), which would look exactly like this:

<script type="text/javascript">
var gaJsHost = (("https:" == document.location.protocol) ? "https://ssl." : "http://www.");
document.write(unescape("%3Cscript src='" + gaJsHost + "google-analytics.com/ga.js' type='text/javascript'%3E%3C/script%3E"));
</script>
<script type="text/javascript">
try {
var pageTracker = _gat._getTracker("UA-XXXXXXX-1");
pageTracker._trackPageview();
pageTracker._setVar("customers");
} catch(err) {}</script>

Notice the line in bold that includes _setVar – when this is present on a page within the Google Analytics Tracking Code, an additional cookie – the __utmv cookie – gets set on a visitor’s computer, with its sole purpose being to identify the visitor by the label (or value) that you used in the code. If you notice up above, you will see “customers“, which was the label that I wanted to use.

Now, on their next visit to the site, they will be identified as a part of the “customers” segment in the User-Defined report, allowing you to perform analysis on all visitors who have purchased something from your online store. Neat, huh?

You can also use the pageTracker._setVar function when someone clicks on an important link on your site, or makes a key selection on an important form that you want visitors to fill out. For example, if you wanted to add a custom label to any visitor who clicks on your “Live Help” applet, you can ask your IT department or webmaster to add an “onClick” event, and give them the following line of code:

onClick="pageTracker._setVar('Needs Help');"

When all of your coding is complete, check the User-Defined report after about a day or so and you should see something like this:

Example of the User-Defined Report

Some things to note about Custom Segmentation / the User-Defined Report:

1. As we talked about, when a person visits a page calling the _setVar function, the __utmv cookie is set on their computer. This is a persistent, first-party cookie that has a lifetime of two years. This means that every time a user with a __utmv cookie returns to your site, the label assigned to the user will continue to identify them as such until they either delete the cookie or visit another page with another call to _setVar with a different label.

2. The purpose behind something like a User-Defined report – and Custom Segmentation in general – is that it is not designed to be updated very often. This label, for the most part, should be a permanent one for a visitor. You should only use _setVar on pages like a receipt page of a shopping cart, or an account registration “success” page for a visitor who becomes a member of your site. You shouldn’t use _setVar on your homepage, or use several different _setVar’s with different labels scattered across many pages of your website.

3. Google Analytics – at this time – only has the capacity to store one custom segment at any one time for one website. So if you are using multiple calls to _setVar on your site, Google Analytics can only store the latest value that a visitor runs into in the __utmv cookie.

4. However, Google Analytics uses what they call the “first association” of the session for visitor session calculations. So if you are using multiple calls to _setVar on your site, be aware that if a user runs into the first one, and then runs into the second one in the same visit, their Goal Conversion and Pages per Visit metrics would be attributed to the label of the first encounter with _setVar.

5. For page view calculations, Google Analytics uses the most recently defined value. So if a person runs into the second instance of _setVar on your site, all of their pageviews afterwards – including the current pageview – will be attributed to the second _setVar’s label, even though as we just learned in #4 above, visitor session information is attributed to the first encounter of _setVar.

A full, technical explanation of _setVar can be found here.

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