Thursday, November 15, 2007

Webcom-Montreal: optimization through web analytics

Yesterday, I had the pleasure to be on a panel at Webcom-Montreal with my friends Jacques Warren and Simon Rivard to talk about using web analytics for site optimization. Here's some highlights from this presentation.

What is web analytics?

Jacques suggested a definition, here's mine, which is slightly modified from the one proposed by Avinash Kaushik:
"Web Analytics is the analysis of qualitative and quantitative data from your website, the competition and business systems to drive a continual improvement of the online experience that your customers, and potential customers have, which translates into desired business outcomes (online and offline)".
I'm adding "business sytems" as an important source of information used for analysis.

Why use web analytics?

We were unanimous on that one! Through the use of web analytics, we aim to answer three simple questions. You might change the way those questions are formulated, but it's essentially:
  • Who is coming to the site?
  • Why are they coming? What's their goal?
  • Were they successful in accomplishing their goal?

What skills are required to do web analytics?

I proposed three key elements to be successful in web analytics:
  1. Business acumen: knowledge of the specific business area, the global strategy, and how this strategy is facilitated by the Internet. Understand the goals and the processes related to ebusiness and "speak the language of business".
  2. Technology savvy: general web and internet concepts and best practices (and sometimes deep understanding!). The architecture and how the site is constructed, structured and applications are conceived.
  3. Analytical mind: ability to analyze data of various nature. Correlate it to business objectives and provide recommendations. Communicate efficiently to all stakeholders.
Don't worry, I don't know anyone who can claim to be a specialist in all those three areas (if you know someone who claims that, be very suspicious!). That's why a multidisciplinary team is the best, or hire a consultant for areas where you don't have the skills internally.

How can we improve a site?

Once we have a better insight on the three essential questions, we can seek to improve the site. Simon suggested the following areas of improvement:
  • Spotting technical problems such as bugs, broken links or server errors
  • Understanding the level of interest (engagement) of visitors (where they come from, what's their interest, what they are doing on the site, etc.)
  • Better qualifying target audiences (especially in the context of marketing activities)
  • Improving usability and communication efficiency
And another one of my own:
  • Improving business processes
Simon noted that in his experience, any time there's a red error message on a page, you drop another 10% of your users.

What bounce rate or conversion ratios are ideals for...

We knew someone would ask! Simon joked: 0% bounce, 100% conversion!
  • For eCommerce, some studies mention conversion from visit to purchase of 4% as being a good objective, 8% is exceptional.
  • But each business strategy being different, and each expression of that strategy on the web being specific, bounce rates, ratios and conversion rates should never (well, maybe not never, but very rarely!) be compared from one company to the other.
It's really hard not to fall into anecdotal demonstration of such and such case where bounce rate was 50% or 2%, or conversion for a specific transaction was 98% (yes, I have seen that!) or checkout was improved by 400%. Again, each case is different!

Where can I find more info about web analytics?

You are here! It's already a good start :)
I hope that helps, please don't hesitate to send in your comments!