A Multidimensional Approach to Tracking Visitors

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"What's happening with our Web site? Is it doing what we want it to?"


These are becoming common questions from the boss as online businesses search for tools to keep tabs on where their best customers are coming from. As a result, marketing managers want to know how they can improve the effectiveness of their Web sites. To do such performance analysis, you need the proper tools to deliver the information.


All the data at a Web site is stored on a Net server. For some companies, this information will be with their Internet service provider. Others will have it on their own server and stored in a folder referred to as "server logs."


The first analysis tools included products like Web Trends Log Analyzer, which helped marketers understand the very technical logs. These logs were on the Web site server and held all the data collected over a period of time.


It was exciting to examine these on a daily, weekly or monthly bases to see when visitors entered and left the site. However, these tools did not produce much knowledge about who visited the site. Marketers didn't know if these people matched the company's customer profile, if they wanted the same information as traditional customers or if they were satisfied with their experience.


Managers want to measure every conceivable aspect of an online ad's performance. They want to know which ads did better than others, which site delivered the most response and what type of sites consistently deliver the best prospects. They must measure an ad's performance down to its position on a specific page to learn the optimum location on a given site.


Many new tools enable marketing managers to gain this detailed understanding of the effectiveness of their site advertising. There are software tools that can map ad clicks in order to analyze ad performance and effectiveness. Sophisticated analytical tools, such as categorization technology, let marketing managers analyze ads by ad categories, sub-categories and even individual ads.


Understanding Customer Behavior


IBM, Armonk, NY, has emerged as one of the leaders in online e-commerce with a recently introduced system for examining log files. The new system, called SurfAid, provides a multi-dimensional look at the log information. With SurfAid, IBM has taken its expertise in data-mining systems and processes both on-site and via the Internet.


The Marketwave Corp. log analyzer is as scalable as SurfAid and has improved graphic capability. It too, can handle robust sites and drill down and spin data for multi-dimensional views. Marketwave, Seattle, offers an in-depth white paper for those interested in greater detail.


Microsoft has bundled a new value-added Web log analysis product with its Web server. This site analysis component is a bit higher in capacity than earlier tools, and the good news is it's free with Microsoft's Web Server.


The difference between these new tools and earlier ones is that the older ones provided only traffic information (hits, visits, times, bytes), domains (Internet service producers, proxies, firewalls), referrers (browsers, dependent action) and browsers (types and platforms). The new tools do all this, plus they provide user information (sessions/domains, cookies, agents), Web objects (frames/pages, ads/eye candy, applications), actions (enter/exit, view/click, errors), and mining results (explorations or relationships and patterns).


What Attracts People To a Site?


With SurfAid, marketers can get quick answers to tracking questions. What's more, IBM's data mining technology enables marketers to analyze and understand their Web site visitors' behavior patterns. Managers can track how the visitors view the Web site, almost as if they were there with the visitor to see for themselves. SurfAid users also can learn how visitors request data and how they use the information once they've got it.


One of the best qualities of SurfAid is that it's quick and easy to implement. Site owners quickly get the benefits of business intelligence without costly hardware or personnel investments. And SurfAid keeps pace as the Web site grows and improves.


Nielsen I/PRO NetLine is the Web's first outsourced measurement solution for sites of all sizes. NetLine focuses on the in-depth, presentation-quality reports that are essential to understanding both marketing and business. I/PRO is so powerful that it can handle more transactions on a daily basis than Visa.


Additional products in the high-level performance arena include Insight from Accrue Systems and Aria from Andromedia. But don't expect these sophisticated analysis tools to be priced like the earlier versions. Implementation and management of these types of log analyzers includes training staff to interpret the data in addition to buying the software, and sometimes, the hardware.


Worth the Investment


Despite the cost of these tools, the customer behavior and other quality data captured by a Web site can lead to valuable new insights.


For example, if many visitors seem to key in on one aspect of a Web site, marketing can profile those customers using demographic characteristics. The resulting profile could help a firm target similar prospects with an offer that highlights those product attributes.


If marketers are serious about growing their businesses through cross-selling or upselling, it's essential they use customer segmentation and profiling to discover if their Web site visitors are anything like their customer base.


Simply stated, customer segmentation is about finding groups of like-minded customers. However, Web analysis must be looked at differently from traditional segmentation or profiling techniques. Understanding the customers and their segments can be difficult if purchases and transactions are the only information available.


Business Intelligence, another fine new tool, can help marketers answer key questions about the way their customers think, how they act and how they react. It does this by analyzing the way visitors interact with the Web site. Marketing users can even tie in additional technographic attributes if the site captures the appropriate data. This information allows marketers a much more robust profile of their visitors.


The object of these new tools is to measure Web site effectiveness and to deliver the information needed to turn Web site visitors into prospects and prospects into loyal customers.


Robert McKim is CEO of MS Database Marketing, Los Angeles. Reach him at rmckim@msdbm.com.

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