New Products for Analyzing Web Sites

What's happening with our Web site? Is it doing what we expect? These days, these are common questions from the boss as more and more companies and top managers look to their Web sites for marketing performance.

Web marketing is on the increase at most companies today. The Web site is an immediate way to reach customers. It can deliver information, take orders and build relationships. Marketing managers want to know how they can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their Web sites. However, proper Web site analysis cannot be done without the tools that deliver information.

All the information at a Web site is stored on a Net server. For some companies this information will be with their Internet service provider. For others it will be on their own Internet server. The data is stored in a folder referred to as “server logs.”

Under the first- and second-generation Web sites, most of us were confident that if we were getting “hits” we were successful. We didn't know how well the “hits” were doing or if we should expect more, but we knew “hits” were a good thing. At professional conferences we would compare “hits” with our colleagues. We’d discover that we might be grossly underwhelmed with our Web site's performance or that perhaps the other guy was just exaggerating for one-upmanship?

Then, along came products called Web Trends, Log Analyzer, Marketwave Log Analyzer and others that helped us get a grip on those very technical Web site logs. These logs on the Web site server held all the data that was collected over a period of time. Finally, we could obtain some information about the site's performances. It was exciting to be able to examine the logs on a daily, weekly or monthly basis to see when Net visitors entered and left the site. These products, however, did not produce much knowledge about who these visitors where. Were these people like our company's customer profile? Did they want the same information as our traditional customer? Were they satisfied with their experience on our site?

These smaller, shrink-wrapped packages didn't have the horsepower to analyze at a higher level of complexity. The infrastructure becomes nontrivial when you have multiple domain names to analyze all at once or load balancing between multiple servers.

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

The more robust the Web site — meaning the higher the level of customers finding and examining the site's pages — the more important it is to answer questions. Older software analyzers provided stagnated views of the data. Sites with frames, sites with more than 5,000 pages and sites with dynamically generated content required more robust analysis tools to get a clear view of what was happening.

Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA, predicts that by 2002, 98 percent of large businesses (more than 1,000 employees) and 45 percent of small firms (fewer than 100 employees) will do business online. As a result, Internet business-to-business trade will grow to $327 billion by 2002. Today, with more than 600 search engines and thousands of Web sites becoming active daily, the need for more intuitive research tools is critical.

To meet this need, IBM — you remember Big Blue — 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 multidimensional look at the log information. The analysis results can be delivered both on site and via the Internet. SurfAid provides information technology managers and Web masters with a scalable, flexible and highly cost effective Web site reporting and analysis solution. It generates a multidimensional query capability for the business and site operations analysis all done in real time.

I/Pro, San Francisco, is another service provider that has entered the market to deliver site analysis. In the high level performance product arena, Accrue Software, Sunnyvale, CA, offers a new product called Insight, and Andromedia, San Francisco, has a new product named Aria. Don’t expect to find these new analysis products at the same price as the earlier versions. This type of log analyzer includes employee training to interpret the data as well as the cost of the software and sometimes the hardware.

The difference between these new analysis tools and the older ones is that the previous tools provided traffic information (hits, visits, times, bytes), domains (Internet service providers, proxies, firewalls), referrers (browsers, dependent action) and browsers (types and platforms). These new tools provide all of the above and add user information (sessions/domains, cookies, agents), Web objects (frames/pages, ads/eye candy, applications), actions (enter/exit, view/click, errors), mining results (exploration or relationships and patterns).

The main object of these sophisticated new tools is to deliver information that is necessary to measure Web site effectiveness and turn visitors into prospects and prospects into loyal customers. You will need to examine your business requirements and needs before jumping in.

Robert McKim is CEO of MS Database Marketing, Los Angeles, a database and interactive marketing consultancy. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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