pine1I recently had the privilege of doing an interview with James Maguire of The overall scope of the interview was to talk about what do small and mid-sized businesses need to do in order to extract value from their web analytics implementations. The goal was to provide recommendations and tips on specific reports and touch on the “hot” area of Search.

You can find the complete interview on the ecommerce-guide website: How to Use Web Analytics, Part 1. It is a brisk ten minute read, I recommend it (of course you expect me to say that about my own interview!!).

Here is a summary of the interview (but not too many details, don’t want to steal the thunder from James).

Overall Theme:

  • Web Analytics is very hard for all of us. Start simple, start free, focus on “Inputs” and “Outputs” in terms of initial reporting efforts and fall in love with SEO.

Getting Started:

  • You don’t have to buy expensive software to start your web analytics efforts. With the complexity of high end packages it pays to learn first using some of the free packages. ClickTracks Appetizer for log file parsing, Google Analytics for Javascript tags (whatever works best for each SMB). Implement free, dive into data, learn through grunt work and move up the food chain to the expensive packages if these are limiting or as your sophistication grows.

    [UPDATE: ClickTracks Appetizer is no longer available. There are many web log parsers available, please do a quick Google search. Alternatively you can start with the lite version of WebLog Expert.]

    Omniture, WebTrends, HBX, CoreMetrics etc are all great packages but I recommend the path above so you will make more intelligent decisions, apply the 10 / 90 rule and extract maximum value.

  • Don’t open your new package and dive in and get distracted. First figure out your desired outcomes. Why does your website exist? What are the goals of your website? Once you have your goals only focus on reports, initially, that will help you understand the website behavior that is tied to those goals/outcomes.

Six Initial Reports I Recommend (to avoid death by data):

  1. Top Key Phrases from Search Engines. Search is the game baby, and even more so for our SMB friends who have very small ad budgets and have to leverage the power of search engines. Do this to infer intent of your customers, do this to know if you are getting the traffic you think you deserve. If you are not take action.
  2. Top Referring URL’s. Taking the above recommendation to the next level. Many SMB’s create partnerships with other SMB’s or associations etc. As you look at the referring URL’s do you see any that are interesting and surprising? Do you have some relationships with them? If not should you? Then, my favorite, segment out those referring url’s that are sending you traffic that meets your goal criteria (a order, a lead, a particular page view etc).
  3. Site Content Popularity: Websites are small and websites are big. Do you know what content is being consumed the most by your visitors? It is probably less than 20%, it is important to know which 20%. In my experience we are always surprised by what content is being consumed by our customers, specially if you segment out content consumed by those who meet your site goals. Start with most popular pages viewed on the site, go from there.
  4. % of Visitors Who Visit the Home Page: This recommendation is more a reaction to the fact that 90% of website owners are way to enamoured by the home page and perfecting it. In reality around half or less of the site traffic sees the home page. Do you know what this number is for you? Knowing this will mean you can assign resources optimally, focus on other pages, if you have “golden content / promotions” you won’t just show it on the home page.
  5. Click Density / Site Overlay: It takes a lot to interpret the Click Density report but there is nothing simpler for a SMB owner to start with. Web Analytics comes to life, they can “see” the clicks and relate to visitors in a new and more profound way. Click Density’s real power comes when you look at segmented click density, where do purchasers click vs everyone else. Actionable insights. For a SMB owner, if you see “interesting” click density behavior do simple experiments with layout, content, navigation to optimize.
  6. Site Bounce Rate: I define this as visitors who stay on the site for less than 10 seconds (or one page only, though for reasons I’ll blog about some day I prefer the 10 seconds). Specially for a SMB owner who has precious few resources to spare each visitor is valuable and it is hyper critical to know what this number is (and then segment by campaigns, referring urls, top paged on site with high bounce rate etc to know who is sending you valuable traffic).

Search Engine Optimization & PPC Point of View:

 For better or for worse Search dominates our lives. A start to effective search strategy is to know if you are optimized for the right key phrases, and all aspects of that:

  • Do you know what the most important key phrases are for you (both brand and category, for a SMB category becomes even more important)?
  • Are you showing up in search engines?
  • Do you have the right meta tags?
  • Do you have the right content with the right key phrases?

Something like HitWise is quite expensive for SMB’s but there are options like the Overture Keyword Selector Tool or the options at MSN adCenter Labs or a very cost effective option such as Wordtracker (one year subscription for $255). Or my cheeky suggestion, go to your direct competitors pages and look for the meta tags by doing a View Source.

In terms of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Pay Per Click (PPC) I am quite biased towards a solid SEO strategy first, otherwise you are just renting traffic that will come only as long as you spend money.

I also recommend using a service like XML-Sitemaps to create your site maps and uploading those into Google to get a higher chance that Google will index all your content effectively. XML-Sitemaps is free, Google also does not charge anything to upload so something quick that can be helpful.

So this was longer than I expected to blog about. : ) The interview article is much longer so if you want greater detail and ideas please click here to read it.

There is some high praise for James in this blog post Can’t Live Without Web Analytics for the interview. Check it out if you have a second, I don’t think you can resist a blog post with that title!

Please share your feedback on this blog post / interview. Would you have made the same recommendations for important reports? Are there others that a SMB owner would find more useful? Do you recommend other strategies? Please comment.

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