February 28, 2005, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT: Analytics: Boosting sales by tracking behavior

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All that additional information means additional interpretation. And that, in turn, creates further need for vendors to make the data understandable. And thus many have moved toward visual presentation of data, rather than text or spreadsheet presentation, and combining different results in the same report. "Retailers are looking for this to be way easier," Hieggelke says. For instance, he says, WebTrends places click-through and conversion rates in the same report in a visual format. "That gives retailers the whole picture without them having to flip around," he says.

Adding the interpretation capability leads to an expanded role by vendors. Indeed, when Forrester Research Inc. asked web analytics users what was the hardest part about using analytics, 53% said acting on the findings, more than double the 24% who said pulling the data together. "We have to ramp up what we do for retailers, including education, training and consulting," Hieggelke says.

To that end, WebTrends offers 60 seminars a year in Europe, Asia and North America. The seminars have trained more than 10,000 customers and non-customers, Hieggelke says. It also offers a resource center embedded in WebTrends 7, which it released on Jan. 24. That includes audio/video tutorials, white papers and other educational resources.

Omniture is following that same trend with a number of education and training initiatives, including Omniture University, which includes courses from 30-minute executive overviews to three-day, in-depth training classes, and a Best Practices Group, which acts as a consulting organization. It also offers 30 educational webinars a month free to customers. "There`s a real need for education," Mellor says. "We are helping our customers understand the information they are looking at."

Marketing analytics

The education and training aspect becomes more important as the duties that analytics are called upon to perform become more complex in a multi-channel retail environment, says Arikan, adding that Sane Solutions sees itself as not just a vendor to retail clients, but a partner.

On the marketing front, analytics vendors are offering products and services that help retailers more clearly understand the results of online and offline campaigns. WebTrends, for instance, bought Web Position last spring, a company that helps marketers achieve higher rankings in and understand the complexities of search engine marketing. "Search marketing is still on fire," Hieggelke says. WebTrends sees part of its role as helping retailers understand when to invest in paid search results and when to optimize their pages for natural language results. With the release of WebTrends 7, WebTrends incorporated search marketing analytics into its core product.

The question of which to invest in is complicated by the fact that the answer keeps shifting. Marketers once thought optimizing pages for organic search would get the best results. Then the favor shifted to paid search results as marketers believed paying for clicks and inclusion in search engine indices afforded them more control over the outcome. Though most industry experts say effective, large-scale search marketing programs should include both, now the fashion is shifting back to optimizing for organic results with the belief that consumers put more value on organic search. "Marketers struggle with where to put their money--organic or paid search," Hieggelkesays. "Many believe today that the bigger opportunity is in organic search. We help them figure out how much to put into organic search."

Omniture, too, is pushing into the marketing arena by partnering its SiteCatalyst product with marketing companies. "The next big push for Omniture is to surround SiteCatalyst with partnerships with vendors that our customers are using in their marketing campaigns," Mellor says.

Customer segmentation

In the most recent example, Omniture is integrating SiteCatalyst with DoubleClick Inc.`s DartMail. "It`s much more than a handshake and a logo swap," Mellor says. "It`s deep integration with information passed back and forth between the two applications." For instance, he says, retailers can create segments in SiteCatalyst, then push the detail to DartMail for marketing analysis, such as isolating all customers who visited three times in 60 days, viewed shoes but never bought. That allows retailers to understand how shoppers are using their sites and then create a marketing approach around those subsets of users.

Omniture has similar arrangements with CheetahMail and Digital Impact. "We`ve had a lot of interest from our retailer clients," Mellor says. "It`s one of the primary pieces of functionality that they are interested in." Similarly, WebTrends 7 includes an arrangement with e-mail marketing services provider ExactTarget to provide e-mail analytics.

Mellor adds that the more sophisticated retailers are taking their analytics multi-channel. "It`s really caught on in the past year," he says. "Retailers are measuring the effects of their offline promotions, including TV campaigns, direct mail and print ads."

Sane Solutions, too, is moving more into marketing analytics. In a recent analysis for a shoe retailer, for instance, Sane uncovered that the company was attracting small buyers but not large buyers. Once the retailer had that information, it was able to craft a free shipping offer that enticed customers to buy more shoes at a time. "That`s a sweet spot for the many retailers who don`t have huge marketing departments," Arikan says. "We allow them to get deeper into the data than they might otherwise be able to and learn sales per customer, average order value, the incidence of repeat buyers. We give them finer grain analytics that allow them the opportunity to do better."

Sane also recently began a program of search-engine keyword analytics for a travel customer, and the learnings from that exercise demonstrate the value of applying analytics results to future campaigns. "If someone searches for Washington, you might think it would be great for travel advertisers, and in many cases it would be," Arikan says. "But if someone searches for Washington and the Watergate Hotel, you can be pretty sure they`re not looking for a place to stay in Washington, D.C. It`s in the details where the money is."

Growing awareness

Even though marketing analytics is a relatively new development, Arikan says there is a growing level of awareness among retailers of the importance of applying analytics to marketing campaigns. "Due to the competitive nature of the Internet and the rising prices of keywords at places like Google and Overture, there is a very good understanding of the value of analytics," he says.

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