July 1, 2010, 12:00 AM

Web Site Analytics

Analytics move beyond web to drive multichannel marketing

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Forrester Research Inc. estimates that online marketers will spend $514 million on web analytics this year, including service fees to vendors and software installation support and licensing fees. That's 19.1% more than last year, growth that demonstrates the increasingly important role analytics plays in the success of online marketing and sales.

As the online channel grows, individual sites gain more traffic. That means the audience is larger for both what's working well on a retailer's site and what isn't. It's the latter issue that is the top reason e-retailers surveyed recently by the Aberdeen Group use analytics: 43% of the best-performing retailers said their adoption of analytics stemmed from a need to find and fix rough spots in the customer experience at their sites.

Gauging the performance of web site features such as product search or cross-sells and upsells is critical because they affect not only what a consumer experiences at the site, but what she tells others about that experience, notes Greg Belkin, Aberdeen Group analyst.

63% of the retailers defined as best in class, based on the retailer's conversion rate and gross margin, have used an analytics program for more than a year, according to Aberdeen's report, "Retail e-commerce analytics: Cornerstone of the complete customer profile."

Retailers have used analytics mainly to guide search engine optimization, search engine marketing, and other initiatives to drive traffic to sites, according to Aberdeen. 53% of the top performers surveyed use analytics to measure conversions on site as a key indicator of online success. 50% monitor conversions daily and 43% monitor shopping cart abandonment daily.

Dynamic Presentation

Almost half of the top group of retailers surveyed look beyond conversion and carts to capture customers' interactions at all points in the purchase process, from browsing to after the transaction is completed, Aberdeen notes. These retailers use analytics to probe customer history prior to promoting new products to that customer for insight on her preferred contact method and the products and promotions likely to resonate with her.

As a customer moves through the purchase process, analytic data allows the retailer to dynamically adjust what's presented to her based on her past behavior and that of other customers. And after the shopper completes a purchase, data from analytics can help retailers follow up with compelling offers.

Some retail analysts say that the utility of analytics is poised to move beyond what happens on web sites themselves to play a larger marketing role in organizations. They argue that the rich information on customer behavior that web analytics packages capture can be used to drive retailers' marketing decisions across channels.

Unleash the power

In his report, "How web analytics will emerge as a cornerstone of customer intelligence," Forrester analyst Joseph Stanhope says that marketers are underutilizing the full power of customer data that can be gleaned from the online channel. They're limited by factors such as insufficient staffing to effectively manage analytics programs, and silos that prevent the sharing of data among departments and channels within companies.

As companies address those issues, analytics will change how decisions are made, not just about the web but across multichannel marketing, he predicts, and as soon as within the next two to three years.

"To put that insight into action, firms must leverage web analytics beyond isolated web site marketing and operations to feed analysis, decision support and execution for the entire marketing function," Stanhope says.

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