February 24, 2011, 11:02 AM

Free analytics tools offer big help to retailers with small budgets

And such tools can help supplement pricier analytics software.

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It’s good for retailers to have access to many types of data, because many retailers never really know what they will need until they need it, Shawn Purtell, web analytics and optimization specialist at ROI Revolution Inc. told attendees last week at the Internet Retailer Web Design and Usability Conference 2011.

Purtell and his co-presenter, Joe Schmidt, co-founder of e-retailer CanvasOnDemand.com, which was recently purchased by Café Press, said such free tools can help employees who are not part of the analytics team get the data they want without waiting for specialists to find the information in more sophisticated (and more expensive) analytics packages like Omniture, Coremetrics and WebTrends.

“There are great supplemental tools you can run on the sly,” Schmidt said. “Sometimes it’s hard to get the data you need as fast as you want it when you want it. You can use these on the downlow so that you can get what you need.”

The duo shared 45 free or very inexpensive tools web retailers can use to better understand how customers are experiencing a site.

Two free web analytics tools, Clicky and Yahoo Web Analytics, offer one feature that the popular and free Google Analytics package lacks—real-time reporting. However, the free version of Clicky caps the amount of analytics data retailers can access so Purtell recommends using it for one portion of a site that needs help. Also, he says Yahoo can be a bit cumbersome to set up because a retailer has to go through a Yahoo representative to begin using the program. However, he says a big advantage to Yahoo is that it offers raw data that retailers can repurpose any way they like.

While Google might lack real-time reporting, it does offer another unique free service: call tracking. Retailers can place phone numbers within their AdWords pay-per-click ads and have the calls routed through Google to a retailer’s call center, with Google tracking the calls for free to see which ads perform best, Purtell said.

Two others of the many free tools the duo noted are Yahoo’s YSlow, a Firefox add-on integrated with the web browser’s Firebug web development tool, that analyzes web pages and suggests ways to improve their performance, and Smush.it, a tool within YSlow that uses optimization techniques specific to image formats to remove unnecessary bytes from image files.

Schmidt says his colleague was able to improve the load time of a page by using YSlow and Smush.it. The program found opportunities to decrease several image sizes by 25% without hurting image quality.  “You’d be surprised how much load time you can shave off when you compress both JavaScript and CSS,” he said. CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets, a programming language used to control how content is presented on a web page.

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