Each week as Smallbizlady, I conduct interviews with small business experts on my weekly Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. This is excerpted from my #SmallBizChat interview with Pierre DeBois @ZimanaAnalytics. Pierre is the founder of Zimana (www.zimana.com), a consultancy providing strategic analysis to small and midsize businesses that rely on Web analytics data.
SmallBizlady: Why is web analytics important to small business? What are the benefits?
Pierre DeBois: In the eyes of your customers, your online presence is an extension of your business. The Pew Institute issued a report that states that 58% of American customers research products and services through a website first before purchasing in store. As you probably have guessed, the frequency of the search is increasing, so your website is much more of a working asset to a physical business.
So analytics provides the website owner the opportunity to understand how your customers are experiencing the site and generate interest in your product. It is a business intelligence tool that allows the owner to see how effective their marketing is, how attractive their products & services are, and an ability to test how customers are receiving the your message. It is not just counting your visits.
SmallBizlady: Are there steps a website owner should take before reviewing their analytics?
A: An owner should determine what the website objectives are — not just “I want more traffic” but what do you want people to experience online. Then you can select measurements that best express those objectives.
Many times an owner says “I want traffic”, but then uses SEO as THE marketing strategy, as if the site will draw traffic by just being online. That’s never been enough, and those days are truly gone thanks to social media. Businesses should consider a budgetary combination of blogging, tweeting, coupons, online ads, and offline efforts to help grow traffic and get the message out. Managing each tactic is where an analytics tool creates value.
SmallBizlady: What feature should I first start with in web analytics, if I am not a web-tech person?
A: There are many ways to use an analytics tool — a few steps will make the usage and benefits more clear to you at the start.
First, filter yourself and other internal traffic out of the data, to prevent mixing your visits with customers — this is a typical problem if, say, you and your team’s browser opens to your tagged homepage. You can open your browser at http://www.whatismyip.com to determine your local IP and insert the IP address in the Filter Manager under Analytic Settings.
A second key action is to establish goals on the site. The site owner should set up goals in the analytics tools. Goals can be a certain page where visitors undertake a specific activity, a targeted amount of time on site, or reach a given page. Goals indicate how people are converting, if they are achieving the site objectives.
A third key is segmentation, determining the quality of the site traffic. Determining segmentation is key to allocating your marketing efforts — otherwise you are merely counting visits and not gleaming any insight.
You have three traffic sources in Google Analytics — direct, referral, and search — that are basic segments of your site traffic. The percentage of sources depends greatly on the effort being produced to draw traffic – monitoring this helps you determine how to best adjust that effort.
Another kind of segmentation is to review associated keyword groups in the search to see what words are driving people to the site.
Another is simply by location, through using the Map Overlay feature.
You can also create combinations of segments — say direct traffic from the Midwest, by using the Advanced Segmentation wizard.
If you understand how you are marketing your business or organization, you can create combinations that are useful to you.
SmallBizlady: What should I expect once I start with goals and segmentation?
A: You’ll find a number of great ideas, some which you may be able to address with a few functional website changes, others may inspire some changes in how you deliver your products and services. For a small business I would try to keep a dual list of what can be changed immediately and what requires some additional development. Even though web analytics is about a website function, its ability to measure customer experience will imply some ideas that you have not previously considered and may want to incorporate.
SmallBizlady: How frequently should a business look at its analytics data?
A: There is no one set rule, but the idea is to decide what action would you take from the information being given. If the action is immediate, then you may want to set the dashboard and alerts to the metrics you want to follow.
Have someone within your business who can take action if you are busy on other business details. That action may be updating a site or even ordering inventory for products on page A because that page receives more pageviews and contributes to conversions on the site.
If your schedule is very packed offline and your business site is not an e-commerce site, I would at least examine the results at the end of a quarter as an online maintenance — like an oil change to keep your “marketing engine” running right. You can gain an idea if your online strategy is working, and what adjustments may be of help. Combining a map overlay with your traffic segments for example, can imply which regions are really responding to your offline efforts, like expos and events, and where to focus.
One note: There are alert setting in Google Analytics for informing you for changes in metrics – more traffic, visit declines, increased bounce rates, etc. — as well as automatic emailing reports when you have set your dashboard to your desired setting, so these alerts can help save time of scheduling a review. The trick is not to let the data sit.
SmallBizlady: Do I need an IT person to manage an analytics solution?
Identifying the need is more of a common sense response — taking some time into the metrics can be easy if you have an hour or two to review. If it’s more time needed, and you know your schedule makes it difficult to take action that is repeatedly occurring, then you should consider seeking a point person to handle your measurement review and discussing what actions they should take.
SmallBizlady: What are some initial tips to keep in mind for our offline activity that affects our website and analytics measurement?
A: When advertising offline, one of the best things is to have the traffic come to a landing page. This arrangement makes it easy for a business to determine if the advertising is truly bringing potential customers and is worth the ROI.
Be cautious of how you scale your business — many businesses naively post multiple sites but do not have enough manpower to conduct customer service for each or even make the site content different for each. The best response is to ask yourself what action do you expect customers to take online, and how would you manage your responses to that action. If you double the websites, you are doubling your efforts offline and online.
SmallBizlady: If I discover something in my data, do I automatically go and make a change to my site?
A: Not necessarily. There may be other factors that you may want to examine. It will depend mostly on if you still feel you have an unanswered question from the data after you have reviewed it. You may want to do an A/B test for example to test a section of a a page. You may want to conduct a survey if the reasons for an occurrence is not clear — say if customers are constantly dropping out of a checkout cart but the reason is not due to website function.
SmallBizlady: With so many tools online, are there specific skills that a small business should seek from an analytics specialists.
Avinash Kaushik, who a Google Analytics evangelist and highly regarded in the web analytics world, once coined the 10/90 rule for every $100 you spend on marketing analytics, spend $10 on the tool, $90 on the person. The person will be key to derive value from the data. Otherwise the data is useless because no action was taken on it. That’s partly why most analytics tools are given freely, with maybe more investment for more deep-dive analysis. It’s panning for gold in some ways, but the judgment makes the effort worthwhile. And there are businesses who are seeing tremendous return on their investment because of this premise.
SmallBizlady: For e-commerce are there specific concerns that a business owner should keep in mind?
A: Make sure that your cart solution permits installing a Google Analytics tag on a receipt page. Not every cart allows it, and not having it creates an extra step for analysis or makes analysis impossible in many ways.
The real analysis is examining how visitors navigate your site. A funnel visualization and the In-Page Analysis can give an idea of how your traffic is navigating through the website. An additional kind of an analytics tool is a heatmap, which can give more specific focus as to where visitors are focusing on a given page. ClickTale and CrazyEgg are two examples of an affordable heatmap solution.
SmallBizlady: For a blog are there specific analytic concerns that differs than that for a typical website?
A: Not necessarily but it’s a matter of metrics and site goals. Bounce rate, which is when a person hits one pages and then leaves, should be low if the content is relevant to the people who visit a site. A typical site can receive 30 – 40% – I have seen it as low as 5%! – but a blog can experience 70% or higher because of subscription feeds.
More pertinent to a blog would be measuring top content visits and average time on site trends, because they can imply how well your traffic is consuming your content. Event tracking is useful for measuring the number of plays online. Comments/post is not a standard metric in Google Analytics, but you may want to monitor comments/post as a spot check of engagement response as well.
Google Analytics also offers a benchmark, though I have found on some comments that the benchmarks may have some skew because the data is dependent on sites which use Google Analytics – some industries do, others not so much. Compete, Alexa, and Quantcast offer benchmarking and traffic segment panel analysis – they can give an estimate on demographics of the traffic, useful if you are reaching men and women of a particular age.
If you benchmark from other sites, keep in mind that many sites have different business strategies and objectives, so it may not always be in your best interest to mimic exactly. Your own strategy determines how valuable an asset your website becomes.
SmallBizlady: Are there other great sources for analytics if I want to do the review myself?
A: There are a number of solid books that can help: Avinash Kaushik is a Google Analytics evangelist for Google and has written 2 great books that covers analytics in general — Web Analytics, An Hour A Day and Web Analytics 2.0. I also recommend Justin Cutroni’s Google Analytics book, which gets more into e-commerce and advanced analytics concerns, but also covers some of the mechanical complexity of how tagging works between a server and site. He has also written a second book, called Performance Marketing with Sebastian Tonkin and Caleb Whitmore.
If you use social media with your web presences (more the norm with each passing day!), Jim Sterne has written a great book on social media metrics called – wait for it! – Social Media Metrics, which readers can use for social media campaign measurement that is integral with web analytics measurement.
Finally, the web analytics association has a great question and answer forum in Yahoo! Answers. It’s useful for discovering a new technique or data analysis approach – it’s very hard to keep up with the newest tools or solutions to new developments like mobile and e-commerce. You can ask more specific technical questions there and receive some great feedback from the analytic community.
For more tips on starting or growing your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog at www.succeedasyourownboss.com
Melinda F. Emerson, known to many as SmallBizLady is one of America’s leading small business experts. As a seasoned entrepreneur, professional speaker, and small business coach, she develops audio, video and written content to fulfill her mission to end small business failure. As CEO of MFE Consulting LLC, Melinda educates entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies on subjects including small business start-up, business development and social media marketing. She has been featured on NBC Nightly News, the Tavis Smiley Radio Show, in the Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur and Black Enterprise Magazine. She hosts #SmallBizChat weekly on Twitter for emerging entrepreneurs and publishes a resource blog www.succeedasyourownboss.com Melinda is also the author of the national bestseller Become Your Own Boss in 12 months; A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business That Works. (Adams Media 2010)