The Low-cost Way to Learn About Your Customers

The Low-cost Way to Learn About Your Customers

The right tools can tell you volumes about your market. Use these affordable analytics solutions to mine your Web site for critical customer data and surefire sales leads.

By Matt Alderton

Miki Dzugan is front-and-center when it comes to e-commerce. An Internet marketing expert who specializes in Web site return on investment (ROI), she helps Internet merchants of all sizes evaluate their Web sites in order to decide what will work and what won't, what will sell and what will sour. For small merchants who want to make big Internet sales, she says, it's statistics that beget success.

"The ability to collect, interpret and act on data helps a business to continually improve, notice changes that are taking place in the marketplace and quickly recover from an unfortunate business decision," says Dzugan, who is president and "chief marketing guru" at Rapport Online, a Sedona, Ariz.-based Internet marketing company.

Indeed, analytics — numbers, metrics, data — give Internet merchants buoyancy, as they offer them a valuable glimpse into customer behavior. They can tell you who is visiting your Web site, how they're getting there, where they're clicking and whether they're buying. Most importantly, though, they can tell you if your Web site's working and how to fix it if it's not.

For that reason, data mining is a must. Lucky for your budget, it requires neither money nor muscle; all it takes is time and tools.

Information Overload
Analytics is all about information, according to Dzugan. "[It's] tracking and analyzing the path prospects and customers take to and through the Web site," she says. "True analytics programs generally allow the ability to determine how each page is used and the various paths visitors might take through a Web site."

Such information can help companies optimize their Web pages in order to make them more navigable, more search engine-friendly and more effective.

Of course, it's just as easy to drown in information as it is to swim through it. In order to benefit from analytics, therefore, businesses must identify the right measures and set the right targets.

"Collect and analyze information that is 'actionable,'" says Dan Savage, vice president of media and Web analytics for Market Maker Interactive, a New York-based digital advertising agency. "One can easily lose oneself in a sea of interesting information. The key is to find the information that can be used to improve the business's operation."

Tracking Tools
It's important to know what analytics gems you're looking for, but it's equally critical to know what tools you can use to mine them. And although sophisticated software can cost several thousand dollars, there are many low- and no-cost alternatives that are just as powerful.

Chief among them is Google Analytics, which offers a host of free Web metrics and analytics reports for both large and small sites. "Google Analytics will give most small businesses all the information that they need and more than most small businesses will know how to use," Dzugan says.

Companies should also check with their Web hosting company, as most offer some form of free built-in metrics reporting for their customers.

For e-commerce functions, Savage prefers spending a few hundred dollars each month for a commercial analytics package. You might be able to negotiate a discount on a robust solution by subscribing to tools offered by your shopping cart vendor.

Finally, consider supplementing analytics efforts with customer polls and surveys, which can add a qualitative perspective — an answer to the question, "Why?" — to your quantitative Web metrics. SurveyMonkey, SurveyGizmo and Zoomerang all offer free survey solutions.

Go Forth and Measure
With the right tools, collecting analytics is easy. It's organizing, interpreting and acting on those analytics that's difficult. Doing so takes time and patience, not to mention an aptitude for identifying meaningful trends and drawing reasoned conclusions.

"Web analytics is a highly technical and time consuming activity," Savage says.

For that reason, Dzugan adds, data overload is inevitable. Her advice for turning confusion into clarity: Put the money you save collecting data into comprehending it.

"Get help," she says. "It is worth paying a few hundred dollars to somebody who is experienced with analytics to help you get the information that you need."

Indeed, analytics is another language; sometimes you need a translator in order to understand what's being said.

Key E-commerce Metrics

In order to learn as much as possible about your customer, consider tracking the following basic Web metrics:

  • Bounce rate
  • Clickstream
  • Drop offs
  • Keyword conversions
  • Pageviews
  • Referring sites
  • Time spent
  • Unique visitors
  • Visits