Friday, June 29, 2007

Should a Web Analyst have development skills? - Part 1

Development skills are in themselves enough to get you a great job. But does a Web Analyst really need to be a developer as well? Personally speaking, it would be a blessing in disguise if a Web Analyst has development skills. In my opinion he will be the ‘Ideal’ Web Analyst. But it is not usually common to find those skills in a Web Analyst. I am not a developer but I do understand the basics of programming as I took some courses in college. I do believe that a Web Analyst should be able to understand the code as he is the one who might be responsible for the implementation of tracking code on the Web pages along with reporting and analysis of data. Also he is the one responsible for debugging the code in case the captured parameters aren’t being reported correctly. Having basic knowledge is HTML, JavaScript and ASP will always be a big help in enhancing the Web pages if there is an area of concern on a page. Usually if a Web Analyst is working with the Dev team, mostly the changes suggested by the Analyst will be done according to the discretion of the Dev team which will take time. However if the Web Analyst knows a little programming, he can make proper changes on the page like changing links, renaming pages, modifying the JaveScript tracking code himself to make the process much quicker.

A Web Analyst should also have a sound understanding of Databases as they are crucial for a Web Analytics tool. Knowing what is the backend query being used by a WA tool like Omniture and WebTrends to pull out a particular set of data, a Web Analyst will understand the process even more. In some cases he can himself pull out data for a custom reporting request. One trend that I noticed since the time I started working is that more and more Developers started showing their interest in learning Web Analytics. This means that they will always have an edge over Web Analysts who only do reporting, analysis and don’t have a technical background. The Web Analyst/Developer might steal the show by showing their dedication and technical skills over a normal Web Analyst.

I do have a prediction for the Web Analyst job profiles in the future. Companies seeking Web Analysts will sooner or later be looking for people who have a background in Web Development or any other Development experience. The reason why I say this is because a Web Analyst’s job will be seen as very limited with a static role. Companies would want people who can minimize their expenses on the development team as the Web Analyst they would seek will have an entry level understanding of programming languages like JavaScript, VBScript and to some extent even AJAX. I hope I have expressed my point here that Dev skills will be a key in creating the ‘Ideal’ Web Analyst.

Hopefully you like this post and feel free to comment on this article with your opinions.

Monday, June 25, 2007

8 Steps for maximum ROI through SEM, SEO and Web Analytics

SEO, SEM and Web Analytics are interconnected. A business can be very successful if we utilize the 3 skills effectively. Let us consider an example where a business is interested in increasing its ROI based on the SEM expenses. It is a travel website and has bought travel related keywords on Google Adwords. It is paying $2 per click for the keyword ‘air tickets’. So if someone searches for ‘air tickets’, this website will be on the first page of the sponsored listings.
Let us assume that this website got 100 clicks from the SEM campaign with an Acquisition rate of 50% meaning 200 people viewed the ad for this website and 100 users out of the 200 clicked. Now out of this 100, 3 people actually bought tickets worth $200 each. So the SEM expenses are $200 and the ROI in this case would be 600-200/600 = 66% with a Conversion rate of 3%. Note the difference between Conversion and Acquisition. In another case the business is again paying $2 per click on the same keyword with only 1% Conversion and 100 impressions/clicks. This time the ROI is 200-200/100 = 0%. So obviously the first case is better and it is imperative for the business to take immediate measures ensuring that the conversion rate is more and the expenses on SEM are less.
How do we do that? Simple, it is a mix of combining the 3 techniques (SEM, SEO and Web Analytics) effectively. Once you start your SEM campaign and buy keywords, follow the below steps:
1) Focus your attention on all the keywords you bought and specifically on the most expensive keywords like ‘air travel’. Keep track of this data to decide which keywords are getting the most impressions.
2) Prepare relevant and catchy ads in your campaign management tool that will entice users to your website thereby increasing traffic.
3) Always differentiate between Organic and SEM keyword traffic to effectively analyze your traffic. Organic Referring URL for ‘air tickets’ would be http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=air+tickets. For tracking traffic from SEM keywords, you need to manually tag the destination URL with a query string parameter like xyz.com/?abc=airtickets. This will help you differentiate the traffic from Search Engines.
4) Optimize all the keywords you bought and focus most on the expensive keywords. Create new links containing these keywords and make sure that you populate the Meta tags properly. Your Meta tags should always be in relevance to the content of your page.
5) Also use the Overture Tool for the lookout on related keywords to optimize your pages and add content.
6) Use tools like Google Analytics to look at the content performance report and Overall Keyword conversion report to analyze which pages and keywords are getting the most traffic from Organic Google search.
7) Also add Goals in Google Analytics to ensure that the conversion is according to your objectives. Once you know which pages are causing the majority of bounces, then it is up to you to optimize your pages and reduce exit links, introduce A/B testing etc.
8) Finally if you start seeing more Organic traffic on your website than SEM keyword traffic, make sure you lower your bid on the keywords and gradually finish your campaign once your website is properly indexed by Search Engines.

These were some of the steps that might help you lower your expenses on SEM. There is so much more information on the Internet that will help you diminish your cost on your online campaigns. I’ll keep you posted on new techniques and practices to help you lower your cost on online advertising.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

How is my Web Analytics data captured?

The concept important to learn after grasping the basic Web Analytics fundamentals is how do the Analytics software capture data. The basic thing required to track data on a Webpage is the Web Analytics code or tag. For e.g. if you want to find whether a page has the Google Analytics code, go to View -> Source and Ctrl+F for urchin.js. This is a JavaScript code that can be pasted on a Webpage to track Analytics data. Similarily there is a different technology of a .gif Image call to the Server to track Web analytics data. Similarily, to find an image call code you can go to www.msn.com and www.yahoo.com and search for c.gif and p.gif respectively. Below is my understanding of the various steps that take place before the data shows up in the Analytics tools. I have summed them up in a seven step hierarchy and call it the Web Analytics Data Lifecycle.

Webpage -> JavaScript Tag/Image Call -> Web Server -> Log Files -> Processing -> Databases -> Web Analytics Tool

1) Webpage - Web pages are the most pivotal part of this hierarchy. These can be HTML, ASP, ASP.NET etc or any other page hosted on a Web Server.
2) JavaScript/Image call – Omniture, Google Analytics, Web Trends etc use the JavaScript tag. This code needs to be placed on the client’s Webpage so that it can track the required parameters that can be used to make important business decisions. This JavaScript is then rendered when a person lands on a page and it sends parameters like Page Name, I.P, and resolution etc to the appropriate datacenters. The other widely used technology is the Image call technology which is a simple (img src) tag that calls the .gif image on the appropriate Server. Again, once the page is rendered, it calls the image and a hit is registered. Usually it is recommended that you place these tags on the top of your page so that they get called even if the page is not fully loaded.
3) Web Server – This is the datacenter/Web Server that is responsible for storing the parameters captured by the page tag. These Servers are usually very powerful and can store TBs of data and are also responsible for dropping cookies in the client’s machine. These cookies are the crux of Web Analytics and are crucial for calculating user behavior.
4) Log Files – The parameters captured by the Analytics Tag are stored in the Server Logs which are systemically designed to store data in the form of text files which can be in TXT or CSV format. Again these log files are huge and it is recommended to store them as compressed Archives.
5) Processing – The Log Files then need to be processed by the Operations/Database team which makes sure that the data land in the Servers hosting the databases. This is a very complex step and a team having strong technical expertise can do the job. This team is also responsible for filtering out the so called Bot traffic.
6) Databases – These databases/data warehouses store the filtered data that will be fed into the Web Analytics Tool. These databases are mostly used by Web Analysts who want to create custom reports usually not possible with the help of Web Analytics tools. They can write their own custom queries and create a report not present in the WA tool.
7) Web Analytics Tool – This is the final step of the Web Analytics Data Life Cycle and is the GUI form of data. Tools like Omniture, Google Analytics etc are the backbone for all the Analytics that take place nowadays. Anything like exporting data to creating graphs, charts are the basic features of these tools. They help organizations make the business decisions that generate revenue and make the appropriate changes to the Web Pages to retain users and also entice them to come back.

So you read how a simple Web Page forms the basis of such complex processes that are used to transform a simple http request into data that generates revenue. I hope you liked this article and would appreciate if you can critique it by commenting.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Online Shopping and Web Analytics in India

Online Shopping and Web Analytics are still in their nascent state in India. A term like online marketing is quite uncommon here as majority of the population still tends to buy stuff from small retail stores. This has been the trend in India since the advent of Internet and online shopping was never given a lot of attention here. But as the status of living has been improving, people are becoming more aware of Internet. Some reasons for Online Shopping not being popular in India are:
1) There aren’t many famous shopping sites in India. The only one I know of that is famous is ebay.in formally baazee.com. (I might be wrong here but this my own opinion.)
2) Internet has never been treated as a shopping medium here as most of the Television commercials and shopping banners in the cities always encourage people to buy stuff from the Retail Stores.
3) Majority of the population still use cash as the major payment medium and Credit Cards are just recently being used by more and more people.
4) People feel hesitant to give their credit card information online due to fear of someone stealing their information online. This is a tendency in all of us but it’s only when we are aware of things like SSL and Verisign that we start trusting the Internet more.
5) Most of the people don’t have Internet at home so they tend to go to cyber cafes/Internet cafes where their information is more susceptible.
6) Slow Internet connection speed available to consumers. The fastest connection speed available to consumers is 2.5 MBps.

I will now write about my opinion on the future of Web Analytics in India. Since the time I have arrived in India after my project in United States, I have been looking at the Web Analytics job market here. I wasn’t disappointed at all after looking at the job profiles companies have to offer here. Majority of the jobs are in SEO, PPC and SEM but there is a small percentage of jobs in hardcore Web Analytics. US Companies in India are the first ones to have a Web Analytics department so that they can get some Analytics related work done from here. Many Indian companies too are opening up a Web Analytics department. So as far as the Web Analytics job market is concerned, India still has good positions but they are limited and will increase with time. Regarding the Internet usage, I have noticed that classified websites like craigslist.com are not yet popular here. Classifieds are something that can drive huge traffic but in India people still use the newspaper/radio as a medium for buying stuff or selling something. That culture is yet to creep in the Indian society but it will happen very soon.

I read an interesting post in Yahoo WA group regarding WebAnalytics not being accurate in India and China and wanted to add my own feedback on the Indian perspective.
It is true to some extent that people do tend to scramble on 1 computer but that is more prevalent in rural areas but not in metros like Mumbai and New Delhi. If talking in terms of business value, I would say people in urban India would always be more interested in buying something online rather than people in rural India. So if you want to measure the users in India, do so in the metropolitans rather than the small towns as in urban India there more chances to expand your business quickly. Again, this will change gradually once the standard of living changes and more people use their own computers. Currently only 5 % of the Indian population is using the Internet actively (Courtesy: http://www.internetworldstats.com) and still this number is in comparison to other major countries. It is inaccurate to say that Web Analytics can never be successful in India based on mere facts. As the number of Internet users increase, there will be more awareness and hopefully more business revenue. I hope you like this post and please feel free to add your comments.