Web Analytics? Anyone? Anyone?

When it comes to managing a small business or e-commerce Web site, take the advice of movie character Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Of course, Bueller wasn’t talking about Web analytics, but his wisdom is appropriate. While you rush to make your site better, faster and bigger, you can forget to stop and look around. It’s easy to miss the bigger picture.

Web analytics can help you make sure you are looking in the right places. This genre of application offers the capability to see how many people visited your site, how many of those visitors were unique, how they got your site, what keywords they searched on, how long they stayed on a given page or on the entire site, what links they clicked on, when they left the site and so on.

Analytics for Everyone

You don’t have to be an eBay or Amazon.com to afford Web analytics software. In fact, ClickTracks, a Scotts Valley, Calif.-based company offers ClickTracks Analyzer for $495 and ClickTracks Professional for $1,995 — hardly price tags limited to the e-commerce elite.

Unlike its competitors who offer a long list of reports on user patterns presented in dashboard style, ClickTracks takes a different tack. The company’s CEO John Marshall, in fact, he not only admits that his Web analytics software doesn’t offer as many as reports as his competitors, he boasts about it. “We have only a small number of reports, but that’s by design. We view it as a good thing.”

It’s the software accessibility and the depth and breath of those reports that sets ClickTracks apart, says Marshall. “Users can be productive with the service in about 10 minutes. You don’t need a consultant to set it up. There’s not much that works for smaller companies.”

To test Marshall’s claim, we downloaded version 3.5.7 of software, installed it and imported a Web log file in about 15 minutes. Once installed, it was as easy to use as Marshall said. What’s particularly attractive about ClickTracks is that the analysis is browser-based and the statistics become part on the Web page being analyzed (see screen).

ClickTracks puts your data analysis where you can see it — right on your Web site.

That is, you type in the url and the Web pages comes up in a ClickTracks window as the background for the report. The percentage of people who clicked on a particular link, for example, shows up right above the link. It’s also easy to adds tags to get more granular information to find out, for example, how may people who came to your homepage from a Google stayed there for at least 60 seconds. Marshall said the company avoids using the term “data mining,” but that’s what it excels at, creating ad hoc reports.

This Just In

This week, ClickTracks announced version 4.0 of both its Analyzer and Professional applications. The company reports that the new versions are two to ten times faster in terms of analyzing data, make it easy to track and understand Google and Overture campaigns, and map costs against keywords and calculate keyword conversion.

ClickTracks Pro also is built to work directly with Google AdWords. From within the ClickTracks , you can log into you AdWords campaign management screen and see not only the AdWords data, but also the data such as the conversion rate and ROI per campaign from your own site.

ClickTracks is also now tightly integrated with Yahoo Stores and Miva Merchant, and allows you to download sales information directly from those e-commerce services.

In Web analytics circles, experts often the debate the merits of on-site software that relies on Web logs and hosted services that require you to add small bits of code of each page on your site. ClickTracks covers its bases by offering its software in both models. Monthly subscription fees for the hosted services start at $49.95.

It Comes Down to Getting at the Data

FurnitureFind.com, a Buchanan, Michigan-based company, chose ClickTracks because it “does the best job of extracting our data. It’s easy to get the data out quickly, said Jeff Antisdel, the company’s vice president of marketing and business development director.

Antisdel said FurnitureFind.com, a company of just under 100 employees, opted to purchase the licensed version for a flat fee rather than go with the monthly subscription, service-based option. Why? He said he prefers the fixed cost of a one-time purchase and is leery of hosted options with recurring expenses. “Some of the hosted applications I’ve seen have higher fees as you increase page views. I’m concern with keeping costs the same as I increase sales, not scaling up the expenses with the revenue. We pull down log files [at no charge from its New Mexico-based hosting provider], parse them, crunch the data daily — it’s pretty darn cost-effective.”

One advantage offered by Web-based services is that you can track activity in real time, but that’s a trade-off FurnitureFind.com is willing to make. “Real-time is a misnomer. It’s a marketing term,” Antisdel said. Rather he is concerned with short-term trends and the effects of marketing campaigns.

In these competitive days for e-commerce companies, brand loyalty may be a misnomer as well. Antisdel said the company has been using ClickTracks Pro for a few months, but added that he will continue to evaluate Web analytics packages. “You have to keep on top of new products. You have to keep on the cusp. Things keep changing,” said Antisdel, who added he was on the Webtrends (a ClickTracks competitor) the day before he was interviewed for this article.

Life does move pretty fast.

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