If there is one major advantage that digital commerce has brought to just about every marketplace, it’s the fact that people who are shopping, looking to purchase a service, or in any way planning to spend money online, leave their footprints behind them. It’s for that very reason that web analytics software has become so popular, widely available, and increasingly advanced in terms of the technologies available. When customers leave a data trail, the behavior that drives their purchasing decisions can be ascertained by sifting through that data with the help of analytics tools. Armed with this information, your team is able to gain insight into powerful information; which marketing channels and campaigns are most successful, attribution data, buyer personas, and much more to capitalize on that knowledge. However, there is such a wealth of data available and so many web analytics tools occupying the commercial software market, that as AT Internet Editorial Manager, Bernard Segarra makes clear in his blog post 12 Essential Criteria To Help You Choose Your Web Analytics Solution, selecting the right digital marketing analytics platform is a decisively important process. Spoiled for Choice or Hypnotized by Hype? Indeed, a number of writers covering the topic of analytics software liken the process of selecting a solution, to choosing a partner with whom to get wed. Those same writers use the term “marriage” as a metaphor for the long years through which a company lives with its chosen software. Even the venerable Digital Marketing Evangelist for Google, Avinash Kaushik, is not above quoting the similarities between wedlock and the union of an enterprise and its web analytics tool. In his blog post titled How to Choose a Web Analytics Tool: A Radical Alternative, Kaushik even takes the analogy as far as an assessment of the likelihood for divorce. The point these authors are all trying to make, is that with so many suitors out there in the world of marketing analytics software, finding a solution is unlikely to present a problem. However, the chances of making what seems like the right choice, only to be disappointed with the longer term results, are also considerable—if you don’t take a careful and methodical approach to choosing the right analytics software for your own, individual and unique business needs. The problem is not so much one of identifying the good products among the bad. While hyperbole abounds, most of the offerings are actually pretty damn good. The fact is though, that a web analytics application which works brilliantly for other businesses might be an unmitigated disappointment for yours. Such are the differences in software and in customer needs, that choosing correctly requires a diligent and carefully crafted approach. For that reason, this guide has been created to help you learn what’s what and how to get through the analytics software selection process with the minimum of pain, to achieve the maximum in gains.
A Quick Look at the Selection ProcessThe traditional approach for choosing analytics software is similar to that of any commercial software procurement exercise. However this method, involving the use of an RFP, which is sent out to a list of potential vendors, is beginning to lose favor, due to its lengthiness and some inherent pitfalls which make it less than suitable for cloud and SaaS solutions. An alternative approach, suggested by Avinash Kaushik, is rather radical and takes advantage of all the benefits of the SaaS model through which most web analytics software products are delivered. The intention of this guide is not to provide a step-by-step rundown of the selection process, since you can read about Kaushik’s radical approach in his blog and the traditional approach to commercial software procurement is published in many buyer’s guides and articles. Instead, this article focuses on the questions to ask of yourself and your business before setting out to choose your solution, as well as the most important criteria to look for when you begin shortlisting products and vendors. Assessing Your Marketing Analytics Requirements It may seem obvious that you should know what you want from an analytics tool before you set out to choose one. Still many companies have inexplicably done the opposite, as noted in the AT Internet white paper by Jacques Warren, titled Choosing a Web Analytics Solution. Even if you are planning to follow the Kaushik approach to choosing software, which entails utilizing a free tool just to get familiar with analytics and to experiment, it still makes good sense to gather some information about what you and other key stakeholders need from a solution. Search Engine Land’s Evan Lapointe recommends thinking about the following points in his 2009 article How to Choose a Web Analytics Solution:
- What level of management in your organization will oversee the analytics solution?
- What information do stakeholders need from the software?
- What motivates or incentivizes the performance of employees who will use the analytics tool?
- What are the frequently made key decisions impacting the websites that will be monitored?
- Should you choose a software package or engage a SaaS provider?
- Is it important for your business to have real-time reporting?
- What’s a realistic annual or monthly budget for analytics expenditure, based on current revenue?
General Essentials for Any Marketing Analytics SoftwareWriting for Data Science Central, analytics expert Dr. Vincent Granville provides an extensive list of potential web analytics software criteria in his article 27 Criteria to Choose Analytic Tools. Some of the following points take inspiration from his list, but elaborate on them in a little more detail, to help you identify features you should consider to be essential in any analytics tool, regardless of your company’s more specific requirements. Real-time data analysis: Right now, few companies have the flexibility necessary to take full advantage of real time analytics tools. However as technology continues to advance, this situation will change. As you are likely to retain your chosen web and mobile analytics software for some years, it makes sense to include real-time processing in your list of essential criteria. When technology becomes available to enable you to respond and act upon real-time information, you’ll be glad you have the ability to collect and analyze it. Technical support, training and documentation: Quite simply, if you want the implementation of your analytics software to be successful, you need a vendor who is going to support you throughout the process and also after go-live. Your staff should have access to solid training and plenty of self-help documentation or online support to quickly find their way out of any difficulties when working with the live solution. Questions to ask vendors regarding support include:
- How strong is the documentation?
- What days and hours are covered by live support?
- Does the provider offer any online or offline product training?
- What other support channels are provided (forums, user groups, tutorials or similar)?
- Compliance with regulations and legislation regarding data collection and security
- Ability to trial the product/service before making a long-term commitment
- A vendor that deals with marketing, web and mobile analytics as its core business
- A vendor that’s prepared to commit to service levels, ideally through a service level agreement
- A viable vendor with good financial stability—one that’s still likely to be in business in 5-10 years-time
Finding the Tool that FitsThe next few questions will help you to assess if a vendor’s offering is a good fit for your business, based on what you learned from your introspective fact-finding. Questions relating to analytic approach:
- Does the software aggregate data or is it customer-centric?
- Are you able to see what led to the conversion of leads at an individual level?
- Does the software support, or even require user-customization?
- What’s the typical implementation timescale for the solution?
- Are the reports easy to read and interpret?
- Does the software employ an easy-to-use interface for users (GUI)?
- Does the vendor recommend that you have an employee responsible for managing the software?
- Does the tool offer a single view of leads’ interactions regardless of marketing channel mix?
- How does the software handle marketing attribution?
- What mobile analytics capabilities does the software have and how do they mesh with non-mobile analytics?
- How does the solution integrate with other applications such as CRM?
- Does the tool allow tracking and analysis of after-sales interactions?
- How scalable is the solution?
- Can the software easily cope with an increasing volume load?
- How does the tool impact page loading speed?
- Does the solution have built-in redundancy?
- Can you customize the level of analysis?
- What do reports look like and how fast are they to produce?
- Does the software support calculation of lifetime value through closed-loop marketing and other features relevant to identifying the return on marketing investment?
The Importance of Tests and DemosNot all of the above questions can be answered by simply asking the vendors. For one thing, some of the answers may not be easy to articulate. For another, some vendors will inevitably tell you what they think you want to hear. Therefore, the importance of testing shortlisted solutions must not be underestimated. Perhaps the best way to do this is to implement the shortlisted solutions on your website. Use them all and compare everything except the actual metrics results. Why shouldn’t you compare the results? It’s because they will most likely be different in every case, which will leave you wondering what’s wrong. Worrying about something like that will only distract you from the purpose of your testing, which is to determine which analytics solution best fits your business needs. Your live testing should focus on answering the questions in the previous section of this guide; none of which, as you’ve probably noticed, are focused on accuracy of results. Another caveat to this method of testing analytics tools prospectively is that you should not be tempted to go forward with more than one solution; that’s for the same reason as discussed above. Collecting metrics from two solutions will result in differences, meaning you will never have a clear picture of your marketing results. Demos as an Alternative to Testing An alternative to live testing is to spend some time on the interactive demos which many providers, such as Kissmetrics and Mixpanel offer. As IT executive Peter Campbell asserts in his Idealware guide The Perfect Fit: A Guide to Evaluating and Purchasing Major Software Systems, demos give you the ability to:
- Assess the look and feel of the software
- Provide your staff with some initial training in use of the different tools
- Identify if and how the solutions handle non-standard requirements unique to your business