After the Click: Using Analytics to Improve

Written by: 
Benjamin Rudolph

Delving into online analytics to give your visitors a better Web site experience is the No. 1 factor in search marketing success.

Regardless of how high you rank in the organic or paid listings, customers ultimately decide whether to transact with you based on their experience on your Web site. While marketing plays an important role in the success of your online marketing campaigns, using Web analytics to tend to the site is ultimately the determining factor. What methods can you use to optimize your Web site to maximize conversions after the click?

Let's start by defining what an analytics tool cannot do. First, it cannot quantify "user experience" -- that requires a human element. Rather, analytics provide smart people with the data they need to drive decisions that improve the user experience on your site and in turn, the site's marketing return on investment. Second, while an analytics tool can tell you what customers are doing on your Web site, more important is its ability to provide insight into why customers interact with your site. Third, the tool cannot provide context around metrics. Instead, it allows you to track trends and performance over time. Finally, analytics is not a tool like Google Analytics or Omniture. It is the practice of intelligently using those tools to drive decisions that improve your site experience.

Before you can configure analytics for your site, you need to start by identifying your Web site goals. There is no such thing as the right number of unique visitors. Generally speaking, more is better than fewer, but ultimately you want to drive qualified traffic to your site that ends up converting. Looking at bounce rate is important as well as knowing the most popular entrance and exit pages.

The key question is whether visitors are finding the content that they are interested in. Think of how little time you spend on a Web site looking for what is relevant. If you don't see the information you want in the first few seconds, you hit the back button. Your customers do the same thing, and simple design changes can make a big difference.

There is no perfect formula for a PPC define landing page, but here are four best practices to follow that will lead to conversions:

Provide a consistent experience from search result to landing page. Telling users they should expect the Ritz Carlton and showing a Web site that feels like a Howard Johnson is a bad user experience. There is nothing right or wrong about either of these institutions, but users will certainly be frustrated with a bait-and-switch experience if your media promises something that your site doesn't deliver. There are customers interested in both segments, and available Web conversions for both. The important thing is to match the experience with the content.

Provide a searcher with relevant information. Whether you want to answer a customer's question, offer more information, or lead a customer to a purchase, you need to provide relevant information as promised by the paid search ad immediately. You don't need to spell out the return policy and privacy policy, but it would be helpful to have the links available should someone be interested. This is not the home page, so you don't need to list everything you have to offer, but place yourself into the role of the customer, and think about the information you would need to complete your task.

A landing page is a post-search experience. The customer has already told the search engine -- and by association, you -- what he's looking for, so your landing page should provide a custom experience based on the context of that search, rather than recycling a handful of landing pages across a wide array of keywords. For example, if a customer searches for Samsung LCD TVs, don't take the customer to your home page or a plasma TV product listing page. Provide an opportunity to buy a Samsung LCD TV, information about the features and benefits of LCD TVs, and a method to contact a live customer service agent for help in making the decision. If you don't sell this version, be clear in your creative why your alternative is valuable, so you can be sure to only attract qualified traffic -- saving you valuable marketing budget.

Provide a clear call to action and a clean, simple design. If you had to identify the one action that the advertiser wants you to take, could you name it in less than two seconds? If not, there is no clear call-to-action. If three buttons, your logo, and your navigation are all red, nothing stands out. That's not to say that you shouldn't provide the customer with multiple options, but there should be a primary goal, and if you as the advertiser can't name it, your customer will be equally clueless. The general rule of most landing pages is, "Don't make me think."

Take advantage of the Web's inherent advantage as a medium: never stop testing your landing pages. Free tools like Google Website Optimizer and paid tools like Omniture's Test and Target enable multivariate testing of factors like creative messaging, images, offers, colors, and fonts.

While people can argue over what they think will perform best, I prefer the democracy of data. If a purple "free shipping" message works, use it. And if you have a better hypothesis, prove it. Analytics tools help you quantify the impact of your design decisions, and since the transaction happens on your Web site, that is the most important component to measure.

Just because you don't have the budget to hire an agency to help you doesn't mean you can't improve your Web site yourself using free resources available online.

Google offers a number of great free resources, including its help forum. Very few analytics problems have never been encountered before, and you can and should take advantage of the Web community.

In addition, you can take Google's online Analytics Individual Qualification (IQ) training.

If you want, you can pay $50 to take the test and become certified. Or you can find paid advice from one of the Google Analytics Authorized Consultants.

Whether you do it yourself or hire an expert, the important point is that you need to invest time and resources in constantly improving your Web site experience. Most companies recognize the need to spend on search marketing, but they often fail to match that investment on their Web site.

Before you blame the search marketing, take a look at the analytics data. There is a lot to learn about why customers are not buying on your Web site, and by improving your conversion rate, you can improve profitability significantly without spending more on PPC.

This was originally published December 2009 in SES Magazine. This article was also published on December 7, 2009 by ClickZ.

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