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Website analytics: Getting to know your customers

November 30, 2011

(Published in TTG 01.12.11)

Analysis tools are key to running a website as they help companies adapt their site to what their customers want. Matthew Parsons finds out how travel sites use analysis

Whether you’re launching your first website, or reporting traffic trends at board level, it pays to know your website stats.

For some travel agencies, it may be a simple case of testing how effective an advert in the local paper is at generating visits to your site.

Pure online travel agents (OTAs) are more likely to assess which key words are bringing people to their website, or how users navigate the site before purchasing a holiday.

However you use it, entry-level analysis is free with Google Analytics, and easy to set up.

At its most basic level, a Google Analytics account provides you witha line of HTML, which you add to your website’s footer area.

When you log into your account, 24 hours after adding the code, you will see a range of data, such as visits (total number of visits to your site), unique visitors (total number of unique visitors to your site), page views (total number of pages viewed on your site) and even the average time visitors spend on your site, as well as the number of new visitors.

Improving your sites
Daniel Hoggan, head of search at digital marketing agency Mediaworks, emphasises that you should only make changes to your site if they are supported by analysis of the site.

Analysis may reveal, for example, that certain website sections were receiving few visitors, such as a special deals page – and so would need better marketing.

However, for ecommerce websites – such as OTAs – more powerful analysis is needed to make sure conversion rates are as high as possible.

IBM offers analysis software called Coremetrics, which Hoggan says can cost “tens of thousands”. Google launched a premium version of its Analytics tool (costing £90,000) at the end of September.

Google’s premium version is intended for websites with high traffic; it can analyse one billion hits per month, compared with 10 million
a month for the free version.

Both are designed for larger companies, and the level of detail can prove key to solving problems. However, Hoggan warns it is not an “automatic sales boost”.

“First you have to understand the data, and then make use of it,” he says. “One useful area is conversion rate optimisation (CRO). You can find where people are dropping off, as well as cross-browser compatibility.”

He cites one client’s website that was receiving a healthy level of traffic – but few sales. After cross-browser compatibility analysis, using IBM Coremetrics, he discovered there was a technical problem with the checkout basket.

The analysis revealed that those visitors using the Firefox web browser did not complete the booking process, and exited the website before successfully paying for their product.

The website was found to have “browser incompatibility” issues, and the bug was fixed.

Invest in the best
Direct-sell operator Villa Plus also opted for IBM Coremetrics. Business manager Simon Lifford says it is worth every penny, and this year became the first travel company in the UK to use it.

“We used Google Analytics for six years. It was fine, and helped us learn about analytics. But with IBM Coremetrics, although it’s a hefty outlay, you’ll learn all sorts of things.”

IBM Coremetrics has a dedicated travel division, and Villa Plus staff across IT, finance and marketing underwent days of training.

Lifford says its strengths are being able track the performance of banner ads placed on other websites, and indepth tracking of visitor movements.

Using the “Explore” feature to generate reports, Ilford says he tracks different entry points to the site, as well as “journeys” around his website.

“I’m fascinated by seasonality, so I’ll be looking at the conversion rates from January to July. I’ll look at the number of times people browse our site, and how they move around it.”

One of Hoggan’s travel clients is cruisekings.co.uk, for which he says the free version of Google Analytics just wasn’t enough. The ability of IBM Coremetrics to spot trends was another factor in Hoggan using this platform instead.

“It really helps you to look at segments of customers. It will tell you what you what you should be looking at – brand or non-brand visitors (visitors who land at your site through a search engine). For example, do non-brand visitors always leave your website on a certain page?”

No matter how big or small your website is, there’s definitely value in using analytics. But, as Hogan concludes, it’s not about the data itself, but about how you use that data to improve your website.

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