Web Analysis Tools in Transition

Bill Todd was told his Web analysis software would help him understand his customers better. More importantly, it was supposed to suggest ways he could sell them more products. Not quite.

When the owner of Todd & Holland Tea Merchants began using the visitor-profiling feature of his Web analytics package, he quickly realized it wasn’t brewed for his business. Based on previous buying patterns, the software began making suggestions such as, “Why not buy a Yixing pot with your black tea?”

A Yixing pot for black tea? Not for all the tea in China. Any proper tea merchant knows that a Yixing pot should only be used to brew green tea. The software no doubt recognized that customers in the past had purchased black tea and Yixing pots together, likely because they already had a pot for their black tea. Yet, in a business where a quarter pound of tea sells for as much as $100, understanding the delicate nuances of sipping tea is exactly how Todd has developed a loyal following.

“The software is extremely good at number crunching, at helping me understand how customers are moving through my site and what they’re most interested in,” says Todd. “But you have to temper what the software is telling you with your own knowledge of the business. I’ve learned to let the numbers guide me, not drive me.”

Companies have been using rudimentary versions of Web analytics software since the earliest days of the Web. The goal depends on the nature of the business of the site operator, but in general companies want to learn more about their customers’ needs or purchasing preferences, determine ways to improve the site’s operation and figure out ways to sell more products or services.

At one time, Web analytics software did little more than tell companies basic information about how visitors were using and traveling through their sites. Clickstream analysis provided such details as how many unique visitors a site received in a month, week or day; what pages visitors looked at the most, and how long they stayed on each page; what percentage of visitors shopped for a product; and what percentage ended up buying, or leaving their purchases at the checkout stage.

But with the big business intelligence software vendors such as SAS, Cognos and Information Builders threatening to move onto their turf, Web analytics vendors have had to broaden their offerings or risk being marginalized and face extinction.

Some of the vendors such as Accrue Software are evolving by building out their products internally, while others have merged with companies that could combine their Web analytics software with business intelligence and customer relationship management offerings. NetGenesis, for example, was acquired by SPSS Inc., and WebTrends was picked up by NetIQ Corp.

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