Data, Data Everywhere…
Ever get the feeling the “Internet” knows a lot more about you than you once thought? Maybe it starts with an ad for those to-die-for shoes you just looked at on another website. It could be a disturbingly well-timed email. “Coincidences” happen so often online, you might not even notice anymore. What you are experiencing is the result of data accumulation spanning decades.
Tracking, measuring, and predicting consumer behavior provides a competitive advantage, not one company in a thousand has any clue how to tap into it. Terms like “big data” and “visitor tracking” are thrown around all the time by people that have little understanding of what they mean—let alone how the technology works or what to do with it.
Why you should care
Marketing without data is a one-armed battle. You must fight data with data, which may have you asking, “what data and where the heck do I find it?” These are excellent questions so let’s break it down.
Almost anyone with a website is familiar with what we refer to as primary metrics. The best-known tool for tracking primary metrics is Google Analytics. Here’s a rundown on what people generally pay the most attention to.
- Total Visits to Your Website: This is a simple visitor count for a given time period. Typically we track in 30-day intervals, but any span, even hour-by-hour can be measured.
- New vs. Returning Visits: A typical, healthy, non-membership website will attract 80-85% new visitors as a percentage of overall traffic.
- Average Time on Site: Due to technical limitations, this number is difficult to measure accurately. While inexact, trends reflected in this number are important indicators of website engagement.
- Bounce Rate: These are simply single-page visits to your website. In some cases, a new customer can also register in Google Analytics as a bounce.
If you work with a web company currently, there is a good chance you are providing this information to clients every month. While all of these numbers are useful, they do a poor job of indicating what’s really happening with your business online.
The danger is that you could be making decisions based on assumptions that are simply not true. For example, a website could generate significant revenue or a huge loss depending on the traffic source, yet the primary metrics look the same.
More than onsite analytics
It is possible to go on for days detailing how we make better use of data that’s available to website owners. This kind of reporting represents onsite analytics. In essence, it provides a history lesson view of past website events. This information is critical because it helps us make assumptions about what we can do to shape visitor activities in the future. In other words, we can compare what we want visitors do against what they actually do, and make educated guesses about what to change.
So far, all this information is essential, but to really understand how visitors interact with your website, we need to watch them in action.
Lightyears ahead of Google Analytics
If there is just one reason (there are many) to choose OCG Creative over any of our competitors, it is our ability to view actual visitor sessions. We use two tools for this. Both are insanely powerful. Both are a little creepy. Both are essential if you want your online efforts to be as profitable as possible. If your competitors use tools like these, getting on board will level the field. If they aren’t, you’ll gain a significant advantage.
The first of these technologies is our ability to map accumulated mouse actions. This provides a visual representation of what your visitors pause to view, scroll to or click on. At a glance you’ll be able to tell if people click on a critical call to action, close your popup windows or access your blog. Moreover, these views are cumulative, so as the sample size grows, behavioral patterns become increasingly obvious.
Pictured is a heat map that records clicks on the homepage of one of our client’s websites. The areas in red depict the highest concentration of clicks. Next is orange to yellow, followed by green and finally, blue to purple. Areas with no shading were not clicked during the sample period.
Viewed this way, the difference between what you want visitors to do compared to what they actually do becomes very clear. In this example, the menu items “destinations” and “Find a Trip” are the closest to making a sale. Red, here, adds up to a lot of green (Get it? Green? As in money… ahem…). Catalog requests and newsletter signups are also important because they open opportunities for future relationship building. Additionally, traffic to the contact page and blog roll indicates a deeper interest in the company. All of this suggests a positive user experience and interest in the information presented on the top of the homepage. There is significant activity all the way through this page to the footer, although we didn’t show it here.
Not all websites experience traffic that moves this uniformly through critical content. In fact, most websites do not. What you see here is the result of many generations of tests and iterations leading to a very close connection between the website and the buyer’s decision-making process.
While heat maps provide a pattern view of accumulated mouse actions, session recordings show the exact movements of a single user as he or she navigates your website. Aside from tracking one versus many users, session recordings allow us to understand user interactions within the context of time.
By recording actual live website visits, we gain a perspective that would be impossible by any other means. Experiencing your website through the mouse movements of visitors leaves no question about what elements matter most. Are your popups optimally timed? Is your menu frustrating for users? Do visitors read your most important content? Do they abandon your forms halfway into filling them out? Do they scroll past 90% of your content?
There is a world of difference between observing actual visits and making inferences based on accumulated data. That’s not to suggest that primary metrics aren’t essential to your planning. But, information about session duration and bounce rate only tells part of the story. It is only through observation that you begin to realize the true impact of decisions you make about content placement, image choices, and other website elements.
Better data, better website, better business
Always keep in mind, visitors to your website are interacting with and drawing conclusions about your business. That experience can either win the deal or send them off to a competitor. Even great looking websites frustrate users. Chances are, more potential customers visit your website than visit your business in person. You simply cannot afford to get the online experience wrong.
Joe Ross, President