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Top 10 Things to Consider When Choosing a Web Analytics Tool

Done right, a good Web Analytics solution gives you focus and critical marketplace feedback. Done wrong, it can confuse and disorient you. You need the right package for your situation. Below, Future Now's Co-Founder Bryan Eisenberg gives us the most critical things to look for when shopping for this powerful marketing tool.

Be sure to check out two of his key marketing calculators. One lets you tinker around with PPC spending and conversion rates to determine your best ROI. The other helps you calculate how an advertising budget should drive sales or how profit or sales targets drive an advertising budget. You can find them at Future Now.

Top 10 Things to Consider When Choosing a Web Analytics Tool

Websites have many different objectives, different technological issues and, of course, differing access to resources. Before you decide on the best Web Analytics tool to meet your needs, you must take several things into account.

I've broken the decision-making points down into four general categories:

A. Evaluate Your Business Needs - Are you focused on e-commerce or lead generation? Do you have the IT resources to manage your solution? The answer will impact your choices.

1. Insight-to-Effort Ratio: Once you decide on your objectives and your key business indicators, you can then decide what your insight-to-effort (resources) ratio will be. Without clarity about business requirements, no solution will provide meaningful data.

2. Outsource or In-House? This is the current hot issue in Web Analytics. Many companies find it much easier to make smaller monthly payments to an ASP provider, since it is much easier on cash flow and requires very few internal IT resources, which are probably already stretched to the max. Second, most of the ASP solutions offer client-based tagging (a small bit of JavaScript that sends the visitor data to the ASPís servers) versus server log analysis, which tends to be more reliable. ASPs tend to offer information on demand and in real-time, plus you can get access to your reports from anywhere you can access a browser. One main issue of concern with regard to ASP solutions is privacy. Most ASP solutions send their data to a third-party server, and there is always a risk, however minimal, that an unauthorized someone may gain access to your information. We have started to see client based-tagging that can be licensed with the reporting database servers kept in-house (also offering first-party cookies). This trend is increasingly driven by financial services organizations that are inclined towards client-side tracking, but concerned about sensitive customer data leaving their organization.

3. Compatibility Issues: Is the analytic solution compatible with your current site configuration? Does it accurately measure dynamic content? Can it analyze parameters in dynamic URLs and decipher the parameters, e.g., if the URL is www.yoursite.com/products.asp?category=4&product=95&option=3, can the software report on more than www.yoursite.com/products.asp? Can you filter visitor segments in and out of results, e.g., internal users? Can a visitor session occur across multiple servers and still be measured? Does the product work on different types of server platforms? What will it take to configure all of this?

4. Scoping the Scope: What are the options and costs should you add more servers in the future? How much can you afford today?

B. Analyze the Product's Breadth and Depth - How many reports you have access to, whether or not reports can be customized and overall flexibility are all considerations.

5. Planning For Growth: Is the solution scalable? Can it handle increasing volume load? Will you recognize any latency in pages loading? Does it have a redundancy center? Are there customizable degrees of insight and analysis?

6. Why Can't We All Get Along? Is the solution configurable based on your custom infrastructure? Does it have an open API you may need to tie in your CMS or CRM solution?

C. Company Support - Getting the most out of your Web Analytics solution isn't the easiest job on earth. How is your chosen company going to help you?

7. Technical Support: Have you tested the provider's technical support? When is it available? Are there associated costs?

8. Training and Education: Does the provider offer educational services and/or training either off- or online? Is there community support available around the product, such as access to user groups or customer feedback sessions?

D. Company Track Record - Never buy a service or software without due diligence. If you want to keep records long-term, longevity will count.

9. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow? How stable is the company you're considering? Is it profitable? How long has it been in business?

10. No Hidden Costs: Is the company clear about pricing, or are answers ambiguous? Is there a simple way to test the product without a long-term commitment?

Remember, any analytics solution is just a tool. Imagine a paintbrush, if you will. You can use that brush to paint your house or to create a painting. You can paint a mess or a masterpiece. The primary variables are you - and your capacity to use the tool.

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