Chart your Web site's success

Four Web analytics solutions deliver deep analysis of site performance

Because there are 180,000 report permutations, saving and sharing your work is crucial. I had no trouble bookmarking my custom analysis and adding it to a dashboard. Moreover, I created real-time gauges based on sales thresholds. You can use gauges to quickly refer to a “balanced scorecard” view of site performance and the effect of actions. The system also e-mails alerts when limits are crossed and allows you to roll up information into company-level dashboards suitable for executives.

Another common e-commerce need, building conversion funnels, requires little more than dragging and dropping pages into a report template. What’s nice is that you can compare performance over time or look at data from other dimensions without creating variables or performing other implementation work.

SiteCatalyst held up well in noncommerce activities, too. I used the same drag-and-drop interface to monitor e-mail responses, including seminar registration. If you want more precision -- for example, to monitor individual press releases -- you can create custom variables for those pages.

SiteCatalyst integrates well with Microsoft Excel using a direct ODBC connection. This allows a financial analyst to have information about each day’s site revenue automatically loaded in a spreadsheet, freeing them from having to log in to SiteCatalyst. The same process allows you to join data from offline sources, such as billboards and direct mail, with Web performance to get an overall picture of marketing effectiveness.

Although not unique, this product’s click map overlay -- an Internet Explorer plug-in that transposes data onto the Web page -- will prove useful to content producers. It quickly told me how many people clicked on links and their relative importance. You can also see how many orders come linked and the conversion rate.

Omniture SiteCatalyst 11 is very accessible to nonexperts. Reports are available from the Windows Start menu or Excel. Plus, site and data from other sources is revealed in enhanced dashboards, giving executives an inclusive view of business activities. The system’s segmentation and cross-sell features are well done, so users don’t have to spend a lot of time analyzing data. Rather, they can quickly spot problems and make corrections.

WebSideStory HBX On-Demand Web Analytics 2.5

Based on the number of enterprise customers, WebSideStory is the largest hosted analytics provider and the first of the pure-play vendors to go public. HBX On-Demand Web Analytics, which captures and reports online visitor and customer activities, is a big part of that success. Although there’s danger of not adequately serving these diverse reporting needs (and indeed the product has fallen behind competitors on occasion), Version 2.5 has few failings.

Managers logging in to the HBX service first see dashboards with easy-to-read gauges that measure banner ads, keywords, and other digital marketing KPIs (key performance indicators). It’s just as easy for Web developers to implement tracking tags and for marketers to use other parts of the application. So you get the benefit of powerful analytics but in an uncomplicated form.

Because a lot of enterprise clients rely on WebSideStory for content analysis, I began my test by analyzing how visitors navigated my site. A highly customized funnel allowed me to specify page flows and even the specific form field where people abandon a process, such as a seminar registration. Additionally, HBX’s special Event Sequence query allowed me to quickly examine the entry and exit points for pages, along with the referral source for those pages.

At a deeper level, reports clearly showed which pages visitors viewed most often and how frequently they visited them. I liked the way HBX allowed me to analyze my site’s content according to business organization. For example, I easily grouped visitors to a services area and determined whether they were also going to a section of hardware offerings.

HBX’s e-commerce analysis gives merchandise managers real-time reports in an effort to help them increase sales. I easily spotted not only the product categories and brands that sold the most but also those that responded best to promotions such as paid search placements. I could then use this information to build a strategy for selling similar items. Of note, HBX autosenses campaigns (such as pay-per-click keyword buys and banner ads), so managers don’t have to perform much system maintenance. Furthermore, HBX provides a number of cost models, including cost per click and cost per acquisition.

Similarly, HBX allows active segmentation. That is, from the browser user interface I dynamically created a segment of users from the United Kingdom who browsed for a solution on international banking but didn’t sign up for a local seminar. I then targeted members in that group for a direct mail campaign. This feature adds approximately 15 percent to the service’s cost, which is a very good deal compared with the 20- to 100-percent premium others charge for similar segmentation.

HBX On-Demand Web Analytics’ mature report-builder Excel plug-in proved to be the best of this group. It allowed me to access every bit of stored data using a wizard, run reports immediately or update figures on a set schedule, and e-mail reports to executives. The company also offers a suite of APIs that allow virtually any third party to access visitor profile data. For instance, the internal search function works with the Atomz hosted service, which enables you to see which terms visitors seek. Furthermore, HBX integrates with Salesforce.com, allowing you to follow up on sales leads.

For the price, HBX On-Demand Web Analytics proved to be the best overall choice. It easily harvested great detail about visitors and turned that data into detailed commerce reports, campaign analysis, and navigation measurements. In particular, usability shone, as did the service’s cross-channel integration with CRM tools.

Web analytics picks

You won’t go wrong with any of these products, but for general marketing needs, WebSideStory HBX On-Demand and Omniture SiteCatalyst are top picks. They combine outstanding presentation, real-time reporting, and data warehousing, plus they approach Coremetrics on the technical side, giving you almost immediate access to a large warehouse of historical data.

WebTrends has overcome stumbles in its earlier versions. Version 7.0 makes it easier to create reports and use the interface, and it includes greatly enhanced e-commerce functionality. Version 7.1, which was released as testing concluded, puts WebTrends even closer to the top with even better visual analysis.

Coremetrics is my pick for the vertical markets it tackles, and it will be a product to watch if the company takes a more general approach.  In meeting general e-commerce requirements, WebSideStory is surprisingly strong, earning it the overall top score in this roundup.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Support (10.0%)
Performance (20.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Reporting (30.0%)
Ease of use (10.0%)
Administration (20.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Coremetrics 2005 9.0 8.0 8.0 8.0 8.0 9.0 8.3
NetIQ WebTrends 7.1 Enterprise Edition 8.0 8.0 8.0 9.0 8.0 8.0 8.3
Omniture SiteCatalyst 11 9.0 8.0 8.0 9.0 8.0 8.0 8.4
WebSideStory HBX On-Demand Web Analytics 2.5 9.0 8.0 8.0 9.0 9.0 9.0 8.7
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