Top tips and tools to get to know your online audience

Who’s visiting my site? What are they doing? Why are they staying or leaving?

Organizations with any sort of Web presence want to know the answers to these three basic questions.

A recent event titled ‘The Face of Demand’ sought to help them in this quest.

At the event, organized by Interactive Ontario (IO), social media experts talked about Web analytics’ tools and practices that help marketers track and measure Web traffic effectively.

The event was part of Interactive Ontario’s noontime meetings’ series dubbed iLunch.

“Typically, organizations want to find out where their online strategy is losing visitors and plug the leaks,” said Paul Bernier, Web analytics specialist for Adviso, a Montreal-based Internet strategy consulting firm.

Bernier was one of four panelists who participated in the discussion.

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Web analytics involves collection, analysis, and reporting of Internet data with the goal of understanding and optimizing Web usage. Web analytics tools are often used for business and market research.

Google Analytics vs. comScore’s Unified Measurement

“Companies want to know where they are in their campaign and what they can do to achieve desired results,” Bernier said.

To accomplish this, Adviso determines a client’s online objectives and measures various metrics, including those relating to audience engagement, community sign up rates, and traffic conversion.

Bernier said to get this data his company typically turns to Google Analytics. “It’s very simple to use, so clients understand it almost intuitively. It offers a wide variety of measuring tools and it’s free so the cost is not passed onto the client.”

Google analytics is able to measure a number of metrics, but Bernier said many clients focus on three main benchmarks:

Clickthrough rate (CRT) – This measures the success of an online campaign by dividing the number of users who clicked on a Web page by the number of times the ad was delivered (also known as impressions).

For example, if a banner ad was delivered 100 times (impressions delivered) and one person clicked on it (clicks recorded), then the resulting CTR would be 1 percent.

Bounce rate – This represents the percentage of visitors to a site who “bounce away” to a different site, rather than visiting other pages in the original site. Bounce rate is determined by dividing the number of visits viewing one page by the total number of visits.

Conversion rate – Conversion rate measures the percentage of visits that actually translate to the achievement of a desired goal. The conversion rate is achieved by dividing the number of times the goal is achieved by the number of visits.

Bernier said perception of conversion rates vary among different groups. For instance, online retailers may view successful conversion as the sale of a product due to the viewing of a banner ad. Content creators may look at conversion rate in terms of membership registration, software download or newsletter subscription.

Bryan Segal, vice-president of comScore Inc., however, believes that there is a more accurate way of gauging viewer online preferences. He said Web analytics metrics alone does not provide advertisers or content producers a full picture of their desired audience’s Web behaviour.

“Click through rates are extremely flawed and don’t always reflect the power of your brand,” he said during the iLunch conference.

Dependence on services such as Google Analytics often leads researchers to “overstate” the number unique visitors, he said.

This can be caused by factors such as cookie deletion, cookie rejection and non-user Web traffic (produced by bots or spiders) that skews analytics results, Segal said.

To mitigate these effects, comScore combines Web analytics data with information obtained from its proprietary pool of real people, who have agreed to have their online behaviour measured by comScore.

Segal said his firm’s Unified Cross-Platform Audience Reporting, provides a “harmonized” view of audience online behaviour by including traffic from other venues, such as Internet cafes and even mobile devices.

Through its alliance with Omniture, a Web analytics and software company under Adobe Systems Inc., comScore is able to automate data integration and reconciliation and help publishers eliminate the use of multiple data collecting methods, he added.

Data discrepancies

One challenge many companies have is reconciling discrepancies in reports produced by various sources such as Google Analytics, or services like comScore, according to McLean Greaves, vice-president of Zoomer Media Ltd.

Toronto-based Zoomer Media provides a suite of content-rich Web sites and e-newsletters, the printed Zoomer Magazine, as well as conferences and events aimed at baby boomers.

Greaves describes his company’s audience as intelligent, high-living, tech savvy “zoomers”.

“We cater to an audience of about 14.5 million zoomers in Canada who want content that touches on topics such as health, travel, money, l

ifestyle, advocacy, relationships, arts and event,” he said.

To track audience behaviour and gauge preferences, Zoomer Media relies on Google Analytics, and services such as comScore and Quantcast Corp.

Tracking the social net

Apart from tracking traditional Web usage, companies also need to keep an eye on social networking trends, said Albert Lai, co-CEO and co-founder of Kontagent, a San Francisco, Calif-based social media analytics firm.

The company which developed a social analytics platform, is funded by Facebook.

Kontagent claims to have the “killer analytics app for Facebook.”

“Many tools can drill down data and segment audience according to age, gender, and location, but in the social media world you also need to measure the viral co-efficient,” Lai said.

Essentially, Kontagent provides what it calls a “wrapper” for the Facebook client library. This wrapper extracts information from Facebook interactions and transmits the data to Kontagent’s analytics system.

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