Web Site Checkup

Far from moribund, Web analytics offerings provide a wide variety of analysis, reporting capabilities.

Remember when Web analytics went out of style? "Clickstream" was the term of the day, and analysts expounded on the coming time when simple Web site analysis would be replaced by massive systems that would combine business intelligence and personalization to integrate all a companys data, be it brick-and- mortar or online. That was at least a year ago.

But during that time, some important lessons have been learned. As it turns out, the business managers and analysts who use and understand BI tools, such as those from Cognos Inc. and SPSS Inc., dont know or care much about running a Web site. It makes perfect sense to integrate the customer and product information generated by a Web site with a BI product that is tracking other sales, but Web site traffic also includes information that is useful for improving the design, maintenance and usability of a Web site—something that BI applications dont understand.

So the death of Web analytics software was greatly exaggerated. However, the dire prognostications, based on these products poor or lacking sales and user analysis, were not off-base. Our tests show great improvements in these areas.

In addition, rather than trying to fit their square BI products into round Web analytics holes, BI vendors have partnered with or purchased Web analytics companies, as in the case of SPSS acquisition of NetGenesis Corp.

Because of these changes, many Web analytics products have become a bit more complex. In addition, probably due to the incursion of BI products, Web analysis products have become more expensive.

With the added complexity, better usability and report configuration have become necessary improvements, as is the case with NetIQ Corp.s WebTrends Reporting Center and Omniture Inc.s SiteCatalyst service. (Click here for eWeek Labs review of WebTrends and SiteCatalyst.) Businesses looking at newer Web analytics software should expect to find interactive, intuitive interfaces that make it easy to find and analyze just the data they are looking for.

At Your Service

As is the case with the SiteCatalyst product we reviewed, many analytics companies have turned either fully or partially toward service offerings for Web analytics. One of the main benefits of these offerings is real-time analysis and regularly updated back-end software.

Companies evaluating Web site analytics software should also consider its traditional strengths, including path and page analysis. Whether a site is structured right doesnt always show in a sales analysis.

However, a site developer who uses good page and path analysis tools can find dead ends, black holes and other poor site design elements that drive users away. In addition, administrators and developers can identify what is working well on their site and leverage these lessons in other areas.

Finally, there are still some areas where Web analytics applications just dont do well, especially areas such as deep sales and customer analysis. Because of this, companies should make sure that any Web analysis product that they invest in can easily integrate or export data to other systems, such as advanced reporting and BI tools.

East Coast Technical Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.