Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Web Measurement Strategies for Small Businesses

I've just returned from presenting at an Internet marketing seminar targeted at small and medium-sized businesses. Preparing for the presentation made me think about how to coordinate an effective digital marketing measurement program when you don't have much of a budget. I'm a great believer Arthur C. Nielsen's quote: "The price of light is less than the cost of darkness." Still, companies must live within their means and small businesses often don't have huge amounts of money to spend on data collection and analysis.

So what's an effective Web measurement strategy for a small company doing business online? It actually doesn't look much different from a large organization's strategy. Just the scale and some tools might be different. A small business still needs a holistic approach to measuring its online channel and the right tools in its toolbox. It must have clearly defined online goals and objectives, which can be translated into a set of KPIs (define). A small business still needs the right processes in place to ensure its data's integrity.

In some cases, it might be easier for small businesses to measure online performance. Defining business goals and KPIs may be easier because fewer people are involved in the process. Managing its processes may be easier to ensure pages are correctly tagged and campaigns are properly tracked, for example. Measurement may be easier because one person might do everything.

Small businesses might find it harder to take a holistic view of measuring their online channel by having multiple tools in their toolbox. An effective strategy for measuring and optimizing site performance has four key components:

  • Good market intelligence

  • Sophisticated visitor behavior analysis

  • Excellent user profiling

  • Effective site-performance tracking

Market intelligence provides the context for the business's own performance. While the majority of a digital marketer's time can be focused on the brand and its site, it's important to remember that the neither the brand nor the site operate in a vacuum. External factors and forces are also at play. Larger businesses might buy into third-party data providers, such as comScore, Nielsen//NetRatings, and Hitwise. These services are often out of small businesses' reach and may mot even be suitable for sites with lower traffic levels. However, a small business can still uses online resources, such as government statistics and sites like ClickZ, to keep a breast of trends in the industry.

Visitor behavior analysis comes from Web analytics tools. Some sophisticated reporting packages are available for free or at low cost. Google Analytics is free and will suit many businesses' needs for a long time to come. (Microsoft is launching its own service soon.) For those willing to invest a little bit, other tools are suitable for small businesses. I like ClickTracks for its ease of use and some of its powerful analysis features.

User profiling is the process of getting to know who's using your site and why. The basic principles of marketing are about understanding your customers and meeting their needs. In our online environment, a business must know the following:

  • Who is visiting my site?

  • What are they trying to achieve? What are their goals?

  • Were they able to do what they wanted to do? If not, why not?

This data can be collected from surveys, and there are plenty of cost-effective Web survey services around (SurveyMonkey, Zoomerang, etc.) that allow you to create online surveys at a reasonably low cost. Just because a survey is cheap to run, it doesn't mean it's low quality. Pay attention to the type of information you're asking for and the way you ask for it.

Finally, site-performance tracking looks at a site's effectiveness from a technical perspective. It encompasses speed of page delivery, site availability, and responsiveness of transactional processes. A Forrester report on this subject shows that users find slow Web sites are less interesting, less believable, and less trustworthy. If you're a small business trying to cut through the Internet's noise, don't burden your site with these perceptions. Tracking and measuring your site's speed are an important component of the mix. If you can't afford to buy into continuous services such as Keynote Systems or Gomez, find sites to test your site speed for free or on an ad-hoc basis.

For small businesses, the price of light may not be the actual price you need to pay for data services but rather the time you need to spend managing, interpreting, and understanding the data you can get. In this competitive environment, doesn't it make sense to work smarter?

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