Choosing a Web analytics solution is much different than choosing a word processor, a graphic design program or an accounting application -- and with good reason.
There are more than 100 Web analytics vendors on the market today. While they may seem to produce similar results -- colorful graphs, charts, top 10 lists and plenty of stats -- each boasts a unique value proposition.
Indeed, across the Web analytics market you'll find varied technological capabilities, price points, and levels of customer support. Some are free, others offer distinguishing innovations, and still others meet specific server or host requirements.
Price, then, is only one factor to consider when trying to find your Web analytics tool of choice. You also need to decide whether you prefer a client-side, server-side or hosted solution, which we discussed in an earlier article. You can narrow the field substantially by making that single decision. From there, it's a matter of comparing what each vendor can offer your individual business.
Goals and Metrics
Before you begin your quest for the right Web analytics vendor, determine your business goals and decide which metrics you need to assess in order to make smart Web optimization moves.
But don't stop there. Find out the tech requirements of your site to make sure your short-list of vendors offers compatible software. Of course, you'll want to get customer referrals and review contract terms.
Those steps are just the baseline of your decision-making, though. The bottom line is that the bells and whistles don't matter as much as the software's ability to solve your individual business problems, whether it's measuring sophisticated marketing campaigns from multiple angles, analyzing content preferences and affinities at an information portal, or reducing shopping cart abandonment on an e-commerce site.
"Selecting a Web analytics vendor is easy," insists Doug Judson, director of sales and marketing for WebStat, makers of NextStat Web intelligence software. "Just find the one that most closely fits your business needs, your corporate culture and your comfort needs. Fortunately, there are lots of vendors to choose from and they are all pretty good at giving you answers."
The Trial Run?
Many vendors offer a free trial run, or at least a demo, to prove they are "pretty good at giving you answers." Enterprises should begin their search for the right application by selecting a handful of vendors and requesting a demo or a standard pitch of each program's capabilities, according to Steve O'Brien, vice president of Internet Solutions Marketing at Unica Corporation, makers of NetInsight analytics.
Unfortunately, he says, marketing execs are likely to conclude from standard product demonstrations that all enterprise-level Web analytics software is pretty much the same.
"The standard demo will almost always include the most common reports that any product can provide. At the most basic level, they really are all the same," says O'Brian, adding that all the leading enterprise-class Web analytics tools have features and functions that most customers will never need. Even if you ask the vendor to demonstrate its competitive differentiating features, he noted, it still isn't going to help you solve your business problems.
Chris Parkin, senior director of Product and Solutions Marketing at Omniture, an online business optimization service provider, compares the landscape of analytics vendors to a parking lot full of white, four-door cars. "If you take a quick look, you can see that they all have tires, doors and windows. But you can't truly understand the driving experience until you crank up the engine and drive the ," he explains. "Only then will you discover if the engine knocks or the door sticks."
Enterprise-level tools aren't for all companies. Parkin says companies that are looking for basic traffic statistics, referring-site stats and keyword lists may be better off choosing a free or low-cost solution. The enterprise-level tools, he added, are for sophisticated users that need answers to tough business questions.
What's Your Problem?
The running theme among enterprise-level analytics vendors is clear: instead of getting too impressed with the technology, your focus should be on solving a business problem. If your business problem can be summed up as "we need more info about our site," then you haven't yet clearly defined your business problem.
Develop a list of questions that you need the tool to answer and send the vendors that list, along with a request for a customized demo that shows you in extreme detail how their tool answers those specific questions.
"During the demo, be sure to probe whether these features work out-of-the-box or require customization by you or the vendor," O'Brien suggests. "The tools that answer your specific business questions with the least amount of work, training and customization are probably the best [choice] for you."
But don't stop there. Be forward-thinking and consider what business problems you might need solved as your site grows. Will the same vendor be able to help you when your business gets to the next level?
For example, tracking online marketing campaigns might be your top priority today, but next year you may plan to integrate your offline marketing initiatives into a true multi-channel view. You may want to consider how the tool integrates with existing CRM systems, as well as other business intelligence tools or campaign management packages.
Switching systems can become a time drain, since your staff will need to learn the new program and each has its own unique dashboard. And since you could also lose important historical analytics data about your site's performance when you make the switch, it makes sense to think ahead in hopes of building a long-term relationship.
"You want a solution that is going to flex with your business, not one that requires your business to flex with the tool," Parkin says. "Some solutions have a very rigid architecture that makes the business conform to the system's way of tracking or collecting information." In any case, he concludes, when it comes to finding the best match for your business, "you should be in the driver's seat."