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Picture Perfect: How public safety organizations are using Web analytics to improve their Web sites

Written by Joe Dysart

While Web analytics has been around nearly as long as the Web itself, the latest crop of software upgrades in this space makes it easier than ever to precisely study what’s working best on your public safety site, and what’s in sore need of change.

Essentially, Web analytics enables organizations to discern how every visitor to a Web site interacts with that site, and then recommends changes based on those interactions to ensure the organization’s Web site is easy to use and, ultimately, completely optimized for selling and/or marketing.

In fact, these tools are so perceptive and helpful, you’d be hard-pressed to find a major corporate or organization Web site that does not use some form of Web analytics.

The New York City Police Department, San Francisco Police Department and Houston Police Department are all using Web analytics to track visitor use of their sites, for example, as are the Phoenix Police Department, Denver Police Department and the Nashville Police Department. The Web site privacy policies of each of these police departments offer details of how they’re using the analytics.

Simply put, Web analytics makes it easy for organizations to really get inside the heads of Web site visitors, “either by analyzing macro trends, or by drilling deep into individual behavior,” said John Squire, chief strategy officer for Coremetrics, a leading software solution.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as finding pages that no one is visiting,” said Ben Jones, CEO at Left Brain, a Web design firm. Indeed, as too many organizations learned the hard way in the early days of the Internet, a Web site that often seems perfectly rendered and easy to navigate in the eyes of an organization’s creators can actually represent a major challenge to visitors. Too often, this results in visitors clicking away in frustration.

In practice, Web analytics software packages solve this problem by enabling Web designers to see and study the paths visitors are taking through the Web site, precisely determine where those visitors are having trouble, and then make necessary fixes.

Plus, the programs also enable organizations to see which pages on the organization Web site are most popular, which media on the Web site is most popular, which search engines are sending the Web site the most traffic—as well as dig into myriad other insights that reveal the overall efficacy of a Web site’s design, navigation and performance.

While there are dozens of Web analytics packages on the market, only five are considered leaders in their field, according to Forrester, a market research firm that has been assessing Web analytics for years now.

Those market leaders, according to Forrester, are Coremetrics Analytics, by Coremetrics; Sitestat, by Nedstat; Omniture SiteCatalyst, by Omniture; Unica Affinium NetInsight, by Unica; and Webtrends, by Webtrends.

“These leading vendors offer the flexibility of near-limitless customization and the ability to meet client needs on many levels,” said Carlton A. Doty, a co-author of “The Forrester Wave: Web Analytics Q3 2009,” released last year.

Specifically, here’s why Forrester liked the Top Five vendors:

Omniture: “Omniture leads the Web analytics industry in its core data handling, reporting and analysis capabilities, as well as through its ever-growing set of ancillary marketing applications,” Doty said.

Coremetrics: “While Coremetrics is relatively small in total client count, it offers oversized capabilities that include its ability to handle data efficiently, customize reporting and analysis, and integrate with multiple marketing functions,” Doty said. Coremetrics clients also expressed satisfaction levels higher than any other company evaluated.

Unica: “The Unica Affinium NetInsight offering is one of the most flexible and customizable offerings we evaluated,” Doty stated. “The company is well-positioned to infuse traditional campaign management with Web data, thereby elevating enterprise marketing capabilities through holistic customer intelligence.”

Webtrends: “The company scored high marks because of its ability to create unlimited customer and calculated metrics.” Customers also expressed extreme satisfaction overall with the company’s service.

Nedstat: With a stronghold in the European market, Nedstat has earned a reputation for its ability to offer extremely customized versions of its software packages. During coming months, Nedstat’s goal is to incorporate analysis of e-mail marketing and search marketing into its core product, Doty said.

Besides earning the distinction of being leaders in their field, all of these top vendors have also rolled out some interesting new capabilities in the latest versions of their software products. Many, for example, are honing in on helping organizations analyze customer/visitor interactions on the Web presences they maintain on Facebook. Coremetrics, for example, has created a special application to measure a wide variety of interactive events on a company’s Facebook page.

Omniture has a similar Facebook app in development. Essentially, the new module will help organizations look deeply into how visitors interact with their Facebook presence. “Working with us, Omniture has been able to develop a rich and immersive set of tools that will help our clients better understand the value of Facebook,” said Dan Rose, Facebook’s vice president of business development and monetization.

Yet another entrant in the Facebook analytics apps race is Webtrends. This company’s Facebook module can determine, among other metrics, if visitor interactions on Twitter ultimately drive visitors to an organization’s Facebook page. The app also goes on to verify if any sales or other interactions unfold once visitors get to the Facebook page from Twitter.

“We are so proactive in talking about Facebook measurement because it’s a critical area of growth,” said Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, Webtrends‘ vice president of marketing. “The new capabilities we have developed were shown at our recent user conference, Engage 2010, and we have several implementations underway. To meet their needs and keep up with the rate of change in this space, we have a series of capabilities we’re adding to Webtrends Analytics that will be released in the near term and ongoing basis.”

Meanwhile, besides beginning to develop a Facebook app, Omniture has also expanded its video analytics module to include analysis of the Web video that is offered on Web sites optimized for smartphones and other Web devices—including video that is embedded in mobile iPhone applications.

As visitors continue to respond well to online video, more and more organizations want to understand “how best to leverage video to create a more engaging mobile application or mobile Web site,” said Matt Langie, director of product marketing, Omniture Business Unit.

Essentially, this new mobile video measurement capability within SiteCatalyst gives public IT Webmasters the insight they need to know which mobile video strategies are working and which need to be optimized to create better experiences for their visitors, Langie added.

Also focusing on added video analysis capabilities is Nedstat. Its latest module enables organizations to measure the impact of Internet video that is viewed on Internet-ready televisions, a relatively new consumer electronics product. “Internet video on television is a new way of consuming content,” said Thomas Pottjegort, a senior technical architect at Nedstat. “It is important for our customers to have insight into usage of this new and upcoming platform.”

Besides identifying the Top Five vendors in the Web analytics market in its report, Forrester also went on to single out Google’s Google Analytics as a strong, second-tier product that is nearly as good as the Top Five. The reason for the recognition is a stellar advantage Google has over all others: Google gives away its analytics program absolutely free in an effort to encourage use of other Google fee-based Web marketing products, like Google Adwords.

“Google Analytics debuted in our 2007 Web analytics evaluation as a contender among a pack of strong performers,” Doty noted. “Since then, the package has significantly enhanced its enterprise capabilities with numerous product roll-outs, such as the ability to create custom reports, perform advanced segmentation, and visualize data using an interface tool.”

Google Analytics’ most recent revamp also coincided with the release of an excellent guidebook to getting the most out of the program, Brian Clifton’s Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics, Second Edition.

“Web analytics is a thermometer for your Web site—constantly checking and monitoring your online health,” Clifton said. “As a methodology, it is the study of online experience in order to improve it. Without it, you are flying blind.”

Bottom Line

Before investing in any Web analytics solution, you’ll probably want to give Google Analytics a trial run, as the online service is free and, for the price, fairly sophisticated.

Besides Clifton’s book, you can also get help on using Google Analytics with a number of informative videos the company offers online, which illustrate how various features of its solution work. These videos give you a decent introduction to how Web analytics works in general.

For a bead on the overall market, there are also a number of market research firms you can check with, including Forrester, IDC and Gartner. All regularly issue in-depth reports on the state of the Web analytics market.

For one of the most comprehensive looks at Web analytics, definitely check out CMS Watch. The company is known for its intense, ongoing scrutiny of the Web analytics market and offers continually updated reports on virtually all changes in the market.

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan. He can be reached at joe@joedysart.com.

Web Links
www.coremetrics.com
www.leftbrain.net
www.forrester.com
www.nedstat.com
www.omniture.com
www.unica.com
www.webtrends.com
www.google.com
www.idc.com
www.gartner.com
www.cmswatch.com

Published in Public Safety IT, Nov/Dec 2010

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