Understanding what visitors want from your organization’s Web site is important to online success. Fortunately for IT managers, many capable Web site monitoring and tracking solutions are available.

Current tracking solutions give managers and executives a clear view of Web site use. Understanding how customers use a Web site helps organizations consistently deliver more of what customers want.

Here is how one online company, yack.com, uses a Web site analysis product from HitBox to better understand their customers.

The Challenge
Founded in 1996, yack.com is a comprehensive guide to online programs and events. Self-dubbed the “TV Guide of the Internet,” yack.com needed a way to track marketing campaigns.

The Internet organization, which has offices in San Francisco and New York, advertises on other Web sites. They use a product from WebTrends for basic site monitoring but wanted a way to track the traffic generated from the ads.

“We needed to look at different angles of tracking, so we were searching for a new service. WebTrends is great, but we wanted to supplement what they provide with another service,” said Rachel Frank, one of yack.com’s senior associates.

Yack.com chose a product from HitBox, an application service provider (ASP) and a division of WebSideStory, to track their marketing campaign.

ASP was the right solution
The ASP package was the best option for yack.com. “We’re firm believers in ASPs.” said Bob O’Brien, yack.com’s chief technology officer. “My feeling is that if it’s not a part of the core business, resources that are already scarce shouldn’t be expended on it.

“Our core competencies are identifying market opportunities for an Internet program guide and exploiting those opportunities with our sales people and our strategic planners. But with other things like networking and Web server hosting, if there are companies that can do it better and cheaper than we ever could, let them do it,” O’Brien said.
HitBox products offer real-time analytical Web site statistics in easy-to-read charts and graphs. The ASP’s packages provide various levels of tracking categories, including what pages visitors use, how often a page is viewed, the most requested site content, and how often a visitor returns to a site. Hitbox offers different versions depending on the size of your organization. (For TechRepublic’s review of HitBox Enterprise v6, HitBox’s latest release, read “Your Web site’s story revealed with HitBox.”)
Frank and O’Brien said implementing the HitBox solution was not difficult. “Within a few weeks it was up and running. We had just general problems, nothing out of the ordinary. In terms of learning how to use it, it really didn’t take very much training,” said Frank.

One of the “general problems” that Frank described included a problem with the availability of the HitBox service. But this minor glitch didn’t impact Frank’s enthusiasm for the product.

“HitBox is an intuitive package. I think the real trick is that once you start, you have to play to the intricacies of the application,” said O’Brien, who added that HitBox offered yack.com pre-sales support and implementation assistance.

The results
HitBox’s real-time tracking capability is an important business tool for yack.com. “It’s really helped us to decide where we want to go with the site in terms of what business model we want to follow,” said Frank.

For example, Frank can create reports with HitBox to determine if a new banner ad is driving traffic back to yack.com at the moment the report is created.

HitBox reports also include information on:

  • The number of visitor sessions.
  • The most requested categories.
  • The most requested pages.
  • The site’s top exit and entry pages.

Organizing visitor data is an important part of HitBox. “The real beauty of HitBox is that it makes sense out of all the data. We’d have to spend a year and a day trying to put it together ourselves. Here we can execute a few top-level macros and get what we want,” O’Brien said.

Lessons learned
While using a Web analysis service to unlock the secrets of customer behavior can provide valuable information, it can also be a waste of time if you don’t use the tool effectively. O’Brien argues that it’s easy to get caught up in numbers and analytical reports that have no business benefit. “Managers and executives need a clear picture in mind of what statistics they need and how to use a service to find them,” said O’Brien.

For example, HitBox provides information in many areas that yack.com does not use. “You only want to generate the pieces of information that make sense to your business. Otherwise it becomes an exercise in futility. And you’re getting a lot of things that are fascinating to look at but have no impact on future profitability.”

HitBox provides yack.com with a solid analytical service, but the company doesn’t rely solely on one product. Yack.com still uses the WebTrends solution that was in place before HitBox. Each solution offers statistics on something the other doesn’t, but comparisons are made between the stats that do match up. O’Brien calls the comparisons a “self-policing mechanism.”

Advice for using Web analysis tools
In a report on Web analysis, Gartner offers a number of items managers should look for in an analysis service.

Before selecting a provider, make sure it can provide:

  • The IP address of visitors.
  • The time a visitor spends on the site.
  • The type of browser a visitor uses.
  • The country a visitor comes from.
  • The path a visitor navigates through a site.

For a complete list of Gartner’s criteria for Web analysis solutions, download the report, “Web Site Traffic Analysis: Perspective.”
Has tracking visitor behavior on your Web site helped you organization? Is it a hindrance? Tell us about it or start a discussion below with your fellow TechRepublic members.