John Marshall wants to know what happens after the click. Marshall is CEO and founder of Click Tracks, a company that provides software to analyze the online behavior of website visitors. “It’s not enough to purchase keywords on a search engine merely to attract visitors to a website,” says Marshall. “They must be the right type of visitors. Our analytics software helps website operators make decisions so that their paid search listings actually make them money.”
Experts agree that buying keywords on a search engine without testing and tracking those keywords will bring, at best, mixed results. What’s important, say the experts, is to use quality analytics software that follows purchased keywords and keyword-phrases from the moment a visitor clicks on a sponsored search ad (on a search engine) to the visitor’s activity on a website.
For example, say a website owner, we’ll call him Dave, sells video cameras. Say Dave purchases the phrase “cheap video cameras” at Google for $1 per click. (That is, Dave pays Google $1 each time a Google visitor types “cheap video cameras” and then clicks on Dave’s video camera ad.) Dave may notice an immediate jump in traffic to his website, but no meaningful increase in sales. Analytics software can help Dave determine why there’s no increase in sales. Analytics software can track the visitor behavior through Dave’s website, comparing this ad to others that Dave is running. It can record which page visitors exited the site from. And it can track how long visitors remain on the site. If a visitor views many pages on Dave’s site, stays on the site for several minutes and still purchases nothing, Dave may conclude, for example, that his camera prices are too high. Conversely, if a visitor views only the home page of Dave’s site and exits it after just a few seconds, Dave may conclude the visitor wasn’t interested, for example, in his brand of cameras. Analytics software can track each visitor, from each keyword phrase, from each search engine. This could be thousands of visitors, from thousands of keyword-phrases, from multiple search engines.
What’s a conversion?
Experts also agree that defining the success of a paid search ad to be an immediate, online sale is frequently shortsighted. For many websites, such a “conversion” can include other events, such as newsletter sign-ups, sales leads and product evaluations. Analytics software can help track these other “conversions”. Andrew Hazen is founder and CEO of Prime Visibility, a firm that consults and manages paid search campaigns. “Our software tracks everything. We can follow how often a visitor returns to the site. For products with a longer sales cycle, a visitor from a search ad may return to the site several times before they purchase something. We’ll track that.”
ClickTrack’s Marshall believes an important conversion “metric” for search advertising is the length of time a visitor spends on a site. “The average time spent on a site is the most important indicator of whether the keyword phrase matches the content of a website. We see keyword ads that produce an average time-on-site of 10 seconds, and others than produce a time of 100 seconds. The differences are that stark. There’s frequently a problem with keyword ads that produce a short time-on-site. Our software will detect that.”
Prime Visibility’s Hazen, “It’s important that the analytics provider is able to provide the data that corresponds to the conversion goals of a website. For example, we have a cosmetics client who needs to know where traffic is geographically coming from so we can follow-up our paid search ads with local television infomercials or even direct mail. In this instance, the paid search ads generated lots of traffic from Arizona, and we mailed catalogs and purchased TV time in that market.”
Marshall cautions website operators to track the entire keyword phrase, and not individual keywords. “Lesser analytics programs will track only the individual keywords, and not the entire phrase. In our view, the complete keyword phrase is the most important, and the operator will oftentimes want to purchase the keyword phrase that produces that longest time-on-site.” Marshall continues, “Time-onsite is so important. Many products and services, for example, have off-line conversions or a long sales cycle. Visitors may access the site from different computers or delete the cookies from their computers. Raw ROI will lose this data, but time-on-site covers all of these possibilities.”
Prime Visibility’s Hazen, “Adjust your website to match keyword search ads to the pages or products most frequently viewed from those ads. For example, if your analytics software tells you that visitors from a certain keyword ad frequently end up on a certain page, adjust your site so that the page or products on that page are what the visitors from the ad see first.”
Adjust and tweak
All experts agree that analytics software enables ecommerce operators to improve their paid search campaigns. The software typically resides on the owner’s web server or on a web server controlled by the analytics company. Software stored on the owner’s web server is usually purchased, while software stored on the analytic-company’s server is typically charged monthly.
Prices for the software can vary widely, from $49 per month for ClickTracks entry-level “Analyzer Hosted” service, to tens of thousands of dollars for elaborate systems. Prime Visibility’s Hazen, “We use Omniture for our clients, which is, in our view, the Rolls Royce of analytics software. This software would independently cost more than ten thousand dollars, but our clients receive the benefits from it without having to purchase it directly.”
With a reputable analytics system, ecommerce operators can use visitor behavior data to adjust and tweak their search ad campaigns or even the website itself.
Bob Cooke is President of Doozy Cards, an online e-card provider. Says Brooks, “We launched our new website a few months ago, and we were convinced that the most popular feature would be our greeting card reminder service. We built our site around it and bought search ads that supported it. Guess what? No one used that reminder service. Our analytics software, ClickTracks, showed us that most visitors opted instead for the free 10 day trial. So, we changed our site to focus on that.”
“I’ll tell you,” says Cooke. “These analytics reports get to be addicting. I look at them the first thing every morning. I have analytics for breakfast!”