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Measuring Your Website's Return on Investment
By Linda Rigano, Director of Strategic Alliances, ThomasNet
For today's industrial business, a website is no longer just a place to post company information. Online, your website is the first point of contact for a potential customer.

With research showing that nine out of ten industrial purchasers start their buying process not by picking up the phone or consulting a supplier's catalog but by searching the Internet, your website could easily be the most critical tool in your marketing arsenal. Aim it accurately at the right targets, with your online marketing efforts, and a wellcrafted website can be the vital link to a world of new customers and business opportunities. Shoot blindly and chances are good that your competitors will reap the bounty. And thanks to the anonymity of the Internet, you'll never even know it. So how do you know if your website is engaging your targets or just shooting for the moon? The key lies in an astonishingly simple concept: measurement.

Measuring Response
When it comes to doing business online, the old saw that "you can't manage what you don't measure" is especially appropriate. Yet the same business owners and managers who meticulously analyze every other aspect of their business often leave the performance of their websites entirely to chance. With the right tools, analyzing the quality of traffic to your site and what prospective customers do on it is a relatively simple process. It's also the only way to make sure your website and related Internet marketing efforts — and your online marketing investments therein — are pulling their weight when it comes to driving sales.

An effective monthly, online measurement program can provide answers to the six most critical questions:

* How many visitors came to my site?
* Where did they come from?
* What key phrases did they use?
* What pages did they view?
* How many took an action?
* How long did they stay?


The answers to these and other questions make it possible to fine tune a site and make sure that it provides the product and service information that prospective buyers expect and need to find in order to buy from you.

Many companies still measure marketing performance by a "cost per lead" metric. But today, based on search activity and online marketing techniques, a truer measurement of performance is the "cost per sale" metric. Again, this metric is a truer indicator of how well the marketing program is doing to bring in revenue. There are many instances when a certain program may bring in a very low cost per lead, but have a very high cost per sale. The number of leads does not always equate to quantity or quality of sales. Most importantly, the cost per sale metric helps you to determine the quality of a marketing program — the return of investment of it to your business.

The Right Tracking System
Website tracking systems come in two flavors: server-side programs, which draw inferences about a site's effectiveness based on the activity of the computer server on which it resides, and client-side software that lives on the site owner's own computer and directly tracks and analyzes visitors' actions on a particular site. The "server" is the remote computer, usually operated by an Internet service provider, or ISP, that stores the files that make up a website. Server-side tracking tools create log files that record a "hit" every time the server "serves up" a particular page of a site for viewing. Unfortunately, this system generally paints an unreliable picture of what is actually happening on the site. While it can reveal which pages a visitor looks at, it offers no insight into user behavior and what the user did on a particular page. Server-side tracking also tends to undercount hits because it is unable to determine when a visitor returns to a particular page more than once, as one might when comparing multiple products.

The "client," on the other hand, refers to any desktop or laptop computer running a web browser such as Internet Explorer. Unlike server-based systems, client-side tracking directly monitors a user's actual journey through a website, page-by-page, click-by-click. When a visitor first enters a website, a bit of innocuous computer code known as a "cookie" is automatically downloaded that makes it possible to record everything from how the visitor arrived at the site (from a search engine, a destination site, or somewhere else), to how much time was spent on every page, to how deeply the visitor drilled into the site in search of information. This is a particularly important metric because the deeper prospective customers go before hitting the "back" button, the more engaged in the content — and what you have to sell — they likely are.

Connecting the Dots
While design is important, it's the information a site offers — or doesn't — that ultimately determines if a prospective customer takes a buying action or clicks the "back" button to shop elsewhere. Tracking often reveals that flash animations and contrasting colors designed to catch the eye often distract buyers and have just the opposite effect. So if prospective customers seem to be doing a rapid "about-face" when they arrive on a particular page, it's time to test some changes and discover why. Likewise, if prospects seem to be going no further than the first page, it could be that you're leaving them in the dark as to whether you even sell what they're looking for. Making sure that prospective buyers can verify that they're in the right place within six to eight seconds is key, research shows.

In a nutshell, client-side tracking provides far more useful and actionable information. Knowing how visitors arrive at your site and which of them actually become buyers or take other buying action makes it possible to direct more of your Internet advertising dollars to those sites that provide the most quality traffic. Knowing which keywords and key phrases visitors use to find your site and using them liberally will make it even easier for the right prospects to find your site.

Build a website, develop an effective online marketing program, and prospects should follow. Using an effective tracking and measurement program gives you the intelligence to know what is happening so you can make the improvements to ensure that they stay and buy. There are a number of good tracking systems on the market today — many are free including WebTrax, a ThomasNet measurement system offered to all clients.

For more information, contact: Thomas Publishing Company, LLC, 5 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10001 212-695-0500 E-mail: contact@thomaspublishing.com or Lrigano@thomasnet.com Web: http://www.ThomasPublishing.net

 
 
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