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Web Analytics an Hour a Day, by Avinash Kaushik

Book review by Andreas Ramos

Web Analytics an Hour a Day, by Avinash Kaushik. (Wiley Publishing, 2007. 443 pg., illustrations, tables, index. ISBN 978-0-470-13065-0). Available at Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, etc. Visit SnipURL.com/WAHour

Avinash Kaushik is the author of the blog Occam's Razor and a independent consultant. He is also the Analytics Evangelist for Google. His most recent role was the Director for Web Research & Analytics at Intuit. More at kaushik.net/avinash

Executive Summary

Avinash Kaushik focuses on the key issue: the visitors. Learn what your visitors want and then give it to them. Use analytics, competitive intelligence, and user polls to find out. Many sites focus only on customers (the ones who actually buy) and pretty much ignore the remaining visitors (who make up 60-80% of the traffic). By looking at visitors, you can improve the overall experience, and very likely the conversion rate as well.

Avinash's book is far away the best book on analytics. He has solid experience in using analytics tools at large companies. He also has a degree in engineering and an MBA, so he understands both the technical and the business aspects. The book is a solid presentation of how to use analytics to establish and reach business goals. As you've figured out by now, analytics is not about tracking URLs or auto-generated reports. It's business.

The Details

For Kaushik, there are three main strategies: discover the visitors' intentions, compare your website against benchmarks, and use analytics.

The first item is to understand your visitors. Learn what they want. Find out what they are seeking at your website. It's a mistake to focus on conversions; at best only 20-30% of your visitors will convert. If you concentrate on them, you're ignoring 70% of your visitors. To learn their intentions, ask them. Add polls and surveys at your site. Avinash offers several questions to ask your visitors: What are you looking for at our website? Were you able to complete your task? If you were unable to complete your task, please explain why. How can we improve our website to make it more useful for you?

The second item is comparison with your competitors: how are you doing in your industry. It's very nice to say that you have two million monthly visitors, but… compared to your top competitors, is that low? If they're getting one to two million visitors per month, then you're fine. But if they're getting 50 million monthly visitors, you're in trouble. So, find out. Avinash describes two services for competitive information and the features of each. You can find out your competitor's traffic share, level of activity, conversion rates, demographics, and so on. Other tools let you compare the amount of traffic for you and your top competitors. It's all in the book.

The third step is analytics. There is so much useful content in this book that I can't give a short summary. Avinash has solid experience in setting up KPIs and dashboards for dozens of companies and you'll learn how to do this. He describes what is useful, how it matters, and how to use it. He tells you why you should avoid real-time reporting.

A major issue in analytics is the soft numbers. Computers and the web gave us the promise of fully-trackable activity. Web analytics itself implies accurate measurement of data. This turned out to be an illusion. Nearly all of our clients are unaware that the numbers are off by as much as 30%. This is caused by a number of factors: the various analytics tools use different definitions for an event. Users block JavaScript, so tagging can't collect data. As much as 40% of users delete cookies every day. There are tracking problems with Ajax and Web 2.0 sites. And there are many more problems. The book has a clear explanation of log files, tagging, web bugs, and packet sniffing, along with the advantages and disadvantages for each one. You need to understand the technical issues to understand the strengths and limits of your numbers.

Along with describing what to do, Avinash also tells you what to ignore. Analytics is not reporting, so don't deliver reports. Reports are not useful for business decisions. If they want reports, set up automated reporting. Nobody reads these anyway. You should also ignore page views, clicks, and exit pages. These are useless for business decisions. It sounds very nice to say you have four million monthly page views, but so what? What matters is the visitors' intentions and your KPIs.

Avinash doesn't shy away from bold statements. He points out that analytics is interpretation and recommendation. But expensive analytics tools (which cost $50,000 to $100,000 per year or more) can simply be report-generating engines for your company, unless you have mastered their complexity. With tools like ClickTracks Analytics (which costs $90 per month) and Google Analytics (which is free) you can get all the reporting you want at a very low price. This allows you to invest in people or getting help from external consultants to move from reporting to doing analysis. You can even use both ClickTracks and Google Analytics. Google Analytics uses tagging and ClickTracks uses log files (or tagging); ClickTracks is good for SEO and Google Analytics is good for PPC. Each has features that the other is not capable of producing. By using easier tools, you can focus on the business goals instead of using the tool.

He also brings up the problems with Web 2.0. We have a number of Web 2.0 clients. How do you use analytics in a Web 2.0 world? On Web 2.0 sites, the concept of page views is irrelevant, because Ajax and Flash tools don't require a new page or a page refresh. There are lines of code from Google that allow you to track JavaScript events in Google Analytics. His book is current enough to discuss these issues.

A number of chapters are recommendations from Avinash: what is important? What is useful? What can you ignore? What is useless? He includes a list of best practices. The recommendations are extremely useful. That's why he is asked by Fortune 200 companies to help them with their analytics strategy. The same advice is in this book.

The Bottom Line

Avinash Kaushik's book is easily one of the best books for analytics, SEO, PPC, SEM, or the web industry. If you read only one book on web commerce, this is the one.

Avinash is donating his profits to charity. Help him by buying the book at SnipURL.com/WAHour

 

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