Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Evolution of Web Analytics

We have not had a talk on Web Analytics for many years at the SDForum Business Intelligence SIG, so it was great to hear Stephen Oachs, founder and CTO of VisiStat, speak on "The Evolution of Web Analytics" at our September meeting. VisiStat is a two year old start-up that provides a web site performance measurement and analytics service (Software as a Service model) in the Small and Medium Business market.

As Stephen told us, first generation web analytics was about collecting data from web logs, integrating that with data from other sources and presenting historical results to IT specialists. The current generation, which he called web site performance management, collects data by page tagging, which entails adding a small snippet of JavaScript to each page. In practice the code snippet is added to a common page header or footer so it only needs to be added once to cover all pages in a site.

Page tagging collects more information than can be extracted from web server logs and it does not require difficult integration to make sense of the data. With better analysis software, the results of page tagging are ready to show directly to end users like the marketing and sales people who are responsible for the contents of the web site. Also, with page tagging we can see the data in real time, which allows the following of a user as they browse around the web site.

Real time access to information opens new doors. Stephen told us about a specific case where a bank became aware that it was subject to a phishing attack on its customers when the bank noticed an unusual change in the patterns of access to their web site. Similarly, click fraud can be detected by unusually high bounce rates from specific a key word. If detected in time the click fraud may be subverted by changing the price for the specific keyword. Finally, real time data provides web site availability monitoring, an additional service that for example, VisiStat offers for free.

The evening ended with a demo of the VisiStat product by Tina Bean, VisiStat Director of Sales and Marketing. The demo involved logging into real live customer web sites. You can see much of the same thing by visiting the VisiStat web site and looking at their live demo. VisiStat is a powerful tool for understanding how a web site is being used. At the same time we could see that it is designed from the end user perspective, so that typical small business user can use it effectively without needing support from an IT department or consultant. Most impressive is the fact that all the power of VisiStat is available to a small web sites for as little as $20 a month.

No comments: