Monday, March 06, 2006

Web Site Measurement Hacks

O'Reilly published "Web Site Measurement Hacks" by Eric T Peterson, in August 2005. Here is a review.

Before going into this book in depth, it is worth saying something about the O'Reilly "Hacks" series. The concept is that one person acting as much as an editor as author puts together 100 separate topics or "hacks" on the subject, with the help of a panel of expert contributors. This creates an authoritative book quickly, useful in a rapidly evolving field where the normal book production process takes so long that a book can be out of date before it is published. Also, the book sums of knowledge of an array of experts, giving the book balance and letting it represent the best practices in its field.

The Hacks books are organized as 100 topics that are copiously cross-referenced and are mostly designed to be read independently. While this means that you can skim and dip in at any point of interest, the books can be tediously repetitive if read linearly. So part of the job of a review of a "Hacks" book is to tell the reader how to read the book.

Eric T. Peterson, author of "Web Site Measurement Hacks: Tips and Tools to Help Optimize Your Online Business", is a senior analyst with JupiterResearch and has also authored "Web Analytics Demystified"”. He has enlisted a panel of 17 highly qualified experts to cover all aspects of web site measurement and analysis.

So why measure web sites? Well, a 19th century department store magnate said, "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I just don't know which half."” Today, with the collection and analysis of web site data it is possible to calculate the cost and benefit of a marketing campaign down to the last penny, and that is just one of the measurement activities discussed in the book. Properly used web site measurements can help you optimize every aspect of your web site.

The book is divided into 7 chapters. The first chapter introduces the basic concepts. Unfortunately, these basic concepts topics are intermingled with other topics on such diverse subjects as how to set up a web analytics team, selecting measurement software and when to use packet sniffing. Everyone needs to read the introductory hacks 1, 2, 5, 7 and 9.

Chapter 2 along with some of the later hacks in Chapter 1 goes into the details of implementing a web site measurement system. Most readers should come back to this chapter after they have read the later chapters and decided what they want their web site measurement system to do. There is a lot of good material in this chapter, however it is gritty implementation detail. The approach to measurement espoused by the book is to decide on the business issues that you want the web measurement to address and then figure out how to do it. The reader should stick to the program.

The third chapter covers online marketing measurement. Everyone should read hacks 37 through 39, which cover general visitor measurement terminology leading up to the all important concept of conversion. The rest of the chapter is divided into topics on measuring specific marketing activities such as banner campaigns, email campaigns and paid search campaigns that are of interest to sales and marketing types. The big picture takeaway from these topics is that it is possible to measure the effectiveness of these campaigns in excruciating detail.

Chapter 4 is about measuring web site usability. It should be read by the kind of web designer who is actually interested in making their web site user friendly, and the marketing type who in interested in increasing their conversion rate by improving the site design. Chapter 5 discusses technographics and demographics. Technographics is measurements of the technical capabilities of users in answer to questions like what browsers should I test my web site with and do my pages download fast enough? Demographics is the realm of marketing.

Chapter 6 goes through measurement for online retail in greater depth, covering some more sophisticated topics like cross-sell and estimating the lifetime value of a customer. This is a deeper discussion of online marketing in retail, and leads onto the final chapter on Reporting Strategies and Key Performance Indicators. This chapter is the realm of the business analyst. It starts off with some sage advice on how to distribute measurement results into the rest of the organization. The next few topics explain Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and the final topics list best practice KPIs for different types of web sites.

Overall this is a comprehensive collection of good material on web site measurement. It contains quite enough material to satisfy a non-technical reader as well as a full JavaScript and Perl implementation of a web measurement system that you can implement your self.

I do have a few criticisms. Firstly, several of the screen shot figures are too small to read. Secondly, I cringed in a few places that confused revenue with income. Finally I was disappointed with the hack on split path testing. This is a valuable technique for objectively measuring web site design, however it is not easy. The subject is big enough that it really needs a chapter of its own, however all we get is one hack that starts with a large chunk of VBScript, followed by a lame explanation. For all aspects of web site measurement apart from split path testing, the book is highly recommended.

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