June 2008 - Online Strategies

Stop Guessing What Your Customers Want From Your Website

By Aaron Kahlow

This month, I address what might be the single biggest misconception in the online marketing world today: analytics vs. usability.

First and foremost, we need to define the two terms. Web analytics is the practice of measuring what is happening on your website through software solutions (usually tagging or a log file). In the most basic form, we look at visitors, unique visitors, length of stay and page views, along with other “key performance indicators.”

Website usability is the cognitive science of understanding why people do what they do on your website. Common forms of usability are lab testing, remote online testing and heuristics. After 15 years of commercial use of the web, there are reams of data about best practices for serving your users. Simple audits against these practices are a common entry-level usability engagement.

Bottom line: analytics helps you understand what your customers are doing, where usability determines the why. In terms of concrete reasons for change, the “why” is a must and the “what” is only an indicator.

Say you’re looking at your web analytic reports and notice that over 50 percent of your customers leave on your main products category page. So you ask, “Why are they leaving?” Someone responds, “We don’t have enough content.” Another says, “I think they’re e-mailing us at this point.” Yet another says, “They can’t find what they want.” Who’s right? What do you do?

The fact is, you don’t know who your visitor is. Are they here to buy a product, research a solution or find customer service for an existing purchase? We don’t know their motivations; we just know what is happening.

If we turned to usability analysts, they could tell us based on past research that the most likely challenge for the buyer is that he/she doesn’t have the right nomenclature to take the next click or that the overload of imagery is confusing. So, we’re now a lot closer to fixing some of the fundamental issues with the page. We can run a usability test and watch real users navigate the site, asking contextually relevant questions as to why they did what they did.

This goes back to my pet peeve of focusing on conversions versus customer experience. If you focus on conversions, then you are trying to have your customers do what you want them to do. If you focus on customer experience (usability), then you are helping them do what they want to do. And if that is accomplished, then your conversion rates will increase substantially.

Of course, analytics is important and needs to be part of your online marketing mix, but we can’t rely on analytics alone as the basis for change. Additionally, analytics really is the easy part. Once your tool is set up with the right key performance indicators, you’ll be able to self-report without a consultant to interpret the results. Their guess will be as good as yours. The “why” is where it gets complicated.

Aaron Kahlow is managing partner of BusinessOnLine in San Diego, Calif., and chairman of the Online Marketing Summit. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]


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