Site analysis is just one of three major classes of analytical systems related to Web marketing. Let's step back and look at each one.
Traffic analysis. These systems track the movement of visitors from page to page within a site.and are what most people think of when they hear "Web site analysis." Products and vendors include Coremetrics, Omniture, Google Analytics (formerly Urchin), Unica NetTracker (formerly Sane Solutions), WebSideStory and WebTrends.
The primary outputs of traffic analysis are reports showing how often each page is visited, where the visitors came from and where they go next. This resembles a traditional sales funnel report. It is often used in a similar way to determine where customers are being lost before completing a purchase. But Web behavior is considerably less linear than a basic sales sequence. In addition, customers often make multiple visits for different purposes. The systems address these issues by letting users report separately on different customer segments: people who abandoned a shopping cart, first-time versus repeat visitors, people who made a service request, people from a particular source or marketing campaign and so on. It is important to recognize that segmentation functions vary considerably among different products. Areas of differentiation include what data is available for segmentation, how hard it is to define a new segment and whether new segments can be applied to previous visits.
Version testing. These systems move beyond observing visitor behavior to actually testing their response to alternative versions of a site. Vendors include Memetrics, Offermatica, Optimost, SiteSpect and Vertster. All take control of Web pages, deliver different versions to different visitors and measure the results. Simple A/B tests compare one page against another, while the more complex multivariate tests break each page into elements and test changes in each element independently. The trick with multivariate testing is that clever test designs - often but not always based on the Taguchi method - can test relatively few combinations of elements but still estimate the impact of each element by itself. This lets marketers identify the most effective combination of elements, even thought that particular combination may never have been tested.
Web version testing resembles traditional champion/challenger tests in other media - except that it's vastly faster, cheaper and more flexible. This opens up new possibilities for refining customer treatments and quickly improving results.
Behavioral targeting. These systems use self-adjusting predictive models to select visitor treatments. Certona, Kefta, Touch Clarity and [x+1] (www.xplusone.com) specialize in on-site targeting, while Accipiter, Mediaplex and Revenue Science work mostly with off-site ad networks. Some vendors do both. All are hosted services.
These products observe visitor behavior and build statistical models that predict likely next actions. Once a model is ready, they can use its predictions to select related contents, which could be ads, offers, search results or replies to service questions. Sometimes the systems run structured tests that show different choices to different visitors, but usually they present the same options to all visitors and build their models from the results.
Like other Web analysis tools, the behavioral targeting systems rely on a combination of current behavior and persistent cookies to gather visitor data. They can collect pretty much any information available to the system, from visitor source to browser type to the sequence of pages just visited. Because their modeling is fully automated, they can consider hundreds of variables for their models rather than the handful that can be managed manually in traffic analysis or version testing. The behavioral targeting models continue to learn over time, so predictions adjust automatically as user behaviors change.
Behavioral targeting systems use similar statistical methods to other types of automated modeling systems. Again, though, the data volume and acquisition speed of the Web requires specialized adaptations and makes possible new uses that are unavailable in traditional channels.
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