A Web server, when properly configured, can record every click that users make on a Web site. For each click in the so-called "click stream," the Web server appends a line to a log file, recording information such as the user's identity, the page clicked and a date/time stamp. A fair amount of hype in recent software vendor messages and the IT press tells us that there's gold in the click stream, and we should be panning click-stream data to separate its gold dust from the tons of dirt carried in the current.
THE HURWITZ TAKE: As a "reality check," Hurwitz Group recently conducted a straw poll that asked: "What potential value can we glean by analyzing click-stream data?" Responses to the poll are summarized include:
- Behavioral analysis. The click stream is (at least, theoretically) a record of an individual user's behavior from which many business analysts hope to deduce user profiles. In an e-commerce setting, a customer profile of this type could contribute to more effective selling. In an e-Business-to-Business setting, profiling suppliers and distributors might help an organization better understand their needs.
- One-to-One marketing. One application of user profiles (still pretty much science fiction at this point) is to dynamically update these profiles, match them to archetypal customer models and then generate Web-page content accordingly. For instance, dynamic content generation could produce one-of-a-kind promotions for would-be purchasers on e-commerce Web sites.
- Path to purchase. Click-stream analysis might reveal that the path to a popular product takes 43 clicks which should be shortened to 10 or fewer to avoid customer frustration.
- Product affinities. A customer's path through a Web site might reveal product affinities not seen in shopping-basket analysis.
- Usability. Click-stream analysis can show usability problems such as Web pages that take too many clicks to find, take too long to load, users not returning to it, or users not getting past it (because their forms are not self-explanatory). Because these problem pages can be barriers to a purchase in an e-commerce environment, improving usability has the potential to directly improve profitability.
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