What gets measured gets managed.
Without quantifiable metrics, website optimization (WSO) is a guessing game. But with hundreds of billions of e-commerce dollars at stake, most companies cannot afford to guess.
This excerpt is from Chapter 10: Website Optimization Metrics from Website Optimization. Is your site easy to find, simple to navigate, and enticing enough to convert prospects into buyers? Website Optimization shows you how. It reveals a comprehensive set of techniques to improve your site's performance by boosting search engine visibility for more traffic, increasing conversion rates to maximize leads and profits, revving up site speed to retain users, and measuring your site's effectiveness (before and after these changes) with best-practice metrics and tools.
You'll learn how you can use these methods to track the success metrics outlined earlier with the recommended tools. You'll also read about two more advanced analytics tools, namely Google Website Optimizer and the user experience tool WebEffective from Keynote Systems.
Webalizer, AWStats, and Analog are three of the commonly supplied logfile analysis tools. They are all free. Because server logs are usually in a standard format, they will work across all platforms and web servers. For more details on these packages, see the following sites:
Installation is easy and is typically a cut-and-paste operation. To install Google Analytics, a developer need only include this bit of code on every page in the site by means of a site-wide footer:
<input type="button" onclick="getNextPhoto(); pageTracker._trackPageview('/photo- gallery/next/');" value="Next" />
Now when users interact with our photo gallery, even though the page does not fully refresh, we will record a page view. You can find more instructions on this level of tagging at http://www.google.com/support/googleanalytics/bin/answer.py?answer=55597&topic=10981.
User-Agent header sent with the browser to gather insight in this area (which can be and sometimes is forged, especially in Firefox and Opera):
User-Agent: Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; SV1; .NET CLR 1.1. 4322; .NET CLR 2.0.50727; .NET CLR 3.0.04506.30)
Google's Website Optimizer is a free A/B testing tool that allows developers to run controlled experiments. Released in late 2006, Website Optimizer has revolutionized the testing of multiple variations to optimize conversion rates. Now there is no need to purchase specialized software run by white-coated lab technicians to run multivariate tests. Website Optimizer packages the mathematics of statistical power, sample size, and random variation into an intuitive integrated system. the section called “Multivariate testing with Google Website Optimizer” shows an overview of how Website Optimizer works.
You can use Website Optimizer as an A/B split testing service for sites with lower page traffic (less than 1,000 page views per week) that want to test alternatives, or as a multivariate testing platform for busier sites that want to test multiple content changes simultaneously.
Using Google's interface, developers take the following steps to run a multivariate test:
Choose the elements to test.
Launch the variations.
Analyze the results.
By combining logfile analysis with client-side tracking, you can harness the best features of both. UsaProxy is a hybrid analytics system developed by University of Munich researchers that can track both client-side interaction and HTTP activity. 
127.0.0.1 2007-12-02,23:04:46 httptraffic url=http://mail.google.com/mail/ sd=624 127.0.0.1 2008-00-02,23:04:48 sd=627 sid=Adn1KR0Hr8VT event=load size=0x0 127.0.0.1 null httptraffic url=http://mail.google.com/mail/?ui=2 ik=ae8caaf240 view=cbj sd=632 127.0.0.1 2008-00-02,23:04:48 sd=627 sid=Adn1KR0Hr8VT event=load size=300x150 127.0.0.1 2007-12-02,23:05:02 httptraffic url=http://mail.google.com/mail/ sd=649 127.0.0.1 2008-00-02,23:05:06 sd=627 sid=Adn1KR0Hr8VT event=mousemove offset=75,27 coord=84,54 dom=abaaaaaaaaaababcaaa 127.0.0.1 2008-00-02,23:06:24 sd=627 sid=Adn1KR0Hr8VT event=keypress key=shift+H 127.0.0.1 2008-00-02,23:06:25 sd=627 sid=Adn1KR0Hr8VT event=keypress key=m
The combined logfile allows finer-grained analysis, timings, and overlays of clientside interaction on web pages (see Figure 10.5, “Mouse trails recorded by an HTTP proxy overlaid onto a screenshot”).
The advantage to the HTTP proxy technique is that there is no need to tag pages. One disadvantage is that HTTP compression is disabled while gathering data. You should run UsaProxy only for logging on a live website when site visitors have agreed to it, because the high level of detail raises some privacy concerns, such as login identifiers and passwords. The UsaProxy software is available at http://fnuked.de/usaproxy/.
What if you want to track metrics across multiple sites, including those of your competitors? Or compare task completion success to user attitudes? That's where User Experience (UX) testing software comes into play. UX testing was once the exclusive domain of usability labs. Now UX software semiautomates user experience testing with specialized software for running usability tests and capturing results. Keynote Systems' WebEffective software is one such UX testing platform (see Figure 10.6, “Keynote Systems' WebEffective output”).
Available under license or as a service, WebEffective is a flexible platform for conducting in-depth user experience and market research studies on individual sites or across an entire industry. WebEffective uses a small ActiveX component or a proxy server to track user behavior and gather input during the test. Detailed clickstream data is available only through Internet Explorer and the ActiveX control, but you can use WebEffective with all other browsers for task-based testing. Researchers design and deploy tests that include screening panelists and running tasks on one or more sites, while at the same time gathering detailed information on user activity and success rates. The tool provides a window into the real-world attitudes, behaviors, and intentions of users. For instance, users tend to overestimate success rates when compared to actual drop-off rates (see Figure 10.7, “Conversion funnel with drop-off rates and comments”).
The significance of Figure 10.7, “Conversion funnel with drop-off rates and comments” is that 70% of testers said they completed the task, but only 20% of those actually completed the task as it was designed to be completed.
The software provides robust reporting tools, showing success rates, browsing time, page views, stay and load times, and other metrics. More important, it integrates user feedback with results (shown in Figure 10.7, “Conversion funnel with drop-off rates and comments”). So, not only do you find out what happened, but you can also learn why it happened. Figure 10.8, “Club Med findings: booking process” shows some sample results from a comparison between the Club Med and Beaches websites.
This kind of integrated approach to usability testing can boost conversion rates significantly without the need for an expensive usability laboratory. Think of it as a global usability lab without walls.
If you enjoyed this excerpt, buy a copy of Website Optimization.
Copyright © 2009 O'Reilly Media, Inc.