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The Wired Hotel: Web site analytics - What's it really all about?, by Jerry Tarasofsky
Mr. Tarasofsky

Website / Online Mechandising / SEO

The Wired Hotel: Web site analytics - What's it really all about?

By Jerry Tarasofsky, CEO, iPerceptions Inc.

It is almost impossible to pick up a trade journal or newspaper today and not read something about web site analytics. Google is giving it away free and experts are saying you can't run a web site without it. So what are analytics really all about?

Let's begin by first looking at the need for analytics.

Winning in the online world is not a whole lot different than winning a golf match for example - you have to outperform the other players in your foursome. You have to play smarter, you need a consistent long game as well as a great short game and you need to be able to measure your performance every time you hit the links.

How you go about improving your golf game is what separates the pro's from the duffers. You have to know what clubs to use, you have to perfect your swing with all clubs and you have to know your limits. When you are confident you have these necessary skills in place you are ready to take on Pebble Beach.

Your web site is no different. For a web site to perform well and deliver an acceptable ROI, it has to be perfect or as near to perfect on many levels and in many areas before it can achieve business success. To do this you need to understand how the various components of your site are performing. And to do this you need access to metrics or analytics that will allow you to measure and benchmark your customer's experience and overall satisfaction with your web site. You need to understand what makes your web site visitor tick.

There are two ways to collect this information. You can watch what your visitors do (behavioral) or you can listen to them (attitudinal). To put this into practice in the traditional bricks and mortar sense, you can observe a guest's reaction to a new room design and know whether it had positive or negative impact, or you can ask them when they checkout what they thought. In this scenario watching will only take you so far. Until you actually listen to them and get their feedback in a form you can take action on, you won't know what if any impact that design change had on their intention to return to your hotel.

To be quite frank, if you are only using behavioral/clicktrack analytics to measure and evaluate the performance of your online initiatives, you are not getting the complete story.

So lets' agree that you need to both watch and listen. Having said that, the next question is what to watch and what to listen to?

One approach is to develop a framework or organized structure of the key criteria that make up your visitor's web site experience and measure and evaluate your visitor's web site experience against all aspects of that framework or structure. Here is a quick overview of three key criteria you might want to measure.

Site Structure - A site's overall architecture and layout has a direct impact on your guest's perception of your property's brand and image. Sites that provide a positive web experience will help create a positive impression on your guest -- impacting their behaviors both on and offline. When it comes to measuring visitor perceptions and satisfaction with your overall site, behavioral metrics can at times paint a false picture. For example, click tracking metrics will tell you 70% of your visitors who check out room rates and start to make an online reservation abandoned the process - thus indicating you have a problem with your reservation system. In reality if you listened to those people and asked why they abandoned the process, you'd find out that over 70% of them were just checking out rates and availability and had no intention of ever making a reservation. Had you acted solely on information from behavioral data you might have repaired something that did not need fixing at all.

Content and Interactivity - Web sites must provide consumers with content and interactivity that is informative, helpful and easy to use. There has to be a reason for guests to visit and return to your site. The only way to truly understand whether or not your site is performing well in this area is to listen. You need to understand what your visitors need and expect, whether they can find what they want on your site and if not, what you could have done better. By listening to your visitors, you will be able to understand not only what they are doing online, but also why they are doing it. In this way you can determine exactly what content and interactivity to provide in order to better serve their needs. For example. the speed with which consumers can make a reservation on your site has a direct impact on their perception of your company. It is also important to remember that your guests have different expectations. If it takes 20 seconds to retrieve room photos at other hotel web sites, then consumers will expect a similar response time on your site. To accurately identify what your visitors expect, you need industry data that you can benchmark your site against. By comparing your site against industry norms, you can set benchmarks for satisfactory web site performance and set targets accordingly.

These are just a few criteria that you can use as a baseline for establishing an analytics program to measure customer satisfaction and experience. To build a site that is customer centric, it is critical to measure as many aspects as you can and when you spot a problem, fix it immediately. When all of the pieces fit together, your site is ready to score a hole-in-one with every visitor.

Jerry Tarasofsky is CEO of iPerceptions Inc. Its webValidator® "captures the voice" of the online customer, helping companies learn more about their customers. Using a comprehensive perceptual framework to evaluate key elements of the visitor experience and, algorithms and modeling to identify attributes that drive satisfaction. The webValidator solution turns data points into easy-to-understand strategic and tactical decision support. iPerceptions’ clients in the hospitality sector include Crowne Plaza, Omni, Savoy, Wellesley, Homestead, Radisson and Holiday Inn. Mr. Tarasofsky can be contacted at jerryt@iperceptions.com Extended Bio...

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