Web Analytics Tool – 10 Tips for Choosing the Right One

Implementing a web analytics tool is time consuing and expensive. In three years my company used three (yes three!!) third party web analytics tools.

Can you imagine the amount of time that was wasted on implementing the tools, and what little time was spent on effectively using them!?

Just to set the scene, when I begun working at the company, I inherited a third party web analytics tool, which I had successfully used in my previous job. Unfortunately, the inherited tool was badly implemented, with no supporting documentation. No one in the company knew how to use it and we had received minimal support from the vendor. I cannot stress enough how much my colleagues HATED the tool — from graduates right up to execs, it was despised.

How Not to Choose a Web Analytics Tool

Shortly after joining the company we signed a contract with another third party web analytics tool to replace the despised one. It was cheaper and deemed ‘better’ by senior management. Unfortunately, no due diligence was carried out to assess the requirements of the business, to find a suitable fit. It was seen as a quick fix for the other (failing) tool.

Another full custom implementation later, and 2 years of struggling to fulfil our data requirements, the unanimous conclusion was that we couldn’t carry on as we were — the ‘better’ tool was also failing.

SO, I led the search to find a new web analytics tool, and this time I wanted things done properly.

As a result of my rollercoaster experience I feel well placed to offer some tips on how to choose the right analytics tool. There is a number of web analytics tools out there for you to choose from, so here goes….

1. Make a list of mandatory features

The first step is to write a shopping list of important features you want your analytics tool to have, by creating a matrix. Be 100% clear on must-haves and nice-to-haves, so you can accurately assess the tools that are put in front of you.

For example, you may have something like this:

Example of important web analytics tool features

2. Are you mobile first?

Some vendors have been in the market for a comparatively long time, and their mobile sdks are an after thought. They built their product for web, and when smart phones came along they adapted their existing product to accommodate native apps. This might be ok for you, but its something to be aware of if mobile is a big focus for you. If you are a mobile first company then I would suggest you look for a mobile first analytics tool.

3. Identify what you want to track

Without putting together a fully polished tracking plan (this would be a waste of time as all tools have their own methodology for tracking), it is wise to have a high level overview of what you are going to want to track. This will give you context for how you are going to use potential tools when they are put in front of you.

I find that making a list of key business questions you’re going to want your analytics tool to answer is a good approach e.g. ‘does feature x drive users to sign in?’. You can then use specific use cases when assessing tools.

4. Identify technical requirements

Do you want to do a front end implementation or server to server implementation? Will you use the SDKs or fully server to server?

Get this straight before you start shopping around, so there is no technical blockers once you’ve entered any sales process.

5. Identify the level of strategic and/or technical support you need

Do you have the experience in-house to reliably manage a full implementation of a new web analytics tool? From creating a comprehensive list of business requirements and transposing that into a clear, consistent tracking plan.

If the answer to this is no, then you are going to need to lean on the vendor for their expertise. Even if you do have an internal resources, you are still going to need a level of support to help QA your tracking plan.

Some companies will try to sell you professional services at an hourly rate. Some don’t offer any support and will refer you to a partner. And others will offer you support as part of your agreement, with no additional charges.

Its important to be upfront about this, so you know what you need and what potential vendors are offering.

6. Request demos

Before you take this obvious step, laying all the ground work above will help you to ask the right questions and really test drive the tool. You can’t do this if you go into a demo unprepared. The vendor will try to dazzle you with flashy features and a flashy UI, but if you haven’t prepared for it you won’t be able to apply what you see to your day to day business.

Also, make sure you take an experienced analyst into the demo meeting. If you are a manager with little hands on experience, you may have a strong overview of business requirements, but do you have the experience of being a power user on another web analytics tool? It is important to be able to make comparisons.

7. Ask to see a snapshot of their product roadmap

Not always an obvious question to ask during the sales process, but it’s important to get a feel of the vendors intentions for developing their product. This is a big investment of money and time for your company, and you need to know that they are also going to invest, in improving their product and not become complacent. For example, if the vendor has had a feature in beta for months then I would start to ask questions.

Without them giving away any big secrets, they should be able to offer some transparency.

8. Do you like them? / Can you work with them?

This is of course completely subjective and its a natural instinct to buy from people we like. In my experience this is really important. Having a bad relationship with your chosen vendor is miserable and unproductive. They may have great tech, but if they are difficult to deal with its just not worth it.

9. Get testimonials directly from existing customers

There is no better recommendation than a….erm recommendation. Once you have a shortlist of tools, try to speak to some existing customers.

If you are already working with a related 3rd party marketing tool, like an ab testing tool, then ask your contact to speak to one of their other existing customers that are already using the vendor you’re considering. Many of these tools integrate with one another, so the chance of finding a link through an existing relationship is really likely.

10. Proof of Concept

No credible vendor should be charging you to run a proof of concept. If they want your business, they should be handing over full access to the tool for an agreed amount of time. Get your NDA in place and test drive the hell out of the tool.

Proof of concepts can be time consuming for both you and the 3rd party, and they are a strong signal to the supplier that you mean business. Only enter into this phase if you have ticked off your checklist and you are serious about potentially making a purchase OR you have access to a freemium version that initially doesn’t require you to make a point of contact.

Finally

Once you’ve ticked off as many of the above points as you can, then you are in a very good position to make a decision. Implementing a new analytics tool is extremely time consuming and expensive (trust me, I know). Be confident in your decision by doing all the necessary checks — in most cases your company will be stuck with the decision for a very long time.

Featured image created by Dashu83 — Freepik.com

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