Mar 23 2009

Are you losing money? Do you even know?

Published by at 12:27 am under analytics

With the current economic conditions and schools all over the country cutting budgets, cutting jobs, raising tuition, we’re all a little on edge and wondering how we can squeeze more out of less.

We’re still being tasked with finding ways to create better experiences for our users only now we have to do it on a tighter budget and with less people.

The problem is that there are many things to get done, but we’re not sure how to prioritize. Should we overhaul? Should we wait until next year? How do we know?

Enter web analytics.

For those of you who are not on the analytics band-wagon. It’s time to jump on. I’m not talking about just tagging your pages and walking away. Now you have Google Analytics installed on your website. Whoopee. Who cares.

I’m talking about saving money. In some cases, as you’ll see below, I’m talking about making money. How? Decisions based on real data. That’s how.

Example – Alumni Website. Let’s say you run your university alumni website. You have a snazzy online membership process, however, it just doesn’t seem to be working. It seems that a very small number of alumni are signing up for membership via your online membership form.

Now let’s say you don’t use web analytics. What do you do? You may run a user test, which is great. You might also just assume that your online membership form is bad and needs to be overhauled. This will cost your department hundreds of hours in development time or thousands of dollars in outsourcing … or both.

If you don’t run any analytics tool on your website, though, you may not know that the process may *not* need to be overhauled. The problem might only be one step of the process.

Let me explain …

Here’s a quick example I’ve used before.

Let’s say this is your membership process and, in 1 week, 1000 users click “become a member.” Looking at this process, where is the problem?

Online membership process

Obviously step 2 is the culprit. It’s where your users are “falling out” of the process – hence the term “fallout.”

Your “create an account” form might be cumbersome. Maybe you’re asking too many needless questions. Maybe the form isn’t optimized for Firefox. Whatever the case, you need to dig deeper to find out.

Focus on that one step. You don’t need an overhaul.

Another example – university online bookstore. The online bookstore may be the only place your out-of-town alumni or fans can get  apparel. Unless  you’re a big or well known school, this may be true.

Use this same  process for your bookstore shopping cart. Is there a problem with a certain step? If you’re not using analytics, you may not even know you have a problem. You may be losing thousands of dollars in sales each month and not know it!

But we use a third-party shopping cart! For any shopping cart function, whether it’s your alumni site, your bookstore, your library, anything, some schools use a third-party shopping cart. That’s ok. Talk to your vendor. Are they using analytics? Can they show you if users are falling out in the process?

When does the third-party shopping cart take over on  your site? Is it only *after* a user clicks “add to cart?” If so, great. You can capture data until then and compare it to the orders placed. If there’s a big discrepancy, talk to your vendor.

The $300 Million Button. Jared Spool is a usability expert and CEO of User Interface Engineering. He wrote a great blog post about how a very simple website change made a company $300 million in one year. Seriously.

It seems they simply removed the “register” button and replaced it with a “continue” button, thus not forcing people to register (create a new account or input their data to login) to buy a product. After the simple change, the company online sales jumped $15 million in the first month. $15 million!

Stop talking about e-commerce! I know. These examples are somewhat e-commerce…y, but the idea is the same no matter what.

The company Mr. Spool helped out may have *never* known how much money they were losing in sales by this simple mistake if they weren’t using an analytics tool. The issue might have taken them all of a an hour to fix. $15 million for an hour of developer time!

Likewise, imagine the money that company would have thrown down the drain by overhauling the shopping cart process entirely. A thousand web developer hours? Would they have outsourced the job? How much money would that cost?

The point is, you may not know how much money you’re throwing down the drain with your poor processes if you don’t measure them. Even if you don’t have a shopping cart.

  • Do you want your users to download a PDF, fill it out and then send it in? How many users download the PDF compared to how many actually mail it in?
  • Do you have an event sign up on your admissions site? How many users are clicking to sign up compared to those who actually get through the process?
  • Do you have a ticketing  system for your helpdesk site? Even if it’s internal. It doesn’t matter. How many users click to start a ticket and then never finish one?

You get the picture. This can be done with almost anything you want your users to do on your site.

Without measuring these things, you may be losing time and money and not even know it.

What’s worse, you may be *guessing* at what the problem is with no real data. You may be pouring money out the window by overhauling an entire system that may only need to be tweaked.

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Are you losing money? Do you even know?”

  1. Mike McCreadyon 28 Mar 2009 at 1:37 am

    Great post. This is so true. I’ve worked with web analytics for a number of years, but not seriously. Where I work now, I’m trying to educate myself on web analytics and educate others on campus like marketing. There is the common old school thought that if campaigns bring in visitors to the website, the campaign is successful.

    I hope to be able to shift their paradigm.

    Thanks for the post and your web analytics webinar this week.

  2. Shelby Thayeron 31 Mar 2009 at 8:31 pm

    Mike – thanks so much for the comment and for the nice words about the analytics webinar last week.

    I’m so glad you are becoming the analytics evangelist at your school. It’s so critical to get others on board, not just marketing.

    With the IT and design folks, talk about the usability angle. When you can, however, tie it back to money as much as possible. If you can show them how they can save money (or make money depending upon the site), you’ll have an easier time getting people on board.

    Good luck and keep fighting the good fight!

  3. [...] web analytics can save you time and money. Do those in higher education care about whether they are losing money (hard and soft costs!) due [...]