Are you tracking your search activity or struggling to see the value in it?

The findings from trade organisation European Interactive Advertising Association (EIAA) indicate that advertisers are diverting spend away from TV and print into online. Much of this transition will see online ad spend rise by over 65% in 2008. A big part of this expansion includes a boost in European advertising, focusing on Spain, Italy, France, Germany and the Netherlands, in a bid to close the gap between UK & US spend levels. With search being at least 10% of brands' media spend, what are you doing to measure your success?

For Paid Search, brands are able to measure success quite easily. Since the launch of Google Analytics a few years back (a free analytics tool), most brands these days will opt into using the free tool at the very least. In addition to the free analytics tool, the search engines themselves provide free conversion tracking. The three main engines, Google, Yahoo and MSN all track the session data down to revenue detail. Meaning that should the user click and purchase a product, register etc. there and then, this data would be captured as x1 click, x1 sale and £X revenue. The big advantage to Google Analytics is that it plugs directly into your Adwords account, therefore no additional coding is required and the users journey through your site (click path, drop off %, conversion data etc.) is analysed, which presents a clear user analysis to your search strategy.

There are however limitations to these 'free' services, with the biggest being a loss in cookie data. Meaning users which click now but buy later, whether it's the same day or up to 30 days later are not recorded. Google Analytics in particular has issues with measuring up the visitor data to your Adwords or any other online campaigns in fact. In Google's defence though, the company specifically states that its analytics tool measures the visitor and not the click; however by doing this, more than just the click is weeded out of your raw data, resulting in up to a 50% loss in traffic and revenue for many advertisers.

Outside of the free tools, the more detailed and sophisticated analytics brands have taken the search market by storm. At the beginning of 2007, every man and his dog was talking about Omniture - the great US analytics company, who was here to save us all from loss of data and as a special (but costly) feature, they tossed campaign management into the mix which was Omniture's own version of bid management. The great new tool didn't come with a European management team to support it though and for many, the Omniture story was short lived. However, by the end of 2007 Omniture did invest heavily into their European team and now again, many brands are taking the plunge and signing up to Omniture. Despite its rocky start, Omniture does offer the advertiser a wealth of data and clever learning tools. For example, the click funnel explains the journey of the user from keyword to conversion. This is particularly useful to all those advertisers struggling to justify the media spend on the generic keyword(s). With this being the most expensive group of keywords in your campaign and sometimes the hardest to justify in spend. The click funnel illustrates the true value of your investment, pulling in cookie data from the generic keyword. Omniture also has the capability to track multiple online campaigns including SEO, email, banner, affiliates and so forth.

Next in line is Web Trends, another US offering with similar features to Omniture including the campaign management tool. Web Trends already established in the UK long before, didn't suffer the same teething problems as Omniture. Again another clever and thorough analytics tool, with some excellent insightful features. One of my personal favourites includes the click up & down stream analysis, which show you where your traffic comes from and where it goes to afterwards - a feature which also appears in Hitwise and a proven hit with Online Marketing Managers.

Most would consider these two as the market leaders. There are plenty more providers out there, Nielsen's, Nedstat, Redeye, Intellitracker, Hitbox (Web Side Story) to name a few. It is apparent though, that certain industries have their favourites for example Nedstat and Nielsen's are both utilised by publishing brands. The reasoning comes down to the page impression and user tracking flexibility and depth of the data - the key KPI areas for most publishing brands. Whereas Nielsen is popular within the gaming industry. Nielsen being the old timer in the mix, with its traditional heavyweight analytics offering is a perfect choice to the gaming industry which depends on usability and user analysis to understand how the consumer uses their site.

Within all of these analytics tools though as a standard, the visitors click path and conversion detail is a given. The usual suspects include time spent; drop off %, pages clicked, list/snapshot of actual pages clicked, demographic, geographical breakdown and IP data is as always a standard. Outside of this information it is the endless reporting possibilities and comparable options which separate the tools from each other.

Although all of this sounds perfect, none of these come cheap. With most starting off at least £10,000 with training and ongoing support/account management on top - purchasing a tracking and analytics tool can be an expensive affair.
Tracking and analytics is essential though, therefore a decent amount of research into the available options is a must, this should include a pitch process…and certainly if you're planning on spending over £10,000 buy a tool which can track all online activities weeding out any cross-duplication and dud data.

Whichever vendor you choose, don't get caught out in the excitement of 2008 - with spend set to rise over 65% ensure you understand completely where your media spend goes and how it translates into a return. As well as 2008 being predicted as a phenomenal year as far as media spend goes, it should also be known as the year when all brands invested into a tracking and analytics tool.

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