Peterson's raises its customer NetIQ

Peterson's realized that they needed to track the activity of the users on their site.

ABOUT THE VENDOR NetIQ Corporation is a provider of e-business infrastructure management and intelligence for all the components of an organization's e-business infrastructure -- from back-end servers, networks and directories to front-end Web servers and applications. The company is headquartered in San Jose, CA., with development and operational personnel in Houston, TX; Raleigh, NC; Bellevue, WA; Portland, OR; Australia; the United...

Kingdom; and Japan. ABOUT THE CUSTOMER A part of Thomson, Peterson's is a provider of lifelong learning online resources, software, reference guides, and books. The Education Supersite at www.petersons.com has searchable databases and interactive tools for contacting U.S.-accredited institutions and programs. Peterson's serves over 110 million education consumers annually. The Thomson Corporation, with 2001 revenues of $7.2 billion, is a provider of integrated information solutions to business and professional markets worldwide. Its learning businesses and brands serve the needs of individuals, institutions, and businesses with a blend of products and services tailored to any learning environment. ABOUT THE TECHNOLOGY WebTrends' Web analytics software and eService solutions provide insights into Web site visitors' behavior and preferences. Multiple end users can directly access and run reports via their browsers. WebTrends solutions now power the e-commerce initiatives of over 55,000 customers worldwide, including over half the Fortune and Global 500s. From the beginning of the launch of their Web site in 1996, Peterson's realized that they needed to track the activity of the users on their site. Many software programs at that time didn't provide the in-depth detail they needed. Two years ago Peterson's began a search for a new solution that would give them detailed information on the content of their site as well as the activity they generated for their clients. SearchCRM spoke with Bill Herron, Peterson's director of Web traffic management, about the project. ------------------------------------------------- SearchCRM: Why did your company decide to evaluate Web analytics solutions? Herron: For example, we wanted to be able to tell Boston University exactly how many visitors viewed their In-Depth Description (a two-page article that an institution can purchase that provides detailed information about the institution). In addition, we needed detailed information on each of our channels and the actions our users took within them. SearchCRM: What were you looking for in a solution? Herron: We needed a solution that was flexible, convenient and powerful. Flexibility allowed us to implement a solution by what we needed to track -- activity to individual channels on our site and activity to specific clients (over 25,000 of them). Convenience ensured we could spend our time analyzing the traffic reports as opposed to generating them. We needed a powerful program that provided the detailed information we needed now and that could expand its capabilities in the future. SearchCRM: What made you choose NetIQ? Herron: We had already been using Analog and WebTrends Enterprise Suite, so we were acutely aware of the agony of managing and analyzing log files. WebTrends was coming out with a new solution, WebTrends Live, which was client based by using a JavaScript code. The service went well beyond the basic hit counters that were available at the time. We realized that a client side solution would give us the flexibility we needed to track statistics for 25,000 clients as well as each of our channels. Since it was a hosted solution, we had the convenience of spending our time analyzing the traffic as opposed to generating reports. WebTrends Live also offered the power we were looking for. While, at the time, it did not have all of the advanced solutions such as in-depth path analysis, marketing campaign integration or data warehouse/OLAP options that we knew we would eventually need, we felt there was still a tremendous amount of data that could be analyzed and acted upon. SearchCRM: How did you make the transition to the new solution? Herron: We decided to start with a hybrid approach. We continued to analyze log files using WebTrends Enterprise Suite, which we already owned, but we also decided to implement the client side solution through WebTrends Live (we have since switched to using only WebTrends Live for our traffic analysis solution). This approach ensured we would still be able to report the high level summary information that we had been reporting, but would give us the opportunity to explore the JavaScript option to get the detailed information we needed. We also decided to build a "Stats Central" site that would the central repository of all Web traffic related information and reports. SearchCRM: What was the most challenging aspect of the implementation? Herron: Petersons.com is a very large site with over a hundred thousand pages. In addition, our configuration at the times was a mix of Unix and NT servers, as well as pages written in ASP, HTML, Perl, CGI, and others. We developed a series of scripts that allowed us to place the JavaScript tags. We also gave detailed information on the classification scheme, scripts and the JavaScript tag to a small implementation team. We then divided the work and began placing the tags. The implementation was not as hard as first feared -- in fact, we were able to complete the implementation in only a few days. SearchCRM: What is the most rewarding result of the Web analytics solution so far? Herron: There have been many. We realized that we were not receiving as many search engine visitors as we should have, which lead to a Search Engine Optimization effort that had a dramatic impact on search engine referrers and traffic to the site as a whole. We also identified a deficiency in traffic to a key sector of our site. Using the information in WebTrends Live, we identified areas within our site where we could make changes that could increase traffic to this sector. Continuing to use WebTrends Live, we could measure the effectiveness of these changes over time. Measure -- Change -- Measure is becoming a mantra at Peterson's as we continue to strive to improve our site for our users and our clients. SearchCRM: Did you encounter any internal resistance? Herron: Classification of a Web site can become extremely frustrating. People have their own ideas on how to classify an item and all of them are correct. Ensuring a comprehensive and accurate scheme that meets the business objectives and that anticipates future questions is essential. In addition, developers being developers may push to implement a homegrown solution. Explaining why you should go with a vendor who is an expert in Web analytic solutions can be a challenge, especially if the developers do not completely understand the complexities involved. Backing up your arguments with a cost and ROI analysis can help overcome this. SearchCRM: When do you expect to see ROI? Herron: We've seen it. Within the first few months we identified the problem with search engine referrers, implemented a course of action, and saw substantial increases in traffic. Just a few months ago we identified a problem with a portion of our site, implemented changes, and saw immediate results. We have also demonstrated the values of being a Peterson's client, which has had a substantial impact on renewals and new sales. SearchCRM: Can you provide any statistics or success measures? Herron: The SEO process resulted in a 49% increase in the number of aggregate visitor sessions and a 71% increase in visitor sessions for a specific channel a couple of years ago. This year, we implemented a number of keyword buys on search engines which have helped increase overall traffic by over 16%, but more importantly, the buys as well as changes made to our site, have helped increase conversion rates to over 10% of unique visitors. SearchCRM: What advice would you give to companies beginning a similar project? Herron: Start by defining your objectives. What are you hoping to capture, what reporting needs do you currently have, what types of analysis are currently being done, and what information is needed to give insight into your business and customers? Consider what will be needed in the future. Once the objectives are defined, classify your site. This is especially important in a client side solution. You must identify the content of your entire site and group information (channels, products, customers, etc) accordingly. Evaluate the solutions available. Review the feature sets, but keep in mind that many are often hyped. Ensure that the features you need will truly give you the benefit to make the project worthwhile. If you are brand new to Web analytics forget about implementing a high-end data warehouse OLAP solution. While the benefits sound impressive, you'll be overwhelmed with the data and will almost definitely fall into analysis paralysis. There is a ton of actionable information within mid-level solutions, such as WebTrends Live, which can lead to action and a return on investment. SearchCRM: If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently? Herron: We took too long in switching the management of Web analytics from the IT department to the Marketing department. In the past, Web analytics was just one of the functions of my department which also included Web operations, quality assurance and technical support. This year we reorganized and now my team and I focus exclusively on Web traffic and analytics as part of the Marketing Department. Areas we work on included Web traffic reporting to both our employees and clients, Web analysis to drive improvements to our site, search engine optimization, search engine keyword buys, internal and external advertising and vendor management. Having a team that focuses exclusively on traffic optimization allows us to drive change and improvements. Linda Formichelli's writing has appeared in Woman's Day, Wired, Writer's Digest, Family Circle, Psychology Today. Contact her at linda-eric@lserv.com, or check out her Web site http://www.twowriters.net

This was first published in May 2002
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