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What to Track - How and Why

If you could have only know then what you do now...

1:40 pm on Aug 26, 2004 (gmt 0)

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I own a lot of websites and have been in this game for quite a while, but I am opening my first site where I will be a merchant very shortly. We've got everything in the works and are near completion.

It was then that I realized I overlooked tracking - like serious in depth tracking, not simply how many visitors, from what engines on what search terms - that I normally don't have the ability to do with my other sites.

We will be taking orders for only 3 products - but those products have fifty small variations a piece. Basically, whatever state the person orders from changes the product a teeny bit, so while we only truly have three products, some could see it as 150.

So, I am asking the more experienced - if you could have known then (when you started your site and tracking addventures) what you know now (that you've been in business a while) - what would you have advised yourself to do in the very beginning?

What is truly important to track - and more importantly, for someone who has no tracking experience from the merchant angle - why are those things important to track?

Also, any advice on the best way TO track the things believed to be important (be it programs, or a service, etc) would be appreciated.

8:06 pm on Aug 26, 2004 (gmt 0)

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chrisnrae, I recently commented to a similar question here:

In a nutshell, for e-commerce sites I like to track monthly:
1) New shopping cart sales
2) Repeat shopping cart sales
3) New call-in sales (generated from site)
4) Repeat call-in sales (from site)
5) Total Internet sales for month
6) Accumulated 1-year month-to-month chart.

With this information, you can then do the analysis, paying particular attention to any drop in repeat customers. While we always want new business, the continued flow of repeat customers is where it's at for long-term growth. We also like to see whether there is a trend up in telephone sales over shopping cart sales. If so, we make adjustments to improve the online buying process and checkout flow, so we can keep the client's overhead down to a minimum.

Also, track where people are going on the site - and where they leave. If they are not following through to your 'money' pages, make sure that your homepage has something compelling enough to direct them there.


9:13 pm on Aug 27, 2004 (gmt 0)

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1. Make sure everything works. Test fringe cases. Intentionally try to break your site. Hit the order button three times real quick and see if you triple charge an order. If you did, did you create three orders in your database or just try to charge the card three times.

2. Understand how site actions and form submissions get recorded in your database. Make sure you are seeing the data that you expect to see. Look at things on a line item level.

3. Remove ambiguity. Make sure there is a clear relationship in the data that you are capturing, and that all tables that need to have joins between them do. There is nothing worse than having to make a leap of faith because you tied something to a user that should have been tied to their order.

4. Understand what data can be overwritten and what has to be kept as historical. For instance you may have an address table that can be updated, but if you do that make sure that you have the billing and ship to address from an old order stored on the order table. If not you may not know where you shipped something.

5. Be able to distinguish between robots and real people in your traffic.

6. Set up a table that records all of the user cookies you issue. This table should record things like the IP address of that cookie, their referring_url to the site on their first visit, user agent, and initial url on their first visit.

7. Be able to tie important site events back to user cookies. This way if someone places a fraudulent order on your site you have the IP address of the person placing it. Have a bug that only seems to affect some people? Check their user agents, maybe its a Netscape or older browser issue.

8. Balance the online and offline. If you took 30 orders, did you ship 30 orders, and did you get paid on 30 orders?

9. Establish the lifetime value of users so you know what acquisition costs you can afford.

10. Segment the hell out of your users. Look at things by source, by new and returning users, by entry point, by product line, etc...Things rarely convert uniformly across the site. Segmenting helps you know what is really working and who your best customers are.

11. Figure things out yourself. Its your business and only you are really going to know what you need to be keeping an eye on. I strongly recommend knowing the ins and outs of everything your site does and records and working your way up from there. You will find that somethings you paid attention to early on are not important, but thats part of the process. When a crisis or something funny comes up, the better you know your site, the easier it will be to troubleshoot.

12:07 am on Aug 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Build capability to track sales from referral partners/affiliates. If what you're selling has broad appeal and converts well, you might want to broaden your distribution channels, and you'll need to be able to track and pay for the increased traffic.

The same applies for any ppc marketing efforts. You'll want to know which engine, keyword, specific ad, is pulling in results for you.

8:19 am on Aug 29, 2004 (gmt 0)

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With each order - after the address and payment details, I would have the search phrase and referring domain as well as the affiliate tracked, all on the order details so that this gets OFF the web and into your accounts package, that will then allow you to do some better ROI calculations because your accountant (should) make sure the accounts reconcile properly - whilsy logging is filled with dubious happenings.

I am not one for "segmenting the hell" out of your customers. I find that going down that road ends up with segments of one - which is data, not information - but the rest of cfx's stuff is valuable advice. Again though, you will eventually need to decide on a limited number of key Performance indicators - three or four overview statistics - that will give you an idea of the health of your business. you will what the ability to disect down any KPI of needed, but deciding the KPIs in the first place helps.

6:09 am on Sept 1, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Thanks so much for the replies. I have the site a few weeks away from launch and I realized I had overlooked this aspect because it has never been possible for me to do before. I'll probably keep it basic at first, per the suggestions, and then see where to go from there. At least I know what I could/should be tracking, which gives me a great basepoint. Thanks again.