Web Site Traffic Analysis: Not Just For Big Business Anymore

A FastCounter Pro page-traffic report. Click image for high-res version.

A FastCounter Pro search-engine report. Click image for high-res version.

REDMOND, Wash., June 25, 2003 — Like just about every growing small business, Evolution ID Card Systems and Badge Supplies values its online presence like gold.

“Our online presence is a significant part of our business strategy,” says Caryn McCoy, who owns the Chicago-area dealer of security identification systems for corporate settings. “We get most of our business from Internet customers who come online to select and order systems. We’ve got customers from Disney to Boeing to UCLA to Hewlett Packard, all acquired from our Internet presence.”

Maximizing the success of an e-commerce site, however, requires answers to critical questions: Where on the Web do the site visitors tend to come from? What is their path through the site? Which pages do they go to most often? How do they respond to online promotions? What features of the site entice them to buy? How does the business identify which visitors come most often? Without such information, Internet sales and marketing is hit-and-miss at best.

This information is available, but requires more than a basic “hit counter.” Getting it involves sifting through mounds of Web logs, a laborious task for which the small business typically does not have time, let alone the technical know-how or the in-house resources.

Microsoft is addressing this dilemma with Microsoft FastCounter Pro, a comprehensive Web site analysis tool for small businesses. Launched in May on the Microsoft bCentral Web portal for small business, FastCounter Pro provides in-depth reporting on many aspects of a Web site’s performance: the number of unique visitors, page views, referrer clicks, search-engine traffic and more.

“Logs are very very big if you’re getting a decent amount of traffic, you’re talking about hundreds of megabytes of data per day,” says Paul Prokop, a product manager in the Microsoft Business Solutions group. “There is a lot of data to sift through, and then you’d need to figure out how to store it somewhere and then what to do with the information you get. FastCounter Pro is designed to give small businesses all the Web traffic information they need in very nearly real-time.”

E-Commerce analysis available online

FastCounter Pro is the latest in a growing slate of online resources offered at the Microsoft bCentral site, http://www.bcentral.com/, to help small businesses improve online sales and marketing effectiveness. Other Microsoft bCentral offerings include Web hosting and e-mail, e-commerce services, Web collaboration services to enable file sharing, and scheduling services that allow customers to schedule appointments with businesses online.

The bCentral site has offered a free service called FastCounter — essentially a basic hit counter that Prokop says is aimed primarily at the “hobbyist” — since 1999. With the introduction of FastCounter Pro, which is available on bCentral on a subscription basis, the older service is now called FastCounter Free.

FastCounter Pro’s value lies in its breadth of rapidly available data, which gives insight into the behaviors and interests of a Web site’s visitors. The business owning the site can then make effective strategic decisions about the design, navigation, branding and marketing of its e-commerce site — and take action where needed.

“The saying in the ad industry is that for a typical business, 50 percent of its advertising is a waste,” Prokop says. “The key is figuring out which 50 percent. With FastCounter Pro, a business can see what people are getting from its e-commerce site and gauge the success of its marketing campaigns, to see which ones work and which don’t. The FastCounter Pro service empowers them with that information.”

McCoy has experienced those benefits in her company’s use of the service. “FastCounter Pro gives us what we need to know about how our customers work with us online,” she says. “We use the information to decide where to put more of our marketing efforts and where to put less. And it breaks it down to a simple level as soon as I see the report from FastCounter Pro, I have information I can use immediately.”

The key to FastCounter Pro is a small, individualized line of HTML code that the business places in the pages of each Web site that it wants to monitor. The system, built on Microsoft .NET technology, analyzes all visits tracked to the business’s domain. FastCounter Pro then provides an extensive set of standard reports with easy-to-interpret graphs and charts.

“Because FastCounter Pro is a Web-based service, we can analyze data with a turnaround of as little as five minutes,” Prokop says. “Instead of waiting weeks on end to get logs and analyzing them manually, you get your data in very close to real time. That enables a business to very nimbly adjust its marketing campaigns and to experiment.”

More than a hit counter’

FastCounter Pro functions go well beyond the basic hit counter. These include showing where a site’s traffic originated — such as which search engines or other referring sites are the most common entries — and what keywords tended to attract the most visitors. It also shows where visitors go within a site during each session, revealing frequently requested pages.

“We can see which of our products are most successful from an inquiry standpoint and which are most successful from an ordering standpoint,” McCoy says. “Using FastCounter Pro, I can evaluate how many orders we’ve received against how many visitors are just shopping. And viewing our top keywords by search engine has aided our online marketing efforts by helping us improve our position in certain engines or pick new keywords.

“Not much else out there gives me all this without requiring four or five hours of data extraction,” she adds.

FastCounter Pro is available through the Microsoft bCentral portal for small businesses. New and existing FastCounter users can get a 30-day trial of FastCounter Pro at no charge. The regular subscription price is US$19.95 per month or $199 per year, each of which includes 50,000 page views per month.

“Using FastCounter Pro will tell you all the things you need to know about your online business, without going through the technical headaches of doing it yourself,” Prokop says. “And Microsoft operates it just like any other professional service we keep your data strictly confidential, never share it with third parities, and only use it to analyze your Web site traffic.”

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