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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

ClickTracks 6: More Bling for Your Buck

[photo credit: "Bling Keyboard," Graham Anderson, via Flickr]

You've got to admire ClickTracks. Lately, the idea that the workplace is actually more productive when right-brained, visual, creative folks are involved is getting its due -- to wit, Dan Pink's recent book A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age.

I'm sure other analytics vendors have sometimes talked a good game when it comes to making reporting more intuitive and setup routines less onerous, but it was ClickTracks that made everyone pay so much attention to usability and presentation design in the current generation of web marketing consoles. They initially burst on the scene with a fervor perhaps matched only by Brett Favre staging an improbable touchdown drive.

From the demo I saw (of the Pro version), ClickTracks has found the endzone with the 6.0 release, and they've done it with style. (The "blue man" icon in the demo was sporting a big bling-y gold six-shaped medallion, and the title of the presentation was cheeky: "The Best Six You'll Ever Have.")

Substantively, I am impressed with a number of features. For marketers seeking to conduct A/B testing of landing page performance, an easy wizard facilitates setup of the test. Asked why the analytics firm didn't go farther to integrate the actual page creation aspects of A/B testing (a la Offermatica), CEO John Marshall wouldn't rule out either a future merger or future in-house development, but wouldn't go on record as saying the company would proceed on this front. It sounds to us like (if they do anything, that is) they'd prefer to buy, rather than build, this feature - I think such an acquisition would make sense because the acquired company would also deliver new potential customers to ClickTracks.

Many features are enhanced with helpful visuals. Mouse over a link in a report about page performance, and get a thumbnail of the page (so you remember which one it is). A/B test results can be packaged into a PDF overview to send onto skeptics in upper management. Segments of traffic are clearly demarcated by color bars and icons, and so on.

Minor, but still significant, improvements, include an enhanced "What's Changed" report, allowing better control over time periods.

A key improvement is the ability to achieve "dashboard-style reports" without being reliant on a proprietary Windows-based interface. ClickTracks 6.0 allows more to be done with a standard web browser.

As authors like Pink would likely argue, what starts out as a belief that better design helps us think about relationships in new ways, actually gives way to an understanding that right-brained thinking helps analytical folks to be more scientific, period. For example, rather than releasing a "sales funnel reporting" feature similar to that offered by competing vendors, ClickTracks chose to rethink the basic premises of how to look at the funnel. By not presupposing a typical, linear funnel pattern on the part of users, ClickTracks created a simpler form of funnel report that appears not to fixate on the entire funnel but rather offers an overview of what proportion of users tend to advance to a more advanced stage of the funnel from any given page or group of pages. While that still rests on a normative assumption about what it means to the marketer that the user "advanced" to a more advanced stage in the buying process, it doesn't assume a single path. Many users actually exit or back up from the funnel at different points; such that there are in fact many little funnels. Rather than giving up on the potential to achieve insight, Clicktracks designed their report to help marketers achieve comparative insights about the persuasiveness of certain pages, without them needing to wring their hands about "shopping cart abandonment." (Which, according to the Eisenbergs' recent book, is "not the real problem" anyway.)

In web behavior, the data are never simple, because user behavior isn't. So under the guise of simplicity and elegance in design -- Marshall says "we consider ourselves to be the iPod of analytics" -- ClickTracks actually allows marketers to look at the real complexity of their user behavior without feeling like the process is cumbersome. He claims that their funnel report would take two or three minutes to configure, compared with "maybe a day" for some competing products.

This is the apparent paradox of incorporating right-brained thinking into analysis: what looks and feels "easier" is in fact more penetrating. To go from mere "information" to "actionable concepts" requires more data, not less. An indifferent reporting package would make the task of organizing that data too daunting for anyone but maybe a fictional computer-brained blue man wearing a big gold medallion.

Segmenting users and avoiding aggregate data is one way to develop more actionable insight when it comes to web traffic. "There is no 'average visitor'," advises Marshall. "Segment as much as possible." For example, funnel reports broken down by new vs. returning visitors would show that different classes of users have "distinct ways of interacting with the funnel." That kind of data would inform and influence further site development and usability testing, for example, as well as landing page testing.

The "time split" feature is also a useful one, allowing an analyst to create a report to prove up the ROI impact of, say, a site redesign. A site archiving feature is included for companies that wish to keep copies of old pages on file to organize their thinking about the causal effect of "before and after."

The iPod of analytics? Taking a niche, geeky, difficult-to-use, data-intensive task and making it stylish, simple, and powerful? It's a no-brainer... or should I say, a right-brainer.

As for whether stylish CEO Marshall will have a 16-bit color Sharpie on hand to autograph your custom funnel report at the next trade show, I can't guarantee anything, but I wouldn't bet against it.

Version 6.0 of ClickTracks Professional, Optimizer, and Analyzer will be available to the public October 12, 2005.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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