Product review: Making the profit connection

Companies that invest heavily in their Internet-commerce sites typically spend large sums of money marketing them in order to draw traffic culminating in online sales. The question is: how does a company determine whether its marketing campaign is actually translating into revenue? Astute business and sales executives head straight to the IT department, looking for site- and link-analysis reports that will show signs of a return on investment.

WebTrends targets this problem with its June 21 release of CommerceTrends, Version 1.0. Acting as an add-on to the company's Enterprise Suite, Version 3.6, CommerceTrends helps companies make the connection between money spent marketing their I-commerce sites and revenue generated from online sales. And rather than relying heavily on the IT department to produce traffic-analysis reports, sales and marketing departments can easily generate their own reports that drill down to the specific information they want, with minimal training.

For enterprise companies with large investments in online marketing, CommerceTrends will more than justify its cost. The software expertly responds to queries, indicating return on investment, the number of qualified customers visiting the site, and anticipated revenues by product without requiring the user to spend much time learning how to use the product.

Within minutes I felt at ease using CommerceTrends. Before I could judge the impact of online marketing by developing ad campaign profiles, I first had to define products that visitors could purchase by creating product profiles, which are easily constructed by choosing relevant URLs on your site. The underlying concept here is that some Web pages have higher potential value than others. For example, you might assume that a visitor who hits your home page and then immediately leaves would not generate a sale, whereas a visitor who reaches an order form would be more likely to generate a sale. Another element of product profiles, one vital to forecasting revenue, involves defining qualified visitors. This simply involves choosing pages that must be visited in order to qualify, and assigning a monetary value to that visit.

I really liked the advanced features offered for working with URLs, such as filters for common shopping-cart services. Without this feature, it would be virtually impossible to track online purchases; I-commerce applications typically generate a unique URL for each session, which is impossible to anticipate and thus to track.

CommerceTrends also let me subdivide product profiles to track interest in one product or a group of services or products. Further, even if you don't yet offer an I-commerce site, you can create profiles to track visits to general areas of your company's Web site -- for example, the news or technical support sections.

After defining several product profiles, I developed five advertising campaign profiles using the Ad Wizard. These campaign profiles describe, for example, the path a visitor takes from your company's banner ad on another site through your Web site. I could specify the visitor's page location just before entering my site, and I could record the campaign's duration and the total cost of the campaign for more specific analysis.

With my profile setup completed and several log files analysed (it took about two minutes to process a log file comprising 200,000 lines), I sampled CommerceTrends' nicely formatted and varied reports. These are available in HTML format as a mini-Web site for online viewing or in other formats, such as Microsoft Excel files, to accommodate additional processing.

For my first report, I combined an ad campaign profile with a product profile to create a chart and spreadsheet that showed the cost per visit for particular banner ads. CommerceTrends also projected future visits and anticipated revenue for each of the sites. From this data it was clear that three host sites offered the best return on investment, and that ads on the remaining two sites should be dropped.

Other reports proved just as valuable: for example, I generated a table showing a breakdown of forecasted revenue over time for specific products. Also, the Report Editor and its wizards let me easily customise listing style and content.

CommerceTrends helps you crystallise a picture of your company Web site's existing and potential customers, while easing the IT staff's burden of managing report generation for other departments. It goes well beyond showing how successful your online marketing campaign is in bringing visitors to your site: CommerceTrends helps you further understand how many visitors are attracted to certain products, how serious that interest is, and what the associated revenue forecast looks like. That intelligence is worth far more than the cost of this product, especially for companies with significant online marketing investments.

Mike Heck (mike_heck@infoworld.com) is a contributing editor and manager of electronic promotions at Unisys, in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania.

The bottom line

CommerceTrends, Version 1.0, beta

Summary: This software performs exacting server log file analysis to help companies optimise their Internet-commerce profitability. It details visitor quality, calculates online advertising costs, and forecasts revenue for products and services.

Business Case: Departments can generate their own CommerceTrends reports with minimal training, which reduces IT involvement. Also, the software can be critically useful when determining the cost-effectiveness of the Web site itself.

Pros

+ Tracks URLs dynamically created with Active Server Pages or ColdFusion+ Product reports indicate traffic origins and forecasted revenue value+ Ad reports calculate return on investment and revenue for online marketing campaignsCons- None significantCost: Starting at $US15,000 for five product profiles and five ad campaigns.

Platforms: Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT 4.0WebTrends, Portland, Oregon; +1-503-294-7025; http://www.webtrends.com

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