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Web Site Measurement Hacks by Eric T. Peterson

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Hack #62. Use Browser Overlays

Browser overlay applications have rapidly become a popular tool for sharing web measurement data outside of analysis teams and exploring data using more natural visual models. There are a handful of best practice uses for these tools that can help you be more productive.

A handful of web measurement vendors now offer tools for visualizing reports directly on the pages of the site. Such tools are often described as browser overlays—they allow marketers, merchandisers, and site designers to superimpose metrics such as click-through rates for each of the page links. In general, browser overlays are a complement to classic path analysis tools; they are installed as a browser plug-in to Internet Explorer and use ActiveX to display statistics on a given page, usually in a left-side column and by placing metrics and percentages on top of links and images (Figure 4-9).

Browser overlays

Figure 4-9. Browser overlays

Optimize Site Design

One great strategy is to use browser overlays to optimize navigation, as well as the structure of some of the key pages of your site. With click-through rates superimposed over links, you can quickly understand which menus, links, and sections of your web pages are getting the most clicks. Use this information to determine what your users most frequently do, and optimize your navigation accordingly. For example, you may have a variety of category links on your home page but find that most of your users are going directly to your product search page. Try featuring your search box more prominently on the home page so it will be easy for users to find.

Identify and Minimize Page Abandonment

Your goal should be to minimize your exit rate for key pages on your site. This can be accomplished by intelligently positioning links on those pages to make them easier to navigate or by changing their appearance. For example, avoid leaving popular links below the browser fold because not all site users will think about using the scroll bar. Likewise, some users have their screen resolution [Hack #70] set to 800 by 600 pixels—which limits their ability to see links that would be too far right. The classic mistake is to put a "Help" or "Contact Us" link too far right on the page. Browser overlays also tell you how effectively you are using your screen real estate. The promotion on your home page may be consuming most of the real estate above the browser fold, but if the click-through rate on this promotion is low, you may be better off featuring top-selling products instead.

Optimize Multi-Step and Transactional Processes

Take a close look at your transactional pages like checkout pages for retail sites or any kind of multi-step process for general sites (for example, newsletter sign ups or registration processes). On those specific pages, most clicks, if not all, should be on the Next, Place Order, or Sign Up buttons. Play with browser overlays to analyze how changes to the color of such buttons, their shape, or their placement affect click-through rates. You can accomplish these comparisons using a split-path test [Hack #63] and comparing side by side the page flow using browser overlays.

Engage the Previously Unengaged

One of the best and perhaps least obvious things you can do with tools like these are drive adoption and interest in web site measurement. Many companies that have adopted these tools at the urging of their data teams have come to realize that managers and "dataphobic" types appreciate the available visualizations as much or more than the "core geeks."The next time you need to explain some aspect of your web measurement to a group of the uninformed or uninitiated try this:

  1. Start your presentation by simply showing your site's home page (or the most relevant page).

  2. Set the stage, tell people what you're going to tell them, and why it's a problem, but be brief.

  3. Open the browser overlay and show people the top-level metrics. Be animated and try to highlight the fact that it is a super easy-to-use tool.

  4. After about two minutes, go into the core presentation, referring back to the overlay once or twice if possible.

  5. End the presentation by going back to the overlay and highlighting the relevant link/page/content using the tool, leaving your audience with that visual element to mull over.

If you play your cards right, you'll do two things: first, get positive feedback for giving a presentation about data that was actually, gasp, engaging, and second, get phone calls from people wanting to use the application themselves, thus creating interest in web measurement in general.

—Xavier Casanova and Eric T. Peterson

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