Its a common misconception that the internet has turned the marketing world on its head, and that conventional tactics for customer engagement are no longer relevant. While there might be significant differences in how we approach online channels, we shouldnt abandon all that weve learnt from marketing traditions like storefront merchandising.

The merchandising strategies behind the design and layout of todays modern supermarkets are well understood by marketers. Flowers and the sweet smelling bakery are generally at the front of the store to create a warm, welcoming entry point. Basic essentials like milk and bread are at the back of the store so that customers navigate a minefield of messages to pick up just a few items. Buy one get one free signs are strategically placed at eye level, to increase the average spend per visitor.

How do merchandisers and marketing folk develop these strategies? They constantly watch and analyse customer movements and behaviour in the store. They use this data to fine-tune their tactics and strategies, and update marketing programs. As online marketers, you can apply the same principles using web analytics and benefit significantly in doing so.

Website visitors arrive at the online store through different doors and navigate the site in a myriad of ways. One of the really cool things about the web is that we can automatically track visitor paths and clicks.

We can see where customers come from, and where they went after visiting our site. We can easily tell if theyre new prospects or returning customers, whether they were driven by a marketing program (search engine link or banner ad) or if they arrived at the site by typing in the exact web address.

We can then use this information to modify or abandon marketing programs and tactics. As your site changes and grows so will visitor behaviour, and without knowing how people respond to new messages and offers, marketers struggle to effectively measure existing campaigns and create new ones.

Why we do what we do

Why is it that we’re pouring millions of dollars into online advertising and marketing and yet the majority of us don’t know how to track the effectiveness of our campaigns? This is astounding, especially when there are simple, effective ways to know exactly what tactics are working and which ones are draining the budget.

Marketers seem to address this issue with talk about search engine optimisation and increasing website hits. These are fundamental digital marketing goals, but we need to take our thinking to the next level and truly understand what principles, tactics and ideas are working for us.

A banner advert, for example, can lead to a splash page on your site highlighting a specific offer. The number of clicks through to the splash page can be easily measured, and the marketer can decide whether to keep, change or modify the banner accordingly.

Now, imagine if you could follow a visitor who arrived via the banner ad as they navigated the rest of the site, monitoring where they go and what interests them. Its important to track the entire site visit so we can attribute the real outcome of the visit to the banner ad – whether the goal of your website is sales or disseminating information.

Another scenario to consider, and often the most difficult to track, is the customer who clicks on the banner ad, arrives at the splash page, surfs the site for a while and then leaves. Some time later they come back, either directly or via a search engine, and make a purchase. We need to track these customers and attribute at least a portion of them to the original banner ad campaign to properly measure our ROI. In cases like this, many would attribute this visitor solely to search engine success rather than the banner ad.

This is where web analytics truly shows its value. In a nutshell, it lets you tag each of the components on a web page so that you can track individual visitors, recognise them when they return and summarise the results of their visits into useful data so you can do your job better.