I'm a partner in the advanced analytics group at Bain & Company, the global management consulting firm. My primary focus is on marketing analytics (bio). I've been writing here (views my own) about marketing, technology, e-business, and analytics since 2003 (blog name explained).

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July 07, 2009

Testing Across Your Web Presence: A Conversation With SiteSpect's Eric Hansen

A recurring theme in our work with clients is to cast the analytic net across their web presences, not just their web sites.  For example, let's say you're a retailer and you run a "discounted shipping" promotion, with different levels.  The campaign for this should be evaluated not just in terms of conversion on your web site, but in terms of how different levels and creative versions performed in terms of attracting, engaging, and converting customers in all the places you published them -- display ads, SEM units, emails, your site itself, affiliates' sites, etc.

Implementing a test strategy like this has been hard to date, because you may not control all of the different properties involved in the campaign; even if you do, each channel may have its own testing tool; and, even if you've consolidated things somewhat, the tagging job is still a bear.

So, I was really interested to see this recent announcement of SiteSpect's "URL Tunnel" capability, which allows users of this service to implement integrated tests across multiple properties in their digital ecosystem.  I met  SiteSpect CEO Eric Hansen and CMO Kim King a couple of weeks ago at Web Analytics Wednesday, and had a chance to talk with Eric last week by phone about how this works and about how their customers are getting valuable new insights from this capability.

Here's a simple example of how this works.  Let's say I'm a retailer and I have a gift finder on my site that enables parametric search across my catalog (search by gender, age, price range, etc.).  I build a widget version of this gift finder that can be embedded on affiliates' sites, or published as a display ad unit.  I set up "mywidgets.myretailsite.com" and respond to calls from the syndicated widget code from here.  Then I direct this traffic through SiteSpect's solution (either their "SiteSpect ASP" service or their "Enterprise" appliance running in my data center).  Now I can implement and track multivariate tests on widget variants through SiteSpect.

Eric described how a SiteSpect travel customer has used this.  Before, the travel portal acted as a catalog of destination packages, but booking happened on the private-labeled booking engine / travel shopping cart another travel industry partner provided to them.  From a user experience perspective, when a customer pressed "Book it!", he or she was taken off the travel site to the partner's site, e.g., "booking.partner.com", and the travel operator lost visibility to how different variants of those booking pages performed.  Now, the booking engine is still run by the partner, but it's embedded in pages served from a distinct "partner" subdomain off of the travel operator's site, and routed through a SiteSpect server where test variants are defined, applied, and tracked.  

How does the partner feel about this?  In principle, you might expect them to be concerned about the loss of control.  But in practice, since they weren't going to tweak the travel portal's marketing mix elements themselves, they are thrilled give the travel portal the opportunity for insights that will raise conversion rates, and therefore earn more booking fees for the travel partner.  Plus they may learn stuff that they can generalize for the benefit of other relationships.


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