Web Analytics 101 – What You Must, Should, and Could Be Tracking

An auto part and accessory retailer's guide to web analytics and tracking

The importance of tracking and web analytics is well understood. However, despite the consensus, a lot of online parts retailers aren’t tracking what they should be. From neglecting call tracking and campaign-specific URLs to failing to use Google Analytics to it’s full potential, there’s a lot that could be done to improve tracking on your average auto parts website.

Here’s a detailed explanation of why tracking is important, as well as a break-down of what retailers should be tracking. We’ve also included some advice on getting tracking implemented.

Is Tracking Really Important?

In a word, yes. If you track conversions (aka sales) by web browser, for example, you may realize that your site doesn’t convert very well for users of Internet Explorer…and that realization might help you find and fix a simple HTML problem with your site that’s costing you thousands of dollars in revenue.

If you track conversions by traffic source, you may learn that a lot of your forum advertising isn’t backing out, which can help you negotiate with the forum owner for a better rate.

If you track bounce rates on landing pages, you might realize that landing pages with high-res product images convert twice as well as pages without high-res photos. Then you can assign an overseas assistant to upload high-res images for a few dollars and rake in thousands of dollars in incremental revenue as a result.

I can go on and on with examples, but the point should be obvious. Tracking is important because it can help you make more money from your existing site, existing ads, etc.

Unless no one (or almost no one) is visiting your website, tracking is a pretty big deal.

What Every Parts and Accessory Retailer MUST Be Tracking

Here’s a list of actions that every ecommerce site must be tracking, as the data collected can help site owners identify problems, assess advertising, and improve site performance.

  1. Cart activity – Whenever parts are added or removed, checkout begins, or a sale is completed, that action should be tracked.
  2. Website visits (aka sessions) and session behavior (bounce rate, pages/session, time on site) by medium, source, web browser, screen size, landing page, etc.
  3. Purchase funnel activity – You should be able to see how many people view a product page, add that product to the cart, start the checkout process, etc.
  4. 404 errors, or “file not found” errors. These are “unforced errors” – a 404 is usually an easy fix.
  5. Calls. Call tracking is hugely informative when you’re assessing advertising.

The cool part is that Google Analytics can track almost all of the above with minimal configuration. Only call tracking requires some wizardry (more on that below).

Google Analytics is powerful and free

At Spork we really, really love Google Analytics

What Every Parts and Accessory Retailer SHOULD Be Tracking

The must-have tracking metrics outlined above are very helpful, but they’re just the beginning.

  1. Track any actions that can generate future sales. Examples include newsletter signups, catalog downloads, shipping quote requests, etc.
  2. Any site interaction, like leaving a product review, commenting on a blog post, sharing a link/image on a social network using a “share” button, etc.
  3. On-site search queries, which can be hugely informative when it comes to evaluating your site’s structure and optimization
  4. Any interactions with videos and AJAX elements
  5. Any sort of error (user or otherwise) on the site. Tracking “invalid credit card number” error messages, for example, can alert you to a costly code issue with your shopping cart

If you track all the “musts” and the “shoulds”, you’ll have plenty of actionable data to look at. I’d argue that most (not all) parts retailers can stop here, as there is such a thing as tracking too much data.

What Every Parts and Accessory Retailer COULD Be Tracking

To reiterate – too much tracking is bad. Not only because it takes considerable time and energy to review all the accumulated data, but also because it’s hard to accumulate a statistically relevant sample size if you’re tracking every little thing.

This is because statistical relevant samples typically included hundreds of data points. If you’re tracking some obscure action – like the number of users who add parts from the engine dress-up, exhaust tip, and interior electronics categories in the same session – it could take a long time to gather a sample sufficiently large to analyze.

Still, if you wanted to track something that’s not on the lists above…

  • You can track scrolling and clicking behavior relatively easily, which isn’t a bad idea from a general usability standpoint.
  • Any custom variables you want. Examples include form inputs (vehicle year, make, and model can easily be tracked in Google analytics), logged in vs guest visitors, zip codes people enter when requesting shipping quotes, etc.
  • The brand(s) of products the visitor looks at, the part or accessories categories they view, whether or not a visitor viewed a blog post or online guide before viewing a specific part, etc.

Obviously there are some cool things that could be done with the data described – you could find out which part categories Ford Mustang owners really cared about, for example, then use that info to guide content development – but you have to be careful. You don’t want to get too specific, but you also don’t want to focus on really specific data when general data might be more important.

Forest for the trees metaphor

Here’s the obligatory forest image to go with the “forest for the trees” metaphor. But seriously, don’t dive so deep into analytics data that you miss the big picture…it’s an easy mistake to make.

Put another way, don’t miss the forest for the trees. Fixing an issue with your website’s homepage bounce rate will probably make you more money than figuring out which part categories Mustang owners are really interested in.

Why Tracking Isn’t Always Enabled

Sometimes, implementing web analytics is easy. If the ecommerce system you’re using was designed with Google Analytics integration in mind, tracking can be as simple as installing a plugin.

Other times, getting analytics to function can be an impossible challenge. If your ecommerce system was never designed with analytics in mind (or if your developer never considered tracking during their initial setup), making analytics “go” is difficult. What’s more, something like call tracking (which is fairly challenging, depending on how granular you want to get) can be beyond the capabilities of a lot of designers and developers.

Some suggestions for getting your tracking problems fixed:

  1. Recognize that your in-house teams and/or existing website designer might not have the skills to implement the tracking you need.
  2. If you have an in-house person who understands javascript, sending them to a web analytics training class (like a class from Cardinal Path) is money well spent. Google Analytics has some online documentation too (only it’s not always correct, unfortunately).
  3. Your current ecommerce system provider may be able to help with implementation for a fee.
  4. An outside developer or consulting firm is always an option too (contact us here for more info).

Last but not least, implementation difficulties aren’t a good excuse for inaction. Paying an outside developer a few hundred dollars to fix all your tracking problems is always money well spent, as the data you collect is often worth thousands of dollars.

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