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How Measuring Key Performance Indicators Can Improve E-Commerce Strategy - Part Three

The first article of this series discussed page views per session as a kind of early warning system key performance indicator (KPI) for your website. The second discussed time on site as another warning flag. Both of these articles show specific measurements used to forecast site problems. There are lots of KPI's you can set up to warn you of impending doom or better show your successes but to go through each one would take me till the end of next year. So to wrap up this series, this article will discuss the general metrics you should be looking at as an 'e' business and more importantly why you should be looking at them.

'e' Business metrics

The term 'e' business was coined by Ogilvy and Mather for IBM in November of 1997 and has stuck around ever since. Great advertising, of course it came from e-commerce which was a general term, but I can still remember the IBM jingle and the ads showing IBM's vision of networked computing. There was nothing wrong with the IBM idea or their adverts. However, one problem with this 'e' part is that for some reason people decided that the Internet was not like other marketing mediums.

Everything became "e or i something", it became associated with the brave new world of fast moving VC led consortiums buying and selling companies based on their business plans and little else. No-one measured success by ordinary standards any more, you didn't need to pay rents, have credit history, loyal customers or reliable revenue, just a great idea and guts.

Great ideas aren't measurable and neither are guts!

We all know what happened next of course. The normally cautious VC's realized they had made some really stupid moves and pulled their money out before they went bankrupt. This starved the companies that they actually helped to mismanage and put a lot of otherwise talented individuals on the dole (sent them down the river, took away their jobs, you get the picture!).

So why did ordinarily savvy business men and women jump on this particular bandwagon? And why did IBM, Dell and other notable bricks and mortar businesses survive the dot bomb where so many failed?

Survival was down to 'e' business as usual

IBM, Dell and the likes simply developed their businesses by doing what they already knew worked and applied what new business intelligence they could glean from the Internet to help them with their existing strategies. In other words they used new information from web analytics in combination with real business metrics to develop online business plans. There wasn't anything particularly clever about it, it was common sense and all the metrics had one thing in common, they were controllable.

Web business metrics you can control

There are hundreds of reports you can get from web analytic systems and if you know what you're doing they can really help you. Things like bounce rates, entry and exit pages, scenario analysis, first time versus repeat buyers etc. are all extremely important to measure and build upon. They are individual KPI's I mentioned at the beginning of this article.

However the only metrics which you as an e-business can directly control are average sale price, profit margin, overhead, conversion rate and visitors. You probably won't see 2 or 3 of those 5 metrics reported in most web analytic systems, simply because it's not down to a web measurement system to tell you what your profit margin or overhead is, though most good ones can manage average sale price, conversion rate and visitors.

Why these 5 metrics?

Let's take a look at these 5 metrics and explain how you can affect them.

Average sale price ? You can directly alter your product prices to be higher or lower thus affecting the average sale price.

Profit margin ? You can reduce overheads or increase sales prices to improve profit margins. You can also reduce your margin if it's strategically a good idea to reduce sales prices and you have no other way to reduce price other than eat into your margin. The idea being that more of your visitors will buy due to a lower price meaning overall you have a higher net profit.

Overhead ? By reducing overheads you can improve profit margins, or affect the product sales price. One of our clients has sold a lot of one kind of product. Now he has a very low overhead for that product range meaning he can reduce the average sale price of the product while retaining the same profit margin. Because his overheads are low his prices are very competitive and he continues to do well with this product category.

Conversion rate ? Believe it or not it is possible to control your conversion rate! By measuring other KPI's mentioned using good web analytics tools you can see how people are behaving on your website. In a nutshell if you then fix the problems you will undoubtedly find, you improve the chances that people will buy your products. It's not really that simple but that's the way it generally starts.

Visitors ? The level of visitors you get is down to your marketing efforts whether that is paid or unpaid. You can engage in search optimization for critical keywords or PPC marketing to drive traffic for keywords you can't rank for organically. You can pay affiliates to send you traffic that buy your products. You can put out press releases. You can engage in banner advertising or behavioral marketing. Or you can do nothing and hope that your content alone provides enough traffic from websites that point to you. All of these methods affect the levels of traffic. The key is getting relevant traffic rather than traffic that isn't interested in your product range.

In Summary

I hope to have shown 2 uses of web analytics, using KPI's to serve as warnings when things are going wrong and using web analytics in conjunction with metrics to help you start thinking of your web commerce as a business. By using the warning flags as indicators of where things might go wrong you can identify problems and figure out whether your website is visitor centric enough. By exercising control over the five metrics discussed here you can improve your bottom line.

Author: Steve Jackson, Editor - Conversion Chronicles

Steve Jackson is CEO of Aboavista, editor of The Conversion Chronicles and a published writer. You can get a free copy of his e-book sent to you upon subscription to the Chronicles web site (http://www.conversionchronicles.com).

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