One of the biggest challenges facing small business owners today is figuring out how well their web site is working without spending tons of money on high-priced consultants or expensive software. While most hosting companies offer up some type of stats program in their monthly fees, most small business owners find their eyes glazing over when they try to decipher anything more complicated than how many visitors stopped by in the last few weeks.

That's why I was so excited to see that the folks at popular web analytics firm ClickTracks have finally stepped up to the plate by offering free (yeah, you heard me, FREE) access to several of ClickTracks most popular features. The brand new ClickTracks Appetizer serves up a hearty plateful of powerful features likes an overlay view, path view, page analysis and even some basic visitor labeling tools.

Better still, they'll be turning on features from the paid versions once a month to allow business owners to get a taste of even more ClickTracks. (Users can upgrade to trial versions of Analyzer, Optimizer and Pro at any point.) In conjunction with those previews, they'll offer free online seminars designed to help small business owners better understand how to use web analytics to improve their online businesses.

"We honestly believe that marketers have had too many hurdles when trying to just figure out the basics of internet marketing and web metrics," said John Marshall, ClickTracks' CEO. "We're delighted to be able to provide free instruction and free web analytics software to the masses."

Actually See How Visitors Use Your Site

Perhaps the biggest thing ClickTracks Appetizer has to offer is the ability to see user patterns overlayed on top of your actual web site. If you take a look at the image to the right, you'll see a section of the left hand navigation on ClickTracks demo site. The percentages tell a site owner what percentage of users click on that link from that page and can reflect ALL visitors, or can be segmented down into certain types of visitors.

For example, in the screen shot I've included, the green line represents all visitors to the site, the blue line represents visitors that reached checkout and the yellow line represents visitors that came via a search referral. That same data can be applied to find out where visitors to the specific page have come from and where they are going, as shown in the image below.

Note the pop-up balloon with the thumbnail image on the right side. ClickTracks Appetizer is setup so that when you mouse over a link on a data page like this, you'll see a thumbnail size image of the actual page that ClickTracks is referring to. That's a handy little feature for site owners that use URLs that are less than descriptive of the content they contain.

Divide and Conquer with User Labels

While the free ClickTracks Appetizer doesn't offer up quite the visitor labeling power that the paid versions do, there's still quite a bit of power here for small business owners that want to get an idea of how different types of users interact with their web site. Users can select from most of the preset user labels currently built into ClickTracks, though the options that require campaign data to be imported are not usable in this version.

The most powerful option in user labeling though is the ability to isolate users that reach or visit a certain web page. Small business owners can quickly and easily isolate only the visitors that view a certain product or that complete a checkout and can see how their actions on the site compare to all users.

Let's say you want to find out what keywords send your buyers in comparison to what keywords send visitors to your site, this feature can give you that information. In fact, the potential with this particular tool is limited only by the amount of time you're willing to put into running these reports.

Appetizers Don't Fill You Up

An important thing to remember about ClickTracks Appetizer is that it is not designed to be used as your one and only source of stats. The team at ClickTracks was quick to point out that they expect this tool to be used as a compliment to existing web analytics, not to replace it.

“ClickTracks Appetizer is quite powerful as a stand alone tool for businesses that are new to web analytics, but we also expect it to be used as a compliment to any existing web analytics solutions,” said Michael Stebbins, Vice President of Marketing for ClickTracks.

That said, they obviously have the hope that users will be so intrigued with the way the software functions that they can't help but want a little more.

Free Test Runs and Training Seminars

To that end, the ClickTracks team is offering up a new idea dubbed "Web Analytics Day." The plan is to turn on an advanced feature from the paid versions of the software for a test run once a month. While I was playing with the software this week, the "Robot Report" was turned on. That meant that on top of the regular free features, I could also tell when, how many times and even how frequently the robots from the top six engines visit each and every page of my web site.

In future months, ClickTracks will turn on access to features like campaign reporting, the "What's Changed" report, funnels and more. Along with those test runs, ClickTracks plans to offer free web analytics classes designed to help teach business owners how put this data to work to help improve the performance of their web site. For instance, in conjunction with the free access to the "Robot Report," CEO John Marshall will teach a class called "Reacting to Robot and Spider Visits" on April 24th and 25th.

In addition to offering training and information based specifically on ClickTracks features, the company will also be offering up free general training seminars designed to help users learn more about a variety of topics related to web analytics and online marketing. These seminars will feature a variety of guest speakers and will cover issues like building effective landing pages, using press releases to generate traffic and even online reputation management.

You can get a full listing of upcoming classes at ClickTracks Web Marketing Seminars page.

You can also download your own free copy of ClickTracks Appetizer and start learning more about how visitors interact with your site today.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

April 18, 2006

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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