It's easy to forget that the Internet is, at its core, just humans interacting with other humans – but in a sufficiently novel manner for new guidelines to be needed. The online world must essentially look from above like the Magic Roundabout gyratory system in Swindon: trillions of opinion-cars from all over the world, ploughing into what seems like certain fatality – only for everyone to, at the last moment, avoid each other and seamlessly continue their journey to Bristol / cat videos.
But how do you make sense of this churning mass? The answer for many years has been web analytics. But as Anthony Payne, Director of Product Marketing at Netbiscuits told ITProPortal, the problem is that "we've gone way past the stage when we can talk about the web becoming mobile and we're certainly a long way past the point where we can say, or think of the web as being a desktop environment where individuals can act and you can view them as one visitor or one device."
Nowadays, people connect to the web in a variety of ways, at different points of the day on different devices. In other words, the Swindon magic roundabout of the Internet is now being navigated by people who, midway through a circuit, leap from their proverbial family jeep (shared laptop) into a more nimble Ducati (smartphone). Unfortunately most tools businesses use to analyse what's going on on their websites were built in a world where there was one visitor, using one device. As Payne affirms, "they don't take much account of this multi-device environment and the fact that their visitors have all these different kinds of contexts and circumstances."
This is a grave problem for businesses wanting an accurate picture of how individuals are interacting with their site. Payne uses the example of two "personas," or illustrations of different customers whose activity should be analysed differently. The first is a "morning commuter" who connects to the web on their mobile on their way into work using a small handheld device as they "dip in and out of content in short bursts of interaction with varying connection quality." This contrasts with what Payne terms a "sofa surfer," that is someone who connects whilst sitting in front of the TV or at home using a larger iPad or laptop with a decent Wi-Fi connection which means they will surf the web for longer and, critically, are then more likely to delve deeper into a site.
Through contrasting just those two examples, it becomes clear why mobile analytics is so important. "If you're trying to analyse why visitors are coming to your site, what they're doing on your site, how long they're spending, what they're trying to achieve, which ones engage better, and you ignore the differences that I've just articulated between the morning commuter and the sofa surfer, you're hiding behaviours and preferences that will actually have a big impact on how people use your site," Payne says. "That's what we do, that's what mobile analytics is all about; it's uncovering those differences and arming marketers with a lot more information about their visitors so they can make better decisions about content."
This is where Netbiscuits' Mobile Analytics tools come in. Now available for free, it allows marketers to develop and track unique visitor personas, identify customer preferences and contextual use cases, and better identify causes of site abandonment in order to ultimately deliver better engagement and increase conversions from mobile channels.
So what are some of the key reasons that we really need mobile analytics? According to Payne, it's all about customer understanding. "One of the key trends of our time is that marketers want to get closer to their customers and deliver a more personalised experience, more tailored messaging. To some extent that part of its not new, marketers have always recognised that you can't be too generic, you need to target messaging to customer segments," he says. "Segmentation and targeting are marketing basics and digital affords a really big opportunity to do that because you can capture so much information about customers."
Of course, that's precisely what a mobile analytics tool like Netbiscuits taps in to. It provides extra information context on what the web user is trying to achieve at the time they visit a site, information that can allow marketers to deliver a more targeted message and experience.
Meanwhile, for those reluctant to invest in a solution and plant both feet on the mobile analytics bandwagon, the simple truth is that they are placing themselves significantly behind their competitors. "We speak to very few companies now that aren't doing something," Payne says. "Obviously mobile is a very broad term and it encompasses lots of things like apps and mobile web capabilities, and analytics covers all of those. But, in terms of mobile as a requirement, for virtually every organisation whether you're in the public sector/private sector where you're trying to sell or just market online, mobile is essential, and I think that's well understood."
Not only that, as Big Data tightens its grip on the mass market, not having a watertight mobile strategy could allow significant insights to trickle through the cracks. "As device variety increases and people figure out different ways to do things with the increased capabilities of their devices connected to the web, you're going to get more data. From Netbiscuits' perspective, what we're adding is a big chunk of information that's been absent from the market because their focus has been on these desktop analytics tools."
These desktop insights of course have a place; indeed Netbiscuits' solutions integrate with programs like Google analytics. Essentially you can think of mobile analytics as the proverbial cherry on top of the rich data making up the Internet's ice cream sundae.
As Payne asserts, "We're certainly at the beginning of the big data world and we're not coming to the end of that by any stretch."