We are all aware of what the economy has been like and the effect it has had on our decision to save or spend.  For one, we do more research.  A Comscore report claims that 75% of shoppers list the web as their go-to for researching prices at home before buying products in ’09. This means that people are increasingly turning to websites and search engines to stretch their dollars further.  Even though this seems like a cat in the bag for marketers, the problem remains turning prospective customers into dollars, especially when marketers are playing on a budget as well.  Here I will discuss some of the tactics e-tailors have been using successfully and how to leverage GA for free to help you through these tough times.

Many prominent brands lost share in the recession of the past two years, but some leveraged digital marketing to come out on top.  ComScore conducted three studies in ’08, ’09 and ’10 and found that shoppers were “buying down”, throwing away their brand loyalty and going with generic or cheaper products.  Reportedly less than 50% of shoppers buy the brand they want the most.   This is good news for the smaller brands struggling to compete on the shelves, but bad news for the economy.  In e-commerce, it is the opposite,  the bigger online sellers took business away from the smaller retailers.  Companies like Walmart.com and Amazon.com used display and search advertising more than any other top retailers, with Walmart focusing on display and Amazon pouring money into paid search for over a billion exposures and a reach over millions of eyeballs and wallets.  They may be giants and have the budget to spend on paid search in that volume, but they are also reaping the benefits riding along the trend of consumers doing research on products before purchasing.  Another big tactic has been offering Free Shipping, an offer that has increased the average order value by an estimated 27%.

Studies also show the increasing importance of social networks.  Most companies are maintaining a very vigorous social networking life, tweeting offers and offering discounts to facebook fans.  Trading off brand loyalty for exclusive offers.  Surveys indicate that social networks influence buyer decisions quite a bit, especially if there is an offer attached.

Without a doubt, organic and paid search, social networking and display advertising are all media channels you should be capitalizing on, but you still have to be smart about how you spend your money.   To help you make the most educated decisions, you should ask yourself several questions as an online marketer.

How can I use this trend that people are spending more time online but curbing their spending, to my advantage? How can I do it for little to no cost?  The answer to that is getting a grasp on YOUR consumer behavior before going after those customers.  How? Data mining with Google Analytics.  How?  Here is a little basic guide for things to look out for:

1.       Pay attention to top viewed pages and pages with high time on page.  It is all about your customers at – let them tell you what they engage with.  The landing page is a great place to start, because that is what your visitors see first and becomes the most lasting introduction to your website.

What to look for?   If people get to your site and don’t see what they are looking for they are going to bounce (analytics lingo for leave immediately).  So you need to understand how many visits you are getting and how many of those are staying.  In other words people saw your site and either liked it or didn’t like it. But why?

You probably know the target audience you are going after, but who you want is not always who you get.  Paying attention to the type of browser your visitors use, their connection speed, as well as language and location of their visit, will help you troubleshoot display or technical problems with your site as well as edit your content to satisfy the type of crowd that visits your site.

Internal Search data is one of the most actionable reports you can look at. These queries should be treated as sacred data morsels – customers telling you exactly what they expected to find on your website, but didn’t find at all.  Just use the site search report feature in your GA account.

Then, you need to scope out your competition.  No matter what industry we’re in, we are all feeling the pressure of an open market place – our results alone don’t mean as much if most of our market share is going to our competitors.   GA allows you to look at this using the benchmarking tool.  It compares your website performance to that of your market average and shows you the most important things that competition may be doing better like bounce rate, views, and average time on site, etc.

Where are your visitors coming from?  You need to know how people find you and how you can get yourself more of where that came from.  Organic search is like instant gratification – people tell you exactly what they want. It’s up to you to deliver on their expectation.

Compare your trends over time.  Data doesn’t mean anything without context.   Did you perform better or worse? Compared to what? What caused these fluctuations?

Have you set your goals?  Do you know what you want your site to do for you?  Nobody just puts up a site for no reason – make sure to setup your goals in GA (or get someone else to set them up). They will track your actions and give you a better idea of what to improve.  Don’t forget to enable (and implement eCommerce tracking for Google Analytics) if you are selling something!  And link it to your Google Adwords account if you plan on doing paid search on Google.

Yes, the economy has had its toll on budgets and spending, but we still live and function in a marketplace. We just need to figure out new and better ways to trade our products and information with each other.  Google Analytics is the perfect tool to help you try different things and find the best solutions to your particular needs.  At Endai, we have a very diverse clientele and can speak for ourselves in saying that Google Analytics has helped make some critical decisions in these hard times.