Put To The Test: WebSideStory HBX Analytics

HBX Analytics measures total site performance, including animations, podcasts and RSS feeds.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

November 21, 2006

9 Min Read


• On-demand delivery approach speeds implementation and lowers initial deployment cost.

• Powerful "active segmentation" functionality lets you slice and dice data however you want.

• Supports analysis of streaming media, animations, RSS and wireless content.


• The use of custom parameters for tracking can be cumbersome and takes time

• JavaScript coding approach could use more automation and less programming.

In Web analytics as in business intelligence, breadth of capabilities is the name of the game. WebSideStory, which delivers Web analytics on demand, now offers its Active Marketing Suite, an integrated suite that includes site analytics, site search, keyword bid management and Web content management applications that are integrated through a common set of APIs.

This review focuses on the site analytics component, HBX Analytics. Recent innovations include streaming media tracking and portable device tracking. WebSideStory is a front-runner in the industry in part because it offers such capabilities as standard features; competitors provide this tracking, but only as a custom project. Other recent enhancements include tracking of Flash animation, RSS and podcasting.


HBX Analytic's new streaming media capabilities focus mainly on analyzing the popularity of individual clips. Key metrics include how often someone started to view it, completion percentage, average duration of clip and the types of players used. You can examine conversions to understand how many leads videos are driving. If a clip is being watched for a long time, you might add more complex messaging; if it's being watched only for a short time, perhaps you need to simplify the messaging.

Several data points can be collected about RSV feeds: initial signup and request of the feed, ongoing requests for the feed, when RSV data is displayed by the client, and also click-throughs from an RSV feed that take users to the Web site.


HBX Analytics is all about measuring conversions, typically defined as when a customer purchases an item. The product relies on a snippet of JavaScript embedded on each page, cookies and parameterized information such as the location of a link on a page. The HBX Analytics server parses all the information collected and then creates an XML file. The session data collected includes summary information about when visitors reached the site, where they came from, the browser they used, geographic information and historical detail on whether they visited the site before or responded to an e-mail campaign.

Events such as page views with time stamp and referral links are also stored in the database. Events roll up into each session, and session data is aggregated into reports. Tracking session information lets you track everything prior to a conversion, including what the customer viewed, how long they were on the site and where they came from.


The easiest way to get a feel for what HBX Analytics offers is to use the Active Viewing browser overlay. This is a visual tool that runs within a standard browser; the left-hand frame contains data about the site and the page currently being viewed. It's possible to segment visitors, grouping people based on something we know about them--whether they purchase something, whether they've purchased something in the past, where they come from, and so on--or look at global data about all visitors. The data displayed includes overall site traffic, page views, visitors, bounce rate and conversion information. Everything is right at your fingertips with Active Viewing. Of particular interest is page flow and referral URLs, which show how people navigate to this page and where they go afterwards. Click-path information is easy to understand and relies on colored icons representing pages. It's possible to search through paths, find out who looked at a page and what path they took on the site before and after that page. One very cool feature of Active Viewing is the ability to overlay nested HTML menus and see the traffic each menu received in total or by each link; you can also display the results as a table.

The Active Viewing component of HBX Analytics is intuitive and useful for performing a cursory inspection of site traffic that compels users to dig deeper into the overall analytics for their sites.


The first thing you see after logging into HBX Analytics is a welcome and support center that provides access to dedicated account managers, Webinars, documentation, white papers, message boards, a blog and product news. You can access multiple sites from within the same account and track users across multiple sites through a global rollup. Users with proper authorization can administer accounts and add other users. A key feature is the ability to control account-level access and logistic-level access so, for example, accounting people can't see marketing information and vice versa.

The next thing you'll notice is customized dashboards that can be created by administrators or users. It's very simple; just display a chart and click "add to dashboard." You can even configure dashboards for individual campaigns, such as an e-mail campaign or a Web site promotion, so you can get the information you need immediately upon logging in. Each user can have up to four dashboards.

Any report lets you specify start and end dates or preset periods of time, like day, week or month. It's very easy to compare one time period to another, so you can track the impact of changes such as a site redesign, or see changes in how people use your site after a press mention. A/B testing is another powerful feature that provides the ability to compare just about anything to just about anything else.

Reports start at very high levels, and users can then drill down as far as individual sessions. For example, the acquisition sources report lets you start with a search engine and drill down to each keyword, or start with a keyword and then drill down to the search engine. The report displays overall traffic to the site, new visitors versus repeat visitors, how often people come back and how long they're on the site. It's then possible to dig even deeper, to the cost of acquisition, and break out search engines with paid versus organic clicks. It's easy to see the conversion rate per search engine and what those conversions were, and it's also possible to upload keyword costs so conversion costs can be accurately calculated. Looking at the campaigns report displays ROI and lets you see value down to the individual keyword.

Wireless device reports can be trended over time to determine if there is demand for the content developed for these devices. It's possible to segment by device type, so you can see which pages or sections are most popular with people who browse the site using BlackBerrys versus those using Windows Mobile devices.


Content categories are hierarchical groupings of pages based on a site's organization scheme. The categories give you a very good sense of which areas of your site are most popular, and you can drill down through eight levels of detail. For example, WebSideStory customer Backcountry.com might drill down from the hiking/camping category to backpacks, then to daypacks and then down to individual models of daypacks. This report contains valuable information such as which categories, subcategories and products are most popular as indicated by daily, weekly or monthly unique visitors. This information works well with search engine tweaking within the HBX Active Marketing Suite. Anytime someone searches for backpacks, it's possible to put the most viewed and most purchased backpacks at the top of the list. The search environment does this by pulling in conversion information from HBX Analytics.

Conversion funnels are important indicators of a Web site's success. Using the browser-based HBX Analytics interface, users can define up to ten levels in a funnel. The process of building a funnel is intuitive and can be handled by business users. The funnels can be based on page-name or content-category values, or you can create product-specific funnels that can effectively measure whether the content provided for one product is more compelling than that provided for another.


Campaign reporting gives companies a way to understand their marketing expenses for keywords, banners, newsletters, e-mail and internal marketing. It's possible to measure response rate and conversion rate for each campaign, then by keywords, click path and conversions. Campaign reporting can be used to drive ROI calculations either by uploading cost through API or directly entering it into the HBX Analytics interface.

The wizard-driven HBX Report Builder is very flexible and quite powerful. It provides an API for Web Services for Excel, so customers can leverage all the power and functionality of Excel to create spreadsheets and apply complex formulae. Reports can be set to refresh based on a certain time and day or date, and it's even possible to schedule a report to run and e-mail itself as a spreadsheet or PDF to a distribution list.

HBX Analytics is a mature platform that offers a great deal of functionality. HBX Analytics excels by balancing powerful features, flexibility and ease of use. Active segmentation lets users slice and dice data however they want, and the integration with Excel is much tighter than that of its competitors. All customers get training on the basic user interface, Report Builder and Active Viewing, and there are also weekly scheduled training Webinars that anyone can attend.

HBX Analytics is the core component of WebSideStory's on-demand Active Marketing Suite, which also includes search, keyword and content management components. Subscription pricing starts at $15,000 per year and goes up based on the number of page views, customer accounts and additional features. The average annual cost is $45,000 per year and includes unlimited support.

Matt Sarrel is the principal of Sarrel Group, which specializes in lab-based technology product reviews. Write to him at [email protected].

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