Era of the content engineer

WebSideStory provides a suite of on-demand tools designed to maximize the success of a company's web presence as a highly efficient, proactive marketing machine.
Written by Phil Wainewright, Contributor

Most people now realize that a business shouldn't think of its website as the online equivalent of a marketing brochure. The technology and skills exist today for a company's web presence to perform as a highly efficient, proactive marketing machine that draws in visitors and shepherds them towards the products or services on sale.

WebSideStory provides a suite of on-demand tools designed to maximize the success of that machine.Mash-ups, AJAX and RSS raise tricky questions about what constitutes a pageview The company is best known for its flagship website traffic analysis service, which I cited last week as unfazed by the potential challenge from Google's new free-of-charge analytics service. In the past year WebSideStory has expanded its application footprint, adding website content management and search tools in May when it completed the acquisition of Atomz, another on-demand pioneer, and launching a keyword bid management tool in August.

Although most of its customers use just one or two of its products, the effect of combining the full suite is to give marketeers the ability to assess and react to the success of their online marketing in real-time, the company's chief marketing officer Rand Schulman told me in a recent briefing.

Traffic analysis allows them to measure where visitors have come from and what they do while on the site. By controlling search and content they can make changes at any time to optimize how potential customers explore the site and find the information or products they're looking for. Keyword bid management allows them to fine-tune the efficiency of their spending on contextual advertising, bringing new prospects to the site more cost-effectively.

Because all this happens on-demand and in real-time, marketeers can put themselves directly in control of the effectiveness of their campaigns, says Schulman. "Marketing people are going to need to become more like content engineers. They're going to have to be responsible for the content." He sees this as the culmination of a long line of technology advances that have collapsed the content delivery chain, with marketing professionals moving from dictaphones to desktop publishing and finally to on-demand web publishing and editing.

Having been a long-term paying user of WebSideStory's entry-level HitBox Professional service (as well as Atomz search) for my own website, I can bear witness to the advantages of being able to view real-time analytics data (especially useful when the site was slashdotted a year ago). But my site is not representative of WebSideStory's primary market. It pitches its flagship Active Marketing Suite at mid-size and large enterprises that want to maximize their online sales performance. The customer base includes well-known names as diverse as Best Buy, Fox News, JP Morgan Chase, Lego, Texas Instruments and Warner Brothers. A listed Nasdaq stock, WebSideStory posted 98% year-on-year growth in its most recent quarter, and trailing twelve months (TTM) revenue of $34.2 million.

A number of partner applications use the company's Stream API to exchange information with the core HBX Analytics tool. This extends the analytics capability into being able to measure the end-to-end effect of activities such as email or direct marketing, banner advertising, loyalty programs, ecommerce and sales automation services. Schulman explained that WebSideStory prefers to partner rather than offer these services itself so that its analytics is clearly perceived as providing wholly independent performance metrics. The API is therefore a vital means of extending the application footprint without impacting WebSideStory's core value proposition.

Website traffic analysis has been one of the first application areas in which the on-demand model has become established as the mainstream choice. That's just as well considering the complex challenges that are now emerging in the form of mash-ups, AJAX clients and alternative web publishing models such as RSS, all of which raise tricky questions for traffic analysis practitioners about what exactly constitutes a pageview. Vendors are going to have to maintain a fast clip of product renewal if they're going to stay the course, giving on-demand providers a headstart over those who have to support an installed base. One thing that I feel marks out WebSideStory from its competition is the way that it uses APIs to integrate with other products, because it fits the profile of an API-based composite application that I described in my post last week on What to expect from Web 3.0. Now that I've completed my overview of WebSideStory, I'll move on to examine its Web 3.0 credentials in my next posting.

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