In an ecosystem, species evolve to fill niches. Simpler organisms are eventually replaced by the more specialized, which get a better share of resources.
As the natural world goes, so have software developers. Audience-tracking technology has gotten stronger, and with it, specialized analytics agencies and platforms have proliferated.
Rick Perreault, co-founder of Unbounce in Vancouver, says there were only a handful of software testing developers like his even two years ago, but many have sprung up since.
The good news for small businesses is that many of these companies are aimed at them. Larger corporations have access to big development teams with a full suite of products – but for a small business with more focused needs, tapping specialized developers can be cheaper.
"We cater to small businesses because, for the most part, larger companies would have IT teams," Mr. Perreault says.
In this series, we're looking at how audience measurement has changed, and how small businesses can take advantage of it.
We've looked at the state of audience tracking and some of the free analytics tools. Now it's time for the premium, specialized software.
The speed of the Internet is only getting faster, so it makes sense to have tools that can keep up. One of the drawbacks of most analytics software is that they can take hours or days to properly tabulate traffic. That can be fine if you run a static website, but not so good if you update your website more often.
These products give you a dashboard that displays how many readers are on your site within the last few minutes, and also tracks how they got there. If you make changes to your site, these tools can give you instant feedback.
The company is also working on a specialized e-commerce product called Shopbeat.
Real-time tracking is most useful for publishers, but can be invaluable for small businesses that also run niche blogs.
On the wave of increasingly predictive analytics engines, Parse.ly tracks the trending topics across the Web in real time, and makes recommendations on when and how to capitalize on them.
Writing about popular topics is a great way boost the traffic to your small business's blog, but won't be helpful if you can't capitalize on it until hours after Internet users have stopped searching for that topic.
Video is an increasingly popular option for small businesses; we've done a whole series on it. Videos can be expensive, but effective, marketing tools, so tracking their performance and return on investment is even more important.
One of the biggest players in video measurement is Visible Measures, which tracks viral campaigns for major marketers. But as it's grown over the years, its services may be out of range for small businesses.
While YouTube itself has recently bolstered its own analytics tools, more specialized agencies can offer more features.
Like Unbounce and landing pages, some companies will take care of your video's hosting and analytics.
Vidyard, based in Kitchener, Ont., bills itself as the YouTube for business. It can integrate with YouTube's video hosting, but also provides features such as "instant-start" technology (so viewers don't have to wait as long for videos to start playing) and more granular analytics, such as attention-span tracking and real-time support.
How to choose among options
In clinical trials for new medicine, you need to know whether a drug really works or whether a positive result could be due to other factors, such as a patient's hope that the drug is effective. Medical testers use randomness as a tool to screen out those other distracting factors by giving some patients the real drug and others a placebo.
So-called A/B testing extends that practice to the digital marketing space. Do you need to know whether customers would click your banner more if it was red or blue? With a bit of code, customers will be randomly shown a different banner every time they go to your website.
It's a system of testing used widely. Netflix, for instance, uses an A/B system to test its video recommendations.
Unbounce is a platform that gives small businesses the ability to create and test landing pages for their website. A/B testing lets you see if that design you like is actually effective.
"[Designers]would assume that whatever we do, by experience, would work, but testing allows us to go behind that and see what works best," says Unbounce's Mr. Perreault .
After all, gathering data and using it properly is the true goal of analytics.
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