Features designed to sell vs features designed work

Those that know me will recall I periodically rant about bone-headed features in software, especially web analytics tools. One of the things that really makes my blood boil is a funnel report. The user/analyst typically adores this report because it seems to focus all attention on the crucial problem of abandonment, ie I have a form on my website and 97% of people fail to fill out the form having arrived there.

Web analytics vendors in turn have designed their funnel reports to be incredibly pretty, and to highlight this abandonment in bright red with arrows showing the countless visitors who reached sight of the goal but jumped over the precipice instead, to be lost in the seas of competing sites like so many ecommerce lemmings. The WA vendors wisely realise that a demo of a funnel report creates a strong desire to purchase the product. All those abandoning visitors, and finally you get to see why!!! Sign me up!!!

The problem with a funnel report is that it so strongly focuses attention on the abandonment from a small number of pages. It forces the analyst into thinking there is causality between abandonment and the page the visitors abandons from. The funnel report is so colorful and so compelling during the demo that the analyst cannot see past it and cannot understand what really drives higher conversion. The feature actually gets in the way of the data.

While at ClickTracks I had seen us lose sales because we didn’t have a funnel report. The other guys were colorful and showed abandonment. I discussed the issue many times with Dr. Stephen Turner, ClickTracks’ CTO. We needed to have some kind of funnel report just in order to compete, and yet Stephen would not tolerate a poor implementation that caused the analyst to focus on the wrong thing. I, along with all ClickTracks customers, are forever in his debt for his refusal to compromise. Left to myself, I probably would have implemented something half-baked that met the need to have something whizzy for the sake of a demo, but without much underlying substance. Instead Stephen and I kicked around many different possible designs over a period of about 6 months.

The design we eventually came up with focuses on persuasion instead of abandonment. It’s not just a feel good thing where we want to think positively about the visitor behavior. The process of persuasion has a closer relationship to an individual page than abandonment does. Bryan Eisenberg is far more eloquent than I at explaining this, as his interview with e-consultancy demonstrates.

The ClickTracks funnel report shares little with standard funnel reports in other WA tools, and we wanted to name it something different. We played with names like Vortex (to emphasise the chaotic nature of the data) and Persuasion Report (too much like an essay for English literature class). We ended up naming it the funnel report, just like everyone else. The market had decided on that name and we couldn’t fight that battle.

Interestingly, it’s proven quite hard to educate analysts and move them away from the traditional funnel view. A demo of a funnel shows all those abandonments and it’s very hard for people to avoid ‘fixing’ the page they exited from. Doing that, of course, prevents fixing the real problem which might stem from a poorly crafted ad campaign, 10 pages earlier. I’m optimistic Market Motive will be able to teach this.

Learn more about Market Motive’s Web Analytics Certification course.

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  1. Hugh Gage says

    I appreciate what you’re saying. I’ve used a few of the leading WA tools but I bought a copy of the CT Pro software. As far as I can see the funnel report in CT Pro goes far beyond the others on account of its breadth of ability. The other tools appear to require the analyst to specify a fairly rigid path which s/he assumes visitors will take; I like the way CT allows the analyst to specify and show separately several different pages and / or groups of pages at each level; this works better on the basis that a visitor could take any one of a number of different routes to market.

    Overlay labelling on to this and I think CT offers a 3 dimensional funnel where the others offer only two dimensional funnels.

    Finally, I think that “Scenario” would have been a more appropriate name for the CT funnel on account of the fact that it doesn’t push the analyst down a particular way of thinking but allows far broader scenarios to be represented.

  2. admin says

    The funnel report is indeed on one of the hidden gems in ClickTracks. The name doesn’t do it justice. Believe me when I say we extensively pondered names like ‘3d funnel’ and ‘scenario’ and a bunch of others. We found all of them just confised the customer.

    At root we felt our funnel was too radically different for people to really grasp it until they spent time with it. I remember a time when I was the lone voice in the wilderness ranting against ‘path analysis’ even customers and vendors thought it was possible. Time proved me right, but that didn’t prevent my seeming a tad eccentric. I feared the same thing might happen with the naming of the funnel, so we instead decided to stealthily slip the feature in. We figured the customer would say ‘oh, it has a funnel report. That’s on my RFP’ during the avluation process, and later during the implementation the full power of what it does is revealed. Or something like that.

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