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Watching site visitors fly in and out.

Having a Web site has clearly become a necessary part of business strategy, but knowing how customers view the site isn’t always so evident. Analysis software can record everything from clicks to visit duration, but such information is only useful if you know how to read it, according to Sunnyvale-based ClickTracks. CEO John Marshall chats about software, data slicing and dicing, and kicking the tires.

How did you get the idea to develop analysis software?

If you’ve encountered any products in the area of Web site analysis, you’ll know it’s a very crowded space, with a lot of products. WebTrends is the most popular, so people buy it by default. I was using that at a previous company, and I couldn’t understand the way it was presenting information. For a long time, I just thought it must be my failing, that my brain didn’t work that way, and I started to complain about the shortcomings of the program. Then I realized that what analysis software needed to do was to show where people click on the page, and I began to feel confident that there must be other people who wanted this as well, so I took a gamble.

What kind of analysis does your software give the user?

We’ve been very careful to avoid showing data that’s not important. This is a little unusual. Our competitors try to pack as much as possible into reports, showing different ways of slicing and dicing data because their thinking is, if you shove enough reports at a user, one of them is bound to be useful, right? We’ve tried to avoid doing that by showing information, not just data. That means we put it into context, so it resonates with people. When someone looks at our product, they get it instantly, the light bulb goes on.

You’ve said it’s a crowded space; how did you differentiate your software?

For one thing, we decided to sell it over the Internet, and at a fair price. We’re not going to pretend that our software does the same thing as competitors who are selling their programs for $100,000, but it does do a great deal for much less. We also allow prospects to kick the tires, so to speak, and do it quickly. We say that a user must be able to get results over a lunch break. That has been a big technical challenge, because you can’t build in complex technical configurations if you want that kind of speed, but in most cases we’re doing it.

Besides ensuring analysis speed, what other challenges did you face during development?

I’d say perception. The waters were polluted because many products were overpromised and underdelivered, but people knew how they worked, at least. So, we were faced with a decision about how we wanted to build the software, if we should take a different direction. Do we build a bad product that works the way people expect it to, or a good product that works in a fundamentally unexpected way? We decided to take a chance, and luckily, it worked out.

What has the reaction been to the software?

I’ve been amazed. It turns out that my guess was absolutely right, that a lot of people are frustrated with existing tools, and they want something that works in a fundamentally different way. The reaction is much larger, and much greater than I thought it would be.

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