Friday, December 5, 2008

TraceWorks' Headlight Integrates Online Measurement and Execution

I’ve been looking at an interesting product called Headlight from a Danish firm TraceWorks. Headlight is an online advertising management system, which means that it helps marketers to plan, execute and measure paid and unpaid Web advertising.

According to TraceWorks CEO Christian Dam, Headlight traces its origins to an earlier product, Statlynx, which measured the return on investment of search marketing campaigns. (This is why Headlight belongs on this blog.) The core technology of Headlight is still the ability to capture data sent by tags inserted in Web pages. These are used to track initial responses to a promotion and eventual conversion events. The conversion tracking is especially critical because it can capture revenue, which provides the basis for detailed return on investment calculations. (Setting this up does require help from your company's technology group; it is not something marketers can do for themselves.)

These functions are now supplemented by functions that let the system actually deliver banner ads, including both an ad serving capability and digital asset management of the ad contents. The system can also integrate with Google AdWords paid search campaigns, automatically sending tracking URLs to AdWords and using those URLs in its reports. It can also capture tracking URLs from email campaigns.

All Web activity tracking may make Headlight sound like a Web analytics tool, but it’s quite different. The main distinction is that Headlight lets users set up and deliver ad campaigns, which is well outside the scope of Web analytics. Nor, on the other hand, does Headlight offer the detailed visitor behavior analysis of a Web analytics system.

The campaign management functions extend both to the planning that precedes execution and to the evaluation that follows it. The planning functions are not especially fancy but should be adequate: users can define activities (a term that Headlight uses more or less interchangeably with campaigns), give them start and end dates, and assign costs. The system can also distinguish between firm plans and drafts. TraceWorks expects to significantly expand workflow capabilities, including sub-tasks with assigned users, due dates and alerts of overdue items, in early 2009.

Evaluation functions are more extensive. Users can define both corporate goals (e.g., total number of conversions) and individual goals (related to specific metrics and activities) for specific users, and have the system generate reports that will compare these to actual results. Separate Key Performance Indicator (KPI) reports show selected actual results over time. In addition, something the vendor calls a “WhyChart” adds marketing activity dates to the KPI charts, so users can see the correlation between different marketing efforts and results. Summary reports can also show the volume of traffic generated by different sources.

The value of Headlight comes not only from the power of the individual features but the fact that they are tightly integrated. For example, the asset management portion of the system can show users the actual results for each asset in previous campaigns. This makes it much easier for marketers to pick the elements that work best and to make changes during campaigns when some items work better than others. The system can also be integrated with other products through a Web Service API that lets external systems call its functions for AdWords campaign management, conversion definition, activity setup, and reporting.

Technology aside, I was quite impressed with the openness of TraceWorks as a company. The Web site provides substantial detail about the product, and includes a Wiki with what looks like fairly complete documentation. The vendor also offers a 14 day free trial of the system.

Pricing also seems quite reasonable. Headlight is offered as a hosted service, with fees ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 per month depending on Web traffic. According to Dam, the average fee is about $1,300 per month. Larger clients include ad agencies who use Headlight for their own clients.

Incidentally, the company Web site also includes an interesting benchmarking offer, which lets you enter information about your own company's online marketing and get back a report comparing you to industry peers. (Yes, I know a marketing information gathering tool when I see one.) At the moment, unfortunately, the company doesn't seem to have enough data gathered to report back results. Or maybe it just didn't like my answers.

TraceWorks released its original Statlynx product in 2003 and launched Headlight in early 2007. The system currently serves about 500 companies directly and through agencies.

1 comment:

Ulrik WS said...

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