Episode 7: Website Analytics
For those of you just joining us, over these opening episodes of the Tunnel 7 podcast I’ve been exploring the different components that go into building a successful website. Now if you’ve missed any of these episodes I encourage you to check them out on the podcasts page at tunnel7.com.
As I mentioned previously building a website is like building a house. A website project is built layer upon layer and each layer is very important and builds upon the other. A weakness in any component will cause the finished product to suffer. Today the final component we talk about is analytics.
What the heck are website analytics?
I’m glad you asked. Wikipedia defines website analytics as follows:
“Web analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of internet data for purposes of understanding and optimizing website usage.”
Well said Wikipedia! Understanding and optimizing website usage. That is the power of website analytics. Unlike traditional print media, websites offer a unique opportunity to analyze your user actions on your website on a very granular level. Where are your users coming from? How much traffic did your last marketing campaign bring in? How much of that traffic did you convert into customers or clients? The answers to these and many more questions can be found using website analytics. All of this information can then be used to optimize your website. This, to me, is the most important part of website analytics - the ability to use concrete, objective data to drive any adjustments that are made to your website.
Now there are a number of website analytics packages available ranging in price anywhere from free to very expensive. In recent years Google Analytics has become very popular in part because it is free and also because it provides excellent data. I will say that it has become a very good choice for myself and a number of my clients. However, there are a number of other options available. The key isn’t so much what software you select but that you review the information produced and use it for your benefit.
A real world example of website analytics in action
OK, so we’ve determined that website analytics are important because it gives us concrete data about our website that can then be used to improve it. How exactly is that done?
Well, let me give you a real world example. On my website one of the goals I have is to generate leads from the form on my contact page. Using analytics software I review every week how well I am meeting that goal. Are my users getting to the contact page? Once there are they completing the form? If not why? Where are they going? Where are they coming from? I look at all this information and from it make incremental changes to my website to increase the number of folks completing this form. Now those changes need not be terribly significant. I may be simply reorganizing content. It may be moving a button further up on a page. Whatever the changes are I will examine my analytics data next time and see if they have helped or hurt me in meeting my goals.
Without this data I’d just be guessing. My advice? Never guess.
Think of website analytics as a bathroom scale. If you wanted to know exactly how much you weighed a scale could do that for you. Well, if you want to know exactly how well your website is performing analytics is the scale your website would step on to get that answer.
What information should I look at?
OK, you’ve made your point. Website analytics are important. I get it. Now what the heck should I look at? Well, in a recent post on my blog I wrote about the 7 things you should know about your website. Those 7 things that analytics can tell you were:
1. How many visitors does your website receive?
This is an excellent starting point. Sure you’ve built a great website but unfortunately just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean anyone will come. Knowing how many visitors your website receives is essential to determining the effort that should be put into driving traffic to your website.
2. What is the most popular page of your website (other than the homepage)?
The great thing about analyzing website traffic is that it can tell you what your visitors are finding useful on your website. Knowing your most popular page will tell you where you should be concentrating your development efforts (or where you may want to put an announcement for a new service you offer). (I rule out the homepage simply because it tends to be the most popular page by default.)
3. What is the bounce rate on your website?
When someone lands on your website and leaves it immediately this is called a bounce. Obviously not a good thing. A bounce rate is a percentage of total users who bounce. Your website should be inviting and offer visitors enough choices to draw them further into the website rather than bounce them away. A high bounce rate is a red flag that your website is not very effective.
4. What is the average time spent on your website?
People tend to move quickly on a website but if your visitors are spending 30 seconds on your website it clearly isn’t doing you any favors. I tend to look at average time and bounce rate in tandem as they usually go hand in hand. When it comes to this metric the more time spent on your website the better.
5. Where does your traffic come from?
Does most of your traffic come from search engines? Does it come from links on other websites? Does it come from people directly entering your website address in their browsers? Knowing this information is critical as it will show you which marketing efforts are working, which are not, and will guide your marketing efforts going forward.
6. What page do most people exit your website from?
If a high majority of visitors are leaving your website from the same page chances are there is something on that page that is turning them off. It could be the page content or a form that isn’t working properly. Identifying top exit pages often identifies problems visitor experience on your website. And, once identified, they can be corrected.
7. How well is you website meeting your goals?
A website is an extension of your business. Frequently it is the first impression as well. Do you have goals for your website? Do you track those goals with your analytics software? (You can and should!) By doing so you will see how often the website meets your goals in guiding your visitors to a desired result.
While website analytics don’t play a direct role in the building of a website in the way information architecture or content writing or coding or visual design do, it is a no less critical part of building a successful website, particularly given the current economic climate.
Website analytics software will collect valuable data about your visitors and show you how well your website is performing. It will also give you concrete, objective data about what is working and what is not working on your website, which will then give you a direction to make adjustments that will increase the effectiveness of your website.
Using website analytics your website will get away from being something that simply looks good to something that acts as an integral part of your business or organization by driving your users to complete a desired action. Without analytics in place decisions you make about your website will be based on subjective guesswork. Don’t fall into this trap. Put website analytics to work for you today!