Imagine you opened a store—say, a supermarket filled with fresh produce and household products.
As the owner of this store, you would naturally check the register at the end of the day to find out how much money you'd made and how many total sales you'd completed. You would also carefully track the inventory to find out which items were selling and which were collecting dust on the shelves.
Would this data be helpful? Absolutely. Would it provide you with an accurate sense of how well your supermarket was operating? Not even close. Tracking sales is important, yes, but it doesn't tell you much about your customers and how they find and interact with your store.
If you wanted to optimize your supermarket to attract and retain users (read: customers), the data you'd really want would include:
How many people walked by the store? What percentage of this crowd came inside?
Once inside, where did people go? Did they look at the vegetable display first or head directly to the pharmacy in the back? How long do people spend inside of your store on average?
How many people who visited your supermarket actually purchased something?
Your website is no different from this supermarket. Okay, maybe it's a little different—you don't have to mop up the spilled milk in aisle three—but it's a useful analogy. No matter what product you're selling or service you're providing, it's critical that you understand how potential customers are navigating through your site and interacting with your content.
All of that data—and so much more!—is available through website analytics tools like Google Analytics and Clicky. These services will collect and analyze visitor data and present the results to you in a relatively easy-to-understand format.
What can analytics tell you?
Website analytics are so useful because they provide detailed and granular data about your web traffic. No matter what analytics program you're using, you'll likely get information on the following categories and metrics:
Users: How many unique visitors are coming to you site?
Location: What countries, states, and cities are these visitors coming from?
Cohort: A segment of users active during a particular period of time.
Traffic Sources: How are visitors getting to your website? Organic traffic comes via search (usually Google, but also Bing and Yahoo). Direct traffic means somebody manually entered your URL. Referral traffic comes from another website, social media post, or advertisement that links to your site.
Campaign Data: Which online marketing campaigns are bringing traffic and conversions to your website.
Top Pages: What are you website's most popular pages? An FAQ page or blog post may be significantly ahead of your home page.
In-Page Analytics: What pages and links are getting the most clicks on your site?
Bounce Rate: The percentage of site visitors who leave after viewing only one page.
Time on Site: How long are site visitors staying on average?
Conversions: The completion of any measurable activity—not just sales—that is important to your business, including email signups, contact form submissions, clicks to social accounts, and other engagement goals
Goal Funnel: If you have a multiple step checkout process, the goal funnel will tell
where people abandon the shopping cart.
What data should you focus on?
The metrics that will be most important to you are the ones that align with your business and website objectives. For analytics to be effective, you need to identify measurable goals for your site and then track and measure them.
For example, many companies try to generate leads through website campaigns that aim to capture names and email addresses of prospective customers, and then convert them into paying customers. Tracking the success of particular actions within these campaigns—from landing page conversions to social media interactions to email responses—is key to identifying which efforts work, and which do not.
Google Analytics and other tools allow you to track these sort of goal conversions for specific campaigns and events.
What data should you ignore?
Every piece of data about your website is valuable, but your business / website goals should create clear priorities. For example, don't place too much weight on website visits, which have little value in and of themselves. (Especially when bots account for so much website traffic.) Your conversion goals are almost always more value than most visit stats. Would you rather have a 300% increase in traffic or a 300% increase in newsletter subscriptions?
This all sounds great! How do you get started?
First, you need a website. Second, you need to start using analytics tools.
For large business, robust analytics packages like Clicktale and Optimizely can be great for digging deep into the data. But for small and mid-sized operations, free or lower-end offerings will probably provide you with all of the insights you need.
Google Analytics tops most lists of free offerings and has emerged as the most widely used web analytics service on the Internet. The metrics and terminology it uses have become industry standards for talking about web traffic and conversions. It can take a while to master this lingo, which is why we put together The Four-And-A-Half Minute Guide to Google Analytics. This quick and easy read explains terms like "cohort" and "widgets" and helps you understand GA's dashboard display.
Join for free today to download it from our Marketplace and start measuring your website visitors today!