What they can't do is offer a magic formula for success on the Web; taken out of context or misunderstood, they can even result in poor business decisions.
What they can do is help you build a picture of your website and its users' behavior. Though the picture is a snapshot of a given moment, and from only one perspective, it's an important one.
Approaching your website's analytics as a three-step process will allow you to not only understand the tools available and what they have to offer but also create a gauge by which you can determine how well key business objectives are being met.
1. Understand the basics
It's a crowded landscape—and it's not obvious which numbers need your vigilance. Below are the most basic, essential Web analytics data that you need to understand and monitor.
- Unique visitors: This metric tells you the number of potential, new clients.
- Total visitors: This metric tells you how often your site is visited.
- Pageviews, unique pageviews, and click-through rates: These metrics, sometimes referred to as "impressions," tell you where users are going on your site and can help you understand what site content is the most relevant to visitors (so you can create more of it).
- Keywords: This metric shows you the keywords through which people found you and how each keyword converts for you. For example, people who search for "car dealership in Seattle" convert a lot better than people who search for "car reviews."
- Entrance pages: This metric shows the content through which people found your site. Identify that content, and create more of it.
- Traffic sources: This metric tells you where your traffic is coming from. This is a great metric if you are trying (and you should be) to measure how much traffic each campaign is driving and how each campaign is converting.
Keep in mind that any data taken out of context can be misleading—and Web analytics are no exception. Here are some caveats worth considering:
Bounce rate: This number indicates the degree to which people land on some page on your site and bounce off that page without going deeper into the site.
Conventional wisdom says a bounce rate of approximately 30% is quite good, while a rate of 50% or more indicates a need for website improvement. The problem with such a simplistic view is that bounce rates can be affected by many other factors, such as bookmarking.
If people use a bookmark to get directly to relevant information on your site, or if they simply find what they need immediately upon visiting the site, your bounce rate increases.
If that happens repeatedly, your bounce rate goes up significantly but users are finding what they need; therefore, the bounce rate could be an indication of good information architecture and site design.
Length of page visit/length of user views: It's often assumed that if people spend time on a site it's because they like it and find it helpful and relevant. That may be true. However, it may also indicate that the site is hard to navigate and finding critical information is laborious.
Always consider the content in question. If users are spending 90 seconds watching a 90-second video clip, that's probably great news; if users are spending 90 seconds on a page that involves a contact form with four data fields, that's probably not.
2. Develop a plan
Determine which metrics are most valuable to you, and develop a plan so that you're obtaining data on a periodic basis that makes sense given the cycles and seasonality of your business.
There is no simple formula for doing so, but that doesn't mean it has to be a hassle. Use your common sense and what you know about your business.
For example, if your company's sales cycle is highly concentrated around the holiday season, monitor site visitors and product pageviews on a daily basis from early November to mid-January.
Whatever you do, make sure you've mapped out a simple 12-month monitoring plan for yourself, put it on your calendar, and stick to it. The insights you'll get are worth the time and effort.
3. Analyze your data
You now understand the terminology and you've implemented a plan based on the metrics that are most valuable to your business. It's time to analyze the data to determine how well your website is working for your company.
Start with a modest approach. Analytics tools such as Google Analytics come with preset reports that allow you to slice, dice, and view your data in various ways.
Poke around your analytics tool and see what's available. Stick to the reports that focus on the key metrics defined above. (Most of the popular analytics tools have great online help, should you need it.)
Once you've spent several months familiarizing yourself with some preset reports, consider entering the high-level data into an Excel spreadsheet.
Sort the data and look at it in different ways, such as pie charts, line graphs, or subtotals by region or product category or client type. Experiment and have a little fun.
4. Involve your colleagues
Your colleagues have unique learning styles and worldviews. Similar to your monitoring plan, schedule a brief recurring meeting to share your Web-analytics data and any analyses you've done with a cross-section of your colleagues. (You want access to a diverse mindset.)
Ask them whether they see any patterns you may have missed or whether they have any insights of their own. The cumulative brainpower of your organization can dramatically increase the value you derive from your analytics data.
You're off and running. Continue to measure your way to success!
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