The Essential Role of Web Analytics
Web Analytics is the collection, measurement and analysis of traffic to your website. The statistics gathered within a web analytics package are used to help you understand how people find your website and what they do when they get there.
To analyse your traffic you need an application such as Google Analytics or proprietary software such as WebTrends or WebAbacus.
Why is it important to analyse traffic?
Websites are generally set up for a purpose. It may be that you want to raise awareness of an issue, sell products online or even earn advertising revenue from your site using banner adverts or Google Adsense. Whatever your goals if you don't know who is looking at your site, how people find you and what they do when they get there it's very hard to know how effective your site is in achieving your objectives and whether your online marketing strategy is working.
How can an Analytics package help?
An analytics package enables you to track a whole range of information about your website. There are however a number of key statistics (or "metrics" as they are often referred to) that can provide valuable insight into how your site is doing.
Patterns of site usage change as you create new content, rework your site design or launch new marketing initiatives - an important feature of an Analytics package is therefore that it also enables you to track how your site is performing over time. For example if you start an advertising campaign on Google Adwords you can see the effect on key statistics and refine your campaigns to improve your site's effectiveness over time.
What are some of the key metrics to track?
Setting goals for your site are essential. In addition some key statistics or "metrics" to track over time include:
- Visitor Numbers / Unique Visits - Having a great website is fantastic but if no-one ever sees it isn't going to achieve much. Generally you will want to increase visitor numbers over time but bear in mind that it is not just visitor numbers but visitor relevance that matters. If you are paying a lot of money to increase traffic to your site but then no-one goes on to do anything you want them to then you probably need to reconsider your strategy.
- Pages per Visit - This figure provides an indication of how engaging your site is. If people are only looking at one or two pages then it's an indication that your site perhaps isn't very engaging and that after getting to you most people don't want to explore further.
- Time on Site - Again this provides an indication of visitor quality - the longer the time people spend on your site the more engaging it is likely to be.
- Bounce Rate - this is probably one of the most important statistics. A bounce is defined as a visit to your site where the visitor looks at the page they land at and then leave. Ideally you want to ensure that your bounce rate is as low as possible - you can use advanced reports to identify pages on your site with a high bounce rate and then take action to improve these. Read more
- Geographic Spread - where are your visitors coming from? If you only service the UK and find that most of your visitors are from the US then perhaps you need to reconsider your online marketing strategy.
- Traffic Sources - how many people come to you via searches on e.g. Google, what keywords do they use to find you, how many people type your web address and come to you directly and how many others click onto links on other sites to get to your site?
- Repeat Visits - this figure also gives an indication of how engaging your site is to your visitors over time and of customer loyalty.
What else should I track?
There are a whole range of additional metrics that can provide insight into how your site is being used, how your campaigns are going, which traffic sources are most likely to go on and fulfill your online goals etc. These will be discussed in greater detail elsewhere on this site. The 7 metrics above however are a useful starting point for organisations that are not familiar with working with an analytics package - over time you can become more sophisticated and look at other data in greater detail.
How do I know if my site is performing well?
Every site will perform differently depending upon what the site is about, who it is aimed at a whole range of other factors - not all of them online. There are however trends within sectors - some analytics packages can help give you a feel for how your site is performing compared to other similar sites within your sector. For example if you are a charity the Google Analytics benchmarking tool enables you to look at how other not for profits with similar sized websites are performing.
Benchmarking can be useful to give you a flavour of performance and trends within your sector. However there will still be fairly dramatic differences depending on the nature of your site compared to another. For example if you operate specialist services you may perform very differently to another organisation with a broader market.
Online Strategy and Web Analtyics
Web Analytics is an essential tool for both the development and delivery of online strategy. It can help not only identify weak points and issues with your current site but also help you assess the changes you make to see whether in fact they improve your performance, have no effect or actually make things worse!
It's important to first of all baseline your current performance so that you can measure how effective future changes are. For example it may be that an analysis of your current site shows that people don't spend that long on your website and that you have a high bounce rate of say 80%. After further analysis you may conclude that the content on your website isn't engaging enough and so you commission a copywriter and rewrite key pages on your site and upload them. You then give your site a few weeks to monitor the changes and revisit your web statistics.
If your bounce rate has fallen, people are spending longer on your site and on average looking at more pages then it's highly likely that the content changes have had a positive effect. If however there is no change or things have actually got worse then maybe you need to explore other ideas or potentially the new content isn't as targetted to your audience or as well written as you had hoped!