Apr 4, 2008

The importance of analytics

Analytics - stats can be rewardingWe all want our website to be working hard for us. We talk about SEO and the importance of it. We spend money on advertising campaigns. We spend hours generating content. Despite all of this we may see no evidence of progress. We may not be getting any more sales or even leads than normal but whilst that lets us know something is not right, it does not allow us to drill down any further. The solution is tracking our site statistics, known as analytics.

How do we track?

If we are asking this sort of basic question, then I would suggest we look at some basic solutions. The first option is to use the statistics provided by your web host. These are typically part of a package such as Awstats or Webalizer and can be found under Web/FTP Stats on your hosting control panel. Different packages will provide more or less detailed reports and some will be more graphic than others. Most people prefer the simple, prettier, more graphic option as it is easier on the eyes. One thing about analytics is that it can be as detailed and complex as you are willing to go. More about that later.

Another great option for tracking stats is using Google’s free tool called Google Analytics. This is my choice. It works by placing a small piece of JavaScript on the bottom of your page then it produces very pretty stats. This tool can be used to monitor basic stats with very little effort, but it also has the power to monitor more complex stats. It can be used to see conversion rates and also integrates with Google Adwords. There are many different analytics packages out there, some are free some are not.

What to track – the basics

Visits – This is the total number of visits
Visitors – This is the number of unique visitors. It is the number of visits adjusted for repeat visitors.
Page views – This is the total number of pages your visitors have viewed. In advertising terms, this would be the number of impressions.
Pages/Visit – This is how many pages the average visitor looks at. If this is close to one, it means people are not exploring your site much. It is the number ofpage views divided by the number of visits.
Bounce rate – The percentage of visitors who leave without visiting another page.
Average time on site – Pretty self explanatory. If this is low then maybe you need to rework your site design. Make it easier for visitors to find something of interest in order to keep them on your site.
% new visits – This one is an interesting one. On the one hand, new visits represents growth, and new people discovering you, on the other hand, you want a loyal number of repeat visitors.
Traffic sources – Where is your traffic from. This is great for seeing which advertising campaigns or links are providing you with the most traffic. If your paying for a campaign and getting little or no traffic, you need to work out what is wrong.
Content overview – What is popular? Some content fairs a lot better than others. Can you see any patterns? If you are working with social media, finding a format which works well, then replicating it can be a very powerful way of gaining traffic.

What else can we do?

Analytics can provide you with a lot of data which may be useful or useless depending on your site. It is possible to see the country of origin, the operating system and the Internet browser your visitors are using. The country of origin is useful for determining what kind of adverts would work on your website. If your readership is from the US, adverts targeted towards Americans will do better than those targeted towards your home country. If your website is about cooking and recipe sharing, information on browsers and operating systems is of no use whatsoever.

For more complex uses of Google Analytics I suggest you read Patrick Altoft’s guide to Advanced Analytics . Here he explains how to track exit clicks, downloads, sales and other valuable data. You can see how these things would be beneficial.

Conclusion

Businesses love measuring performance and in many cases it is hard to create useful data which can measure performance in a meaningful way. Online we do not have this problem. The only problem is the limited knowledge of the power of analytics and how to use them. A little time invested in setting up these systems could result in great benefits.

Think how hard it must be for companies to measure the response to an advert in a traditional medium such as print, radio or event TV. Online we have easy access to this data. Take advantage of it!

2 Comments

  • I need web stats per directory. I have bloggers under the main url realtown.com.
    Is this possible, to give each user their own statistics without having to register each one independently.

    Thanks,

    Brian

  • I never used it, but Google analytics offer a feature what might work
    Go to create new website profile and choose “Add a Profile for an existing domain.

    Go to the user manager and add this profile to his gmail account.

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