Using analytics

Cartoon with upwards and downwards trending lines and businessmen balancing/hanging on themIt’s a great feeling when the visitors start trickling in to your brand-new website – after all, who doesn’t like to have people taking an interest in what they have to say?

But if your interest in publishing a website is at all business-related, then you’ll want to know more about where your visitors – where they’re coming from, how long they’re staying, how they’re interacting with your site (what they’re looking at/clicking on), and where they’re going when they leave.

All these things are important to know if your website supports your business – and if your website is your business, then they’re vital.

Why is analysis important?

At the very least, you want to know whether your website’s visitors are behaving in the way you want them to. Above all, if you’re selling stuff to people, you want to know whether they’re buying – and if not, whether your site is helping you sell or getting in the way of sales.

What page are they entering the site on? Whichever page it is, are they then moving on to your sales page/signing up for your newsletter/clicking on your ads? Are they sticking around to read your content – and coming back to read more of it?

Or are they simply leaving without looking at anything? In which case, what’s putting them off? Are your pages taking too long to load? Is your site template ugly and off-putting?

Who’s visiting? Are they coming from the countries/cities you’d expect, or from a variety of sources both expected and unexpected? Among other things, this can show whether your content is well-matched to your audience, or whether you might need to tweak it to make it either more specific or more widely accessible.

And how are they getting to hear about your site? Are they arriving from the search engines, from social networking, from links on other people’s sites, or from your paid advertising? This can help you work out the best target audiences for your future traffic-building efforts.

Knowing all of these things can help you adjust your site so that it’s performing… hmm, maybe not perfectly, but at least better.

How much time should I spend analysing traffic?

There’s no need to go into every last detail of how your site’s being used, and I certainly wouldn’t advocate becoming a slave to analytics. “Paralysis through analysis” is a common phenomenon on the Internet, where website designers spend so long analysing stuff that they never get round to implementing anything – and by the time they’re ready to implement changes, the Internet has moved on.

But you should at least be aware of the main trends – these will give you more than enough to work with, at least in the early days. There’ll be plenty of time for the fine tuning once you’ve dealt with the big stuff.

So where do I get this information?

Most web hosts offer traffic stats packages, but these are fairly basic – they give you the statistics of how many visitors your site’s getting and where they’re coming from (geographically and on the Web), but not much more than that.

To obtain meaningful information you can work with, you’ll need a proper analytics package. There are several available, but these days the de facto industry standard is Google Analytics. I’ll be taking a look at GA soon.

In short

If you want to know where you’re doing well and where you could be doing better, then you can’t afford to ignore analytics. Without them, you’ll continue to let opportunities go begging without even realising it.


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