Web Analytics Introduction
Web analytics can answer questions about what people are doing – and not doing – on your website. Web analytics is all about using the data you can collect from your website to give you insights about your business. The power of analytics is that it can help a business measure what’s going on at every stage of that customer journey. Want to know how people are initially becoming aware of your business? It can tell you which search engines people are finding you on and which kinds of pages they’re being sent to.
Use analytics to measure your progress toward those goals, and identify bottlenecks that are getting in the way of achieving them. There are lots of web analytics tools out there, and they can do a variety of things. Since we’re just getting started, we’ll focus on the basics, and talk about the ways analytics can help you, no matter which specific tool you use.
Web analytics helps you by providing data. First, let’s look at the different types. A “metric” is basically anything you can count. “Unique Visitors” is a good example. “Time Spent On Site” is another. If you sell things on your website, you can track how much money you’re making or how many of a certain product you’re selling. If your goal is to get people to read your website, you can track the number of times someone looked at a blog post or the amount of time they spent on it. All of these things are “metrics.”
Next, you’ll generally analyze your metrics by using what are called “dimensions.” You can use web analytics tools to learn more about your website visitors. Let’s say someone places an order, downloads driving directions to your shop, fills out a contact form, or does something else that you want them to do when they’re visiting your site. This is known as a “conversion.”
Web analytics tools can tell you if the “conversion rate”, or the amount of people that visit and then convert on one of your goals, changes based on where they came from, whether they’d been there before, or even the type of device they’re using. So let’s look at that last one. If you know which devices your site is working best and worst on, you can identify specific areas of strength to build on and areas you’ll need to improve. You’ll notice in that example that we were comparing “metrics” of conversions or conversion rates, but we were breaking it down by the device they used. The “device” data we’re collecting is called a “dimension,” generally, a dimension is any kind of data you can use to describe something you’re tracking with words.
Dimensions include things like the device type, what browsers visitors use, their geographic locations, and much, much more. By taking your metrics and “slicing” them with dimensions, you can find answers to very specific, detailed business questions, like “which devices are people finding it easiest to convert on the goals of my website?”
Want to know what time of day most people are visiting your website? Take your “Visitors” metric and break that down by an “Hour of Day” dimension.
How about finding out which marketing campaigns are making the most sales? Take your “Conversions” metric, and break it down by a “Campaign” dimension. Metrics are measurable, numerical data like time spent on site or pages viewed. Conversions are data on how many users have completed a desired action on your site, for example buying a product or signing up for a newsletter. Dimensions are groups of user data that can be used to generate a report, such as their device type or location.
If you haven’t started with an analytics tool yet, you’ll want to select and install one. Most have a pretty similar set up. First, you’ll need to copy and paste some special code onto your web pages. Next, while these tools will track a lot of things on their own, you might want to configure them to track the specific things that are unique to your business and your goals.
(1) Making Web Analytics work for you
One of the biggest benefits of going online is that digital marketing is extremely measurable. Throughout the entire customer journey, web analytics provides insight on where your website visitors are coming from, what they’re doing and how you can get more of them to “convert” on your site.
Analytics measures your website visitors across the entire digital customer journey – from the first time a person visits your website, to the time they become a valuable repeat customer. To see how this all comes to life, let’s look at an example, say, a guesthouse or “bed and breakfast.” One goal for a bed and breakfast guest house is to have website visitors make a reservation online – after all, that’s how they make money. Analytics can help measure how many reservations are being made, but it will also capture important insights about the things that lead up to and follow that reservation. All throughout the entire customer journey.
So what exactly does that mean? Let’s play out an example of the journey a customer goes through before they make a reservation. If you were looking for a guest house in, say Washington DC for a trip you’ll be making three months from now, the first thing you might do is go online and search for a term like “guesthouses in Washington DC.”
After you search, you end up on a search results page. And from there, you might spend some time clicking around on some guest house websites that interest you. You’re in research mode. Once you’re on a website, you might do any number of things. Like check out the daily rate. See what kinds of rooms are available. Browse some reviews or testimonials to get a better idea of what the guesthouse is really like. You might even look at some pictures to get a sense of the place. At this point, you’re probably not ready to actually book a reservation – you’re still looking around. But you might decide that this one is on your short-list, and you might even sign up to receive email updates from the guesthouse to make sure you don’t miss out on any promotions.
Now, two weeks later, what do you know? An email shows up in your inbox offering 10% off the normal rate, for the same dates you were planning to travel! At this point, you’ve done quite a bit of research, but you haven’t booked yet, and that email was just what you needed to make your decision. So you click on the email, go back to the website, and make a reservation.
The power of analytics is that it can help a business measure what’s going on at every stage of that customer journey. Want to know how people are initially becoming aware of your business? It can tell you which search engines people are finding you on and which kinds of pages they’re being sent to. It can then tell you if people are actually engaging with your business when they get to your website. For example, do they browse around and sign up for your email updates? Or do they just click the back button in their browser and move on to the next option?
Analytics can also measure whether people are converting on the goals you want to track – in our example, there were actually two: First, that email newsletter signup, and second, the reservation itself. Analytics can tell us whether people are coming back and becoming repeat customers. And when properly set up, analytics can even tell us if those loyal customers are becoming our advocates – for example, are they sharing our content with others on social networks?
A great way to turn analytics into a powerful tool that helps you understand how people use your website and improve accordingly, is to set clear, specific, quantifiable goals at every stage of the customer journey.
Then, use analytics to measure your progress toward those goals, and identify bottlenecks that are getting in the way of achieving them. For example, the guesthouse may have a goal of getting at least 50 reservations per month. Using analytics, they might find out that people are getting confused by their booking system, which is causing interested potential customers to abandon the website… and probably book somewhere else.
This isn’t good news, of course, but it’s great information. It identifies what needs to be fixed, and hopefully, drives a decision to spend some time and resources making the booking process quicker and easier. And that’s the key – data without action isn’t going to help anyone.
We’ve covered a lot of ground here, so let’s recap. Analytics can become the foundation that measures and supports all of your digital efforts. It can help you measure what’s happening and understand the different stages of the online customer journey, highlighting things you’re doing well and showing you where you need to improve. So set your goals, measure your progress, and then use your data to take your business to the next level.
(2) Tracking specific Goals with Web Analytics
Used properly, web analytics tools can give you valuable information to help you meet your objectives. You can do this by setting up your web analytics tool to track the specific goals that you care about. Web analytics tools can give you a mountain of data, straight out of the box – and that’s a great opportunity for businesses. But in order to really make use of all that data, it’s important to make sure you’re measuring progress toward your own particular goals. That means you’ll want to customise your analytics a bit, to make sure you’re tracking things that really matter to you.
Seeing some examples of goals and conversions, and looking at why it’s important to create them, will help you figure out what yours should be. So, you’ve taken your business online for a reason, right? Well, just about anything you hoped to achieve with your website can be tracked and measured with web analytics as a goal you hope to achieve.
“Conversion” is the word commonly used to describe what happens when a website visitor completes a goal. And by now, you know that web analytics tools have the ability to break down loads of data about your visitors and what’s happening on your site to give you information that can help you get more of those conversions.
Let’s use the example of a guest house to see just how important goals and tracking conversions can be. Say you sign in to your web analytics tool and start looking at numbers. First, you notice that the guest house website had 10,000 visitors last month. You compare that number to the past, and see that your visitor count is up from 5,000 during the same month last year. Great, right? Well, not necessarily. Visits alone don’t help your business move forward, and without understanding the value of those visits, it’s really hard to figure out what to do with this information.
So let’s try to figure out a little more about the value of those visits. Maybe you look at some reports and notice that the average visitor spends two minutes on your website, about the same as last year. We’re starting to learn a little more, but we’re still not really getting to the business value of those visits. Is two minutes enough time to make a valuable visit? Is it too little? The truth is that we don’t know.
Just looking at stats like these really limits our ability to make any decisions. What we need is data that can very clearly show the value of these visits to the business. With that data you can start to really use your web analytics tool to show you things you can do to constantly improve. And that brings us back to the very basics of what it is we want to achieve online.
One reason you’d create a website for a guest house is so that people could reserve a room online. So a completed reservation is definitely a goal that you’ll want your analytics tool to be tracking. That’s one down! But what other goals might your guest house have? What else can people do that is valuable to your business? Well, maybe you want people to know where to find you. How would you set up an analytics tool to measure that? Well, maybe visiting the page on your site with a map and directions would be something you could consider a goal and configure that as a conversion.
Or maybe you want people to sign up for your email newsletter so that you can send them special offers and keep them up-to-date with improvements you’re making. If they sign up, they’re signalling that they’re interested in your guest house and giving you an opportunity to reach them, so that’s really valuable! And that means completing the signup form could be another goal that you track.
There are all kinds of goals you can find that can be tracked as conversions inside web analytics and show you the real value of what’s happening on your website. Once you’ve figured out your goals, you’ll need to configure them in your web analytics tool. Once it’s done, looking at the reports in your web analytics tool becomes much more productive.
Instead of simply looking at how many visitors you’ve gotten or how long they spend on your site, you can start seeing reports showing the things you actually care about. Like maybe only 2% of your visitors coming from social media sites are signing up for your email newsletter. So what can you do? How about putting out some social media posts offering a 10% off coupon when people sign up for the email newsletter? Or maybe you find out that your reservation rate jumps from 3% up to 6% on weekends. Your next step? You adjust your advertising campaigns to advertise more heavily over the weekend, when people are more likely to take action.
(3) SEO & Analytics
Web analytics is great for measuring all kinds of traffic to your site, including traffic from organic search results. But you can do much more than just count up your website visitors, like monitoring organic search traffic, using data to gain valuable insights about how your site is evaluated by search engines, and how you can troubleshoot SEO issues uncovered by analytics.
Search engines are an important source of traffic for most websites. In fact, they’re very often the single biggest source of traffic to a business’s website. But are you getting more or less of that traffic from search engines over time? What do all of those searchers actually do after they get to your website? And most importantly, how can you improve your website to make sure the search engines are sending you people who are interested in your products and services? If you’re thinking that web analytics has the answers to these questions, you’re spot on.
No matter which web analytics tool you’re using, you’ll be able to monitor how many visitors are coming to your website from organic search results from the different search engines. If you’re paying an agency or consultant to maintain your website for you, you should ask them for access to your website’s analytics data. Once you’ve got access to that data, one of the first things you’ll want to check out is how your traffic from search engines is trending over time. If you’re getting more visitors from search engines, that’s great. But, if your traffic is trailing off, you’ve probably got some work to do. Either way – before you can make any decisions, you’ll need to know the “why”, and that means we need to dig deeper.
If you’re using Google Analytics as your web analytics tool, you can dig deeper by learning which keywords people are typing into Google before they reached your website. That data doesn’t necessarily come from the analytics tool itself, but because Google Analytics can integrate data from Google Search Console, you get to see that kind of information.
Remember our example of the Tropicana Produce? You might see that people are searching for things you wouldn’t have expected, like “exotic fruits” or “cheap fruits” to find your website. This can help you get a sense of what your visitors are really looking for, and you can respond to that by building the right content and pages to fit their needs. You’d also be able to see whether you’re getting more or fewer visitors from any given keyword theme, as well as whether or not visits to those pages end up with actual bookings.
Let’s say you’re noticing that you used to be getting more traffic for a certain search term, but that traffic has been gradually declining. What can you do to turn things around? Well, you might start by taking a look at some of the content on your site. How can you ensure that your content is as relevant as possible to users who are looking for that exotic fruit? Could you rewrite some of your text to focus on the fact that you’ve got exotic fruits? Remember, you’re not re-working your content to suit a search engine. You’re working on it to make it match your existing business better. And to make it as relevant and useful as possible to people who are searching for exotic fruits.
Now, what about the opposite scenario? Maybe you’ve found that you’re getting more traffic from people searching for keywords around that exotic fruits theme. That’s great – but how can you build on that? Again, you want to focus on what’s relevant to the people who are searching. What are some of the exclusive, high-end fruits of your farm? Have you included content on your website that talks about your dragon fruit? The fancy cherries, strawberries you’re offering? Adding more useful content about the exotic aspects of the fruits could help search engines point more relevant users to your website.
If you’ve invested some time in improving your content, you’ll want to know what the impact is, and web analytics can show you this. If you’re expecting your content to be more relevant to people searching for exotic fruits, Google Analytics can show you whether that effort is translating into more visitors reaching your website.
So far, we’ve been focusing on analyzing the amount of traffic, or visitors, that are reaching your website after searching. That’s really important. But keep in mind that even more important than the amount of traffic you’re getting is the quality of the traffic that you’re getting. After all, what’s the use of attracting loads of people to your website if nobody’s going to buy fruits? Remember, analytics doesn’t just tell you where people are coming from, it also tracks what they do on the website.
So take a look at the themes that are driving conversions on your goals, as well as visits. If all this work on exotic fruit themes has got you more traffic, but people aren’t engaging with your content, they’re not signing up for your email newsletter, and they’re not reserving their rooms, you may want to investigate why, or even consider shifting your focus somewhere else.
(4) Tools to measure SEM
When it comes to SEM, you’re paying real money for every click that brings visitors to your website. The good news is, with web analytics you can track what you spent where, and understand where it was spent most effectively.
For example you have a guesthouse you want to advertise. Business is pretty good, but you’d like to take it to the next level. Well let’s take this a bit further and pretend that it offers three themed rooms: King Arthur, Modern Romance and Football Fanatic. To promote each of these, let’s say you decide to run separate search campaigns with the goal of getting people to visit your website and take a video tour of one of these rooms.
With an analytics tool, you can check the keywords you’re using for each of your campaigns, and immediately see which are the most effective.
Let’s say you’re looking at your “Modern Romance” campaign. You notice that when your keywords, ‘romantic guesthouse’ and ‘guesthouse for a romantic weekend’ were used, the visitor took a video tour of that room about 5% of the time. This is known as a 5% “conversion rate” for the goal of taking the video tour.
But, when people search for keywords like ‘luxury romantic guest house’ or ‘luxurious romantic guest house’ the conversion rate drops to only 1%.
You’ve just found something you can improve, and there are lots of ways you might choose to do it.
First, you might look at the relevant pages on your website and see if there are changes you could make.
Take a look at all your luxury adverts and test some different messages that might really highlight either the video tour itself, or the luxury aspects of the guest house.
Whatever you decide to do, the key is that you’ll still be tracking what happens after you make your changes, and that means you’ll be able to see if your fixes raise that conversion rate from 1% to something better!
That covers a few different ways you can measure the keywords you’re bidding on, but that’s just one part of it.
Analytics can also help you understand the impact of the actual ads you’re running. You know that you want to write ads that are clear and compelling to the user, but ultimately, those users will decide what clear and compelling means to them. And that’s where analytics can help.
Sticking with this Modern Romance campaign, let’s say you have two different ads with two different headlines. One reads “Lockhart House” and the other reads “Romantic Weekend Accommodation”. Analytics tools can show you how these compare, side by side. You can see which one is more likely to get a click and send someone to your site, and which one is more likely to get the visitor to take that video tour. This will tell you which one you should be using. And you can even use the insights you learn here across other campaigns and other areas of your website!
Last, analytics tools can help you understand just how much you should be bidding for ads, to make sure you’re getting a good return on your SEM investments.
By using Google Analytics , which integrates deeply with Google AdWords, you can see the keywords and ads driving people to your website and what they do when they get there, but you can also see quite a bit more. For example, how much you had to pay for each of those clicks, and how high up on the results page your bids put your ads. This gives you a lot of clarity into both what you’re getting for your investment as well as if it makes sense for you to bid higher or lower, to reach different positions that work for your business.
Let’s say you’re not the only guesthouse in town, and you’ve got some competition from “World Guest House”. You might see that when you bid enough to out-do World Guest House and your ad is in the top spot, it results in a conversion rate of 2%. But, if you keep digging, your analytics tool might also tell you that when you bid lower and end up underneath World Guest House, you get a little less traffic, but your conversion rate jumps up to 4%!
Of course, the ideal position and bid for you will depend on lots of things, and you might find that it’s better to be higher or better to be lower, but the key is that by using analytics, you’ll know exactly where you perform the best, and that means you’ll be getting more out of your investment than your competition.
Whether you’re analyzing your keywords, your ads, or how you’re bidding in your campaigns, analytics tools are essential to get the most out of your SEM investments. So before you make another update to your campaigns, make sure you drive those decisions with data!
(5) Breaking down your Data for Insights
Analytics tools provide loads of data, but they don’t always give easy answers. To understand why things are happening differently for different groups, you can use a simple technique called segmentation. The web analytics technique called “segmentation” helps you break down and understand the data you get from web analytics in smaller chunks to help you get more insights and improve your website’s performance.
Let’s go back to the guesthouse example, where one of your goals is to get people to book a room at the guesthouse. If you use your web analytics tool and look at your high level data, you might learn that only 3% of all your website visitors are indeed signing up.
To understand this a little better, you can use segmentation to break down all those visitors by different groupings.
First, let’s break it down by geographic segments, starting with country. As it turns out, when we look at our visitors by where they live, there are some big differences in whether or not they book a room, and that makes sense.
People in the US, for example, represent a big percentage of our visitors, and they’re converting at 6%, which is twice the average rate! When we look at visitors from the UK, though, we see a fair bit of traffic, but a really low conversion rate of 1%. Immediately, you’ve got a good idea: adding a bit of content tailored to UK visitors could help you get more bookings. For example, adding some information about the best ways to get to the guesthouse after landing at US Airport would help.
Let’s dive deeper. We’ll break down the US segment even further into specific cities. Here, we can see that Washington DC and New York stand out as more likely to make a reservation. Perhaps running some local advertising campaigns in those cities could help you get more bookings.
So what’s the big deal with segmentation? Well, as you’re starting to see, segmentation gives you some insights you can action. Let’s back up and segment by something different. How about the ways people are getting to our website. This can help us answer questions like: “Are people who come from social media more likely to book a room?” When you break down your visitors by where they came from, you can see the differences between your organic search traffic, paid search traffic, social media traffic, and more.
And this can help you decide where you want to invest your time and resources as you build up your digital marketing campaigns across lots of different channels.
Let’s do one more. This time, we’ll chop up our visitors by the kind of device they’re using, and we’ll be able to see any differences between things like desktop computers, tablets, and smartphones. Here we get more valuable information. People on computers and tablets are booking to the tune of 4%. But people on smartphones almost never make a reservation.
To improve things, you could work on making your website more mobile-friendly or see if there are issues with how your online booking process is working on smartphones that you can fix. And that might help increase the number of bookings that you’re getting – another impactful insight!