“What gets measured gets managed.” – Peter Drucker
Web analytics offer businesses the opportunity to improve their website by tracking traffic to identify trends and issues. Google Analytics is a simple and free way to begin to understand the possibilities of this developing area of marketing. While reviewing the free service I have distilled the vast amount of data available in Google Analytics down to five critical reports and features for every person responsible for a commercial website.
1. Visitor Flow
This is the gold mine of Google Analytics. Users can break down their website traffic in fantastic detail. Here you can identify the most common path through your website. When problems become obvious – for example bottlenecks or use of the back button – everything from navigation terminology to server speed can come into question.
Additionally, this feature can help identify dead-ends which cause visitors to leave the site. Users can review the number of visitor drop-offs at each click. This represents the visitors which did not make an additional click and went to another site. Typically drop-off rate increases as the number of clicks increases. This can be powerful evidence to adapt a site to have every page no more than two or three clicks away.
2. Advanced Segments
Despite its name this feature does not have to be ‘advanced’ at all. The ability to segment the traffic into new and returning visitors is simple and allows for interesting comparisons. Are new users finding the site easy to navigate or are they clicking all over with no clear commonalities? What are the most common paths taken by returning users? If a large amount to traffic is arriving on the same page perhaps it’s time to put a link on the homepage to shorten the journey.
3. Date Control
The date control feature in Google Analytics allows users to examine and compare traffic over specific periods of time. The potential for this feature is seriously underutilised. Many businesses know engagement and sales are subject to the cycle of the calendar yet how many alter their website in any significant way depending on the time of year? Limiting the traffic reports to a single month or even to a single week and then comparing year-on-year can allow users to tailor their sites to respond to changing customer needs.
4. In-Page Analytics
I know of no other web analytic tool with a more powerful impact on those with budget control than In-Page Analytics. Even the least IT-savvy staff members can identify what areas are experiencing heavy traffic and which areas are under-performing. Nothing could be simpler than a window containing your website with an overlay displaying of the percentage of visitors who click each link. In-Page Analytics is best used to graphically communicate what is working and what is not. If you need to win budget spend to update your site In-Page Analytics is your go-to tool.
5. Referral Traffic Sources
From where are your visitors coming? Is your Facebook campaign having any impact at all? Are staff blogs driving traffic? Again, this piece of information is simple but powerful. It can impact an entire marketing campaign. For example if staff are spreading the message too thin on a number of social media platforms then this data can show which platforms are showing real results. While an understanding of all traffic sources is important, referral traffic is king.
Using the Data
Once installed, a reporting system is necessary to inform website improvements. Identify the most important reports for your needs. Reports can be saved to a dashboard allowing quick access to key data rather than having to run each report as needed. To start I recommend monthly analysis as well as year-on-year comparisons.
By analysing the data necessary changes will become obvious over time. For example, if your site is new to web analytics, there will be rarely used links on the homepage. Dedicate that value screen real estate to something your customers want. If you do not have in-house knowledge to alter your site Google Analytics will help make a clear case to spend on web development. In time and with some experimentation your website will be clear of clutter and optimised for discovery. Your customers will thank you.
The specific skills you acquire in utilising web analytics are becoming more and more in demand by organisations seeking to raise online profiles in line with their brand. If you find you have a talent for using the web to achieve business goals or are interested in how digital can help organisations grow then check out our IMI Diploma in Marketing Strategy with Digital Marketing to bring these skills and your career to the next level.
Google Analytics is available at www.google.com/analytics
Matthew Kelleher is the Knowledge Manager at IMI. His interests include information management technology, human-computer interaction and online learning. He also designs websites for SMEs