One of the most important (and creepy) aspects of the internet is that just about anything you do can be tracked, tested, and optimized.
Web developers refer to all of that tracking, testing and optimizing as analytics. Analytics is more than a tool for measuring web traffic, however - the field also provides data for business and market research, and the ability to assess and improve the effectiveness of a website.
Analytics is crucial for online marketing success. By tracking how visitors get to a website and what they do there, analytics provides a return on investment data for marketing activities. In other words, it’s the best way to know if your marketing campaign is making an impact.
History of Analytics
The field of analytics began in the Information Technology (IT) department, not marketing. IT professionals used an early version of analytics to measure the size and speed of online traffic.
Marketing departments eventually found out about this data. More importantly, they found out that analytics could track things like numbers of site visits, what people clicked on, and how many of those visitors were “converted” into customers.
In 2005, Google launched an Analytics tool that made this information available for all website administrators, and the field has continued to grow ever since.
Today, most analytics data is still only available as surface level, one-size-fits-all information. Digging into that data for real insights about your business will require a high level of customization, as well as an understanding of both the technical and marketing components of the information.
While this may sound intimidating, it’s worth remembering that everyone is new to this. Businesses are still figuring out how to use analytics to their advantage.
Ultimately, the most important component of analytics is not the IT side or the marketing side, but the business side. The purpose of analytics is to assign a value to what you’re doing online.
Analytics can unlock answers to big questions like:
- How are we making money online?
- How can we convert visitors into leads more efficiently?
- How should we grow our conversion process?
The benefits of analytics can also extend to:
- Developing budgets for your online marketing strategy
- Clear results from SEO and PPC campaigns
- Specific targets for improvement throughout your website
- Creating an environment that encourages testing and growth
To properly explain analytics, we’ll need to define a few terms, which will make it much easier to analyze and implement any necessary changes. After all, as G.I. Joe says, “knowing is half the battle.”
The sum total of activity for one user. Records how long someone was on a website, and what pages they looked at.
Any device that requests information from the server. A “visitor” is not necessarily a person, as analytics tracks the interaction of devices, not people. (One human can be many visitors.)
The number of identified visitors to your website over a specific time period. This is the next level of user verification, which takes place at the device or browser level. Unique visitors are verified by a “cookie” on the user’s computer.
Note: every analytics program provides information on visitors and visitor sessions. If your program tracks cookies, it will also show unique visitors.
Where visitors come from. Referrals show how a visitor found your website, such as through a search engine, ad campaign, social site, email, form, blog, etc.
Percentage of visitors who click away to a different site from a specific page, usually after visiting multiple pages on your site. The exit rate for home pages, registration pages, lead forms, commerce transactions, receipt pages, etc., are usually high.
Percentage of visitors that reach your site and leave without clicking through to other pages. These visits could last for seconds or minutes.
Common reasons for “bouncing”:
- user got what she was looking for and left
- user clicked on the wrong company/website
- wrong product/terminology
- your website is a mess that drives users away
Percentage of visitors that complete an established goal on your website. This could be making a purchase, filling out a contact form for lead generation, signing up for an email newsletter, etc. A successful website will have well-defined goals and strong conversion rates.
Beyond the Numbers
Using analytics means looking beyond surface-level data. While raw increases in visitor sessions or a lower bounce rate look nice on paper, these shouldn’t be your ultimate metrics for success.
The goal is to find out WHY users are doing what they are doing, and what actionable information can be developed from the data.
Ask three questions to go beyond surface-level reporting:
1) Where did these visitors come from?
Visitors that arrive via search engine behave differently than those who click through from another website. Both are different from “direct access” visitors - those who typed your URL directly into their navigation.
2) What did they do?
When a visitor reached your website, did they follow a clear path, click through random pages, or leave immediately? Did they do anything of value?
3) How do I respond to this information?
Once you've familiarized yourself with the nuances of analytics, your reports may illuminate a gap in the conversion process. From there, you can make improvements to your website like updating content, simplifying the navigation menu, or a host of other issues. Your job (or your online marketer’s job) is to identify those issues and address them.
As we mentioned above, the purpose of analytics is to establish a value for your online marketing efforts. Tracking the conversion rate of your goals, and the revenue from those goals, can help in measuring your success.