Using the Right Analytics

Yesterday, I wrote a blog post, Why Have A Website? where I said that the answer to that question determines many things about the website. One of those things is what the right analytics are. I’ve spoken about aspects of this in other blog posts and I want to pull together those thoughts in the context of Why Have A Website.

For this post, I’ll be talking about different types of websites, and the data you can get about the website from Google Analytics. I won’t go into details about how to set up Google Analytics. That depends on what you are using to build your website. Many blogging and content management systems have tools to make it easy to use Google Analytics. There is a Google Analytics Plugin for Wordpress, a Google Analytics Module for Drupal, and plenty of blog posts about how to add Google Analytics to a Blogger blog.

What I want to talk about is the data you get once you are using Google Analytics. First, give it at least a few days before you start analyzing the data. When you go to your Google Analytics dashboard, you’re going to see a graph of the number of visits you have received over the past month. This is useful for trending information. Is your readership growing or dwindling? Were there specific days when you had really high or really low traffic? It is worth looking at what happened on these days to try to get more traffic.

Of course, this all comes back to the type of website you are running. If you are running a brochure style website, where people come to your front page to get information and move on, you traffic spikes may be related to things going on in your community or your business. Also, you may not be as concerned about traffic as other people are. You want new people to be able to find you, but your regular customers can already find you and are less likely to visit your website.

If you are writing a blog or providing content, your spikes may be related to how interesting the title of your latest blog post is and how likely people reading the blog post are to refer other people to it. Looking at the spikes will give you a better idea of what your audience is looking for.

If your website is more like a yellow pages ad, your spikes may be coming from a combination of events, and you may want to dig a bit deeper into the analytics.

Below the graph are six metrics whose values matter differently depending on the type of site you have. They are: Visits, Pageviews, Pages/visit, Bounce Rate, Avg. Time on Site, and % New Visits. If your site is a single page site resembling a brochure, your bounce rate will be 100% and the average time on site will be 0. Bounce rate talks about whether a person ‘bounces’ off of your site after visiting the first page, and the average time on site depends on the user visiting multiple pages to be calculated. Many people obsess about bounce rates, but if all you have is a simple brochure style site, you might not need to worry about it. Instead, you would be more interested in how your traffic is growing, and the percentage of new visits. You will want as many new visits as possible.

If your site is more like a yellow pages ad, again, you should be most concerned about the growth in the number of visits, and the percentage of new visits. Bounce rate and time on site might be a little more helpful in determining if people are digging for more information, or if they are getting as much information as they want on the first page they visit. In this case, you may want to explore the content tab to see what pages people are going to.

As an aside, bounce rates vary considerably from one site to another, but it is not uncommon for them to be in the 70% to 90% range. This is one of the reasons I discourage people from having ‘splash pages’ on their front page, with a nice Flash animation and no content. A majority of people may never get beyond the splash page. In addition, as we see more people using cellphones for the web browsers, the flash animations may not show at all, and the person cannot get any information.

Yet much of the information on the dashboard may be good for ego boosting, but not as helpful in making sure that your website is performing as well as it could. With that, I always like to look at ‘Traffic Sources’. This page tells you what the top traffic sources coming to your website are in terms of incoming websites as well as the top keywords people have been using to find your website.

If you are advertising on some other website, and it isn’t showing up in your top sources, you may want to reconsider whether or not to continue advertising on that website. If you have selected keywords that are not showing up in your top keywords, you might want to reconsider those keywords, or how you are trying to get these keywords out. What can be even more interesting is if people are showing up on keywords that you had not selected as your top keywords. You need to think about why this is happening, if it is a good or bad thing, and what you should do about it.

There is lots of other interesting data available in Google Analytics. You may want to look at your visitors and check to see features that your visitors have on their web browsers. If your website is designed for large screens, and a lot of people are coming with small screens, you might want to rethink your design. If you have Java applets on your page and a lot of visitors don’t support Java, that is another area to consider redesigning. If your site is very location specific, you may want to look at the location people are accessing your site from.

Google Analytics, like other analytical systems can be very helpful, if you use it to meet the goals you’ve set for your website. Or, it can simply be an ego boost for the website owner. Of course, getting an ego boost might be a key reason for some people to have websites. So, figure out why you have your website. Then, figure out how you can use Google Analytics to help you achieve the goals of the website.

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