Web analytics answers three important questions: Where are my visitors coming from, what do they do on my site and when are they leaving. I personally use Google Analytics to track these metrics but the principles will apply to any analytics package. Google is free and powerful and I consider it more than sufficient for the needs of most creative entrepreneurs.
In this blog post I will cover some of the basic vernacular of understanding and analyzing web traffic. The next step will be to apply that understanding to your business. For example, with a specialty coffee shop like Coutume (where I’m writing this post), referral links from foodie blogs will play an important part in delivering foot traffic to the cafe, so they will want to see how effective they are at attracting the right kind of links. For a local house cleaning business, search traffic will most likely play a big role in generating new leads, so they will want to keep a close eye on how much traffic comes in from Google.
Most website will have three main types of traffic: search, referral and direct. Each of these types can be further broken down into its own sub-components, but let’s first consider them as a whole.
Search is traffic that comes from a search engine like Google or Bing. Referral is traffic that comes from a non-search website, such as from blogs, newspapers and social media sites where people often share links. It also includes traffic that comes from email. Direct is traffic from visitors that type your website’s URL directly into the web browser, normally because the visitor has already been to your site or heard about your business from an off-line source.
On page activity
Once your visitors arrive, the first important data point is landing page, meaning what URL they arrive at. Many visitors will find your homepage first but not all. Next, you want to consider the “flow” of traffic. That means understanding how visitors move through your site – which pages people go to first, then second, and so on. (Google makes this easy. Just click on visitor flow). Time on site tells you how long a visitor spent on your website in total. Finally, bounce rate measures how many people look at one page on your site and then leave. A higher bounce rate means more people are looking at just one page, rather than browsing around your site, typically looking for information about your product or service.
Sadly, visitors won’t stay forever! You want to know what the exit page is, which tells you what the last page a visitor was on before they left your site. This is particularly important for ecommerce sites and “abandoned” shopping carts. The end point can frequently be positive, in the case where a visitor orders something or asks to be contacted or added to an email distribution list or follows one of your social media accounts.
The bottom line
Depending on the exact type of business you are running, the bottom line on the effectiveness of your website is how effectively it generates sales and leads for you. The purpose of analyzing your web traffic is to determine this effectiveness. You start with understanding the purpose of your website.
For personal trainers, they will want visitors to look at their fitness tips or healthy eating recipes and then either contact the trainer by email or phone or follow the trainer on Facebook. For an online service (like Dropbox), the goal will most likely be to have the visitor demo a free version of the product, sign up for a newsletter or request a call from a salesperson. And for a physical store like a cupcake shop, the goal will probably be to look at the menu, pull up a map of where the store is and then to come visit! Once you know the main purpose of your site, you can begin to see how well your content drives visitors towards that purpose.
Books and video
If you want to dig deeper into analytics, my favorite book that talks about behavior on your website and what to do about it is “Digital Body Language” by Steven Woods. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of Google Analytics, check out “Advanced Web Metrics“. Finally, if you have 90 minutes, or 8 12-minute breaks, I cannot recommend this free video on Google Analytics highly enough.