Imagine for a minute you own a small bookstore. Every day customers come and go while asking questions about where books are or requesting books you don’t have. You start to notice that the people from the coffee shop next door always buy newspapers in the morning. As a business owner, this is some pretty valuable information. You begin stocking more newspapers. You even give specials to the people from the coffee shop to keep them coming in. Consequenly, you not only sell more newspapers, but more books too. The newspaper shoppers often find something else to buy in the store before they check out. You observe that the newspaper buyers like political themed books and sports themed books, so you move those to the front of the store and so on.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could do that with your website? Instead of just guessing, you could observe trends and make improvements based on those trends. Well you can, you just need to look at the numbers.
Let’s talk web analytics! First off, I bet a lot of you have this stuff setup, but how many of you actually use the data? My favorite web analytics tool is Google Analytics. It’s free, it’s powerful and it’s easy to setup! Most of what I will cover here is in the majority of web analytics tools. If yours is not doing it for you I highly recommend getting setup with Google Analytics.
(Hostbaby users: How to install Google Analytics on your Site Builder Site)
Let’s cover some basic terms about visitors that you will need to understand. These are terms found in Google Analytics but they are commonly used in most analytics tools such as Yahoo Analytics, Omniture, and Web Trends.
Hits Vs Visitors
Early analytics just reported hits which was great when that’s all we had. A hit is anytime any item on the page is loaded. So if I stop by your home page and it has 7 images and 1 audio file, I just created 8 hits on your site. Not so helpful right? Luckily we have moved beyond the “hit.” As noted I came to your site which means I was a visitor. This is a much better area to look at. How many visitors did I get in a day, what pages did those visitors go to and how long did they stay on your site? Did they bounce? Now let’s not totally disregard hits as sometimes you want to know how many times something has been downloaded such as a free mp3 for example. Just don’t use hits as a measurement of how many people stopped by your site. It’s really not very accurate for that.
New vs Returning Visitors
This is pretty self explanatory, but let’s dissect how it works for a minute. When I visit your site I get a cookie added to my web browser and get tagged as a visitor in your analytics tool. The problem is that if I come back to your site on my phone or a different computer I become a new visitor because I came back using a different browser. So be aware that “new” visitors can be the same person in some cases. Generally when we look at analytics we want to look more at trends than individual visits so for the most part this is ok, just be aware of it. A returning visitor is when I come back to your site from the same browser and computer. The analytics tool says “hey this guy has been here before so he is not a new visitor!” This is awesome stuff! You get to see if you are getting fans who come back or if people are just stopping by for the first time. Ideally you are seeing a lot of both, but returning visitors is an indication that the content on your site is worth visiting more than once. You will want to foster that!
What else can my web analytics tell me about my visitors? Demographics such as what language people prefer to see sites in and where they visited from. Are your visitors local or are you big in Japan? That’s pretty important stuff to know. If your visitors are local, you might make sure you have local event dates on your homepage. If your visitors are mostly from oversees, you might make sure there are international payment options on your site, and you could even look into creating a bilingual site or offer a Google translate option.
How frequently do people come back to your site? This data can help you understand how often you should update the content on your site. Maybe, if people are not coming back, you need to experiment with different material on your home page and landing pages. What can you experiment with on your site to see if it creates more returning visitors?
Discover how long people hang out on your site. This data point should be taken with a grain of salt–as people are not always focused when visiting a site. They might be watching TV, or get a phone call. But again watch the trends and see what is generally happening. How many minutes does the average user stay on your site? What would make them stay longer? Experiment and see if you can increase this over time. Try videos, music samples/downloads, blog articles, fan pictures–or anything else you have available to help keep people interested. Be creative so people don’t get bored and move on.
What browsers are people using when they visit your site? This just rocks to know! Once you see this report, you can make sure your site works well in the most popular browsers. You can also get some details on who is visiting from a mobile devices, tablets, and other devices. I bet a lot of you are getting more mobile traffic that you might think!
Stay tuned for my next article about how people got to your site in the first place: Analytics Part Two: Love Your Referrals!
What data points do you find useful for website optimisation? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
About the author – Chad Dahlstrom is a web analytics geek, marketer, serial entrepreneur, and musician who spent years working with CD Baby and Hostbaby on new web products. Currently he has a new project to help bands promote their shows flyers and band posters online at www.flyerlizard.com. You can find him on twitter @flyerlizard or email him directly with questions or comments email@example.com.