The benefits of Web Analytics and Tracking

Even if you only ever create a website for a hobby, there is one main reason to have a website in the first place — for it to be seen. A website that remains unseen has failed in its intended purpose, for if only the creator sees it, it might as well be a text document on your local hard drive.

The Web is for Sharing

The top websites in the world get thousands, even millions, of visitors every day. With numbers that high, you would have to consider them to be a success. But what actually constitutes success? It depends on the type of website.

For a website that is purely informational, the number of views it receives is of primary importance. But if that website sells products, the number of sales will be important. If that website is a social media platform, usage and interactions will count for a lot.

That’s not where it ends though. Once you have a small amount of information, you’ll be hungry for more, and with good reason. If we look at the second example above, a website that sells products, you can take a very simple view that if you get 1000 visitors, you’ll make 100 sales, and that’s the end of the story. If you do something to increase the number of visitors and you manage to achieve 2000 visits instead, you’ll logically make 200 sales.

But it’s not that simple.

Tracking your visitors

Suppose you were able to see how your visitors found your website. Of your original 1000 visitors, 200 found the site from Facebook, and 800 found it from search engine results. What would you be able to infer then? Frankly, not much — you could assume that 20 Facebook referrals bought something, along with 80 people from the search engine results. But what if half of the Facebook referrals bought something, and nobody bought anything when they arrived from a search engine?

You’d soon realize that you needed to concentrate on upping your Facebook game, and leave the search engines to do their own thing. If you got 2000 visits, and it was still 800 from search engine results, you’d have 1200 from Facebook — which potentially means 600 sales. That’s 3 times as many sales as the original figures might suggest.

So how do you do it?

Web Analytics

There are many different options for using web analytics on your website. The most well-known is Google Analytics, but all analytics software will work in a similar way. You will need to include a small snippet of code on your website that records information about visitors to the site, usually how they found it, what software and what kind of device they are using, how long they stay on the site, and so on.

Some analytics services are hosted externally to your site, for example the Google Analytics service runs entirely on Google’s servers, with a few bytes of JavaScript on your own site. Other options will run directly on your site, and store information in a local database or file. The choice of which to use is entirely down to you, based on what hosting services you already have, the speed of your server, the amount of storage you have, whether you have access to local databases, and so on. While Google Analytics may be the most well-known, it doesn’t automatically follow that it is the best for your particular purpose.

Metrics

Once your analytics software is in place, it’s time to start reviewing what it tells you. You will clearly be able to see your traffic sources – where your visitors have come from. Many analytics tools will allow you to see their path through your site. Perhaps people land on your homepage, click through to your products page, find your top-selling item on there, and move on to the checkout.

By segmenting this information by traffic source (for example, social media, search engines, etc.) you can establish which source converts the best. It would be wise to focus more attention on this source to drive more people to your site and get more sales — but it would also be a good idea to look at what’s happening elsewhere. Why are certain traffic sources not converting at all? Are you sending the wrong message for the kind of people who use that platform? Is there something you can do better?

But I’m not selling anything!

Even if you aren’t selling anything, it’s useful to know how people find your website, and potentially what they look at while they are there. If you run a blog about houses, and 90% of your visitors arrive on your only page about kitchens, it’s time to write a little bit more about kitchens in a new post.

And don’t forget, other factors are tracked too. A common metric is screen size and device — what do you do if you find that most of your visitors are on mobile devices with small screens? As you can infer that they may be on an internet connection that is not broadband, you would do well to optimize any pictures you have so they download more quickly and display well on a smaller screen size. You should also consider developing your site with a mobile-first mindset, as desktop users are less likely to be reading your content.

Measuring your success

As time goes on, you’ll build a more complete picture of the people who visit your website. You’ll see patterns becoming clearer, and you’ll be able to respond to them appropriately. But as with all things, you won’t know if your site is a success without measurements. If you get 1 million visitors in a week, are you a success? Not if you had 100 million the week before! With nothing to compare it to, you can’t tell. Tracking your visitors with web analytics allows you to serve them better and discover whether what you are doing is making a difference.

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