A few years ago I was building a website for a client, and they asked if we could incorporate a "hit counter", or something like that. I thought to myself, "now there is a blast from the past! I haven't seen one of them for a very long time." There's a very good reason that we no longer find hit counters at the bottom of websites that we frequent; the technology of the web has come a long way in the last 20 years. It may be cool to know how many people (not so much bots) have landed on your site, but what can we do with that data? It really does nothing for us but validate that we're soooooo popular, or depress us that no one likes us. Before we take our ball and go home sulking, let's look at something that can give us actionable data which can help us improve our site, and hopefully our conversion rates.
The people over at google have create a very useful tool for helping us gather data about web traffic on our sites. It’s simple to implement into a website, and is absolutely free. There is a paid version available, but the free version is full featured and very powerful.
When a user (lets call him Joe) lands on your website, Google Analytics gathers some key information from Joe’s browser. Things like:
- What time did Joe visit your site, and for how long did he stay
- How many pages did he view during his visit to your site
- At which page did Joe enter and exit your site
- Where in the world is Joe accessing your site from
- What is the default language of Joe’s web browser
- Did Joe type in your web address (direct traffic) or click on a link (referral traffic). If he came via a link, on what site was the link.
- Is this Joe’s first visit to your site, or has he (or at least his device) been there before.
- Is Joe viewing your site from a computer or a mobile device
- Is Joe on a Mac or PC?
- and more
It seems Big Brother is alive and well. Basically there is a ton of data that gets exchanged behind the scenes, and this data can help us make decisions about our site and our marketing efforts.
So what do we do with all that data?
There are many things we can do with the data that we collect; certainly more than I can get into in a post. I’ll try and outline a few usage scenarios that can be easily implemented.
Tracking a Promotion
So whenever we spend money doing advertising, it's always nice to know what we're getting back as far as return on our investment. Let's say we're an immigration attorney in Canada. After this past Super Tuesday's primary elections, You feel you want to start advertise to Americans who are considering immigrating to Canada if it looked like Trump might become president. We can set up a landing page on our website aimed specifically at US citizens seeking consultation on emigrating to Canada. We then place ads, be it Facebook, google, or even print ads, which offer something like a free consultation.
A short time later we can look at our analytics data for a few key pieces of information.
- How many people visited our landing page? We want to know if anyone is actually reading our page afterr all
- Where (geographically) did our traffic come from? We've targeted US citizens. Our traffic should be from the US. We might also see that it is higher in certain states or regions. This could let us know that perhaps people in the north are more interested, and we can focus our efforts there.
- From what source did our traffic originate? We can tell if visitors came from Google, Facebook, or direct (which would be our print or other media advertisement)
- Conversion rate. If we notice that we have a lot of traffic, and no conversions, we might try to change the page to make it more compelling. If we notice that people are hitting the page and leaving after just a few seconds, we can ask ourselves if they are going there expecting one thing, and finding something different. Is our ad doing a good job of representing the content on our page
Knowing When To Post
So we're using social media to promote our products and services. One of the things we may not know is when should we post to our social channels. We can take a look at our analytics and see when our peak web traffic is. We can filter the data so we can see just traffic from a particular source. Perhaps we find that Facebook traffic tends to come between 2pm and 5pm, and twitter traffic between 8am and 11am, and then again from 6pm to 8pm. If we have a large enough sample size, we can know the most effective times during the day to promote our content.
Detecting a Problem
Online business depending in great measure to search engine rankings. If you don't get traffic, you don't sell. If you don't sell, you won't make money. Analytics can serve as an early warning system if something is going wrong. We don't have to wait until the end of the week, or the end of the month to see that our sales have taken a sudden hit. Analytics allow you to see problems faster, and react quickly to minimize the hit to your bottom line.
Let's say, for instance, that your website was hacked. Some industrious hacker has inserted a whole bunch of links to their website that sells little blue pills. Google (or your web browser for that matter) may recognize the hack, and give a security warning to your visitor, that there may be malicious code running on the site. Most people are going to bypass the link to your site, and you will see a sudden and drastic reduction in traffic. Traffic ebbs and flows, but if you see an unusual drop in traffic, you can start investigating before it's too late.
There are limitless possibilities for the data we get from using analytics. The hope is that we can optimize everything we do for maximum results for minimum cost and effort. Analytics is an invaluable tool, and they are very easy to implement into just about any site. If you have a Google account, just head over to analytics.google.com to get setup. You will be given a snippet of code to paste into your pages. If you are using WordPress, there is usually a place in your theme specifically for a tracking code. Once it is there your site will start feeding the data back to your account, and you can feel great about the fact that someone in Djibouti just looked at your site. You may also want to use the information you get to help you streamline your website, and help grow your business.