Website stats - set up, track and interpret

Site owners often want to track their web stats. But what do website stats really tell you?

The stats (a.k.a. statistics or analytics) are a series of graphs and numbers showing the data activity associated with your site (i.e., how many visitors have visited a particular page and for how long).

There are a lot of little details that can change the way you interpret these stats. And, often, it isn't that clear what each stat actually means.

Some Content Management Systems (CMS) come with their own stats. Even if you have a site that does include stats with its package, if they are not Google stats (known as Google Analytics), then you should sign up and add Google's to your site.

How to get Google Analytics
(Very simplified.)
Go to: http://www.google.com/analytics
Click on the SIGN IN TO GOOGLE ANALYTICS in the upper right.
To set up your account, click on the Create account link and fill in all the info they request.
At the end of giving all your info, you can grab the code that goes in the code of your site. *

To learn more than most of you would ever want to know, there is a free Lynda.com tutorial on YouTube at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4R5WWWg2Vk
Scrub the timeline forward to skip ahead in case you are starting to fall asleep.
(It is not boring to people who love this stuff. This is a fantastic tutorial but there are techy parts that are not of interest to everyone.)

* You may need the help of a web designer to add the code. The Google code can be added at any point – to a new or old site. If using a CMS, there may be one convenient place to add it. 

Which parts to pay close attention to
The stats can add up to an overall picture but that picture may have nothing to do with the goals of your business.

If you are selling directly from your site (products or services), you may want to know what visitors looked at before they purchased an item. You may also want to know, if possible (and this is sometimes a tough one), what made them actually purchase something or do something. This is often referred to as the conversion rate. (What made that visitor follow through to buy an item, sign up for your newsletter, play your video, call you, etc.) If you can determine the reason by asking, great. What usually happens is visitors have come from a site you don't know or a search engine result, may have looked at lots of other site pages and then arrived at your site. By the time they get to your site, they can't remember how they got there. I know I often don't!

If it is a returning visitor, they may have seen this item on your site before, then looked at other sites for the same or similar thing, then returned to yours for one reason or the other.

Some of these behaviors you can see in your stats, such as:

  • Where a visitor came from (known as a referral site)
  • Which pages the visitor viewed on your site (and how long they stayed on each page)
  • If the visitor is a new one to your site (sometimes known as unique or new)
  • What days and times visitors are viewing your site most frequently
  • What browsers/platforms they are using
  • Mobile-related stats
  • Demographics
  • And sooo much more...

To start, you should concentrate on a few stats. Below is which ones and why:

  1. Referrals
    Simply put, a referral is where the visitor last came from to get to your site – a site or blog, a search engine result, social media or typing in your domain name. Initially, figuring out the top one or two referrals is probably the most important stat you can get. It could give you clues as to what content might be on your site to cause this. For instance:
    • Social Media Referrals - People are talking about your site or you are talking about your site on social media and being effective. And, if not, then by doing a search yourself, you may be able to find the initial thread. Having a social media marketing plan could help capitalize on this (good or bad reviews).
    • Website, Blog or Search Referrals - If you are getting a decent amount of "hits" to your site from another website or blog, examine them. One of the best things to get good Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is to get links coming in from other sites. You want this to happen as much as possible. See if you can get other like sites to link to you. And, the bigger the other site, the better the link is worth to in Google and, therefore, potentially better Google results from searches. If you are being found mostly by a Google search, you might consider doing Google AdWords (not good for every site), or more important, make sure your site is optimized (see my blog posts on SEO).
    • Typing in Your Domain Name. Perhaps these visitors have seen your ads, business cards, been told your domain name from a friend, etc. It not only tells you to do more of this kind of marketing but how important it is to have a good domain name (see my post: What makes a good domain name?).
  2. Top pages visited - Most of the time, you will see your home page to be the most visited page on your site. That's not bad but this tells you how important it is to have good content there. Look then at the second most highest rated page. Make sure you also have good content there – even if it doesn't make sense to put it on this page. Use side columns to get the content on the page. Good content means what you want potential customers to know how to make that conversion through your site or to come into your brick and mortar store. This can also tell you which sections of your site are getting the most traction – like a blog. If you are attracting a lot of visits to your blog posts – do more!
  3. Time of day and which days - This is good to know if you are selling items or even services. You can put up coupons, % off offers, specials, etc. targeted for just these times.

A final word
Understanding stats is a real specialty. Don't be fooled by companies calling you up telling you that you need to pay them thousands of dollars a month to do this for you. If you have a $2+ million a year business then the expense may be warranted.

But most businesses can do very well starting out with good SEO (using a professional who can do some parts of it for you or at least guide you). Once this is in place then you can start looking at your stats and get more guidance on how to make them work for you.

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