Google Analytics: Focus on the Metrics That Matter

analytics-successWeb analytics can help you improve user experience by shedding light on how people find, use, and navigate your website, as well as segment out characteristics of your most profitable site visitors to drive more traffic and boost your sales.

When we think of web analytics, most people think of data. Lots and lots of data. So how do you avoid analysis paralysis and help ensure your analytics efforts are paying off?

While collecting data (the science) is definitely a large part of web analytics, the artful part is being able to analyze your data so that you can make optimizations and identify necessary actions.

After about a week or two (depending on the website’s traffic volume), there’s sufficient information to start gaining insights and make some decisions about how to optimize the website. Make it a daily, weekly, or monthly ritual to review data. Practice makes perfect, so the more often you drill down to see what the data holds, the more natural the art of analysis will become.

The great news with analytics is that you can’t mess it up. You can click all day long and if you get lost, you can always go back to the dashboard and start over. The sooner you work web marketing measurement into the overall marketing plan, the sooner you will wonder why you didn’t start sooner!

Interpreting Web Analytics—Focus on Content

To get the best performance from your website, you need to constantly test both the medium and the message. The medium can be the marketing channel, your site layout, navigation, how different items are highlighted, the graphics, and more. The message is the actual content: the words, video, audio, Flash, photos, offer, headline, and so on. Ideally both need to work together, but often the content is hidden beneath layers of bad layout and navigation. Web analytics allows you to unearth these diamonds in the rough and cut them, polish them, and put them in a setting that will make them sparkle.

Let’s look at the major analytics categories:

Top content. What are the most visited pages on your website? What can you learn from this? Many sites are often surprised to learn that their top pages aren’t their home or shop pages, but some obscure page deep inside their website. If that is the case, you might want to create more information around that topic on your home page to attract more users.

Top key phrase searches (paid and unpaid). How does this change your key phrase optimization strategy? What terms are people searching to find your organization? You may find that searchers will change terms based on a variety of outside factors such as the season, or news events. If you see a spike in keyword searches around a topic, act quickly to capitalize on it.

Traffic sources. Are you getting more traffic from search engines, traditional off-line marketing efforts such as radio spots, and social media links, or from links you’ve posted in comments in high-traffic blogs? Of all of the sources of traffic (both high and low volume), what sources convert the highest? If you see a pattern of traffic or goal spikes that relates to your marketing actions, can you do more of that? You may even find that other websites and blogs are referring you and you don’t even know it.

Traffic volume. Smart marketers want high-quality (the right kind of) traffic. Quality beats quantity. You could get a lot of traffic by posting search ads on broad phrases that may not be specific enough to your products and services, but that high traffic probably won’t convert to whatever the website’s goals are. You need to evaluate traffic sources on more than traffic alone and focus on goal conversions and ROI.

Time patterns. When do most of the website’s visitors hit the site? Which days? During which hours? Are they surfing from work or from home after the kids are asleep? Do they spike after a coupon offer or a blog entry? Do they research on Monday but buy on Friday? You can fine-tune your offers and content to maximize impact. Many marketers realize their prime site traffic times and use this data to spend online advertising budgets targeted only to those times, saving thousands of dollars and laser-targeting their efforts thanks to web analytics feedback.

Geographic. If the website has a specific geographic market, every search outside that market has limited value. Some organizations use the geographic feature to test market segments and make new store decisions by following visitors’ geo-location patterns and performance.

Bounce rate. If you have a high bounce rate, that means people are hitting your website and leaving almost immediately. A high bounce rate could mean that you need to change the entire website or how people are finding the site. Watch, learn, tweak, and test.

A high bounce rate may simply mean that your web marketing efforts aren’t connecting properly. Let’s say you have an advertisement or link that promises specific content (40 percent off two items, a white paper about a specific topic, a special video, etc.). When the users clicking on that link land on your home page, they can’t find that specific content and leave frustrated, probably never to return. If you create specific landing pages for those links, the users will fi nd the content immediately, your bounce rate will fall, and your users will be more likely to explore the rest of your site.

Time on-site. This one can be tricky to interpret. Generally speaking, the longer someone stays on the website, the better (especially if you are a content-rich website). However, long page-views aren’t always a good thing if they don’t convert to a desired action. If your users get lost trying to find something before they can complete a conversion goal, a long page-view may point to a need to simplify and highlight the steps to the conversion goal.

New vs. returning visitors. There are few web marketing efforts that don’t desire returning visitors. Some single-topic sites just want you to complete the conversion goal and never return. They haven’t added any new content since 1998 and are selling fine, thank you very much. But for most organizations, effective web marketing is about ongoing relationships. That means returning visitors. Not only do you want to know how many are returning, but how many of those returning visitors are converting to whatever your goals are. To increase the number of returning visitors, you need to create a content strategy that is “sticky,” because it glues users to your website. Over time the more returning visitors you have, the more successful your web marketing efforts will be.

Success of marketing efforts. Web analytics can help evaluate the effectiveness of both off-line and online marketing efforts. Create a print or radio ad that points people to a unique URL such as Analytics of that specific landing page will point up the success of those offline marketing efforts. Online links from PPC ads, specific links within your website, comments on other sites, social media, online coupons, and so forth can each have unique URLs and landing pages using Google URL Builder. Online marketing efforts that are not paid (like Facebook pages, Twitter, or YouTube videos) can be measured under referring sources. As long as conversion goals are set, the success of all channels can be scientifically evaluated.

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