Author: Ryan Pesch
Tip: Use web analytic software to gather information about your customers and patrons
If you're part of a small business or other organization, you probably know that analyzing the traffic to your website or blog is one of the best ways to learn more about your clientele so you can serve them better. But how do you get that information?
The answer is web analytics--the measurement, collection, analysis, and reporting of Internet data to help you optimize traffic to your website or blog. web analytics can assist you with business and market research to improve your products and services. At its most fundamental level, web analytics can help you make better decisions.
There are various brands of web analytic software on the market today, including Google Analytics, which we will focus on in this fact sheet. We chose Google Analytics because it's free and relatively easy to understand. However, we strongly recommend that you check out other web analytic products to find the one that best suits your needs and budget. You can find a list on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_web_analytics_software
What does a Google Analytics report look like?
Where does Google Analytics fit in my organization?
Although Google Analytics can deliver a wide variety of statistics, you need to focus only on those you need. This requires identifying your web presence goals (if you haven't already), then using the software to track your progress in those specific goal areas (Inc. magazine, 2008). Start by asking, "What am I trying to accomplish with my website or blog?" Your answers will be your goals.
Many organizations have a primary goal to attract more clientele via their website, but you might have secondary or more specific goals, too, such as "I want to increase sales to customers from nearby towns." Google Analytics can help, starting with basic statistics on how many visitors your websites gets in a day, a week, a month, a year--whatever time span you choose.
Google Analytics also can analyze data at a deeper level, providing reports on which key words visitors use to find your site, the zip codes where they live, which pages they visit the most and how long they stay there. Google Analytics also is capable of analyzing sophisticated e-commerce sites--tracking how visitors navigate the site from landing page to final purchase.
In short, Google Analytics provides valuable intelligence you can use to make changes to attract more visitors to your website, and ultimately, more customers or patrons. You need to decide what level of data you require to meet your goals.
Don't get carried away though. Information overload is a real danger, especially to small organizations with few people on staff. Greg Sterling, an Internet analyst with Opus Research, estimates that less than 10 percent of small businesses check their web analytic findings due to feeling "overwhelmed" (CRM Magazine, 2009). Even managers of large corporations do not use a majority of the information their web analytics software is capable of providing (Forrester, 2009). It's best to start slow with Google Analytics or any other web analytics tool--use it only to track one or two pieces of information first, then expand your use later.
What are some more examples of how I could use Google Analytics?
Detect the effect of advertising
Gauging the effectiveness of traditional advertising (print, radio, television) can be difficult. For example, did your recent newspaper ad draw more customers to your store or was it simply the good weather? Asking customers directly through a survey is probably the only way to get a definitive answer to that question. But Google Analytics can give you some sense of the ad's impact when you incorporate your web address into your ad, then check the number of visitors to your website in the days immediately after the ad appears.
Diagnose website usability problems
Organizations and businesses can learn about the quality of their websites through monitoring statistics like the bounce rate and time spent on individual web pages. Bounce rate refers to the percentage of visitors who leave the first page they land on (without going to others). If your bounce rate is high and time spent on the site is low, visitors might not find the information useful or they're confused about how to get to other pages on your site. In that case, you'll probably want to consider changing your content and/or your site navigation.
Inform online advertising
Google Analytics also reports use of Adwords, Google's online advertising system. Adwords, and other online ad systems, charge on a "pay-per-click" basis. This requires businesses and other organizations to pay each time web visitors click on their ads. Although this sounds risky and costly, advertisers actually have a great deal of control over the timing, frequency, and cost of their ads. For example, if you operate an ice cream parlor, you can choose to limit your ads only to those visitors who use the keywords "ice" and "cream" and are searching from the zip codes "56572 and "56573." Tracking keywords driving traffic to your site and visitors' zip codes allows you to properly target your potential customers.
Identify partnership opportunities
Another important metric measured by Google Analytics is referral page information. This is information about other websites or blogs referring visitors to your site. Referrals might come from your local chamber's website, a customer blog, or another business website. This information is invaluable to forming new strategic partnerships to cross-promote or cooperatively market so all partners benefit. At the very least your business or organization can return the favor to your top referrers by adding a link to their websites from yours.
How do I get started?
Erica Akela, web analyst with Xerox Direct who does web analysis daily, recommends five steps to get up and running on Google Analytics (E. Akela, personal communication, February 23, 2010):
- Sign up for Google Analytics at http://www.google.com/analytics
- Create a Google account.
- Place code on your website, as instructed.
- Verify that Google Analytics is gathering data and that everything is in order 24 to 48 hours after registering.
- Wait at least a week to gather enough data for analysis.
- Begin to collect "benchmark" data, e.g., average visitors and sales by day, week, month, and so on.
- Set goals to provide a context for the data and take necessary action. For example, if you want 3,000 visitors to your website daily but only see 500 visitors, you'll need to find ways to increase traffic. Or, if you offer a web form and discover people quit halfway through completing it, you will need to modify the form.
The support pages for Google Analytics are very accessible. Check out the "Getting Started Guide" at http://www.google.com/support/analytics/ to begin exploring.
What's the bottom line?
Google Analytics and other brands of web analytics software are valuable tools, many of which are free or low-cost, for conducting business and market research. web analytics software provides valuable information about customers and patrons that businesses and organizations can use to improve their products and services. This fact sheet offers a starting point to using web analytics. With your organization's goals in mind, we suggest you learn more about what web analytics can do to help you achieve those goals.
Chafkin, M. (2008, November). Improving your sense of site. Inc. magazine. 30 (11), 35-37.
Forrester Consulting (2009, September). Appraising your investments in enterprise web analytics [PDF document]. Retrieved from: http://www.google.com/analytics/
Tsai, J. (2009, August). X marks the spot. CRM magazine. 13 (8), 23-24.