As we wrote in a previous post, statistics are necessary to determine if your website is meeting its goals. But it’s hard to know if you’re meeting your site’s goals if you don’t know how to read the multitude of numbers and graphs provided by a service like Google Analytics.
In this post, we offer five suggestions on how to read your Analytics statistics beyond simply hits or views to help you determine if your site is attracting the traffic you want and if visitors are getting the experience they want from your site.
1. Determine what your bounce rates mean
Your site’s “bounce rate” is the percentage of visitors who enter your site and view only the page they entered on.
You can use this metric to measure the quality of your visitor’s experience. A high bounce rate could indicate that the site’s entrance pages aren’t relevant to what your visitors were expecting when they decided to visit your site.
There are, of course, exceptions.
For instance, ambiguous search terms could be leading visitors to one of your pages. Your site, for example, could be about Canadian prog-rock band Rush, and the search term “Moving Pictures”, the title of one of their albums, could lead visitors to your site. Visitors searching for “moving pictures” could be looking for a media production company in North Carolina, a movie plug-in for MediaPortal, or the 1989 book “Moving Pictures” by Anne Hollander on the relationship between fifteenth-century European artists and modern film.
Visitors who are looking for any of those things cannot be expected to stay on your site, and you should make sure not to count them when determining your landing page’s effectiveness at keeping visitors.
It takes some careful consideration of each webpage to determine exactly why visitors are not visiting subsequent pages — whether it’s because the site doesn’t give them the information they need, or for some other reason.
2. Look at changes in data over time
It’s tempting to become engrossed by the wealth of raw data for the current period, but that can come at the expense of identifying longer-term trends. The changing relationships between metrics over time can often say more about your website’s performance than any static metric, so it’s often useful to compare traffic based on past indicators such as the time of day, week, month, or year.
An e-commerce business, for instance, could typically get the most traffic towards the end of the year when people are shopping for the holidays. It might, then, be useful to compare your traffic for the final three months of the year to those months from the previous year in order to get a better picture of your site’s success.
NOTE: It’s also important to factor in the effect of trending news. If you’re running a site that covers basketball, a scandal involving a player’s off-court antics could cause a large increase in new traffic due to a sudden increase in interest.You may also want to capitalize on the search trend by posting relevant information based on the keywords that have been recently used to find your site.
You can use Google Trends (http://www.google.com/trends) to gauge the popularity of search terms. A Google Trends search can show when a particular topic is popular, or even a cycle of popularity. The popularity of “golf” is roughly based around the major PGA tournaments. Google Trends shows that a search word like “golf” typically becomes more popular surrounding major PGA tournaments.
Again, it is important to think about timing, and it’s possible to make predictions based on these statistics.
3. Track conversions
While garnering a large volume of traffic may be one of your website’s goals, it’s important to track specific pages. The term “conversion” is often used to describe the conversion from a possible customer to a paying customer, but it can more generally denote any instance where your visitor takes your desired action.
Lead generation forms can let visitors contact your agency and/or request an online quote. The number of visitors that fill out a form and reach a thank you page (the goal) can be tracked as a conversion from a visitor to a lead.
Goals can involve multiple steps, and this is achieved in Google Analytics through the use of “funnels”. A goal funnel is a series of steps that a visitor must follow in order to be considered a conversion. This can be used very effectively for an eCommerce site that has a multi-step checkout process. This helps you determine who shows enough interest to enter the funnel, and where their interest drop-offs if they quit before the checkout.
4. Track search traffic & keywords used
You can use Google Analytics to track organic campaigns that come from unpaid search engine results, links from other websites and direct traffic. It can also track paid campaigns from sources such as Google AdWords, paid search engine keywords, or paid ad campaigns from non-Adwords providers. This can help you track a search marketing campaign and identify the best words to target.
5. Traffic & geography
Google Analytics lets you see the location of your site’s visitors. This can be a good way to gauge the impact of local-based online and offline advertising. For instance, if you find that visitors from a particular region are particularly drawn to your business, you can decide to supplement your popularity with advertising such as billboards and TV commercials, or buy local AdWords.
Alternatively, you can also determine what regions are not receptive and need your attention. You can try to get more traffic from these areas using the online and offline advertising techniques, or you can try to direct content toward specific areas to try to drive organic traffic from those locations.
This is especially important if your business has a local or regional focus.
6. Track the effect of social media
Given the various social media networks, it can be hard to estimate your return on investment in social media campaigns. By tracking what pages have led visitors to your site, Google Analytics can help you determine what networks are most effective at driving traffic.
And by being conscious about your activity on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, you can better determine what social content will drive visitors to your site. This could mean driving interest though your messages on these networks, as well as, making it easy for visitors to then share your content with their social network.
Using Google Analytics can help you get a better idea of where your website visitors are coming from and what they do once they’re on your site. The numbers don’t necessarily speak for themselves however. It often requires some interpretation and creative thinking to determine what these statistics mean for your site. Think outside the graph!
Please feel free to share your own Google Analytics tips in the comments. Interested in learning more about tracking your website’s goals? Join us at WORD11 – Toronto’s Blogging Festival, August 27th, 2011.