It’s not enough to have a website these days. Your site needs to be marketed, promoted and nurtured. Part of the that process is staying on top of site activity, who’s coming to your site, where they’re going and what they’re doing. Essentially you have to hold your site accountable so you can measure your success, understand your return on investment and make the necessary changes to ensure your site is profitable.
In this article, Rieva Lesonsky, CEO of GrowBiz Media, talked to Steve Cooper, the co-founder of Hitched Media. Cooper pays close attention to his site’s analytics and explains what other small business owners should look for.
Why is it important to pay attention to your website’s analytics?
I don't think you can truly understand what's going with your website if you aren't paying attention. Without analytics, you're really just hypothesizing about your growth or effectiveness. For me, it would be like writing checks, but never checking your balance or transaction history. Who can afford to do that? Lastly, it's really simple to get some basic information.
How do you do that? Is Google your only option or is there additional insight you can get from other sources?
There are several sources. First, most web hosting platforms offer their own free site analytics. These usually just offer a few basic details. Dig around on your hosting dashboard to find yours. Google Analytics is one of the most popular—if not the most popular—analytics tool and it’s free. It takes just a few minutes to set up and provides an amazing breadth of information from unique visitors and how they were acquired to individual page popularity to what smartphone people are using to visit your site.
Another one of my favorite analytic tools is Quantcast (most of their offerings are free) because it provides in-depth demographic data, such as age, income, education and ethnicity. I also use Alexa.com, another free site that enables you to compare your site traffic to that of your competitors. Accuracy may vary, but the site gives you some idea of where you stand in relation to your online competition.
What specifically should you pay attention to?
This will vary a bit for each business, but there are a few standard metrics to pay attention to. I believe the most important metric is unique visitors. This tells you how many people are actually visiting your site. Everything else begins to fall in place from here.
Other metrics to look at are:
Time on site
—how long people stay on your website
—the percentage of people who visit one page and immediately leave
New versus returning visitors
—specifically how much of your traffic is coming from the U.S.
—how many visitors are using a PC, smartphone or tablet
—what’s driving traffic to your website (social media, search engines, etc.).
Depending on the website's goals various metrics will carry different weight. For example, if you are running an advertising campaign that directs traffic to a “Buy Now” page and that's exactly what visitors are doing, you probably want a quick payment process which means you don't want to see your time on site for those pages to be very long. A publisher on the other hand would want to know that their visitors are reading an article from top to bottom before moving on to something else.
Ultimately, it's important to define your own success measures with an understanding of how to quantify it; then allow the analytics to provide insight and guidance.
How often should you check your analytics?
I look at my analytics every day, all day. Google Analytics offers a real-time option so I can see at any given moment when my traffic jumps and then figure out why, how and if there's anything I can or need to do keep it going.
Through the different tools I have mentioned, I also get daily, weekly and monthly reports emailed to me so I can begin to see larger patterns form. Lastly, every year I create my own report based on the interests of my own site goals. Doing this provides a zeitgeist of where my site is today, and allows me to see if my website traffic is shifting to mobile faster than the industry reports speculate. (It has been.)
I can also see what the most popular piece of content was, where the majority of my traffic come from, etc. Reading website analytics is like looking at an EKG monitor. You definitely want to know the moment your website flatlines, but you also need to understand when your heartbeat increased a few beats per second over the course of the year. In this sense I think it's extremely important to have a micro and macro understanding of your site.
Is there a way to tell if a shift is temporary or a permanent change in how consumers use your site?
Yes. One of the big things I've noticed over the years is how quickly things evolve. Our mobile traffic went from essentially nothing a few years ago to over 50 percent today. I could see the shift in our real-time and daily numbers, but it was the end-of-the-year report that crystalized this shift. Where things get interesting is to then dig through that mobile data to see what platforms people are using, what content they're accessing, what referral sources they're coming from, and so on.
On the flip side, looking at real-time and daily information has alerted me on numerous occasions to shifts in Google's search algorithm. The same with Facebook. Sometimes these algorithm changes affect us temporarily and sometimes they change the rules of the game for how our website will be surfaced [appear in search rankings] when people are searching. With social media, looking at real-time data has also allowed me to monitor spikes in traffic when a piece of our content goes viral. By monitoring what works and what doesn't I can then shape how we present information in the future in an attempt to replicate the successful results. When you look at the micro and macro data, you quickly see the difference between a blip on the radar and a permanent shift. I think looking at all of the data over various increments of time is the best way to grasp the context of what's going on.