Since websites first appeared, people have analysed what was happening on their sites. It started with simple counters on personal pages to track the number of visitors. Now we have sophisticated software that can tag and compare site visitors so you know exactly what they're doing on your site.
In the days of the dot com boom there was a perception that you could put up a website and millions of people would flock to your site. You could make a fortune in a year!
Sanity has returned and we're back to the tried and true strategies for real people running real businesses online. Analysing your traffic has assumed a new importance. In fact, stats are the essential tool to measure and manage a business or a website successfully.
Let's say you put up a website but you're not sure if you have the right content on your homepage. You do get some business from the site, but it could be better.
Should you change your content? Without actual data and solid information it's all guesswork. Try this - oh that didn't work. Try that - I got more orders. Good! Let's put this on the site - oh dear the sign-ups went down.
You have an idea why, but you aren't really sure. You need to know.
The biggest pothole in this road is to make sure the metrics you use are necessary and useful to your business. It's not so much what you have, but what you can do with it. You need to work out what your objectives are and what metrics you need.
A one size fits all is not possible in web metrics. Knowing what you want to achieve, who your visitors are likely to be, and what their objectives are will lead you in the right direction.
The first number you need to know is how many people are coming to your site. Most hosting companies can give you basic metrics like this. Make sure you're getting a figure for unique visitors and not page views or hits.
The next important stat is ‘where did they come from?’ In most programs this is the referrer report. You want to know which search engines are sending you traffic and which other websites have a link that sends people to your site.
You also need to know what search terms brought traffic to you. Look for a ‘search terms’ section for this information. Search phrases are more helpful than search words.
When you have a report that tells you what search terms are producing the highest rate of traffic from search engines, you can adjust your keywords and your content so that you get more and more visitors coming in on those terms. You can also track which keywords are producing the highest number of visitors reaching your goal pages and taking that all important revenue producing click.
Now we get into visitor behaviour - what they actually do once they are on the website.
Behaviour has always been considered the best way to predict future actions. You can work out how to improve your website to better meet your customer's needs if you can find out:
Finding a software program that can actively track your visitor's click path on the site is the only way to do this.
There are many software programs on the market. Some are easy to use and some very complex. Some are affordable and some cost an arm and a leg. Depending on your level of technical expertise and your time and interest, you can buy one and install it yourself, or outsource it to a metrics consultant who can interpret the stats for you.
It's important to track how often site visitors come back, how long it is since they were last on your site and what action they took. These measurements can be referred to as frequency and recency. Recency is the number one predictor of future behaviour, so having a way to entice them back to your site is vital.
Why does all this matter? Because it's been shown over and over that past consumer behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. Past behaviour is a much better predictor of future behaviour than demographics ever will be. Which of the following would you rather know?
A visitor or buyer who repeats their behaviour is more likely to continue repeating it, meaning their future value to your business is high. Once you know data like this, you can do user testing to find the bugs in the website content and rectify it.
Learning about your visitors and using this information as a guide is the best way to make sound marketing decisions. It directs how to generate the right content and dramatically increases results from your website. No matter what web stats software you use, it can't help you if you don't review it on a regular basis. Make it a habit to start doing so.
This article was written by Sally Falkow. Sally is a Web Content Strategist, and author of WebSense and the Content Strategy Workbook. Article originally featured at Successful Sites.