An Introduction to Website Analytics

Website statistical tracking and analysis, otherwise known as analytics, has become a critical but often misunderstood component of our developing digital world.

What Information Can be Tracked?

The scope of analytical tracking is positively enormous. Data such as how many unique visits a certain web page receives, where those visitors are roughly from, geographically, how much time they spent reading the page, and what link or search terms led them to that page can all be collected.

Why Track It?

Aggregating this information is seldom the goal unto itself. Rather, the point is to analyze the data and spot emerging trends, and to better understand the needs and tendencies of the internet users visiting a given site. This can be of great value to any website owner, and there is often a positive new narrative associated with this improved understanding of a user base. For instance, a local blogger now knows which of their posts is getting the most web traffic, makes the blog exclusively about that one thing, and the blog has never been more popular. Yet it is in the online retail space where analytics truly proves invaluable.

Analytics Drives Online Commerce

When it comes to online retail, analytics is an absolutely critical tool for understanding not just the purchasing habits of customers, but the marketing approaches and perceptions that are informing those habits. For example, say a retailer discovers through statistical tracking that page views and resultant sales of a certain product came from a review of the product on a different site. The retailer may be inclined to get other products reviewed on that site from that point on, and to link back to the positive review on the product page of their own site, creating a sort of reciprocal loop on the web that helps the retailer better leverage sales. Maybe the retailer would even be inclined to run specials on that product and advertise those specials on the review site, further driving up sales.

Sometimes, analytics allows for a more focused approach to even something as simple as naming products in the marketplace to better suit customer expectations. For instance, say a company sells what they call “snow throwers,” but the statistics prove out that more potential customers are searching the web for these same machines as “snow blowers” instead. “Snow blowers” is the search engine term visitors are using when they eventually find this company’s products, but those products are placed rather low on the list of results anyway, below those of competitors who sell what they have already themselves deemed “snow blowers” and not “snow throwers.” The marketing solution would be clear–rename the machines “snow blowers” on the web, and watch profits climb.

Which Service Should You Use?

Establishing that analytics is useful and often even critical to the prosperity of a website, only begs the question of which website analytics service to use.

Here, there is one major player, one product that stands head and shoulders above the rest, and it is Google Analytics. The extent to which Google’s marquee statistical product dominates this marketplace is staggering. As of this writing, Google Analytics is installed on over 10 million websites, and is in use by over half of the internet’s top 500 retailers.

And it is little wonder. There is a powerful commercial synergy between users typing search terms into the world’s most popular internet search engine, their clicking on a link from that list of results, and then that search engine providing information about who they are and what they searched for to the website they clicked on.

How Do I Start Using (Google) Analytics?

Google offers a full-featured free version of their Analytics product that they optimistically position as an entree to their affordable Enterprise-class services. You may likely find, however, that the free version more than meets your statistical needs.

Simply visit the Analytics web page to sign up. You will receive a special tracking code that you paste into your web pages so that Google knows when they are visited and by whom. Within hours, you will have a developing picture of things like who is visiting your web site, broken down by city, state, and country, whether they are new or returning users, and most interestingly–how visitors found their way to that site in the first place, and which parts of the site are most popular.

Conclusion

Frankly, anyone who is doing anything at all meaningful on the web should be using analytics to better understand how they are interfacing with the rest of the world. Even if it is something as simple as just putting a hit counter on a web page, it would be downright silly to pass on the chance to better understand a site’s users. Hopefully, this has been a useful introduction to the why and the how of website analytics, and can serve as a springboard to learning about the strategies and trends that are driving traffic to your site. Good luck!