Web Analytics Tools – What Statistics are Important to You?
In Part 1 of this article, we gave a brief history of web analytics tools and explained the two main mechanisms by which they gather data from your website. Now, let’s look at the main features you should be aware of when you select the tool that’s best for your needs.
Google Analytics has become the dominant web analytics tool on the Internet today with a reputed market share of over 70%. Why? First, because it is free. Second, it carries the powerful Google brand. It also happens to be one of the easiest tools to setup and use – not surprisingly, it is a page-tagging type of tool (see Part 1 of this article for an explanation if the term is unfamiliar).
Keep in mind there are lots of other good tools out there, including many that provide information Google Analytics doesn’t. So, is Google Analytics the best tool for you to use in tracking your website visitors?
To answer this question, you first need to know what kind of data you need from your web analytics tool. What’s essential, what is important, and what can you safely ignore? What features must you have and which ones can you live without? Perhaps you’ve installed a tool, spent some time poking around in it, and encountered a lot of seemingly meaningless or confusing information. Should you be concerned?
Everyone’s website and needs are different, so we’re not going to be able to present an exhaustive list. But here are the key elements we look at time and again.
- Is your website traffic increasing or decreasing, aside from any possible seasonality influences? To gauge this, you should look back at least a year if you can. We like to compare data from the previous month to the same month a year ago.
- What’s the ratio of new visitors versus returning visitors? An increase in new visitors indicates a successful SEO program or marketing campaign, or possibly word of mouth/viral results. An increase in returning visitors indicates the timeliness and “stickiness” of your content, so people want to come back for more. It could also be the result of good nurturing of your contacts, for example, via regular email outreach.
- What percentage of visitors come from search engines vs. referrals or direct?
- Can you break down your search engine visitors between paid and organic, assuming you’re engaging in PPC? Are you seeing any increases or drop-offs in organic traffic?
- Is the number of referred visitors increasing? This would indicate more (or more popular) sites linking to yours.
- Which websites bring you the most referral traffic? Which ones bring you the most relevant traffic? Relevance may be measured by time spent on site, number of pages viewed per visitor, or conversions.
Take a look at the keywords that are bringing traffic. These are the keywords people actually typed to find your site through a search engine. Some are “brand specific” like the name of your company, your website or a key employee. Others are “topical” and speak to a need or pain-point the searcher is trying to find an answer for.
- Can you easily separate out topical from brand specific keywords? A “search” feature in your web analytics tool can be helpful here. The idea is to see if your traffic from topical keywords is increasing (your SEO program is effective) or your traffic from brand-specific keywords is increasing (your PR or social media strategy is effective.)
- If you’re engaging in PPC, can your tool show you the “matched” keywords as well as the typed keywords? This is important for determining when to tighten down on broad-matched keywords or add new negative keywords.
These can be sites with direct links to yours, or they can be sites that display your PPC ads. Can you distinguish between free clicks on links versus paid clicks? If you’ve paid for a banner ad, for example, can you easily determine the quantity and quality of the clicks it is sending your way?
Pages / Navigation
This area tells you which pages of your website get the most attention and how well the site is meeting the needs of its visitors.
- What are the most visited pages on the site?
- What is the sequence followed by a visitor that converted versus those that didn’t? Can you make the steps you want your visitors to take more obvious or appealing?
- What is the “bounce rate” of your site? Typically the bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who view only one page of your site and leave. There is no magic number for a “good” bounce rate versus a bad one, because every audience and industry is different. But if you are making changes to your site, you want to see your bounce rate decline.
- What is the average time spent on your website, and is it increasing or decreasing? Like the bounce rate, time on site is a metric that can indicate how well your site is meeting the needs of its visitors. Be careful, though. If your site is transactional in nature, allowing visitors to come and accomplish a task, a high time spent on site could be a warning that the process is too long or complicated for your visitors.
Most web analytics tools can provide the different types of data listed above. Some make the process easy and clear, others require a bit more effort on the part of the user. While ease of use and clarity of presentation are extremely important, it is in the area of key features that web analytics tools begin to diverge. We’ve listed some of our favorite functionalities here:
- Real Time Data. Some tools do not provide instant results. This is generally not a big problem, but if you are implementing tracking on a campaign, for example, and want to test if it’s working or not, you don’t want to wait an indeterminate number of hours to make sure everything is set up properly.
- Individual Visitor Data. Does the tool report on each visitor, or does it aggregate data from multiple visitors? This is useful when trying to trace the steps of a visitor that converted and compare them to visitors that didn’t. It is also essential in detecting a common form of PPC click fraud where one your competitors keeps clicking your ads to try to spend down your budget.
- B2B Database Enhancement. Some tools can augment individual visitor data with a business database. This applies in B2B settings where the tool detects a visitor’s IP address, does a reverse look up, and tells you the company that the visitor came from. Some of these tools also list the names and phone numbers of key executives in these companies, so a sales person can gauge interest and follow up with them.
- Call Tracking. If someone clicks your banner on another site or a PPC search ad, they may want to speak with someone in your organization immediately rather than complete a form and wait for a response. How do you attribute that lead to the banner or PPC ad? There is a class of web analytics tools to perform this function. By rotating in a custom phone number and tracking the calls on that number when someone arrives on the site from a particular source, you can go back later and determine what prompted the call, rather than asking the caller how they found your website.
There are a lot of questions to answer, but taking the time to answer them will help the decision process of finding the right analytics tools much easier. Next, in Part 3, we will look at some of the leading web analytics tools and discuss the pros and cons so you can make an informed choice.