When television and print media reigned supreme, data on viewers and readers was tightly controlled – though it often involved a lot of educated guesswork. In the digital age of information, this kind of data isn’t only more detailed and accurate, but – since anyone on the web can get huge amounts of data on their visitors—has become democratized. But the question still remains, what do you make of all this information? Which data has value? And most importantly, how should you act on the data you receive?
When people think of metrics – if they think of them at all – they’re probably thinking of the graphs, charts, and tables that Google Analytics displays, but there’s a whole industry of analytic tools out there. Many of these tools are easy to use and can provide great value if you know what your goals are.
Whether you’re building a website from scratch or upgrading the look and feel of an existing site, it’s always important to outline what you’re trying to achieve. If you only have a nebulous concept of your website’s purpose, then it becomes more difficult to set up measurable achievements.
The goals of a website should be established early on, and must be clear, concise, and attainable. In marketing, some of the first questions we ask are “what is your target demographic,” and “what is the goal of your website.” Quite often, we get the very optimistic, but strategically unhelpful responses, “everyone of every age,” and “to reach everyone everywhere.”
Though these may be great as high level and lofty goals, they really don’t provide much of a framework for measuring success. If you measure against the goal of reaching everyone everywhere, you’re going to get pretty discouraging results – such as, “Your site saw 10000 more unique visitors this month, that’s almost 0.000001428 % of our goal!”
Even if you aren’t creating an ecommerce site where goals are based on sales, there are lots of other ways to define and measure your site’s achievements. Maybe the purpose of the site is to get people to call you, to build your brand, showcase your work, or to generate leads. Whatever your focus, metrics can track user interactions with your site to determine whether your prompt, or “call to action” is effective.
Without a doubt, Google Analytics is the must have tool for web analytics. The sheer volume of data Google delivers is invaluable for measuring the success of your goals, though it can also can be a bit daunting. The metrics you focus on should be related to the specific goals you’ve set for your site, though there are a few key metrics you can watch for.
Unique visitors: You can measure the size of your audience by setting these metrics to a timeline. You can even focus your data on returning visitors, which can show you how often your audience comes back for more.
Referrals: This is basically an answer to the question, “Where is everyone coming from?” If you’re seeing a lot of referrals from social media, but little from organic search, for example, it may be time to review your SEO techniques. Figuring out where people are coming from can help explain the even more important question of “why.”
Bounce rate: Generally, this is a measure of how often people are coming to the site and then immediately leaving. It’s important to keep your bounce rate low, since every lost visitor is a lost opportunity to reach one of your goals.
Exit pages: Unlike bounce rate, the exit pages are the points at which a user leaves the site after navigating around for a bit. If you see that a lot of people are leaving at the same point, it’s a pretty good indication that the page needs to be reviewed. Maybe it’s a prime spot for a call to action, such as a newsletter sign up. Identifying those problem spots can also highlight potential opportunities.
Unique visitors, referrals, bounce rates, and exit pages are just a taste of what you can get with Google Analytics. Combine this toolbox with clear goals, and they may be the only analytics you need.
However, because websites can have specific or even unique needs, there are other measurement tools that are more targeted to certain goals. Here are a few of the tools that we use here at Think on a daily basis.
Heatmaps: This is an excellent tool for discovering where a user is looking on a site, how far they get down the page, and which buttons or items are interacted with the most. If you find people are only getting half way down your home page, it may suggest that you need to nudge them further or think about restructuring your information.
Recordings: This may come as a surprise, but it’s actually very simple to collect recordings of a user’s mouse and scroll usage on your site. You can literally watch as they read, click and scroll, which can be invaluable if you find a particular page or action item isn’t receiving the attention you had expected.
Surveys: Short run surveys can be an excellent way to get feedback on your site, whether you’re looking for an overall impression or detailed information on certain sections. Though it lacks the element of spy-like reconnaissance, it’s a great way to get first-hand information on user experience.
Live User Testing: Even if you don’t have time to set up live user testing “in house,” there are several services online that can provide you with this invaluable information. Watching someone use your site and describe their experience can be very revealing, and surprising.
All the data in the world means nothing to your site if you aren’t willing to make adjustments based on your findings. Metrics allow us to play to our strengths and improve our weak spots by objectively telling us what works and what doesn’t on a website. While we may be in love with a special feature on our site (and assume users also love it), analytic data can give us the cold hard truth that it’s doing nothing for our goals, and might be worth changing.
If you measure against the goal of reaching everyone everywhere, you’re going to get pretty discouraging results
Say your site’s primary goal is to have people contact you. You’ve set up Google Analytics, and are delighted to find that people are indeed frequently visiting your contact page. But you also see that the contact page is where people are leaving your site (based on your exit page information). Because your conversion rate* seems to be low (i.e. not getting a lot of calls or emails), you have a sneaking suspicion there’s been little actual contact resulting from this page.
But, with this information in hand, you get your trusty web developer to turn that telephone number callout into an actual button. Now when the user clicks on it, a message appears reminding them to telephone you directly, or handily email you right from a form in the message. And voila! Conversion rate goes up!
This is just a generic example of how you might take action after reviewing your site’s analytics, but it demonstrates the importance of acting on what the data tells you. The web isn’t static, so why would you allow your site to be? With metrics, you can allow data to guide your decisions as you reevaluate your site’s goals and actions. It’s all about setting goals, measuring success, and adjusting your strategy.
*Stay tuned for more about conversion in an upcoming banter!