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An introduction to web analytics

We take a deep dive into the world of web analytics, and the importance of spotting trends and patterns that will help you with your metrics and improve engagement.

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If you’re a developer who runs their own site, or you have a blog hosted on a blogging platform, it’s likely that you’ll be well aware of web analytics. And while awareness of this extremely useful tool is good, many people don’t quite know how to fully harness the power of web analytics. 

The first thing that springs to mind when starting a website is how many visitors you will get. And the next step involves how these visitors might be converted into paying customers. At the end of the day, you want to understand the people who are coming to your site, and anticipate their needs and desires. 

Web analytics is a powerful tool for any business with a website or an online presence. By monitoring how prospective customers and visitors interact with your online resources, you can move on to tailoring these experiences with the aim of increasing your sales, clicks, and conversions. 

On the surface, it can seem like a really daunting world to negotiate and explore. However, there are many different resources out there that can help you make sense of web analytics. We take a look at the different ways you can customise and understand web analytics, and use this tool to improve your online presence and performance. 

What is web analytics?

To put it simply, web analytics is the method of monitoring how users interact with your online presence. It looks at their behaviours and their activities and provides you reports which help you to understand how people consumed your content. 

This data includes things like how many users visit the site, how long they stay for, how many pages they end up visiting and which pages they visit, and how they actually end up getting onto the site in the first place. 

Importantly, you can also see how many users end up becoming paying customers. Businesses use data analytics to measure site performance and look for Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, which we’ll go into more detail about later on.  

How does it work?

Most web analytics platforms require you to embed a tracking code – usually using JavaScript, one of the building blocks of web development. However, by using Google Analytics, one of the bigger web analytics platforms, you can create a tracking code to insert into the HTML of your website. 

This embedded code allows your web analytics to capture ‘events’ on the page as they happen. These events are actions – so things like clicking a link, the time they spend on the page, and so on. This data is then logged, and often the web analytics services will provide you with a dashboard, with data visualisation of the harvested data. 

Furthermore, web analytics can use cookies to track them during their visit to your site. This effectively means that the visitor is ‘remembered’ during their visit using what’s known as ‘session’ cookies. Visitors can also be monitored during subsequent visits and tracked beyond the site by using ‘persistent’ cookies. 

Analytics platforms will use ‘session’ and ‘persistent’ cookies to differentiate between the total number of visits and the number of unique visits – basically the first time that people visit the site. It’s also worth noting that cookies won’t track across all devices – a visit on a laptop and a smartphone would count as two visits.

What can web analytics tell you?

As a content creator, you’ll want to know how well your content is performing. This is what web analytics can tell you. It tells you what the users do when they get on to your site, as well as how they get there and what they end up doing next. 

How the users get to your site is really important. Web analytics platforms like Google Analytics break down the traffic into different categories, which are useful to know from a digital marketing perspective. These categories include:

  • Organic traffic – this is when someone finds your site via a search, for instance googling (or using another search engine) to look for your company name or associated keywords. 
  • Direct traffic – these are users who inputted your URL directly.
  • Referral traffic – this is a bracket of users who have found your site from third parties. Web analytics will tell you who is linking to you and which page they are linking to.

You can also find out where in the world the visitors to your site are coming from, which can be extremely useful from an offline marketing point of view, as you’ll be in a better position to know where to put your energies in targeted marketing. Web analytics can also tell you which pages are most popular with which countries or towns.

Having this information on hand can help you to optimise your content and see what topics and links are the highest performing. It can also help you to work out where to improve on SEO and your marketing strategy if you have one in place that ends up linking to your site.

Other uses

It’s not just finding out the various different metrics of who is using your website that web analytics can offer you. Owing to the different mechanisms in play that are used to collect the data, web analytics can also be used for other purposes and to gather other bits of information. While these activities may require additional systems, they all use web analytics as their data source.

  • Retargeting – this is when you look to social media marketing, for instance, and target previous users on different sites.
  • A/B testing – sometimes known as online experiments, A/B tests basically work by serving up a variation of a page with a slight change made to it. Visitors are randomly assigned one of the two pages and the web analytics measures which version is more successful.
  • Personalisation – this is when a user, or ‘segment’ of users, is presented with a slightly modified version of the page, adapted to their previous activity in order to offer a better, more bespoke experience.

Getting started with web analytics

There are a variety of different platforms and services that are at your disposal to start out in web analytics. The most popular of these is undoubtedly Google Analytics, which is free to set up and gives you access to all the metrics we discuss below. However, Google Analytics only analyses a portion of your data, and it is hosted on Google’s servers – not ideal for everyone.

Cloudflare, Matomo, and Adobe Analytics are some other options you could consider for web analytics. Researching each of these platforms before you make your choice is really important as they all offer different things that may or may not suit your needs. From heatmapping to real-time activity, there’s a lot that these web analytics platforms can do. 

Let’s look at some of the most important things to do with your web analytics in order to optimise your site and content strategy. 

Using questions

Using questions in web analytics is essential. Without questions, analytics are effectively a feature that is nice to have but you don’t necessarily use. They end up being as reliable as the questions you ask, so make sure you ask the right questions and take appropriate action based on your findings. 

Some questions that are suited for web analytics could include the following:

  • What keywords are people using?
  • How do people find the site?
  • Where do people go next when they’re on the site?
  • What are the biggest entry points?
  • What sort of content performs the best?
  • What content isn’t performing as well?
  • If you have email marketing in place, how many people are reading the emails?
  • What links in the emails are performing the best?
  • Are there any trends or patterns in the most popular links that you should be aware of?
  • What can you improve as a result of these questions?

Considering what questions to ask and what problems you want to overcome will help you to figure out the steps you should take to improving your site SEO, and creating great online content to improve your analytics – and as a result, the success of your business.

Types of data and metrics

Another use of web analytics is to calculate metrics. Metrics describe things that you want to measure that is usually correlated with an action that a user takes on your site. Things like page views, unique visits, and click-through rates (the rate of people who click on your link) are some of the most well-known metrics, and cover everything from email marketing to social media analytics.  

Let’s take a look at a few of the more common metrics you can find in web analytics and the different groups they fall under.

Web analytics metrics

  • Total and unique visits
  • Total and unique views of the site
  • New and returning visitors
  • Traffic origin
  • Click-through rate
  • Length of time spent on page

Social media analytic metrics

  • Total number of impressions
  • Total number of likes
  • Total number of retweets/shares

Email marketing metrics

  • Total number of recipients
  • Open rate
  • Click-through rate

This is by no means is this an exhaustive list of metrics, however. Many companies have their own metrics structured to particular funnels so that their analytics include all the metrics they need to track.

What about the different types of user data? In the early stages of web analytics, it may end up being more than you need, but down the line, this type of data forms the basis of segmentation. This can help you to improve your UX for different devices or run A/B tests. If you are using a robust platform, you should be able to access the following sets of user data:

  • Referral sources (where the users come from)
  • Type of device used to visit your site
  • The operating system they use to access your site
  • Where the users are located in the world
  • The language their browsers are in

This data can help you access and target the right users and make your site greatly improved performance.

Key Performance Indicators

We’ve mentioned Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, a couple of times in this article. But what are they? In essence, KPIs are metrics, but not in the traditional sense. KPIs are metrics that tell you how well you’re doing in relation to your objectives. And objectives are essential to KPIs, which makes KPIs unique to every company.

If you don’t have your business objectives and goals clearly defined, you won’t know what your KPIs are. You also may struggle to measure organisational targets and calculate processes. When trying to spot and apply KPIs, you should consider the acronym SMARTSpecific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

The following are areas where you can identify KPIs:

  • Setting objectives and performance requirements
  • Measuring the results
  • Comparing these measurements with your set objectives and goals
  • Modification of processes to achieve short-term goals. 

KPIs are important because they allow you to extract meaning from your data at a glance. Defining and measuring your KPIs means you can create a snapshot of how well your marketing is performing, with any potential problems being highlighted.

Why web analytics is important

In the world of business, there’s an age-old adage that, to paraphrase, says that anything worth doing is worth measuring. And even in the digital world, this applies – it’s potentially now more important than ever after the lockdown laws of COVID-19 scuppered continued opportunities for traditional marketing routes. 

Web analytics provide you with concise insights and data that can then be used to create a better experience for any visitors to your website. Understanding visitor behaviour is key to optimisation and for increasing conversion metrics. By using web analytics, you can effectively track the success of your online marketing campaigns, which will help inform the future.

Web analytics tools

To initiate the power that web analytics can give you, you’ll need to implement a web analytics server or platform. As we mentioned, Google Analytics is the main contender in the world of web analytics, but there are many other alternatives out there. You’ll ideally want a platform that is robust, that doesn’t share your data with third parties, and that is privacy-minded.

Web analytics tools let you see the data visualisations of the user interactions with your site, offering up reports on the simplest of website usage. This can include visits and which pages were viewed, but can also encompass a whole range of different data analysis tools as well.

As time goes on, these tools will continually improve. Already there are tools to monitor social media discussions and posts, and that can create custom visitor profiles to assist with pages that have lower performance rates. The future truly lies in the hands of web analytics.

Final thoughts

There are many people out there who run their websites without keeping an eye on their metrics, and while that might have a limited success rate, when you have so many analytics tools at your disposable, it would be foolish to not use them. For example, even if you just keep an eye on the traffic to your site alone, you can monitor whether or not your content strategy is working properly.

With web analytics, it can seem quite daunting when you see the amount of data that is created. These numbers could end up putting you off – however, as we’ve outlined in this article, you only need to focus on the relevant metrics. This will give you the tools for success. 

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