Unleashing the Power of Website Analytics

Jan 25 2010 by Dave Sparks | 34 Comments

Most people use web analytics—you’d have to be crazy not to—especially with such powerful free solutions out there. However, for many people, analyzing their stats goes no further than rejoicing at having a few more visitors and repeating the figures to potential advertisers.

But analytics, used properly, is so much more – it’s a marketing tool, an error checker, a usability tool, an ROI calculator, an eCommerce tracker, an ad tool and the list goes on.

So we’re going to take a look at the basic ways of getting more from your analytics.

Unleashing the Power of Website Analytics

Analytics Software

First things first, if you haven’t got an analytics software set up,  then for god’s sake what are you doing man(/woman)!

Personally, I use Google Analytics, one of the most well known and best packages available with the added bonus of being free.

But if you feel more comfortable using something else, there are many options out there to check out (you can start with this list of web analytics tools).

Bounce Rate

Bounce rate is important. Very important. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that having a high bounce rate is fine because "it’s just a human choice thing".

Having a high bounce rate can be an indicator of serious problems with your site. It could be the web content or your calls to action that are ineffective in captivating and engaging your visitors.

"What the hell is he on about?" some of you may be asking. For those who don’t know what bounce rate is, it is the number of people who, after arriving on your site, don’t look at another page and leave straight away. You’ll normally see this statistic represented as a percentage of your visitors.

Now there is, as mentioned, a certain element of human choice about the figure; people will sometimes land on your site by accident or click a search result and find your site isn’t quite what they were after. That’s fine, and I’m sure you’ll be happy to accept that you’ll never get a 0% bounce rate – not without cheating anyway, and that’s no good.

Some common causes of high bounce rates:

  • Badly placed calls to action
  • Non-engaging content
  • Broken links
  • Site errors
  • Badly targeted ads

Combining this figure by looking at individual page bounce rates and bounce rates for different referring sites can open up your eyes to a large number of problems.

A low bounce rate often shows a site that has content people want to read more of, and effective ways and site features that draw people in further such as a "related content" list of articles on landing pages or invitations to try the product with no strings attached.

But fear not, bounce rates aren’t the beginning of the end for some types of websites. For example, blogs often have high bounce rates as people click through from RSS feeds and tweets with the intention of reading only that one web page.

eCommerce sites though are a good example of sites that benefit from low bounce rates; they can draw people into looking at other products, reading more content on the site, and hopefully buying stuff.

You should generally find out what is suitable in your niche. For commercial sites, that may be difficult, as people may not be willing to share their information, but certainly within the design community, don’t be scared to ask around.

As a quick guide for most sites: a 30% bounce rate is a good figure, whereas over 50% could well be improved.

However, if you’re a blogging site and receive traffic from social bookmarking sites, then it may well be much higher due to the way people often dip in and out of your site reading articles and then leaving, in which case 60% could be considered a good figure and anywhere from 70% – 80% is alright. Over 80% and I’d be a bit concerned.

The best way to see if changes to your website’s design can improve bounce rates is by using A/B testing. The results can be seen for themselves with increased conversions.

Conversion Rate

All the analysis of people visiting your target pages leads to the second important figure after bounce rate: the site conversion rate.

If you have a clear goal for your site, then you should keep track of how many people fulfill that goal.

If you’re running an eCommerce site, then it’s normally a completed checkout. For   websites that require you to register for an account (Twitter or Facebook, for example) it’s completing the sign up process. For business sites, it could be a completed contact form.

The conversion rate is another percentage, the amount of people visiting your site that are not just getting to your goal pages, but also carrying out the actions you want them to.

When people first start to look at conversion rates, they are often surprised by how low they are; 3% is good conversion rate for completing a transaction on an eCommerce site.

Yep, just 3% of new site visitors go through the checkout!

If you have a clear path to your goal (e.g. a certain process of clicks or a checkout process), then set up a funnel and see where people are falling off. Where are they dropping shopping baskets? Where are they encountering errors on your web forms?

It can be easy to highlight issues such as an overly complex form and other barriers to goal completion.

If you don’t have a single set path, then compare where people come from to get to your goal pages. If many people arrive from one page but not from another, then compare both pages and look at their difference. Hypothesize why another page is successful, while another is not. Use A/B testing to verify your assumption, rinse, and repeat.

Once you’ve established why people are (and aren’t) completing goals and you’ve fixed your issues and calls to action, then you need to look at where people are going after converting. Are they staying on your site or exiting? If they’re exiting, you may well be missing some huge opportunities (upselling, for example).

Percentage of visitors who view target pages

At first glance, tracking your target pages may seem to be the same as keeping track of conversions, and whilst they are similar, these two site analytics stats have different values to you.

We’ll use a hypothetical example for discussion: Mr. Smith and his online paint store.

His conversion pages are obviously completed checkout pages (where he does of course try and upsell some accessories).

His target pages, however, would be his product pages. For most types of sites, it should be quite easy to work out what your target pages are. For example, a blog’s target pages are its posts, and a business site will be its information pages.

In most cases, these pages are the first major steps on the path to goal completion. Viewing a product is your first step to a complete checkout, viewing a business service is the first step to getting in touch and asking about the service.

In order for Mr. Smith to convert site visitors to its completed checkout pages, he must first present his paint supplies in an enticing way.

You should know how many people are getting to these pages and if they are completing goals from these pages. If not, where are they getting lost?

It starts to become quite clear where a well-defined funnel can really help to benefit your analytics.

What people search for and what they do after searching

What people search for and what they do after searching

Tracking site search is something very few people actually do, let alone pay attention to. Yet it can be a massively valuable resource for finding out what your site visitors want.

Let’s look at Mr. Smith’s online paint store again. He stocks a huge variety of paints and a quick look at his search result reveals people are searching for "claret paint" that he doesn’t stock.

It’d make sense to start stocking Claret paint, wouldn’t it? Or at least offer alternatives to Claret paint.

The second part of site search analytics is determining what people do afterwards.

There are a couple of scenarios here:

Scenario 1: They search and find something you have

If they head to the page they are searching for and stay on your site, then well done, your search feature is working.

If they don’t, then there’s clearly a problem with your site search. It may not be returning the results it should be returning, or it isn’t displaying the search results in a useful way for the visitor to understand.

Scenario 2: They search and can’t find something

Now, many people would say that if these visitors leave, then that’s fine because you don’t sell what they need.

But we’re not most people are we?

If Mr. Smith sells paint supplies and somebody has searched for a yacht, then they’re obviously just in the wrong website.

However, if they’ve searched for "claret paint" and left because you don’t have it, then surely you could be offering them an alternative to Claret paint.

The "Did you mean" search suggestions on sites like Amazon and Google are good examples of this.

Amazon suggests related searches and products that closely match your search to keep you from leaving.Amazon suggests related searches and products that closely match your search to keep you from leaving.

Put quite simply: your site search tells you what your visitors want without you even having to ask! How can you afford not to use that resource?

Where your visitors come from

Where your visitors come from

A lot of time and money is spent on link building and ads on the web, and the easiest way to determine if they’re working is to see where your visitors are coming from.

Bloggers, for example, spend time writing for other blogs, commenting in various places, taking ads out on other sites and sharing things via social media. Therefore, it makes sense that you keep track of where you get the most returns to make a wise decision where to focus your efforts.

A properly set-up analytics account integrated with eCommerce tracking and adwords accounts can even show you a direct return on investment for your individual adword campaigns; a brilliantly useful tool for managing your pay per click ads.

Use your analytics properly

To track all of this and make your life easier, it really helps to set up your analytics software. Properly setting up funnels, site search tracking, eCommerce tracking and ad words tracking should be priorities.

Share your thoughts, tips and opinions in the comments!

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About the Author

Dave Sparks is a web designer and developer working for Armitage Online in the Lake District. He can be found writing about various web topics on his blog at Kamikazemusic.com, twittering as twitter.com/dsparks83 and working on his website analytics project - Stat Share.

34 Comments

dimi

January 25th, 2010

Some great points, thanks.

Matthew Heidenreich

January 25th, 2010

informative article. Thanks for this.

Jordan Walker

January 25th, 2010

Google Analytics is a very handy tool, but for some reason or another it always differs from AW Stats, which is a tracking package on most webservers. I find it strange that the numbers would not match up. Any thoughts?

Wayne Ainsworth

January 25th, 2010

Great article, especially the well written section on bounce rate. This is something that I find very difficult to explain to clients and potential new clients, but you have now given me a few more options.

Having just finished a corporate run of 8 websites, being able to use this information to show the difference between the before and after bounce rates will help no end :)

Frank Rui Jiang

January 25th, 2010

Nice artile, Google Analytics is a big topic to cover and different websites have their own unique KPIs.

However, many people misuse Google Analytics as they have wrong configurations or no filters…etc.

I sum up 5 things people can easily mess up google analytics data. http://seoblogmoney.com/5-things-you-could-mess-up-google-analytics-data/

Rory Dixon

January 25th, 2010

I think that many people install and set up analytics but then do nothing with them. An analytics review should be part of the overall website performance review that should occur at regular intervals depending on the demands of your business e.g. after a campaign has been run, when new landing pages are introduced or if content/layout changes have been made.

David Strauß

January 25th, 2010

Nice tips! Personally I love the ability to see the click rate as an overlay so you can directly say where people click and where not :)

Tim Read

January 25th, 2010

Yes. Thanks for the overview. Its one things getting all the analytics data, quite another being able to interpret it properly…

Dave Sparks

January 25th, 2010

Thanks for the comments, I’m glad people are finding the article helpful and it is definitely a good idea to include analytics in website reviews.

@Jordan Walker – if you have a quick look here https://www.google.com/adsense/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en-uk&answer=55613 that explains some differences between adsense and analytics tracking, some points of which can equally apply between Google analytics and AW stats. Another consideration is that Google Analytics is a JavaScript technology where as I believe AW will still track users who have JavaScript disabled.

Jay

January 25th, 2010

This is a great article that I can refer some of my clients to. Thanks!

BTW, I agree with one of the previous commenters. A lot of clients will tell you that they want to do a redesign with no regard for analytics which is crazy. Years can go before they take a look at the analytics, really look at the analytics.

Ian

January 25th, 2010

Any tips for flash tagging? I’ve individually attached campaigns to links within flash. I’ve also seen people add external interface calls that ping a pixel with a tracking code. This is useful in packages that have some sort of visual overlay on your site, as well as tracking movement within a flash page. Deep linking helps for this, as well. Any one else have tips to share?

Mario Fischer

January 25th, 2010

Very nice and concise article, as one of the previous commenters already said: A really good explanation for bounce rate. What I also liked: The example percentages for bounce and conversion rates.

David Simpson

January 25th, 2010

Nice post Dave.

Ian: I’ve posted how to add WebTrends or Google Analytics tracking to Flash here:
http://davidsimpson.me/2009/03/09/how-to-track-events-in-flash-movies-using-webtrends/

Hope it helps.

Noel Wiggins

January 26th, 2010

I never thought of checking the search stats so now I installed my search monitor plugin for my wordpress website and now will keep an eye on this truly valuable insight.

Brian Cray

January 26th, 2010

It should be noted that most of the metrics discussed are simply vanity metrics, and not really relevant/important in all situations.

Take bounce rate for example. If you have a one page signup landing page, bounce rate isn’t important. What’s important here is conversion rate and abandonment rate–furthermore–where abandonment happens.

For blogs, bounce rate is a terrible metric to pay attention to, because people often only want to read the article for which they came. High pageviews may be a sign that users didn’t find what they wanted. The more important things are: time on page, comments, links to subscribe or follow, contacts, etc.

The most important thing for analytics is: know what you want your users to do and designs metrics for measuring how well or often those things are done. If you really want to take action based on your analytics, and not just look at it and think “I see I have xxx hits or xx% bounce rate, what now?” it’s best to hire a web analytics professional.

Bonnie Landau

January 26th, 2010

This is a great overview! I particularly like explanation of bounce rate. Our website has a bit of a high bounce rate (52%), but I’m not sure how to reduce that. Do you have any articles that give specific ideas?

Also, I’m not clear about how to set goals in Google. You talked about conversion rate, but how do you set the rules so the system tracks it.

We use Joomla to build sites, and Joomla has built-in search tracking. It’s a great way to see how people search the site.

Thanks for the great info!

Andy

January 26th, 2010

Great article. So which analytic service do you recommend? And What about specifically those tools and services for competitive analysis, so you can see how well your competitor is doing with keywords, what sites and networks he is advertising on, when he starts, stops, or alters a campaign, and so on?

Thanks.

Jonathan Kurten

January 27th, 2010

I never fully understood bounce rate until now, this is an excellent resource on the particular subject. Thanks a ton Dave & above commenters for the discussion.

Dave Sparks

January 27th, 2010

Again thanks to all who have left comments.

@Ian Google do have flash tracking however I haven’t used it personally but it is all detailed here
http://code.google.com/apis/analytics/docs/tracking/flashTrackingIntro.html

@Brian Cray I would disagree with these being simply vanity metrics. They are the basis of what you should be looking at for your site. You are quite right that any site analysis should be tailored to the site you are measuring and as a consequence some of these metrics may well become less or more important.

@Bonnie Landau, a high bounce rate can be indicative of many things, the best thing to do is to look at the specific pages that have higher bounce rates and see what differs from those with lower bounce rates. Try some A/B testing – http://www.abtests.com/ compiles results from other tests which should give you some ideas. All in all though remember your site is unique so there is not a one fits all solution.

As for how to do certain thing in analytics if you’re using google analytics this helpful cheat sheet may help – http://www.conversationmarketing.com/2010/01/google-analytics-cheatsheet.htm

Jeff Woodruff

January 28th, 2010

Great article. I use analytic software regularly and convince my all freelance clients that this will give them the ability to see that redesigns and development with analytics will give them the ability to track their ROI. All too often clients look at a design / redesign as just an expense rather than something that can be used to bring customers to them and increase their ROI manifold. Analytics is particularly best if you’re doing SEO for a client and you can show them that over time, the ideas you have for them are consitantly bringing them more traffic; and not only traffic but traffic that a potential prospects.

Laura

February 2nd, 2010

Hey, great article.

Only thing I wonder now is, how do I learn more? Do you know if there are tutorials for non-professionals? Where is this sort of thing learned other than pure experience in fiddling around with it?

I have printed out the cheat sheet you referenced, and will hopefully be able to mostly figure it out, but I would love if you could point me in the direction of a beginner’s guide or tutorial if you know of one!

Thanks again!

Andrea

February 3rd, 2010

Great article! Helpful and to the point!

Some questions about Bounce Rate:
- is 30% a good target for new or returning users, or the average of both? We have 35% bounce rate right now, but 80% of our users are returning (so I’d expect a lower bounce rate than if a majority were coming from web searches, for example).
- what data are you basing these targets on?
I see the citation for the eCommerce conversion rates, but not for the different stats in the bounce rate section.

Thanks!

Marc

February 4th, 2010

Web analytics is so useful! I started using clicktale recently and the improvement in my website is amazing.

Marc

February 4th, 2010

I use clicktail, it helps me know what is happening on my site and its heatmpas and videos show me i can increase my conversions.

RJC

February 5th, 2010

This is great break down on the power of analytics. I must admit, after reading this article, learning SEO has been my new focus.

Dave Sparks

February 8th, 2010

Thanks everyone for the comments
@Andrea – a 30% bounce rate is generally a good average of both and you would generally expect returning visitors to have a lower bounce rate.
As for the data to base the targets on is mainly from my experience of past sites have been working on and the current stats I have available to me from our client base.
I am currently working on getting a more accurate representation of some key analytics so will hopefully be able to give a better reference.

Daniel

April 20th, 2010

I loved reading this.. makes me wonder how we tracked websites without analytics in the past. I wonder what will be developed in the next few years.

Deadwin

April 30th, 2010

Thnx man awesome article….

Ken

July 17th, 2010

Awesome post man. Maybe soon companies will finally understand the importance and value in not only analytics, but also turning the data back into profit through skilful conversion optimisation.

All the tools in the world won’t help those with no clue of what to test for the best and so AK’s 90/10 rule should be heeded. If it can’t, then don’t wast money on expensive tools.

Companies of a certain size might not be able to justify outlaying 40-50k for a good data analyst and so further advice would be to look for a look for an analytics provider that offers an optimisation service as well. Either this, or a good ‘one-stop’ solution: find an e-commerce design and build provider who provides a good value adding conversion optimising after sales service.

The market is turning slightly this way I think, and those providers with the expertise who position themselves well will do well in the next few years.

Craig

September 15th, 2010

Great article, I need to analyse and set up funnels for my website analytics, this has spurred me on to do it sooner rather than later, Thanks!

Roger

November 28th, 2010

“Google Analytics is a great free tool but our Pro Web Analytics tool offers much more functionality. To start with it is a live package, allowing you to monitor your traffic in real time. It offers online real time reporting on:

• Who visits your site
• How they found you
• How they navigate your site
• If they buy or transact on your site
• How effective your advertising is

Established in 1999, our web analytics tool is powered by a leading online service that tracks hundreds of real-time website statistics, including:

• Comprehensive traffic statistics in real-time
• Dashboards – tabbed, customizable and user specific
• Tracks search terms from 300 search engines
• Visitor navigation paths
• Email alerts for user-definable traffic levels
• User security and group management
• Hundreds of additional statistics on your visitors
I hope this helps.”

James

January 6th, 2011

It still surprises us to this day, when prospective clients who are considering a website re-design, or some form of search engine marketing, without taking full advantage of the power of website analytics. These people are like hiring a general contractor who assumes he knows what kind of house to build and design for you, before checking the details and specs of what (you) consumer wants.

Reza

September 1st, 2012

Just what I wanted

Xen Daniels

May 29th, 2013

It’s worth noting that when it comes to page views and time on site, Google Analytics can only give these figures if a visitor views more than one page. If they land on one page then leave it is not only counted as a bounce page views will be classed as 0 as will time on site – no matter how long they have stayed there. Worth taking into consideration if your site is one where people can access the information they need immediately without having to click elsewhere.

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