Once you launch your website, people find it in their search results and visit your site. The web server is “watching” them, tracking how much time they spend on the site and which pages they visit. The web server sees the i.p. address of the computer the visitor is using to access the web, and it can find out where the computer is.
data to dissect
The server will share all of this information with you in a website analytics report. Time spent and pages visited are just the basic facts. The server can report:
- unique users and repeat visits
- navigation behavior
- usage data by hits, kilobytes and session
- landing pages, exit pages and files downloaded
- referral sites, search engine referrals and search terms
- user location
key performance indicators
All of this data is useful for evaluating and evolving the website design over time, but if you can interpret the data, it will tell you a lot about your products, your audience and your brand. These “key performance indicators” are not only valuable for assessing your web design – they can help you evaluate your overall marketing effectiveness, public perception and brand communication.
Your website structures your brand communication – it describes your company and engages your audience in a clear and organized manner. By observing user behavior as it is revealed in website analytics, you learn a lot about your customers:
one: what they are looking for
Today’s shopper browses the web before they browse your aisles. Analytics can tell you what keywords or keyword phrases your web visitor used to find you. By charting the visitor’s path through your site, the reports can show you the customer’s thought process: “home improvement” to “tools” to “hammer.”
two: where they come from
Knowing where your customers came from helps you assess the effects of your marketing initiatives. Analytics can tell you about the geographical origins of the servers visiting your site, but a more telling statistic is the referring site. If your website is well optimized, search engines will probably be the source of most of your inbound traffic. However, a more significant report comes from the other sites where the user found your link.
- Direct address comes from people who type your url into the browser. If you have an active off-line campaign, including a simple domain name in every print ad, billboard, location sign, broadcast spot and business communication
- If you have an active social media campaign, you may find visitors drawn to your site by a tweet or post – particularly those that include your link.
- If you have an active Internet ad campaign, either with banners or cost-per-click campaigns that include display networks, you could see results from all kinds of related websites. esd is currently managing a nurse recruitment campaign. We were startled to find an incoming link from “HighwayHypodermics.com” until we discovered it was a site for traveling nurses.
- If you are an active blogger in your industry, and include your link when you comment on other blogs, you may find traffic coming in from those sources.
three: where they “landed”
Not all of your traffic has to come in through your website’s “front door” – the home page. As you can see in the referring metrics, inbound links can come from a variety of sources across the web. Since many of those links originate with your own marketing activity, you can target your inbound links to various “landing pages” within your site.
You are targeting your customer on both sides of this technique – you are planting links in specific location (a pizza delivery Internet ad banner placed on a sports page) with an appropriate offer (the “Super Big Super Bowl Pizza Deal”) linked to a page you published on your site specifically to promote (with localized phone numbers and an online order form) the offer.
four: how they react to your offers
The pizza shop knows exactly how many customers used the special landing page to place their order. When the visitor comes in and clicks the phone number to dial their smartphone or uses the online ordering form, it’s considered a “conversion.”
But user behavior results are not limited to ads – as visitors come to your site and use its links to find the resources they seek, they are showing you their preferences. If you are promoting a particular product, service, event or news item, the number of visitors that click through to the details tells you a lot about who’s interested and where they are coming from.
reading the tea leaves
Many website analytic services are offered on the web, but they are often regurgitated numbers rebranded with the service company’s logo who leave the interpretation to your imagination. Having the numbers is not the same as understanding the numbers. It takes training and experience to interpret analytics, then an extra step to correlate your analytics with marketing efforts. You need to track a site over time – Saturday’s numbers can’t tell you how the site – and web community – will behave a week from next Tuesday.
A full-service web analytics report should read the numbers and trends, match them with your marketing activities during the same period of time, and deliver interpreted insights and recommendation. That information can do a lot to tell you where you’ve been with your communications, and where you need to go next.