Web Analytics 101, Part 1

I’m still amazed when I run into prospective clients who are considering a Web site redesign, or some form of Internet marketing, without utilizing the essential power of Web analytics. These people are like doctors who assume they know what’s going on with a patient and start writing prescriptions before bothering to examine or diagnose. Without looking under the hood to see how your Web site is performing, and learning more about the people visiting your site, you’re throwing away a huge opportunity.

Set a Goal

A couple years ago, we helped a client with a redesign of their e-commerce site. We developed a strategy that funneled visitors from entry pages all the way to the page where they purchased.

The goal of having visitors do something you want on your site is commonly referred to as a conversion. Through monitoring our site analytics, we observed that visitors weren’t making it to our conversion page. We went back, made some minor adjustments, and increased sales by 578 percent. Can you feel the power?

I can’t overemphasize the importance of identifying site goals and having an overall strategy. Use your analytics tool to see if you’re achieving your goals. Make the necessary course corrections based on your observations. Lather, rinse, repeat.

If you don’t set proper goals and observe the progress toward those goals with Web analytics, you’re throwing huge opportunities out the window.

Hits, Visits, and Conversions

I was recently asked to do a Web analysis for a prospective client. I was told the site gets about 200,000 hits weekly. While this number sounds impressive, there’s a big difference between a hit and a visit, and an even bigger difference between a visit and a conversion.

A hit is generally defined as a server request for each item on a specific Web page. This includes images, animations, and downloads. In addition, when a browser loads a page, it also loads any components that page uses, such as style sheets, JavaScript files, or rollover images.

Opening one page of your Web site can result in many hits. You might be surprised to find out how many items it takes for a browser to render each page of your Web site.

People who use the word “hits” are often thinking about the amount of traffic to their site. The number of visitors and/or visits is a much better metric.

A visit is defined as a person who lands on a page of your Web site, navigates to other pages, and eventually leaves. This whole process is counted as one visit. This metric makes more sense because you can report how many visitors you had to your Web site and how many items were requested by the server from each page of your site.

Other metrics to track related to visits: new visitors and returning visitors. These metrics help us analyze how many “new” visitors you have compared to those who are returning for another visit.

Finally, conversions represent the number of visitors to your Web site who completed a pre-defined goal or action. If you sell widgets on your Web site, then conversions could be defined as the number of visitors who made a purchase.

This is the most important metric to understand because it tells you how much value and overall benefit your Web site is actually delivering. For more basic definitions, check out Frank Watson’s article on “Tracking and Analytics 101.”

Page Views and Time on Site

Visits can also be broken down into parts that help us learn more about visitor behavior. During each visit, you can see how many pages of your site were viewed and how much time the visitor spent on them.

Time on site is sometimes referred to as “stickiness.” In general, you want visitors to stick to your site and stay as long as possible (and visit as many pages as possible). With the right setup and analytics program, you can see which pages the visitor looked at and in what order.

Hopefully you’re beginning to see what a Web analytics strategy can offer you. These simple metrics should teach you a lot about what your visitors are doing, so you can make the necessary course corrections on your site to help increase visitors, pages views, and time spent on the site.

These basics of Web analytics should set you on the right path. For more information on Web analytics, check out the Web Analytics Association.

Next up: more Web analytics principles and reviews of some analytics programs.

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