Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Google Analytics Explained

Here is some of the feedback you get from these statistics, with explanations of how to act on it:

  • A page is very popular. Think about why that might be the case. Was your article especially well-written? Was your information hitting on a recent trend? Were you offering a great product? Knowing the reason for this might inspire some changes on the page, or give you ideas for new material elsewhere on your site.

  • A specific search query results in a lot of people finding your site via Google. Take a look at the keywords people enter, and check out what page they land on when coming from Google—and think about the first impression you're making on them. As the saying goes, your visitors spend 99% of their time on sites other than yours. Maybe it's time to emphasize a link, or add an introductory blurb somewhere on the side.

  • Your home page got heavy traffic yesterday. Check the referrer statistics to find out who linked to you, and track the source of the traffic to find commentary and feedback about your site. React to the feedback, if needed.

  • Your home page got heavy traffic yesterday, but you don't see a spike from any specific referring site. Perhaps your home page address received a mention in a radio or TV show!

  • People spend mere seconds on most pages, but a full minute on one other page. Compare the pages in question to find out why there's such a big time difference. Also, use your server log to trace the path they took through your site, retracing your visitors' steps.

  • Your server was sluggish on Monday and you'd like to know why. Check your stats to look for a peak. Maybe there's a server script with suboptimal performance that needs rewriting?

  • Many people filling out your order form suddenly leave at form page 2 out of 3. Maybe there's something on page 2 they didn't expect, so check it out and fix it if needed.

  • What, traffic is dropping? Maybe it's time to take a break from checking stats, and get the word out again—by contacting webmasters, talking to readers or customers, getting involved with the community, or adding great content to your site.

In other words, all of these data points are tools equipping you to do a good job, whether you consider yourself a webmaster, an e-merchant, a news blogger, a web artist, or anything else or in-between. On the following pages, you will find hacks that could improve your mastering of this tool—and thus, your site. Additionally, there are tips and tricks that can help you market your site.

Getting Started with Google Analytics

To log in to Google Analytics (http://www.google.com/analytics/), you need a Google Account


Analytics makes heavy use of Flash, so if your company network happens to block content for the Flash plug-in, give your sysop a friendly nudge as a reminder that Flash can be used for more than just online games (as a bonus, once your sysop is convinced, you will then be able to play those online games, too).

After logging in, you can sign up for a new web site. Enter your URL and provide an account name. You will then be provided with a tracking code: a JavaScript snippet that you need to add to your site's HTML template. Copy and paste it as directed into your system, and check back later to verify that Google Analytics has detected your tracking code.

Once you've set up your site, you'll start out on your dashboard. The dashboard can be configured so that you will immediately see those elements that are of most interest to you. For instance, I configure my site's statistics so that I can immediately see the top content by title, the top referring sites (that is, sites that link to the site, a key source of visitors), and the top keywords used to find the site.