Using Web Site Analytics Data

by Krishna on May 20, 2007

I have previously blogged about Google Analytics (“Experience with Google Analytics”, “Google Analytics Rebooted”) in various posts. I have been using it for several months now for my website and blog. Initially meant to be just a site visitor counter, it has evolved into providing many other pieces of useful information. I would like to say that other analytical tools may also provide such information, but since I am most familiar with Google Analytics, my primary reference will be that.

The fundamental benefit of using analytical data is that it is your data — real numbers that are relevant to you. You may read highly authoritative reports about market studies on the web, but you really don’t know whether those same numbers apply to you. For example, a report says that 5% of people who visit a product summary page click to view its details. That is a totally useless statistic to you, because you don’t know if that is relevant to your industry, your product types, your price range, etc. When you cater to a niche, having your own data is very important.

Benjamin Disraeli once said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” The problem with statistics is accentuated when the data used to provide them is in someone else’s possession. When you own your data, you can make your own determination about facts without relying on other experts.

Website and blogs, including not-for-profit ones, exist for other people. Let us be honest here. If someone didn’t want other people to visit their online content, they would make it password-protected or not even put it on the web. Also, the idea is that the more visitors, the better — since it makes the content popular. The more time they spend on the website, the better — since it allows each visitor to understand the content better. And so on.

Analytical data provides answers to important questions to aid in this purpose. Here are some of those questions?

  1. How many pages do people view per visit? Which pages encourage them to explore the site more? What is special about those pages? Is it because they have meaningful content that matters to the visitors and makes them want more? Or do they have relevant links to other pages? How is the content presented on that page? For example, I noticed that placing a prominent link on my review of Louis Gerstner's book led to people going on to read more of my book reviews.
  2. Another related question is which pages are more popular? Why are they more popular than other pages? If you didn’t intend for those pages to receive so many hits, do you need to reconsider the target audience? For example, I noticed that the puzzle pages on my website are very popular although most of the content is on other pages. This may mean presenting the other information in a different, more user-interactive format.
  3. From what geographic locations do people visit your site? If a significant number come from non-English-speaking countries, is the content accessible to them? Is the content offensive in some way (like the type of ads displayed)? What are the localization needs? Do you need a translation software? For example, after noticing that many of my visitors did not come from English countries, I added an AltaVista translation widget.
  4. What are the main sources of user visits? If there are many direct visitors, it means that people are either visiting your site by entering the URL or by a bookmark. This greatly emphasizes the need to be careful about breaking links to existing pages when you redesign the physical structure of your website. If traffic comes from search engines, what should you do to make your pages more visible to them? For example, consider using Google Webmaster, Yahoo! Site Explorer, etc. Pinging sites such as Technorati and other blog search engines also brings more visitors.
  5. To understand the technical needs of the website, you should look at the operating systems, browsers, screen resolutions and JavaScript/Java/Flash support of your visitors. Sometimes, your actual audience may have different needs than the intended audience. For example, a technical site may have a significant number of users who are unable to play video because of their internal security guidelines. It may therefore need to provide such users a simpler version of the content using text and images.

There are literally hundreds of questions you can ask by looking at the various facets of visitor data. Of course, because of time and effort constraints, you will need to prioritize the important ones and keep looking at them constantly. But as you start observing other minor reports, you will notice trends and patterns that will allow you to continuously tweak the content, layout and organization of your website or blog, inviting more users as well as making it more useful to them.

{ 1 comment }

Professional Web Design Company USA November 5, 2008 at 11:42 pm

I use Google Analytics along with the Google webmaster tools that help me to fine tune my site. Your 3rd point about visitors from a particular geographic location was an eye opener. I use this information to know my visitors' base but adding something like a translation wizard never passed my mind.Thanks a lot for sharing the info.

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