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You wouldn’t hire a new salesperson, train him, give him a customer route and never check in with him, yet that’s exactly what companies do when they set up Websites without analytics. Defined as the measurement, collection, analysis, and reporting of Internet data for the purposes of better understanding and optimizing Web usage, analytics have become a critical element for companies looking to maximize their Internet marketing investments.
“For a long time, companies didn’t pay attention to what was taking place on their Websites, and instead just measured visits, which really doesn’t transfer to the bottom line,” says Jerome Shaver, director of analytics and intelligence for ThomasNet, a New York firm that helps companies increase sales and expand into new markets via the Web. “Using Web analytics, business owners can understand the value that their Websites bring to their companies.”
Web analytics tools track a site’s statistics, allowing the business owner to see how many people are looking at which page, what sites those visitors are coming from and who those users are. With this information in hand, companies can measure traffic to their sites, get a grasp on their visitors’ wants and needs, and measure click-through rates for new content, features, and offers.
Small businesses have a wide choice of Web analytic tools. Some are free to download and easy to use, while others come with upfront and/or monthly fees and a longer learning curve. Google Analytics, for example, is free for users and takes just a couple of hours to install and configure. The program tracks how often visitors come to your site, conversions across multiple pages, visitor behavior, and the percentage of people who click each link on a given page.
Other vendors that offer free services include Webalizer (which provides a free “hit” counter) or AWStats (generates advanced Web, streaming, ftp or mail server statistics in a graphical format). For companies in search of deeper analytics, there are ClickTracks and WebTrends (both of their hosted packages start at $25 a month) and Omniture’s SiteCatalyst ($1,000 a month and up for packages).
What you get out of these options varies according to vendor, says Patrick Schwerdtfeger, a Walnut Creek, Calif.-based expert in online branding and social media and author of Webify Your Business. A user of Google Analytics, Schwerdtfeger says companies can configure the system to deliver a PDF file on a specific schedule.
Once that file arrives, business owners should zero in on a few key metrics, says Schwerdtfeger. The page with the highest bounce rate — the number of people who leave the site from that particular page — should be given top priority, he says. “Immediately look at how you can improve that page and make it better for visitors. Do this on a monthly basis and you’ll raise your bottom line every single time.”
Shaver says companies should ask themselves these six questions when poring over their Website analytics: How many visitors come to my site? How long did they stay? What pages did they view? How many took an action? Where did the visitors come from? What key phrases did they use?
“The answers to these questions can tell you a lot about the effectiveness of your Website and your Web marketing efforts,” says Shaver, who adds that firms can up the value of their analytics by tying the metrics to specific business objectives. “Too many people focus on the numbers for the sake of the numbers, without relating those figures to the health and wellbeing of their businesses.”
Web Analytics Tips
— Before you invest in an expensive package, check out one or more of the free Web analytics programs.
— Focus on a few key metrics (such as bounce rates) that will help your company’s bottom line.
— Schedule your Web analytics program to email reports automatically, without your intervention.