You've got your website up online - a blog, sales page, landing page, corporate site, etc. - there on the Internet just waiting for all those visitors! You've worked hard getting the layout and branding just right and it looks great. You've researched keywords, determined what people are searching for and created a stream of new and fresh content you believe they want. You've even implemented social sharing buttons and widgets across the site, which at a glance tell you what pages and content people like and are sharing.
However, do you really know anything about who's accessing your site, from where, how frequently and what content they are really consuming? Do you have enough information to make the necessary changes to your site in order to improve readability, usability or even search engine rankings?
If you answered 'no' to any of these then clearly you're going to need some help. This is where Web Analytics software comes in.
I know you've heard of Web Analytics, but do you really understand what it means?
Let me start then by answering this common question and defining what Web Analytics is and is not...
What is Web Analytics?
Web Analytics is often confused with website statistics and traffic monitoring, but there is a difference.
I'll start by providing you with the most basic definition.
Simply put Web Analytics is the collection, measurement, analysis and reporting of your website data for the purposes of understanding web usage. The idea being that once you understand the detailed usage of your site you can then take action and optimize various aspects to achieve better results.
Where did Web Analytics start out?
Let me give you a bit of history...
At the dawn of the Internet site owners measured the popularity of their pages by how many hits they were receiving. Things have moved on since then and we now understand hits don't provide any useful information about who is using a site and how. Nobody says "my site got 100,000 hits last month" anymore - the number is meaningless.
As the Internet evolved site owners began looking at their website statistics, which included simple facts such as number of site visits, unique visitors, most accessed pages and duration spent on a page, to name but a few of the metrics. This data was provided as reports and predominantly technical in nature. There was no real analysis performed and reports didn't provide real business insight.
So Web Analytics is not analyzing page hits and website usage statistics alone, although the data is used in the analysis.
Now we have Web Analytics that can take our understanding of how websites are used to a whole new level. Not only can we get reports on the site statistics but also a more useful analysis such as visitor demographics, how long visitors spend on specific sections of pages, where they are actually clicking, how far they scroll up and down the pages, even where they move their mouse cursor. If they've shared or liked your content using social media plug-ins on your site their personal details can be collected and factored into the analysis too.
Should you implement Web Analytics on your own site?
I understand from speaking with people that many site owners are still failing to implement analytics tools on their site.
Why is this?
I don't know for sure but perhaps the perception is it's too difficult, both technically and also when using the reports and graphs to determine what should change. Or maybe site owners simply don't believe it's necessary, particularly if it's a new or small site.
I've learned from my own professional experiences over the years that collecting data from day one is a good practice. Even if I'm not going to use the data straight away at least it's being collected and ready for the time when I do need it. If you've not already done so I suggest you implement Web Analytics today.
There will come a time in the future where you will need to perform analyses on your own site's usage and having the historical data over many months or even years will give you even greater insight.
Notice how I use the words "will need to" and not "may need to" - there will be a point in the future that you'll need to analyze your site's usage. You'll find that you're not making as much money from your blog as you anticipated, your sales page isn't converting as well as it once did or people are no longer signing up for your e-mail newsletter. There are a multitude of scenarios I've not even listed where analyzing your sites usage is going to be useful.
If you implemented a toolset from the outset then you'll have all that historical data to feed into the analysis. You'll be able to determine what's working, what isn't including the possible reasons why.
If you're not getting the conversions you expect then Web Analytics will definitely help.
An example of where Web Analytics can really help
To illustrate the importance of Web Analytics let me take you through an example.
Part of my monetization strategy is to embed affiliate links within articles on my blog for products and services I recommend. The articles and information they provide are the most important part and the affiliate links secondary.
I've implemented a WordPress plugin that takes care of affiliate link management and gives me the ability to automatically add affiliate links within an article and across the entire site based on one or more defined keywords. Just add a new affiliate link, punch in the words the link should be added to and bingo, you've easily monetized your site.
OK, so I've added the affiliate links, but what next?
If I write a long article, say some 2,000 words and there's a dozen affiliate links for the same product how do I know which one is responsible for a referral?
I'd have to create a unique affiliate link for each and every keyword and that would take up a lot of time. Now multiply that by each product and you can see that attempting to track affiliate links in this way is not feasible.
This is where Web Analytics really comes into its own.
There are products available that provide the capability to actually visualize where users are clicking on your pages and posts. Using this feature you'd be able to see which affiliate links are really working and being clicked on and those that are not.
Now that's incredibly powerful isn't it?
You'll know what trigger words and sentences are sparking the visitor to click on a link and you can then take this knowledge and adapt it for other articles. Maybe it's specific words you're using each time, maybe it's something in the formatting, whatever it is will be more easily understood using this sort of tool.
Comments and Final Thoughts
You may think you've created the most amazing website within your chosen niche, but if you don't have an analysis of your website's usage you won't know for sure.
I'm sure you can think of specific scenarios where implementing Web Analytics will give you the in-depth understanding you need to help you optimize your site and achieve the best possible results.
A product I created and used to monitor not only my websites analytics but also spy on what my leading competitors are doing with their websites is Web Detective.
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