IT community: Analysis not Paralysis

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Understanding how members of the public use your website is essential in ensuring that it’s really working for you. Jeremy Anderson from digital design agency Obergine looks at how and why you should get to grips with Google Analytics

How to measure website performance

It is absolutely essential to measure the effectiveness of your website and of your marketing activities to ensure that they are delivering business value. There are many ‘web analytics’ tools available to help you do this, but the most popular is Google Analytics…

What is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is a free and sophisticated web analytics tool that enables businesses to understand website traffic sources, how visitors explored websites and what they did
and didn’t find useful.

Crucially, it also allows businesses to measure the effectiveness of their digital marketing activities across social media, search engines, email and AdWords campaigns – making return on investment (ROI) easy to measure.

For example, you can look at areas of your site that are losing visitors and concentrate on improving content and functionality to increase site ‘stickiness’.

Google Analytics reporting areas

First time users can find the reporting interface quite daunting; so it’s key to understand what the reporting areas offer.

The ‘conversions’ section enables businesses to monitor the overall health of the website by reporting on business goals and e-commerce transactions.
Goals are valuable, in allowing you to monitor desired user responses, such as visiting a specific page, filling in a form, downloading a document or visiting a certain number of pages.

To benefit from these reports, it’s essential that operators consider the business goals of the website, map these to desired website actions and configure them as ‘goals’ within Google Analytics. This is a straightforward task that can easily be achieved using the Google Analytics administration interface which is well supported by easy-to-understand documentation and examples.

‘Audience’ reporting allows businesses to understand visitor volumes, page views, pages viewed per visit, time spent on site, bounce rates, browse technologies being used, for example, tablets, mobiles, browsers and the proportion of new visitors vs returning visitors.

Generally, it is desirable for visitor volumes, pages per visit and time spent on site to be high but bounce rates to be low (as bounce rates indicate areas of the site that are losing visitors).

Getting started with Google Analytics

  • Visit and follow the instructions in order to get the measurement tags applied to your website.
  •  Consider the goals that the website needs to deliver upon and configure the associated goals within Google Analytics.  
  •  Make sure that you get the IP address of your physical business location(s). This will enable you to set up filters so that website traffic from your business location to your website is excluded from the reports, improving overall reporting accuracy.
  •  If you have an e-commerce website, speak to your technical team to discuss how to get e-commerce tracking tags applied to the website, to keep tabs on activity.
  • Monitor trends not absolutes! It can be very time-consuming to try and understand minor discrepancies in statistics so comparing trends rather than absolutes can save you a lot of time and effort.

Traffic sources
The ‘traffic sources’ reporting area is one of the most important areas within Google Analytics as it provides intelligence about how people get to your website – whether this be direct, referring sites (ie sites that link to your website), search engines or digital marketing initiatives.

This section allows businesses to explore the relationship between website goal performance and traffic sources – enabling them to act swiftly to change underperforming sources or invest in better performing traffic sources.

For example, if you are running a banner advertising campaign that is delivering large amounts of website traffic but no sales, then the campaign can be stopped with confidence.

However, if the reports reveal that there is a keyword phrase that has a high goal conversion rate but has low traffic levels then a case can be made for developing further content around the successful keyword and increase the associated traffic volumes.

‘Content’ reports allow businesses to understand content popularity, the pages that people are first landing on, the last page that they see before they leave the site, and how they are searching and navigating the website.

For example, if there is a landing page with a high bounce rate then it is important for a business owner to take action, reviewing the page design and content with the goal of minimising the bounce-rate to 30% or less.

It is also useful to look out for pages with high exit rates – particularly if they are integral to purchasing or contact forms. For e-commerce websites it is worrying if the checkout form has a high bounce rate as people are abandoning the purchase process before buying anything!

Key Google Analytics terminology

  • Page views: measures how many times a page (or pages) is viewed. This indicates how busy the website is.
  •  Visits: a series of page views by a single visitor – also known as a user journey.
  •  Pages/visit: the number of pages viewed during a website visit – a useful measure of assessing how engaging the website is.
  •  Visitors: a uniquely identified individual that has undertaken one or more visits. This indicates the popularity of a particular website.
  •  Visitor loyalty: is measured by the number of visits per visitor and indicates how sticky the website is.
  •  Referrers/referrals: identifies how the visitor happened to arrive at your website and includes other websites, search engines or book-marked/direct referrals.
  •  Landing pages: the page(s) where a visitor starts their visit (or user journey).
  •  Exit pages: the last page that a visitor spent time on before leaving the website.
  •  % Exit: for a given page, is the number of exits divided by page views. A high % exit is a cause for concern if the page in question is the start or mid-way through a user journey.
  •  Bounce rate: the percentage of those visitors that end their visit on the same page as they entered. Pages with high bounce rates are cause for concern as this indicates the page in question is not engaging to the target audience.

Is it worth it?

Yes. With a bit of work you should be able to identify opportunities to improve website ‘conversion rates’, overall content quality and website stickiness. Certainly, the application of identified improvement opportunities will increase website ROI. Not bad for a free tool! 

About the author
Jeremy Anderson is Digital Director of Obergine – an award-winning web design, digital marketing and branding agency that specialises in the creation of multi-channel marketing and business solutions.

Obergine clients include Nielsen, Concha y Toro, Oxford University Press, University of Oxford, Cono Sur Wines, Unipart and the University of Reading.

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