Web Analytics 101

Where are your online prospects and customers coming from? Where are they going? What are they buying (or not buying)? What does it all mean? Everything a current or future customer does during a visit to your website can be interpreted, woven into a rich tapestry of behavioral patterns that you can use to course-correct your site, your marketing strategies, or even your whole business - thanks to web analytics.

The term ‘web analytics’ refers to a broad assembly of online tools that capture raw data about your website visitors’ browsing habits and then assemble that data into clear, understandable results, usually through a graphic interface. A web analytics tool can take a seemingly random or meaningless pile of statistics and turn them into elegant graphs, charts, and other visualisations that makes instant sense to the viewer.

A variety of tool options

You’ll find no shortage of web analytics tools to choose from. No web analytics tool currently comes close to matching the popularity of Google Analytics, not least because it works so seamlessly with the world’s most important search engine. In fact, Inc. states that more than half of the world’s top 10,000 websites rely on this free service to track site usage, visitor churn, page performance, frequency or returns, and other valuable patterns. Yahoo Analytics is also free, and it gives viewers a little more control and detail than its Google counterpart.

Beyond these general tools, however, you can also employ programs that can dig deeper into specific functions. For example, Quaraloo (formerly Kissinsights from Kissmetrics) provides questionnaire interfaces in which visitors can respond to polls or ask questions. Clicktale, a paid service, focuses on visitors’ click-through behavior from the beginning to the end of their online stay - showing exactly how far they got along the route toward a sale.

The data dashboard

The sheer wealth and richness of all this incoming information would be overwhelming and perhaps even meaningless without some way of visualising it all at a glance. That’s why social media professionals have come to rely heavily on data dashboards. A data dashboard is just what it sounds like - a collection of critical metrics delivered in easy-to-understand imagery such as charts, graphs, and dollar amounts.

Thanks to the advent of the data dashboard, it’s now possible to monitor the behaviours and traffic of all your social media and website traffic on a single screen, employing a variety of widgets instead of a single, usually limited application interface. From a social media standpoint, that means you can track mentions on popular message boards, ‘likes’ or ‘favorites,’ Facebook interactions, retweets, LinkedIn click-throughs to your company website, and a variety of other data that shows you exactly how your social media setup is performing for you.

What’s next?

What does the future hold for web analytics? Google clearly believes that the integration of offline and online data is key; in May 2014, the company announced the expansion of its ‘Dimension Widening’ feature to give users even greater ability to feed brick-and-mortar sales details into their Google Analytics machine.

The biggest game-changer that remains to be exploited, however, is probably the shift toward shopping from mobile devices. Econsultancy notes that while 50 percent of companies can track what proportion of their traffic comes from mobile search, only 12 percent of them strongly agree that they can track their customers across different devices - and only 7 percent of them express a strong understanding of the differences between their customer’s tablet use and smartphone use.

Last but not least, wearable mobile devices will doubtless throw a whole new money wrench into the number of ways businesses receive valuable data - one more reason data dashboards will only become more and more critical for parsing all this information. However you look at it web analytics are more important to your long-term success than ever before.