Clicks and Pageviews and Bounce Rates — Oh My! Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Analytics

by Lisa Bradshaw

lions and tigers and bears oh my

You don't need red, ruby slippers to learn from your numbers.

Good news: web analytics can give you lots of data about what’s going on “behind the curtain” of your website.

The bad news?

Unless that data is translated into business information, all you have is endless counts, percentages, charts, and tables.

Yawn. That can be boring and a little scary at the same time. But it doesn’t need to be. Here’s a quick look at some of the business information you can glean from one of the most basic pieces of analytics data: traffic source.

Find Your Most Valuable Visitors
Knowing how people got to your website helps you make informed decisions about where to concentrate your marketing efforts to increase traffic to your site. But it’s not just about getting lots of people to the site; you’ll want to know which traffic sources yield the most valuable visitors. Where are your conversions coming from?

“Conversion” simply means that the visitor did something you wanted them to do on the site, whether it’s joining your mailing list, filling out an inquiry form, making a purchase, or just viewing certain pages. All of those things can be tracked and cross-filtered in Google Analytics to reveal the sources of visits that have good conversion rates. These are the people you want to find.

To put it in more concrete form, analyzing traffic sources might reveal that the little mention and text link you got in an industry newsletter pulled in more high-value visitors than the banner ad you ran for two months. Or maybe a paid listing in one online directory brought you 500 visitors, while the same kind of listing on a different property brought in only 200 visitors.

But wait, which group of visitors converted better? If the group of 500 didn’t do what you wanted them to do once they got to your website, they may be less valuable than the ones from the smaller group who actually filled out forms or engaged more fully with your site. Keeping an eye on this type of information over time – watching trends – is one way analytics can help you decide where to put your marketing resources.

Look for Hidden Opportunities
You might also discover potential customers from sources you’d never have imagined targeting.

We recently saw visits to one of our clients’ websites coming from a link on a quilting club blog. One of their members had watched a video on the client’s website and wanted to share it with her club, so included the link in a comment she made on the blog. The result was that a dozen or so of her quilting friends visited the company’s site to watch the video.

The same thing happened with a blog for Texas bass fishing enthusiasts. (We were fortunate in that the video is very funny and has broad appeal, as do this client’s services.) Knowing about odd little sources of web traffic may not change your marketing plans, but you never know when you’ll discover a valuable target market that hadn’t occurred to you.

One thing is certain: do not discount the power of email marketing to drive traffic to your website, especially if you’re marketing to the 55 and over population. We consistently see email as a major source of traffic to websites – from the clients’ e-newsletters and marketing emails and from links shared among friends via email.

This is no surprise, given our focus on the mature market. In fact, a new comScore study on U.S. consumers’ evolving email behaviors confirmed that people 55 and older used web-based email 15% more in 2010 than they did in 2009. (Younger consumers are still active users of email, too, accessing it more frequently from mobile devices.)

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask…
Regardless of the medium, traffic source is just the tip if the iceberg when it comes to understanding visitor intent and behavior. But analytics for analytics sake, while interesting to the analysts, is of little use until it is translated into actionable business insights.

So, whether you have an in-house analytics team, use an outside service, or are just beginning to understand what analytics can tell you, don’t be afraid to ask “What does that mean to my business?”

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