Google Analytics

You might not be able to read the minds of the people who visit your company’s website (don’t worry, there will be an app for that soon enough), but you can still come pretty damn close.

Web analytics lets you collect and analyze big ol’ heaps of data about how users interact with your website, see which features have increased user engagement and which ones need improvement.

Here’s a brief introduction to the (massive and complex) field of Web analytics, and how it can get you the biggest bang out of your eBuck.

A good Web analytics tool can make a real difference in how your business develops its online marketing strategies. You’ll be able to see what drives traffic to your website, and what people actually seem to like on those pages.

**Why use web analytics programs? **

Google Analytics Referring Sites SnapshotAn analytics program can show you how many people visited your website over a specific amount of time, how long they stayed, and how many pages they actually saw.

But it gets even better. Analytics programs can tell you how and from where people arrived at your website, either through a search or by clicking an ad or link. If they ran a search, you can see what terms they used that made your website appear in the results.

Analytics basically removes the guess work in developing your online marketing strategy. Since you’ll be able to see which products or services that you paid for are actually driving people to your website, you’ll know how to better spend your advertising budget in the future.

**What data is important? **

Making good use of your analytics data is also about making people stay longer.

Pierre DeBois of Web analytics firm Zimana has a few tricks for analyzing what people are actually doing on your website.

GA Funnel ReportIt’s important to see where people come from, but you also want to know where they’re leaving from. A funnel analysis can tell you which page is your leaky valve through which everyone’s getting out, and how you can fix that leak.

In the early days of the Internet, everyone was focused on getting “hits.” Today most experts agree that this number, and the term, means absolutely jack.

Instead focus on segmentation analysis, where you can figure out what kinds of people (segments) are visiting your website. This helps you better meet the needs of the different people interested in your business.

Analytics programs usually log what operating system and browser a visitor is using. When combining that with your funnel analysis and bounce rate (the number of visitors who land at your page but “bounce” away rather continue viewing), it might appear that certain mobile operating systems or browsers don't play that well with your current website. Functionality checking can help you figure out when it might be time to finally develop a mobile website or app.

With great power comes great responsibility.

But just like Uncle Ben said, with great power comes great responsibility. The incredible volume of data can make it easy for some to run away with misleading conclusions, as Ed Freyfogle warns in a post for TechCrunch Europe.

Beware of boiling everything down into an average, especially types of people. Numbers can lie or be wrong too, so don’t put blind faith into one system of analysis.

Web analytics can provide you with a lot of insights, but it can’t tell you everything. Keeping a steady inflow of qualitative data is still important for understanding how to be successful, online or off.

Above all else, you still need humans to run machines and interpret the data. Make sure you have people who can handle the numbers and actually turn them into actions.

For more information, check out this introduction to web analytics by Avinash Kaushik, a best selling analytics author and digital marketing evangelist for Google, or the UX Booth’s Complete Beginner’s Guide to Web Analytics and Measurement.