Google Analytics

Google Analytics (GA) is a free programme from Google that allows traffic to a website to be monitored and analysed. A vast amount of data is gathered and broken down. Key tracking data includes how many visitors a site has, what visitors are looking at, how long visitors stay on a site, what the bounce rate is and what the conversion rate is.

GA collates how many visitors a site has over a given period. This is further broken down to how many are new and how many are returning visitors. GA breaks down where traffic comes from by country, providing a map of the world with the percentage of users per country. This can then be additionally broken down by city.  It can also display which browser the majority of visitors to a site are using. This can be incredibly useful for determining if older browsers need to be catered for as a priority. It also reports on which device is being most widely used to view a site e.g. desktop, iPad, mobile etc. allowing a site to be optimised for the most widely used. GA is able to report on how visitors got to a site. Did they come directly by using the web address? Were they directed from another site and if so, which site? Did they come via a search engine and if so what keywords did they use? Enabling the webmaster to see what marketing strategies have been most effective; whether it is their keyword strategy or Ad words and so on. There is a site overlay function that displays what traffic different parts of a site have received by hovering the mouse over it. Informing the webmaster where key information should be placed on a page in order to increase the chances of it being read.

GA illustrates which pages are most popular and what the average number of pages a visitor to a site looks at. There is even a function called visitor flow that demonstrates the path that visitors take through a website; indicating whether the navigation is a help or hindrance to achieving certain goals. It presents the average time each visitor spends on the site as a whole as well as on particular pages. It’s worth noting that the way that GA does this is by calculating the time between clicking on two different pages on a site. So the time spent on the last page that a user looks at cannot be calculated. It allows the webmaster to see what the bounce rate is i.e. how many people are only looking at one page on a website before immediately exiting. This is therefore less useful on blog sites as typically people just read the latest post. However in other cases it might suggest that the keywords are misleading or the homepage isn’t engaging. GA displays a timeline that not only compares one month with the preceding month(s) but breaks down how many visits a site received on any given day. A particular period in time can be selected and compared with that same period the previous year or that particular time last month and so on. As of November 2011 GA also provides real time analytics giving live updates of visitor activity.

GA facilitates the setting up of goals and displays what percentage of visitors reach a particular goal; whether that’s buying something, looking at a particular article or filling out a registration form. Custom reports can be designed using filters to focus on a particular dimension within GA e.g. focus on a particular location that people are visiting from and analyse time spent on site, bounce rate etc. Enabling analysis as to whether particular campaigns are working better than others. All reports can be easily exported and emailed. Goal funnels map out the path to conversion enabling analysis of when and where a process is abandoned by a visitor. Suggesting parts of the process that may be too long or unconvincing e.g. can a visitor see how far through the process they are; does a site look secure at the point of entering payment details and so on.

The above is a breakdown of some of the key features of GA and by no means an exhaustive list. All the data is displayed in a variety of easy to read graphs. It is easily installed on any website through signing up for a GA account by providing an email and web address. A short piece of JavaScript is provided that then needs to be placed in every page or linked to in the <head>. A filter can then be added to remove the administrators’ computer from the analysis ensuring that the data isn’t skewed by the person running the website.

GA can be linked to a site’s Google Ad Words via the Ad Words account. It is then advisable to set up goals and assign monetary values to them. This might not be suitable for every site but it enables analytics to show return on investment and what the goal conversion rate is. If linked to Ad Words GA is then also able to show how many times an ad was shown compared to how many times it was clicked on. The total cost of the traffic and the average cost per click and compare it to how much was made from those clicks, giving an overall return on investment. GA can go so far as to break down return per click and return on investment down to the keyword used. This can be a fantastic guide as to what keywords should and shouldn’t be used in a campaign. It sends automatic alerts if there is a sudden spike in the number of click throughs from an ad and custom alerts can be set up e.g.  To monitor traffic from a particular campaign or site and inform the webmaster when a particular target has been reached.

For Ecommerce sites you need to add a short script to your ecommerce transaction page in addition to the standard Google analytics tracking code. Sales can then be tracked and analysed in a number of different ways. Visits to purchase reports can be produced calculating how many visits a visitor generated before they converted to a sale. This can be compared with time to purchase reports to better understand how much time passes between a visitor’s initial visit and their “conversion” visit. If visitors tend to visit several times before purchasing, it may be worth getting them to register with an email address so that targeted marketing can be sent.

There are lots of other web analytics tools out there. Chart Beat is an alternative free analytics option. A key feature is the real time analytics which constantly update. This is particularly useful for seeing the immediate impact of new blogs or tweets on traffic to a site, beyond this it’s necessity largely depends on how ‘of the moment’ a site is. This is less of a pull away from GA since they also introduced real time analytics towards the end of last year. Another key feature of Chart Beat is Scroll Mapping which enables the webmaster to see how far down a site a visitor scrolled and where they paused/ focused their attention. Hitstats is another free service which offers all of the basic functions of GA but doesn’t appear to enable such easy reporting and comparisons or the benefit of linking to Ad Words. Some reviews also suggest that it is not as accurate as GA. Woopra is a pay for option, $12 – $150 per month depending on which package is chosen. A few of the key features are: that it enables the monitoring of multiple websites simultaneously in a tabbed window; It can provide an audible alert when a particular tagged visitor returns to the site; it can send a notification to a mobile phone each time a sale is made along with the customer name, product and amount of sale. Woopra has been developed by former Google employees and received some very good reviews. Overall it seems so have slightly clearer interfaces than GA but doesn’t appear to do anything special enough to warrant a fee unless analysis is needed for a large company with several websites.

So does Google Analytics improve websites? Yes, if you use it properly says Steve Chou author of the website My Wife Quit Her Job which offers advice on getting started in Ecommerce. Steve and his wife set up their online business and as sales were coming in they assumed their website was doing a good job. It was only upon inspection of their GA that they realised they were losing a huge number of customers at key parts of the online selling process. For example by setting up a sales/ goal funnel report they discovered their cart abandonment rate was huge, particularly at the point when people went to put in their card details. This inspired them to add testimonials from satisfied customers to the side bar of the payment page and increase the number of security badges and trust logos. Almost instantly their sales increased as customers felt more comfortable handing over their details. Through GA they also discovered that customers were dropping off due a poor search results function and at the point when they were asked to register an account with the website. Again both of these things could be easily rectified by loosening the search terms and making registration optional. These improvements increased sales drastically. Without web analytics they would never have known how easily they could improve sales on their website.

When used intelligently Google Analytics can be an incredibly powerful tool for guiding a webmaster as to how to improve a site; both in terms of user experience and increasing the goal conversion rate. All websites should take advantage of this free, easy to use tool to further develop their website.


Content Management – Revenue Generation

5 Things I learnt this week

  • It’s important to consider if advertising is appropriate for your site. It may well not be.
  • The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) offers voluntary guidelines and standard practices for web advertising.
  • Freemuim model = offers stuff for free and then charges for a premium version of the product e.g. Spotify
  • Google Adsense is a highly contextual and high paying advertising network .
  • Ad management software can be used to control what ads are shown where and for how long.

Content Management – Analytics & Competitor Research

5 Things I learnt this week

  • Competitors are websites who rank highly in search engine results. You can find these by doing key word research. Or by using programmes such as Quake or Google Trends to compare competitor websites in terms of traffic and search behaviour.
  • Google analytics is thought to be about 95% accurate.
  • Google Webmaster Tools gives reports on how google views your site indicating the success of you on site SEO.
  • Split testing can test two different designs for a site and tell you which achieved the most conversions to your goal  – Google Webmaster Optimiser can enable you to do this.
  • You can set up Google Alerts to let you know when your website or someone else’s is being spoken about on the web e.g. blogs, forums, articles.


Content Management – eCommerce

5 Things I learnt this week

  • The top 4 things we buy online are
    1) Entertainment
    2) Home-ware
    3) Clothes
    4) Travel
  • The average conversion rate is 2.3%
  • There are good free eCommerce CMSs in particular Magento Community Edition
  • Key ways to improve conversion rates are:
    • Targeted marketing
    • Gain a social media following
    • Usability – make sure the search function works
    • Include clear images from lots of angles or videos where appropriate
    • Offers/ promotions
    • Clear, easy returns policy
  • Key ways to decrease cart abandonment:
    • Progress indicator bar
    • Remove distractions, now is probably not the time to advertise other products
    • Easy to edit cart
    • Post code address finder
    • Optional registration
    • Include thumbnail of what is being purchased

Content Management – Marketing

3 Things I learnt about Key Words

  • Google Adwords offers a free service that can tell you the search popularity  of key words. However is less thourough than the pay for service word tracker.
  • Best to use them in titles, link labels and the first line of the 1st paragraph on each page.
  • Advised to create a list with a mix of both general and very specific search terms.

3 Things I learnt about Sponsored Links

  • Google Ad words is a pay per click service where you can set a maximum daily spend.
  • It comes with complex features such as location targeting.
  • 50% of people don’t trust paid for suggestions and go with “organic” search results

3 Things I learnt about On Site SEO

  • Use key words for links not ‘click here’.
  • Use hyphens instead of spaces for file names to that search engines can read them.
  • Update content regularly.

Content Management – Content Stategy

3 Things I learnt about User Generated Content

  • User generated content tends to be comment and review websites. It therefore can be incredibly difficult to validate and moderate the content. Big sites often rely on users reporting poor/ offensive content.
  • Opens the opportunity for competitors to be very critical under the guise of a disgruntled customer.
  • Only 1% of the online community tend to contribute to these sites the majority of which are 22 and under potentially giving a very skewed impression of what is popular.

3 Things I learnt about Style, Tone and Personality

  • People tend to treat computers and other media as if they were real people or real places
  • It is therefore important to create an emotional experience for the user rather than just a fact finding one to get the most successful results
  • The personality of a website is seen as a reflection of the personality of the company with this in mind  it is often recommended that a style guide is created and adhered to.

3 Things I learnt about Writing for the Web

  • 79% of users scan a page rather than reading it word for word. Spending an average of 27 seconds on a page.
  • The first 10 words are more important than the next 10,000 – Headings are key
  • Therefore break content up into topics with headings and sub headings, use bulleted list, highlight key words and limit yourself to one point per paragraph

Content Management – CMS

5 Things I learnt in week 1

  • There are three main open source Content Management Systems Drupal, Joomla, WordPress all with strengths and weaknesses. There are also hundreds of others many with specific criteria e.g e-commerce or image galleries. Therefore initially a lot of research needs to be done to work out which system is right for a particular project (at least until we are more familiar with them)
  • Historically Drupal has been seen as the choice for developers – more flexible with the code but less user friendly however this is changing with Drupal 7.
    Joomla is a popular choice for designers as it’s easy to use and customise.
    Wordpress is largely used for blogs but can be useful for any site that has very frequently updated content particularly is you want people to be able to comment on it.
  • Lots of CMSs can be used straight out of the box or they can be adapted with the hundreds of plug ins that have been designed for many of them. This makes them incredibly flexible and relatively quick to build.
  • It’s important to define your content strategy before selecting a CMS.
  • Generally the purpose of a CMS is that it can be edited and updated easily by a novice to the web.

Things I’m struggling with/ need to look into further

  • How to install a CMS – servers, databases? I wish I was more familiar with IT!
  • Install the framework locally so that you can build it without the internet? – A concept that goes completely over my head at the moment, one step at a time I suppose.