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.
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.