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Web Analytics: Where Web Performance Counts

In the early days of the Internet, a website manager was content with the simplest of measures – counting “hits,” or visitors to the home page. Popularity equaled success: the greater the number of hits, the more effective and far-reaching the site was thought to be.

Today, when dynamic site design is the norm, we recognize that Web traffic volume is a far less relevant indicator of website performance than the actions taken by the visitors to the site. Meaningful measurement, using web analytics tools such as Google Analytics and Omniture to decipher and comprehend site data, enables site owners to evaluate user engagement in order to enhance user experience.

Typically, web analytics tools gather information about who visited a site, how they got there, what pages they viewed, how they interacted, how long they visited and from which page they exited the site. And many tools can evaluate the amount of “chatter” a company or brand and its products and services are generating in social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.

The Digital Analytics Association, formerly the Web Analytics Association, has proposed a standard definition:

Web analytics is the objective tracking, collection, measurement, reporting, and analytics of quantitative Internet data to optimize websites and web marketing initiatives.

You may wonder why you should care about web analytics. The reason a website exists is to prompt a visitor to take a particular action: make a purchase; sign up for a service; read an article, blog or newsletter; learn more about a company; or introduce a potential employee to current job postings. Whatever the goal(s), how does one know if a site is meeting them efficiently or effectively? The answer is found in web analytics.

At Its Core
You see the trend and know where you need to be—but how do you get there? And how do you ensure your KPIs match your content marketing goals? It’s important to remember that web analytics is a discipline, not an isolated step in the web development process. The right web analytics tool can help answer the questions that are specific to your goals: why you built your website, what you hoped to achieve with content marketing and what future benefits can be expected.

In an Inc.com article, Avinash Kaushik, author of Web Analytics 2.0 and digital marketing evangelist for Google, stated that there are some key questions answered by web analytics:

• Who is driving traffic to my site?
• What are the most popular pages on my site?
• How many of my site’s visitors leave unsatisfied (based on its bounce rate)?

According to Kaushik, there are five key steps in making the most of web analytics:
1. Identify business objectives: Why does your website exist?
2. Specify goals: What web content strategies will you leverage to accomplish your business objectives?
3. Distinguish key performance indicators: KPIs are unique to every organization.
4. Set and sweat targets: pre-determined numerical values you assign to your KPIs in advance – what number equals success and what is failure for each metric?
5. Select valuable segments: establish which groups of people or behaviors are important to your business.

While there are a multitude of KPIs that can be measured, the Content Marketing Institute recommends some important KPIs on which every company should focus:

1. Unique visits: Also referred to as UVs, unique visits can help you measure audience size, ad performance and how many people have viewed your content within a specific timeframe. You can also see how the number of UVs changes over time (for example, a spike following a recent press release). 2. Geography: Where content is viewed is as important a measure as what is read and by whom. As Content Marketing Institute explains, Google Analytics provides page-level details of such geographic information, which in turn helps content marketers optimize for the geographical locations (or geos) that are most important to their business — and its bottom line.

2. Geography: Where content is viewed is as important a measure as what is read and by whom. As Content Marketing Institute explains, Google Analytics provides page-level details of such geographic information, which in turn helps content marketers optimize for the geographical locations (or geos) that are most important to their business — and its bottom line.

3. Mobile readership: Smartphones and tablets are changing the way content is delivered and how often it is viewed. One KPI to evaluate is how visitors are accessing information on your site. Is it through smartphones, laptops or other mobile devices? And how often are these devices being used? If 30% of your visitors are using mobile devices, that will affect how your site is designed and the type of content you provide.

4. Conversion statistics: The goal of your website is to “convert” a visitor into a person who has an established relationship with your site, as a customer or a regular reader of your blog, for example. Google Analytics and other web analytics tools employ statistics to provide a picture of the conversion process to help you evaluate your content marketing ROI.

5. Bounce rates/time spent: The amount of time visitors spend on your site and the path they take to view content is a key performance indicator of how well your site is attracting, engaging and retaining an audience. The Content Marketing Institute warns that a high bounce rate means your content is not engaging visitors, which can negatively affect your ROI.

6. Page views: There is a strong correlation between page views (PVs) and UVs. A high multiple of PV/UV indicates engaging content is keeping visitors on your site. Where visitors disengage is also important: dropping off of your site at the second page tells you something different than if they were dropping off at page eight. This KPI can help you determine the point at which your content did not hold their attention any longer.

7. Website usability: Conventional wisdom says captivating website design is more important than the information provided. Although good design is a critical element in attracting visitors to a website, your content is the most effective greatest lure—no tricks or gimmicks, just the goods.

When Internet users arrive at your site, do they quickly find what they are looking for? In general, most don’t, and they back out faster than they would slam shut a poorly written book or walk out of a badly produced movie. Providing clear and consistent navigation will foster user satisfaction and increase the number of PVs. The KPIs used to determine the usability of a website include the PVs per visitor, the time on the site and the amount of downloads, including PDFs, videos, and other resources.

8. Heat maps and click patterns: To see which sections of a page are getting the most attention from visitors, you can create heat maps or evaluate in-page click patterns.

9. Comments: User feedback in the comments areas of a site can be exceptionally helpful in gauging the success of your content marketing. While humans are social beings and continue to have conversations in the town square or over backyard fences, increasingly these conversations are being shared globally within social media and other sites that allow virtual interaction. When a brand is “participating” in these conversations, it is informal and consumers control the message and the media in which they are occurring.

10. Social sharing: Word-of-mouth—the oldest and one of the most effective referral methods—is now possible on a mass scale through social media. Historically, brands pushed messages directly to consumers (B2C) or to other companies (B2B). With social media, we are transitioning from a B2C environment to a consumer-to-consumer (C2C) world, in which consumers are talking about “B” and engaging each other in new and profound ways. In fact, word-of-mouth marketing can have a stronger effect on website traffic than other types of paid media, and social media exposure has been directly linked to sales. Web analytics that measure how much social sharing about your company, products, etc., is happening can be a powerful indicator of how far-reaching your content initiatives truly are.

The Bottom Line
Implementing a focused, goal-oriented web analytics program to measure performance and taking action to improve on the numbers will help set you apart from the competition, break through the clutter, accelerate relationship-building and dramatically increase the probability of online success.

Additional resources:
Inc.com: Most Important Clicks to Track on Your Website
Digital Analytics Association
Enterprise-class Web Analytics