Do you track your web site statistics? I don’t mean just having a counter installed to track "hits." Do you know how your visitors find you? Do you know what paths they follow through your site? Do you know — for sure — that your site is as successful as it can be?
Web analytics can tell you these things and more.
With proper web analytics reports, you can make informed decisions to help maximize the effectiveness and profitability of your web site. But what sort of information will help you make those decisions?
Here are a few useful statistics you might consider tracking:
Unique visitors: More useful than simple "hits." Be sure to exclude spider visits, and this can give you an idea of how many people are visiting your site. Hint: don’t worry so much about absolute numbers; for really useful information, track visitor trends over time.
Bounce rate: How many people enter your site and leave again within just a few seconds? If your site is attracting targeted visitors and doing a good job of capturing their attention right away, your bounce rate should be fairly low. If you have a high bounce rate for one or more pages, try testing new page layouts or updated content to see what effect it may have.
Search terms: You know what terms you may have tried to target on your pages. But what other search terms are people using to find your site? If the people who use these terms regularly turn into paying customers, you may want to consider optimizing one or more of your pages to even better target these terms. If the terms are not relevant to your product or service, you may want to consider "de-optimizing" your pages so they don’t attract these irrelevant searches.
Conversions and conversion paths: What is it that you most want your visitors to do after they arrive at your site? What percentage of your visitors actually do this? What paths do they follow to get there? Do they seem to proceed fairly confidently through the site, or do they seem to wander for awhile? The goal is to shorten and smooth the visitor’s path so that more of them will make it to the goal.
So how do you track these and other informative web site statistics? A simple page counter will not give you the information you desire. You need web analytics software or a web analytics service. Here is one of each:
Google Analytics: This is a free service from Google, based on the popular Urchin web analytics software. It offers many advanced reporting options and a cool graphical interface.
Some webmasters have questioned whether it’s wise to let a search engine — or any third-party company, for that matter — have access to the kind of detailed visitor information that Google Analytics will collect about your web site.
If you’re of a suspicious mindset, have many sites to analyze or are in a hurry to start analyzing your visitor traffic, you may prefer a software package that you can install and run on your own computer. But for most of us, this is an excellent (and free) tool to track your site traffic and conversions.
FastStats Analyzer: This software package is not free, but it is an excellent value. You install it and run it from your personal computer. It can handle an unlimited number of web sites.
I personally use this analytics software on a daily basis for tracking site statistics for several business web sites; the reports and analyses I get are comparable to those from packages costing ten+ times more. It’s fast, complete, and produces output in both HTML and comma-delimited format.
FastStats Analyzer is easy to install, set up and run. I recommend the Gold version for the most complete set of reports. It requires access to your web server log files.
Do you need help interpreting your visitor statistics? Do your web analytics reports indicate areas needing improvement, but you’re not sure what steps to take next? NineYards.com offers a comprehensive Web Site Audit report to ensure your site is as effective and profitable as possible.