This is the eighth and final article in an eight-part series which describes the role of a digital media strategist in improving the website operations of a company or organization.
Actionable analytics are the lifeblood of any online operation. Without analytics, you will have no way of knowing whether or not you are accomplishing your goals. You will also not be able to perform tests to improve your operations so that your goals are accomplished sooner and more efficiently. And without actionable analytics, you will not be able to make consistent improvements to your online operations.
In many ways, I could have placed this article second in the current series, immediately after the first article about reviewing your goals for your internet operations, because analytics is the foundation of everything you do online.
- In order to examine the sources of traffic to your website, your digital media strategist will need web analytics.
- Improvements to your landing pages will require web analytics so that your digital media strategist can perform tests on various aspects of those landing pages.
- While your digital media strategists’ experience will allow her to make recommendations regarding the overall design of your website, it is your web analytics which will allow her to ensure that the changes she recommends result in greater traffic and more conversions rather than less.
- Similarly, your digital media strategist will rely upon his expertise to recommend changes to the content and copywriting of your website. But it is your web analytics which will demonstrate that the changes he recommends will help you accomplish your goals.
- The search and navigation features, which are crucial to the success of your website, can also be quite problematic. Without a foundation of strong web analytics, your digital media strategist will not be able to test the various recommendations she makes for changing these functionalities on your website.
- And finally, web analytics are important for discovering and solving problems which may exist with your calls to action and the vehicles through which your visitors respond to those calls to action (your shopping cart, your newsletter signup form, etc.).
The Problem With Hits
“I got 140,000 hits to my website last month! How many hits did you get?” A lot of website owners still talk about “hits” to their websites, even though “hits” are easily the worst measure of a website’s traffic.
The four most basic types of web traffic statistics are hits, page views, user sessions, and unique visitors. I’ve listed them in increasing order of importance. Here’s the best way to explain the difference:
Suppose a website has 10 pages and each page has 5 graphics on it. If I visit 5 of those pages in the morning and the other five pages in the evening, here are the web stats I will see (this is a bit rough because different web stats packages look at things a bit differently, especially with regard to what constitutes a user session and what constitutes a unique visitor):
- 60 hits (1 for each page and 1 for each graphic – 10 pages, 50 graphics)
- 10 page views (1 for each page)
- 2 user sessions (1 for each visit)
- 1 unique visitor
The most important of basic web traffic statistics is unique visitors. The least important stat is hits because it includes every file that is accessed — pages, graphics, videos, pdf files, etc. “Hits” is the most deceptive of all web stats.
Other traffic-related statistics which may prove helpful include:
- Repeat visits — visits by people who have visited at least one previous time during the time period.
- New visits — visits by people who have not previously visited the site during the time period.
- Page views per visit — the average number of pages each user accesses during a visit.
- Bounce rate — the percent of visits during which the visitor only visits one page.
In addition to web traffic statistics, it is important to measure statistics related to actions your visitors take in response to your calls to action. These statistics include the following:
- Conversions — the number of responses (usually orders, newsletter signups, sales leads, etc.) visitors to your site take.
- Conversion rate — the percentage of visitors who take action.
- Revenue — for ecommerce sites, one of the most important response statistics is obviously how much money visitors spend.
- Average order size — for ecommerce sites, the average amount of money each online order represents.
- Units per order — for ecommerce sites, the average number of items in each order.
An Important Concept To Remember
The real value in web statistics is not in trying to get absolutely accurate data (every statistics package interprets the log files somewhat differently and some visits “to the site” are actually pulling the page from a user’s computer rather than actually hitting the site so you can’t really be certain the data is completely precise) but instead is using the data to compare various periods of time and note the trends. While the data for this week may not be exactly correct (again, it’s a bit of a misnomer to think you can get absolutely accurate data), it is valid to compare this week’s “not exactly correct” data with last week’s “not exactly correct” data and assume that the “inaccuracies” even out over time.
Are Your Analytics Actionable?
Web analytics become actionable when you compare them. “Compare them to what?” you ask. To three basic pieces of information:
- your specific, measurable objectives
- external benchmarks; and,
- internal performance during a different, but similar, time period.
As you compare actual performance to your objectives, the performance other companies in your industry have seen from their website, and the performance of your own website during a different, yet similar, time period, you will discover opportunities for improvement (in the number of unique visitors your website receives, in your conversion rate, in average order size, etc.). These opportunities for improvement will encourage you to test different advertising, different landing page content, different paths to purchase, etc. And your web analytics will tell you which tests are successful and which are not, ultimately leading to long-term improvement in accomplishing your objectives.
Note: This article should be considered a general introduction to basic analytics concepts. As your digital media strategist spends more time evaluating your online operations, she will delve much more deeply into your analytics than these basic concepts.
This has been the eighth and final article in an eight-part series which describes the role of a digital media strategist in improving the website operations of a company or organization. Please feel free to comment on any of the articles in this series and don’t hesitate to disagree with me, add further information and resources, ask questions, etc. We’re all on a learning journey when it comes to the web, and we can all help each other if we remember that no one individual has all the answers.