Get insight into your website with Google Analytics
Posted by Tim Bertens on 07/02/2009
Do you really know your website and do you know what is going on? If not, this article is written for you!
What is Google Analytics?
Google Analytics (abbreviated GA) is a free service offered by Google that generates detailed statistics about the visitors to a website. Its main highlight is that the product is aimed at marketers as opposed to webmasters and technologists from which the industry of web analytics originally grew.
In March 2005 Google acquired Urchin and rebranded that software to Google Analytics. Urchin was one of the leading analytics software companies in the world at that time and has also been used with success at Bene for about 5 years.
Why do you need Google Analytics?
"To measure is to know", an old time saying but relevant as ever! You don't know what you should be doing if you don't measure the success or failure of what you're doing. Measurement is the most important, yet least utilized aspect of any marketing program.
Google Analytics gives you detailed information about the usage of your website and allows you by that to measure the ROI of a certain marketing campaign, you can use it
- to see what information really matters on your website
- what pages are (almost) never show
- where do my visitors come from
- if they used a search-engine what keywords they entered
- what language does my visitor speak,
- what browsers are used to view my website
- how many people actually did something on my site that I can use in my downstream sales process (eg. Asked for information about a certain product)
- and many, many other things
Is there other software available for web analytics
Sure, there are plenty of other software solutions out there. First of all of course Urchin is not dead, it still exists as software you can install on your own servers. Other possible alternatives are Webtrends, Microsoft Adcenter Analytics (after acquiring DeepMetrix), NetStat.com, Clicky and many others
What can I do with Google Analytics?
Lots... let's take a look at some main metrics in the Google Analytics environment.
The dashboard gives you an overview of the most important metrics of your website. In this example we look at the one of our websites for the period between 1st of July 2008 and the 31st of January 2009. The information that is shown in the graphic is grouped by month. In this case we see that:
- there were 329.047 visits to the website
- these visits where done by 45.170 unique persons
- those visitors viewed 1.158.913 pags in that period
- that is an average of 3,52 pages / visit
- an average visitor stayed about 4 minutes on the website
This website has very loyal visitors, about 60% of the visitors returned more than 15 times to the site in that period
Almost 90% of the visitors on that website use Internet Explorer as their web browsing software
Before anyone says something like 'Internet Explorer is still the leading web browser!', let's take a look at the same metric for one of our other websites:
As you can see it really depends on the website and your target audience.
On this page you can see where your visitor came from, in this case:
- 50,55% came in via a result in a search engine
- 26,89% found this site by clicking a link on an other website (not search engine)
- 22,50% just typed in the URL in their web browser because they already knew it
These were the keywords that were used in the search engine to come to this website. On average the bounce rate was 19.80%, this bounce show the percentage of 1-page visits.
For this website in this period there were about 105 conversions. A conversion is an action from the visitor what we aim for. It could be filling in a form, downloading a white paper after registration or buying some goods online. In this case the conversions in this period of 5 months have an estimated value of more than 25.000 dollar.
What can't I do with Google Analytics?
There are certain things that cannot be done with Google Analytics. By design it is not possible to capture page request that could not be fulfilled because the page in question does not exist.
It might seem a bit strange to try to track this, but it is very useful information when trying to deal with not-working links from other sites. Or links that used to exist but are no longer there. The last you want is your new visitor to arrive on a 'Page cannot be found' webpage.
The best thing to do (not just for the sake of analysing your website) is to provide what is called custom 404-pages. A 404 page is the page served by the server that holds your website when an non-existing page is requested. This page is often forgotten and not considered as important, look at an example from the Belgacom website:
A custom 404 page in your website layout is much better because it doesn't scare your new visitor that followed a link somewhere on the internet that led to nothing. At the same time it is very convenient and appropriate to guide your new visitor to a page on your website that actually is of his or her interest by e.g. put a link to the sitemap or even show it straight-away or by outputting the result of a search action on your website using parts of the URL that was used. Take a look at a much better example of a 404 page on the new Rijmaran website
Another thing Google Analytics cannot do is providing you with real-time data. By default Google Analytics will serve you data from the day before today as the most recent data. Google updates your Google Analytics account more often (usually every 3 or 4 hours) but although you can look at the analytics data of today, the outcome is not always very reliable.
Google Analytics lives in the cloud... this means that the analytics data is no longer on your (or our) servers anymore. It also gives Google a very good view on what is happening on the real internet (the websites) and not just what is happening at their own searchengine. The online big brother (as I like to call Google) claims it doesn't use the enormous amounts of information that they acquire via Google Analytics in any way to eg influence the ranking of that website in the organic Google results or to use those in any other way. I tend to believe them... at least for the moment.