Website Analytics – The Full Guide
“Understand users’ behavior and your site health, and improve the effectiveness of your digital marketing efforts.”
Yep, you’ve probably heard that answer!
Can we elaborate a little bit so you know what you’re even looking at? What do website analytics allow you to do? Is this really relevant for your business, in your industry?
That’s exactly what we’re here to do today.
We will do a lot more than merely recite the right answer to you. Consider this your complete beginner’s guide to website analytics.
We’ll explain what you can expect from it, why it matters at all, and why you really should be using it.
In words that won’t make you roll your eyes.
What Is Website Analytics?
Website analytics is a system of tracking, measuring, and analyzing data to help you manage your site and understand how people interact with it.
Or whether they interact with it at all.
Analytics can show you:
- How much traffic you get on your site
- Where it comes from
- How long people stay on your site and what they click on
- What your most visited pages are
- How many people sign up for your offers or abandon their shopping carts, etc.
This type of data is collected and presented to you in charts, graphs, and numbers, something like this:
How can businesses benefit from using analytics on their website?
By being able to analyze and compare data that’s relevant to their goals.
So, for eCommerce brands, that could include generic KPIs like click-through rates or conversion rates, but also more specific ones like product pages visits, return customers, and cart abandonment rates, for example.
There are a couple of website analytics tools you can use that we’ll talk about a bit later.
If you’ve heard about it, you’ll know that now’s a good time to learn about it.
Since the recent launch of Google Analytics 4, Google is officially phasing out GA3, causing a lot of confusion, disruption, or at least interest among experts who have been relying on Google Analytics for a decade.
This update brings a few important changes:
- No more cookies
- User and event-based data model
- No IP address storing (to help sites adhere to privacy regulations)
- No more sound sleep for marketers
Just kidding. Sort of.
Let’s wipe those digital tears and see what we can do, GA4 or not.
What Does Website Analytics Allow You To Do?
Can’t talk about measuring and analyzing data without getting a little bit technical first.
Don’t worry, we’re not about heavy lingo here – we just need to give you some concrete data first (sorry) so you know what we’re talking about once we get to the benefits part.
But here’s the shortlist if you’re getting antsy/already familiar:
- Tracking online traffic and trends
- Understanding user behavior with things like bounce rates and goals
- Identifying your target audience
- Finding out where users enter your site and where they leave (entry and exit pages)
- Analyzing web activity in connection with marketing campaigns or other brand/product related pushes
What, you’re staying? Sweet, let’s take a closer look.
Tracking online traffic and trends
The most basic feature everyone needs to a certain extent. We’re talking tracking:
- Device/resolution type of visitor
- Cohort demographics
- Visitor journey
- Site engagement, etc.
This type of insights tells you who is visiting your site, what some of their basic characteristics are, where they are coming from, how they’re finding you, etc.
You can use it to build customer personas and segment your future efforts to target them.
Understanding user behavior
User behavior is everything your visitors do on your site and their experience with you.
You can measure it through these lenses:
- Bounce rates and goals
- Amount of time spent on pages
- Entry and exit pages
- New vs. returning visitors, etc.
These and other user engagement metrics show you whether you’re making a strong impression.
If visitors spend a lot of time reading your content, that’s a good sign. If they’re coming back over and over again, another good sign.
You can even zero in on what they like and don’t like based on where they spent a lot of time and which page they last visited before they had enough.
Identifying your target audience
The people you attract, convert, and retain are the ones who are finding your services or products most useful.
You can analyze who they are to get a better understanding of your audience and how to serve them better by looking at their:
- Device usage
- Browsing behavior
- Social and other media usage
- Third-party data, etc.
So, if they are hanging out on Instagram, you can focus on setting camp there.
If they are browsing your site from their phone (they probably are), having a mobile-friendly site is non-negotiable. And so on.
Analyzing web activity
Finally, analytics lets you analyze your results in connection with marketing campaigns or other brand or product-related pushes.
You can see how many people you’ve attracted with an ad and how many of them actually stuck around to buy from you.
You can compare new tactics to old ones. Also, you can react if you see you’re losing your audience or they’re often asking the same questions.
This is all about letting you know what’s up so you can deal with it.
Now, you might be thinking:
Okay, lovely. But what does that all mean for my business? What’s my outcome? My ROI?
All valid questions. Let’s take a look.
Why Does It Matter to You?
Here’s why you should pencil in a couple of hours per month to spend on your analytics platform.
Stay on top of KPIs
Generic and industry-focused ones:
- Cart abandonment rates
- Load speed
- Traffic sources
- Average time per page
- Performance across devices
Buzzwords? Yeah, we know. But they show you the state of your website:
- Whether your user experience matches industry standards – if not, people will leave
- How easily people can find and understand your information – and whether it’s enough to persuade them
- What you’re doing to irritate your visitors instead of helping them – so you can change it and turn pleased visitors into happy customers
You get the idea.
Always keeping on track with your analytics helps you avoid stagnancy.
If something isn’t working out, you can pinpoint where the issue is and address it rather than guessing with a blindfold and hoping for the best.
Another thing: you can easily take your numbers and stack them up against your competitors for a reality check.
Tracking and analytics give you certainty.
There’s much less room for mistakes in interpretation when you have numbers and raw data to back your conclusions rather than conveying your results as okays or good enoughs.
This certainty gives you something concrete to work with, so you always know what you tried, how it went down, and what you should try next.
Experimenting in a controlled environment where you can tell:
- How your options compare
- What’s better and exactly which benefits you get from it
This not only helps you optimize your site for better results now, it provides valuable insight into what might work well in the future, too.
Small changes like where your CTA is located on the page, or how many fields your forms have can make a big difference for your business.
For example, Groove increased their conversion rate from 2.3% to 4.3% by gathering feedback, analyzing it, and using it to optimize their landing page:
Website analytics is the safety net many companies need to get bold with their conversion copy or other web design changes without feeling like they’re playing with fire.
Because taking that chance is a big step in the first place.
And then? How do you know if it paid off?
Gathering the results and discerning what they’re even showing you is pretty much impossible without website analytics.
The opportunities it provides
Analytics allow you to identify room for growth.
For example, you could discover new geographic locations you’ve been overlooking.
You could understand what content works for your audience and what doesn’t based on how they interacted with it in the past.
You could see which traffic source you haven’t been targeting enough, or zero in on exactly what your audience loves about your brand so you can double down on it and make them even happier.
Any feedback you get is a pro-tip.
As long as your tracking and reporting tool is measuring the right data, you’ll be able to unlock new ways to relate to your visitors and gain their trust.
So that they’re keener to buy from you.
The risks it mitigates
Risks? Like what?
For example, you not noticing the painful difference between your mobile and desktop experiences resulting in poor UI/UX and unhappy visitors.
This is why analytics is an integral part of regular website maintenance and security checkups.
It’s easier to keep an eye on the situation and react as issues arise than to clean up the mess when it’s already too late.
It’s cheaper, too.
Analytics could give you a heads up when your customers hop on the trend of abandoning their shopping carts so you can send them email reminders and get them back.
A single email is often enough – but only if you do it on time.
Otherwise, you would lose those conversions simply because you weren’t paying close attention and reacting quickly enough.
What Are Some of the Best Analytics Tools Available?
We said that Google Analytics is by far the most popular tool in use, but below is a list with some other options you could consider:
|Analytics Tool||Key features||Best for|
|Google Analytics||Well-rounded, standardized SaaS analytics with a huge online knowledge database and simple UI|
|Hotjar||Complementing Google Analytics with more detailed and smaller-scale user behavior analysis|
|Open Web Analytics||Comprehensive, open-source and hosted alternative to Google Analytics|
|SEMRush||Tracking marketing and SEO metrics and discovering opportunities for growth|
|Adobe Analytics||Advanced, highly customizable, and integrated analytics for specialized teams that can navigate a complex UI|
5 Top Tips for Getting the Most From Web Analytics
All these cool tracking and reporting tools only work if you put in the effort to use them right. So let’s raise those chances.
Align your web KPIs with your overall strategy
Analytics will help you make progress, but only under two conditions:
- If you set them up to track relevant KPIs and not just any vanity metric, or worse, ALL the data
- If you actually act on the data instead of just putting it on the shelf and resuming business as usual
That’s kind of the secret.
They’re like signposts. If you look closely, they can tell you exactly where you’re headed and where you need to go next to reach your desired destination…
But technically, there’s still nothing stopping you from driving straight into a lake anyway.
You wouldn’t be the first or the last one to do it.
But back to condition #1:
Why should you avoid collecting as much data as possible?
Aside from being a major time-waster, looking at everything can hinder you:
- It can distract you or make you overlook the important KPIs
- Complicate the picture and confuse you
- Give you the feeling like you’re doing more than you really are because of the busy screen with all the numbers
To stay focused, track the generic things like user journey or time on page, but prioritize specific metrics relevant to your industry.
For eCommerce, those are overall completed purchases, abandoned cart rates, and customizable options like number of purchases completed by users who visited the product page.
For professional services, return visitors, session duration, and content CTR could help you see how immersed your visitors are and identify what they normally do before they convert.
Check your analytics at least once a month
This is a good window to see what kind of progress you’re making and adjust course.
As we mentioned earlier, monthly website maintenance could help you notice potential problems and spot-treat early on.
Some red flags to look out for are decreased load speed, traffic, conversions, or an increased bounce rate, abandoned carts, and redirections/404s.
All of these mean something’s wrong.
Maybe you’ve changed your website design recently and it’s not well received.
Maybe you have some broken links to sort or stock status to update. Or, maybe you’re just due for a content overhaul.
Compare each month with the same month last year
Didn’t we just go over this?
Nope, that was monthly maintenance. This is this month vs the same month last year.
The logic is simple: some month-to-month variations are to be expected.
Changing seasons, trends, etc. all impact your users’ behavior.
But looking only at the differences between the previous and current months’ results, you could easily mistake natural, externally-caused fluctuations for impaired or improved performance.
You can sometimes get a more holistic picture comparing this September to last years’ September than stacking it up against August.
And, honestly, why not both?
Compare your performance to industry benchmarks
Look. Maybe you really are smashing it. Maybe your progress is off the charts. But no matter what those internet gurus tell you, you’re not just competing against yourself.
You need insight into how your competitors and industry average to know where you’re really at.
You could just close your eyes and pretend they don’t exist. But it’s not like your clients won’t research them too – you might as well do your own homework and make sure not to fall behind.
Are you offering a more rounded service? Great, but if your copy isn’t convincing, nobody will ever know.
And if your load speed is low? Nobody will ever even get to the copy.
The point is: don’t just compare your services. Compare your website performance, and see if there’s anything you can learn from and “take home.”
Just to be clear, we mean inspiration, not stealing.
Build visual dashboards
Visuals are easier to track because changes are more obvious. You can’t miss a red plummeting line as easily as you can plain text, can you?
Intuitive, beautiful dashboards aren’t just there to look nice. Or painful, like this unfortunate example.
They make the job more efficient. One glance and you know what’s going on, whether that’s business as usual, decreased visitors’ time on pages, or an increase in your traffic.
You can easily track your results for A/B testing or get a quick comparison of your reports.
But perhaps the biggest argument for visual dashboards? They’re scalable.
You won’t outgrow them like a spreadsheet (yikes! In 2022?) or get caught in a web of confusing, uncurated data that goes to waste.
That means no unaddressed problems running rampant and threatening your site’s health.
Get yourself a dashboard that supports your growth.
Conclusion: Set Your Course by Tracking the Right Data
Website analytics help you understand how people are interacting with your site.
Setting it up properly is an investment in your future.
And it doesn’t have to be so scary if you have an experienced web design partner that can take care of it for you.
Sounds like we have someone in mind? We do. Setting up website analytics is a service we offer at StateWP.
You just need to keep on top of the data, and your results are pretty much guaranteed.