By Kelly Kubrick – first printed in HomeBuilder Magazine, Vol.20 No.6, November 2007, reprinted with publisher’s permission.
Last issue, we discussed the need to review your web analytics reports so that you can understand the value your website offers you and your visitors.
The first time you look at your web analytics reports, you may find yourself overwhelmed by unknown language, incomprehensible charts and graphs and contradictory numbers. In fact, this may be the case the first couple of times you look at the reports. Hang in there – all will eventually become clear!
Speak to your webmaster about how you can access your web analytics reports. Typically, you’ll be given a website address or URL to go to, and also a name and password so that you can access your confidential data. However, before you log into your web analytics tool, it helps to know that there are generally four categories of information available to you:
1. Volume of traffic
2. Source of traffic
3. Content consumed
4. Activity levels
This month, we’ll focus on volume; how much traffic are you getting in a given period? Critical metrics are “visitors” and “visits”. Ignore “hits”. Hits are not an accurate measure of demand; instead, they are a technical metric and irrelevant to a business analysis.
Think of the number of visitors as a very rough proxy for the number people arriving at the site. Rough, because there are several factors which may skew the number one way or another, but for now, stick with people. So, how many visitors did you have last month? Is that more, less or the same since last month? Any theories why?
Next take a look at your visits; these tell you the number of times you see a visitor in a given time period. As an example, let’s assume a prospective customer (visitor) arrives at your sales centre on Saturday and again on Sunday. According to web analytics, for that week, you would count one visitor with two visits. So, how many visits did you have last month? Is that more, less or the same since last month? Any theories why?
Typically, you will see more visits than visitors, simply because of Internet consumer behaviour in our increasingly high-speed environment. In the early 1990s, researchers from PARC (Palo Alto Research centre) coined the term “information snacking” to describe this trend. Given the increasing availability of, and decreasing cost of broadband connections, we now see that website visitors ‘snack’ on information versus during “the dial-up days”. Today, visitors spend less time on any one site, but visit more frequently, for a shorter time, and to answer a specific question.
Depending on the web analytics tool your company is using, you may find slightly different names for the various metrics. For example, you may see “sessions” instead of visits. You may also find that you can’t find the “visitor” report. This means that the web analytics tools is not as good as it could be, and that’s a problem. You need to be able to understand demand for your website, and you’ll do that best with a combination of visitor and visit reports.
On the other hand, some of you may find other reports such as “new versus return visitors”, which can tell you if the majority of your traffic comes from people you’ve never seen before or people you’ve seen regularly. Think about how you treat prospective home buyers – you speak to them very differently the very first time you meet versus when they come back to purchase their second home through you. However, if you don’t remember that returning customer or his or her particular needs, you can damage the relationship – and potentially lose the next sale.
The same thing applies to website visitors – how would you communicate differently to someone if it’s the first time they see your home page versus the fifth, or fiftieth time they see it? Yet, we often leave the exact same messaging up on our website for years at a time, regardless of who’s looking at that page, or how often they’ve been there. Your web analytics reports can offer a wealth of information about your potential and actual customers; review them and begin quantifying the reach your website is delivering.
Kelly Kubrick is former Director of E-Commerce at Time Warner in New York, now President of Online Authority, an Internet marketing consulting firm.