Use Google's Free Service To See How Your Website Performs, and How Your Visitors Use It
As a webmaster it can be difficult to get feedback about how visitors interact with your site. How many pages get visited every day, what are the most popular pages in your site, where did your visitors come from, and what keywords they typed into the search-engines to find your site.
Google Analytics is a free script that you can add to your pages, then Google will gather together lots of really good data about your site and how it performs on the world wide web. There are other options, looking at your server logs, or other free scripts such as the excellent statcounter service, but many have storage limits or can be difficult to interpret. With Google analytics you can see basic data very quickly, and with a bit of digging really useful information that can help your web site perform better can be found.
Analytics can also be used as a tool to track sales and conversion rates on e-commerce sites, but we'll be covering that in a later article, today we'll just be looking at the basics.
The first step, obviously, is to log on and register at the Google Analytics Home Page. Next have a good read through the help section to get a feel for what the service has to offer and how to do the basics.
Now we want to make sure that when we a visiting our own site that data doesn't pollute the information from the real visitors, and we do this by adding a filter that includes our IP address, or the range of IP addresses that our ISP uses. The information to do this is here.
A quick way to add the code to your whole website is to use "find and replace" in your html editor. Simple "find" the closing " </body>" tag, then "replace" it with the Analytics code, with the </body> tag pasted onto the end. Easy! Now upload your site to your server, and wait a few days for Google to gather some data.
The first report to look at is the one you'll see in the image at the start of this article. This is the executive overview. It shows you how many visitors and page-views your site gets over a set period, how those visitors are finding your site, where they are in the world(!) and whether they are new or returning visitors.
In the next table we'll look at some more reports and what they tell you about your web-site and what they tell you about your visitors and how you might use that information to improve your site;
This is a screen capture from the content summary report, the first really meaty data that can make you think about how your website performs. Look at your busiest pages and content, and take special interest in the "bounce rate" and "average time" columns. This is telling us where we could improve our sites navigation - are visitors leaving the site straight away and spending too little time looking at the pages? Because you can compare different date ranges, any changes that you make can be easily tracked.
In my site for example the top entrance page has a bounce rate of 50%. So I need to perhaps add better navigation so that if the visitors don't find what they are looking for they will look somewhere else on the site rather than hitting the back button on their browser.
This is the depth of visit report, showing how many pages the sites visitors looked at during their stay. as you can see by the graph my site doesn't encourage surfers to look at much - again, navigational improvements could change that, and using the compare dates option I can gauge the effectiveness of any alterations easily.
This is the "all navigation" analytics report, which is incredibly powerful.You select a page on the left hand side, and the report shows you how the viewers got to that page, and where they clicked on next to leave the page.
So if for example, I look at my home page, I can see which links my visitors click on, so then I could move the relative position of those links, or add links to pages that I want to perform better.
This is the site overlay report. Amazingly, I think, using this feature you can navigate through your own site and see which links have been clicked, but note that if you have the same links on each page analytics will assign the same figures to each similair link, but if the links are unique you can see which buttons your visitors pressed.
As you can imagine this is a great visual representation of how your visitors interact with your pages, allowing you to move things around to attract more clicks to specific pages.
So, as you can see Google Analytics is a very powerful tool, and we have only just scratched the surface. It really gets you thinking about your website, its design and content, and how you can improve your visitors experience while looking around.
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