The importance of web analytics

So you’ve started a website and now have an abundance of traffic coming in. That’s great! But where are these people coming from? How are they finding your site? And most importantly, how are they behaving when they’re on your site? This is where the importance of web analytics comes into play.

Web analytics is the study of how your site’s visitors behave. This includes the tracking of important statistics such as unique vistis, pageviews, bounce rates and conversion rates. For many small sites, the last two statistics are not as important, but for large sites or online businesses, the last two play a key roll in optimizing your site’s performance.

There are two main web analytics technologies: server logfile analysis and page tagging.

Server logfile analysis involves the reading of log files on a server in order to collect analytics data. During the early days of the Internet, server logfile analysis only tracked the number of requests made by a visitor to the web server. This was commonly know as a “hit” and was logical since many sites only consisted of a single HTML file at the time. As more elements were added to web pages (images, multiple pages, etc.), server logfile analysis became impractical, as it would count every server request on one page as a “hit”.

These complications led to the creation of new web analytic metrics: pageviews and visits. A pageview was defined as a request to the web server for a single page while a visit was defined as a series of requests from a single person that ended after a certain time frame. Eventually, cookies were used to track unique user sessions due to the evolution of proxy and dynamic IP technologies, which made the old “visit” statistic fairly useless.

Some of the most popular software programs for tracking web analytics use the server logfile analysis method. These include Webalizer, Urchin, WebTrends and the open-source AWStats.

Page tagging involves the placement of code on a page in order to track analytics data. The earliest form of page tagging was the website counter. These visible, numeric counters eventually evolved into invisible snippets of JavaScript. The small JavaScript code would be placed on a page and send data back to an analytics program or company for analysis. Just like the server logfile analysis method, page tagging also involves assigning cookies to each user in order to determine unique visitors.

One of the most popular page tagging analytics programs is Google Analytics. The service is free to anyone with a Google account and is the standard in web analytics for any person or company on a tight budget.

So why should you worry about web analytics? So you can increase the performance of your website of course!

Why do people leave your site? A “bounce” is when a visitor leaves your website after only viewing one page. Many analytics programs have a statistic called bounce rate, which measures the percentage of people that commit a “bounce”. This metric allows you to see which pages on your site are performing poorly and then make improvements or adjustments to that page. This statistic is extremely important for e-commerce sites or sites that would like a visitor to commit a certain action.

How much time do people spend on your site? This is known as session duration and is important to know because it allows you to see what pages on your site have content that is compelling your visitors to stay. It will also let you know what pages need additional content added in order for visitors to stay on them longer.

What are people doing on your site? If your site has actionable items for visitors, such as filling out a form, purchasing a product or subscribing to a newsletter, you can track these actions through conversion tracking. By putting a small piece of code on each of your completion or thank you pages, you will be able to see what percentage of visitors actually committed each action. This knowledge will allow you to further improve your landing pages and content in order to get a better response from your visitors and increase conversions.

There are many other, albeit less important, web analytics statistics that you can track. The ones above are some of the most important and you should be vigilant in monitoring them no matter what analytics software you use.

Web analytics are an important part of any website. They will give you quantitative insight into the actions of your visitors and let you know where you can improve and refine the content of your site. There are many analytics solutions out there, so there’s no reason not to be actively tracking and studying these extremely valuable metrics.

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