• Ellen Cresswell

The basics of web analytics

Updated: Jun 8, 2020

Over the course of my career, I have developed a profound respect for the value of analytics. The right data from digital analytics can be used to refine the commercial performance of a website.

Understanding this data helps a business make better decisions. It may also reveal key customer or commercial issues that were previously unknown. For instance, if the most viewed page on an online store is the returns policy, that may reveal some quality concerns with the products in your catalogue. As the saying goes, "you can't manage what you don't measure".

Despite the clear business value that comes from great digital analytics, it’s an unfortunate reality this aspect is often overlooked as a requirement in major online projects. If you take nothing else from this post, it’s that analytics are just as important in a digital product as the product itself.

When designing analytics requirements, the key focus should be the activities that relate to the KPIs of your business, product or function.

Once you launch a new site or product, the performance data will start streaming in. Take the time to understand what the data is telling you. If you’ve launched a new site, it’s possible you may see some data that doesn’t make sense. That’s OK, you may need to make a few tweaks to the tags to make sure the data is accurate. It’s all part of the journey.

The basic performance measures to consider

  • Page views. The total page views on a particular page, section or overall site

  • Visitors: The number of people (technically it’s web browsers) who have visited the site in a defined time frame.

  • Bounce rates: Visitors who leave your site after visiting one page. The goal should be for this to be low.

  • Referrers: where your traffic came from. This helps understand your site’s SEO performance but also your earned and owned media performance.

  • Entry pages: Web pages that were most popular points of entry for your site’s visitors.

  • Devices and browsers: Phone, tablet, desktop. Which browsers? Do your users’ behaviours differ across devices and platforms? Knowing this will help with behavioural targeting as your site matures.

  • Events: An event is an action a site visitor takes on a webpage. Say, add to basket or subscribe to an email newsletter.

  • Error pages: Knowing what errors are occurring on your site will help fine-tune its performance. For instance, if there are a lot of 404 (page not found) errors, that may indicate a broken link or even a typo in a referring site.

There are many, many other aspects to consider when implementing analytics. But these basics will start you on a path to a more profound understanding of your site’s performance, as well as make some sound decisions based on solid data. It’s difficult to make an informed decision without accurate analytics on the site.