I have done SEO work in my the past, and think that if one follows some pretty simple and straight forward plans of site construction, good content will be indexed well and lead to your site being found. With some previous versions of this website, when The Design Mission was actively recruiting new customers and freelance work, we were able to get some keywords and keyword combinations (things like “osCommerce” and “Joomla and osCommerce” for example) into the top five search results for Google. A future post or two may well focus on those past SEO efforts and what we did for clients, but this post is intended to be about a tool for analyzing not only how people are finding your website, but more importantly what they are doing on it once they get there; Google Analytics.
Google Analytics is easily one of the best free services available. It offers (near?) enterprise level statistics and reporting for web traffic that is fairly easy to use and understand. Implementation could not be easier – just a simple line of code pasted into your website. Joomla, Drupal and WordPress users often only need add an account id to their sites via the admin interface, too. Developers and non-technical types should be able to add Google Analytics to a website as they offer very easy to follow directions and guides. If you’re not a developer, don’t be afraid to jump in.
For many people, simply knowing the number of site visitors seems to be important. To me, that’s really doesn’t interest me much, nor concern me in terms of my success or failure. The Field of Dreams “build it and they will come” mentality is very laughable for the Internet. Spambots and such will certainly come along — but meaningful visitors finding what they need and taking the action you want them to take is the only important thing to measure. Google Analytics will let you see how people are using your website, not just how many people are doing so.
What’s the new vs returning visitor profile look like? Do people come back to your site? How long are they staying on pages that require some thought and reading? Are they navigating to the pages you want them to or are they traveling down paths that are only secondary to your actual purpose? Using the reports in the “Behavior” and “Visitors Flow” sections of Analytics, you can determine these things. Don’t simply count your visitors, look at how they are interacting with your website.
Even more important is to make changes to your website based on what you learn. I have often asked clients “What is it you want the person to do after coming to your website?” The answers are often things like, make a purchase, contact us by email or phone, download my resume, etc. They never have to think about what it is they want them to do, they know that really clearly. The next question is what often leads to some an ah-ha moment — “If you want them to [insert primary goal here], why is the link to this [information/action] not prominently displayed on your current website?” Sense is never common. Well, until it is. Google Analytics will help show you where visitors to your website are going and spending time. Trying out moving things about and comparing the results you get afterwards is what truly makes Google Analytics such a great tool.