Google AnalyticsYou hear it all the time and you know your supposed to put that Google Analytics script on your page, but why?  How does tracking visitors benefit you and why is it so important for your website?  If your litmus test for how your business is doing is measured by the number of times your phone rings or even by the number of sales you have, it’s time to implement tracking. In this article I’m just going to cover the basics of why tracking and analytics is so important.  This is by no means an all-encompassing guide, but it should be a good wake-up call if you’re not already using it or don’t know why you have a Google Analytics script sitting on your site.

Warning: light math ahead!  If math makes you queasy then grab a paper bag and follow the pictures.

Benchmarking

For starters, tracking the number of visitors to your site let’s you know how you’re doing.  And yes, to be honest this does nothing for you at first glance.  But ideally you should be focused on increasing your SEO and gradually increasing the number of daily visitors to your site.  Without knowing your previous performance, you can’t possibly know if you’ve improved or not. So let’s say you are working on your site’s SEO and you’ve recently reworded and added keyword-rich content to your homepage with a new keyword campaign you’ve created.  Here are the questions you should be asking yourself after every major change you make:

  • Did your work pay off with an increase of visitors?
  • Did the change hurt your daily visits instead of increasing them?
  • Is it worth it to continue with your current line of changes?
  • Should you change your strategy?

Your time is valuable and in this hypothetical scenario, if the homepage changes did not increase your visitors, this may signify that you need to rethink your keyword campaign to get visitors.  Knowing that changing the page content didn’t work will let you focus your resources elsewhere instead of blindly following a road-map some SEO guru set you on.

Conversion

Conversion TrackingWhat is conversion?  A conversion is anytime a visitor takes an action that represents value for you.  This could be buying a product, signing up for your mailing list, or maybe just clicking a button.  A conversion is anything that represents a goal to you. A conversion rate is just the percentage of your visitors that are completing your goal.  If 5 out of 100 people that visit your site are buying your product, then your conversion rate is 5%. Continuing our keyword campaign scenario, what if our total visitors decreased from 100 per day to 80, but our conversion rate went up from 5% to 10%?  Well in terms of sales, we would have sold 5 items before the keyword campaign and 8 items after.  If we had originally assumed that a decrease in visitors was a bad thing, then we may have missed out on a nice increase in sales.  And for those of you that do appreciate numbers, that’s an increase of 60% in sales.  Not too shabby. But why was there an increase in conversion?  It could have been for a quite a few reasons.  Maybe the keywords were more intent driven and targeted to consumers of the product.  If you haven’t yet, you may want to check out our article on commercial intent keywords that explains this in more detail.  But what happens if the increase in conversion was unrelated to the keyword change and more of a coincidence?

Split Testing

So we had an increase in conversion, but it wasn’t related to the keyword change at all.  Let’s say in our example that we sell winter coats.  Well in Atlanta, it doesn’t get really cold until December.  If it just turned December and our previous data (where our conversion rate was only 5%) was from fall then the increase in conversion might just be because the demand for winter coats is up. A better method of testing two variables, like the two versions of text on our homepage, would be to split test them.  We create a script on our site that sends half the users to one version and the other half to the other.  This removes time as a factor and let’s us really see which version of text better helped us to increase our site’s income.  After we’ve had enough visitors to represent statistical significance, we can say with little doubt which one really performed better.

Optimizing Sales

Now putting this all together, we can start slowly split testing different elements of our page and gradually increase the money we make from the site.  The best part is that there’s no limit to the amount of things we can test.  You can change design elements, colors, button locations, text, and pretty much anything else you can think of to see if it increases conversion. Our made up numbers included an increase in conversion from 5% to 10%.  This actually isn’t that unrealistic in the real world.  If a page has never been optimized before and there’s something that’s dissuading users from converting, these changes can actually be much larger.  Imagine if you continue to tweak and optimize your website not just once, but consistently?  You could easily increase your sales by 20%, 30%, or even 100%.

What Tracking Service

To be honest there are only a few really good ones worth mentioning.  There are others, but here are the only ones I would ever recommend to a client.

Piwik

PiwikPiwik Tracking is a self-hosted open source application, which means you put it on your own server.  My favorite thing about Piwik is that you own all the data and can easily manipulate it how you please.  This gives you so many options to build out custom solutions if the other services just aren't quite cutting it for you.  Some people complain that the dashboard isn't very intuitive but I've never had this issue.

Clicky

Clicky is a good service as well, but plan to pay monthly in order to access the features that make this tracking service stand out.  The heatmaps are a huge help to find out where your users are clicking and where you might be losing sales.  But arguably the best feature of Clicky has always been the real time data.  They data is truly real time and while Google Analytics has branched into this territory, it seems like it's still buggy at times.

Google Analytics

Google AnalyticsAnd this article wouldn't be complete without mentioning the king.  Google Analytics is a terrific service and it's free.  They've really make leaps and bounds lately and with new ways to view your data within the dashboard, it covers all your bases really well.  The only downside I think worth mentioning is that you really should setup filters for your site and there's not much advice on how to do this when you sign up. One filter, for example, is to exclude all domains but your own.  I failed to do this in the past and when some lazy developer stole the code from my page, he also copied the tracking code with it.  After not having logged into Google Analytics for a couple weeks, I was pretty shocked and confused to see visitors on my website looking at a page about swimming pool sizes.  I won't out the developer or the site that did it, but if you're going to plagiarize you should at least take a look at the code.

Why are you still reading?  Start tracking now!

I hope this has painted a pretty clear picture as to why you should be tracking your visitors and split testing your site.  This isn't meant to be a comprehensive article on all these topics and in all fairness, I could write a book on each section in this article.  We'll be posting more tips on how to optimize your website soon, so stay tuned.