Has it been a month already? That means it's time for the non-techy, ultra-friendly advice column for social entrepreneurs and non-profits managing their web sites on their own. Each month, we dedicate this blog to answering your questions about ways you can take control of your own web presence, keep your site updated, and integrate the technology that best supports your customers and donors -- and hopefully, our answers will be as easy for you to understand as a cookie recipe.
This month, we're answering an anonymous question from a fancy-shmancy, high-fallutin', big-bucks guy in corporate level marketing. In his day job, he is able to snap his fingers and get five years of market trends in his clients' industries, including when web traffic spiked in relation to different campaigns, which parts of the country clicked on which Facebook ads, and what the projected next month of online ad conversion might be based on the outcome of the NCAA basketball championships (go Badgers!). He's asked us not to identify him, but he's wondering how, without the fancy analytical tools he has at his disposal at work, could a regular joe with a small business EVER be able to see which online marketing tactics are working, and which are a waste of time.
His question: how does a small-potatoes web site owner know what's working online and what's not?
First Things First
Install Google Analytics on your site. This is the web site owner's dream tool -- free, widely used, and widely supported by people and applications alike. Google has a nice set of step-by-step instructions already written to show you how to get a Google account and an analytics tracking code for your site. Once you have that Analytics Tracking Code, you'll need to be sure it appears on every page of your site. It won't be visible to you or your web site visitors from the front end, but Google will be able to "see" it and use it to collect valuable data about the activity on your site.
Installing that Analytics Tracking Code onto your web site works a little bit differently depending on what you used to build your site in the first place:
- In Joomla, you can put the code into a Google Analytics plugin like Google Analytics Dashboard, though many templates have a specific field in the template manager for the Analytics tracking code.
- In WordPress, you can use an SEO plugin like Google Analytics by Yoast, though similarly, many themes provide a place for you to input the tracking code.
- In Drupal, you can use the Google Analytics Module to insert the tracking code.
- Other content management solutions have their own sets of rules. Wix offers instructions, and so does Weebly and even SquareSpace.
Once the Analytics Tracking Code is installed on your site, Google will start to collect data. While you may have something to look at within 24 hours, you'll find that meaningful results will take at least a month to collect. That's when you'll start seeing trends and collect enough information to decide what's important. Some of the solutions above offer you a way to see your site analytics -- some call them traffic statistics -- right inside the back end of your web site, you can also always see those statistics at https://www.google.com/analytics/web/
The first interesting information my clients often like to gather about their web sites is about who their visitors are. Sometimes that's a little tricky to determine from the data we see in Analytics, but here's what I've learned about mine that way:
- I have more new visitors than returning visitors (was it something I said, folks?).
How do I know?: It's displayed as a pie chart on the right side of the Audience Overview.
Why is this important?: I can see that I'm grabbing people with headlines, but maybe I am not giving them enough motivation to come back again later.
- The majority of my visitors are local.
How do I know?: This is also on the Audience Overview under Demographics -- City. I can see that the top two cities are right near home.
Why is this important? Everything is going according to plan! Most of my clients and my prospects are also local. These are the people I want to look at my site!
What are these people doing once they get to my site? This is golden information for a small site owner. What can I learn about that from my analytics?
- Lots of people see my home page.
How do I know? I can see it in the breakdown under Behavior --> Behavior Flow --> Site Content --> All Pages. The page of my site with the most page views in the past month was my home page.
Why is this important? Now I know I've got to keep that page looking great. People are going there and have been going there all the time. It tells me that they're not always just reading a blog post and leaving the site.
- People are clicking on the tags in my tag cloud.
How do I know? In the same place that I can see that my home page got the most page views, I can see that three of the other top ten pages viewed on my site are pages that my content management system generates just from the tags at the end of my blog posts. That means that people see a post about "cookies" and click the word "cookies" at the bottom to see more articles on that topic.
Why is this important? Now I know the topics that are most interesting to my visitors! These are topics I should write about more often.
Is there a time-related pattern to high traffic on my web site? Low traffic? I can tell something about my visitors from these patterns.
- Publishing my blog makes a difference.
How do I know? By looking at the Audience Overview, I can see that the highest traffic times on my site correspond to the launch of a new blog post. There is a small spike in traffic about four hours after the post publishes, which I happen to know is when the RSS reader emails the post out to my subscribers, and then another small spike after I share my blog link on social media.
Why is this important? If I am going to have site downtime or make updates, I'd best not let them happen during those peak periods.
- My traffic is just international enough to make a difference.
How do I know? I can see in my Audience Overview also that I have some regular, returning visitors from overseas.
Why is this important? There are just enough of those overseas visitors that I should take their busy windows of site traffic into consideration for planned site downtime and outages as well.
How are all of these people finding my site? Where were they before they came to me? These are important questions that Google Analytics can answer for me, and I've learned some great, actionable things about my visitors' previous stops on the web.
- Syndicating my blog is good for my web site traffic.
How do I know? Many of my blog posts get cross-posted on Business2Community.com. I can see in Acquisition --> All Traffic --> Source/Medium that Business2Community sends visitors to me by way of my byline there.
Why is this important? I can predict right now that this post is not likely to get picked up by Business2Community because it's too specific to my client base, but if I want to continue pulling in new visitors, next week's post had sure better be a good fit for them.
- Social media works for me.
How do I know? A huge chunk of my traffic (Acquisition --> All Traffic --> Source/Medium) comes from Facebook and Twitter, with a smaller portion coming from LinkedIn. These are all places where I actively share and contribute to the community.
Why is this important? If it isn't broken, don't fix it! I should stay active on social media, because it brings visitors to my web site.
In the end, the reason to pay attention to your site traffic and analytics is to make the content on your site better -- better for your business goals and better for the customers who you hope are visiting your site. You don't need a team of experts and forty years of comparative data models to do a reasonable, practical assessment of what content on your site is attracting visitors and what your visitors are looking to find when they arrive. If you want more information than you can get from Google Analytics, then it's probably time for you to hire a marketing consultant -- but for small business owners with simple web site needs, rest easy. This is a great tool.