Imagine that you are the proud owner of a brick-and-mortar vacuum and sewing machine repair store somewhere in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You’re in there 9-5 day-in, day-out, and you see (with your own eyes) the kinds of people who come into the store, what they buy, how long they look at a particular item before moving on, and all other kinds of observable behavior. You can determine by their accents where in the world they are from, and can identify their clothing, i.e. suit and tie, board shorts, short skirts, long jackets, etc.
Some people think that moving a business online and ditching the brick-and-mortar makes it harder to track such visitors. You can no longer “see” them with your eyes. You cannot observe their progress through your website. But never fear! With a few simple steps you truly can observe with astounding accuracy (and sometimes creepy omniscience) the behavior and location of your visitors, including exactly how they came to find your site.
It’s called “analytics”, and it’ll help you get the inside scoop on the people coming to your site. For the purposes of explaining this stuff, we’ll be using Google Analytics. It has a massive amount of documentation online, plenty of helpful people and how-to blog posts, and it’s also completely free. Not a bad deal. Now take a look at this data:
Dashboard Features – Traffic Types
The above image is the Google Analytics dashboard. You can immediately see cute little graphs showing you how many people visit your site on a daily basis, as well as how long they stay once they arrive. Pretty useful, huh? The dashboard is customizable, of course, so this one happens to show another graph of a given visitor’s time on your site depending on their location. This site is a little more popular in South Korea than it is in Germany. Fascinating!
A really useful pie chart appears here, too. It’s called “Traffic Types”, and breaks down how your visitors came to find your site:
- Organic – Someone searching Google or Bing or Metacrawler for “your business name” will find you through search results, or “organic search”.
- Direct – A user types in “www.yourbusinessnamehere.com” directly into their browser bar. That’s direct traffic.
- Referral – If you post links to your business on Twitter, Facebook, or other social networks, users who click on your links are “referred” by that site.
- Email – Your email newsletters should link back to your site. When they do, users will enter through the “Email” source.
- Paid – This refers to something like Google AdWords or other display networks where you pay for your ads to appear. When users click on an ad that points to your site, it’s paid traffic.
The graphic below shows you just how wacky things can get when you’re looking at your visitors. A map of the world shows you where visitors have come from, and if you click on a given country, you can drill-down even more. Clicking the United States would bring us another map which allows you to select a given state, and even on down to a given city. You can view what ISP is sending you traffic, too. This information is important – if all of your potential customers are in Chicago, but all of your online traffic is coming from Boston, you’ve got to do some better targeting!
The location page is part of a section in Analytics called “Audience”, and there are more ways to filter and analyze the people visiting your site than we care to talk about here. It goes all the way to telling you which browser a given visitor is using (for those of you who care about cross-browser compatibility). The image to the left is an almost-complete list, and you can spend weeks figuring out each section.
Your site has content: Every post on your blog, your contact page, the “About Us” section – everything is a destination that users can reach through the Traffic Types listed above. The graphic to the right shows the top nine pages that people have visited on your blog. Your .index (home) page will probably have the most views. These data points are really cool – they can show you what’s working and what’s not. If you blog regularly, it’ll show you which posts have gotten the most traction so you can try matching whatever style you’ve used for future posts.
Google Analytics will even show you the precise path that visitors follow as they move through your site. It’s a crazy-large graphic called “Visitor Flow”, and we’ve posted a small example of it below. Visitors Flow shows you where people start on your site, where they drop off, and how far into the site they go. It appears wildly difficult to read at first, but once you stare at it long enough, it’ll start to make sense. This section can help you build better navigation systems for your site. (click the image below for a larger version)
Google Analytics Is What You Make Of It
As you’ve seen above, Analytics provides you with almost every data point that you could ever want for the people coming to your site. There exist in our world people who get paid zillions of bucks to look at this data and provide actionable strategies for improving pageviews and traffic. There’s no reason to learn every metric.
The great thing about Google Analytics (besides its price point of $0) is that it lets you pick and choose what you want to look at. If you only care about referral traffic, it’s easy to only look at referral traffic. If you don’t care about keeping people on your site for a half-hour at a time, you can focus on pageviews and ignore the bounce rate (best to Google those terms for full explanations). The graphic above shows you the simplest set of stats that most people care about. It’s usually right there on your dashboard to tell you (in an aggregate sense) how you’re doing online.
If you’re interested in learning more about how Analytics can improve your business and your overall online strategy, the grand folks at Spotted Koi are here to help. Drop us a line!