Every business entity today is faced with a problem (or two), whether related to an internal process or customer. Analytics offers up part of the solution by providing us with the intelligence to understand and address the problem while benefiting the customer in the end. Yet, the data offered up by web analytics providers like StatCounter, Webtrends, Google, etc. can be overwhelming, to say the least. This is especially true if you are a small business owner or new to the business of tracking website visitor behavior.
One look at an analytics dashboard and one can come away feeling lost or anxious to get answers. Ah, but therein lies the key: Intelligently interpreting, disseminating and utilizing the data to derive at conclusions and decisions. Otherwise, the information becomes useless. Here are some suggestions on dealing with your data.
Invest in the analysis, not the technology
You will want to first establish a team of analytical minds that will be able to interpret, disseminate and manage the mounds of data. Free programs (e.g. A Beginners Guide to Google Analytics) are sufficient for the needs of most businesses. So there's no need to fret over the technology. However, you should try to avoid using two analytics programs. Experience has taught me that more discrepancies and questions arise when dealing with multiple sets of data. Not everyone may agree but let's not forget, the primary goal and a better use of time for the Analytics team should be on the analysis and drawing conclusions. Not on the technology.
Ask yourself "What is the desired result?" or "What am I trying to accomplish?" for a particular web page. Whether it's increasing traffic or converting customers, having clear, established goals and objectives will prevent you from performing the unnecessary analysis. It will also keep your website on the right track to achieving its goals. Note that Google Analytics now lets you create up to 20 conversion goals per profile, a feature released just this week. Now there is no excuse for adding such simple goals as the length of time on site and number of pages per visit.
Test and tweak then test some more
Now that you have a team in place and goals established it is time to put the data to the test. Literally. Because what do bounce rates really mean if the data is not coupled with the testing of a message, design, layout or call to action? The results will show how users react to changes. So, if your goal is to decrease the bounce rate, then did the test show the visitor staying on the website longer or leaving quicker? You want to keep tweaking and testing until you reach the desired result. Otherwise, how can you really make a sound, logical decision pertaining to your website? And there are no excuses for not testing. Google has a free tool called 'Website Optimizer' to achieve the desired test data you seek.
Patience is a virtue
It is generally not a good idea to make changes on the basis of a few days worth of data. Before you delete or pause a keyword or ad, for example, question whether you have enough data to make a sound decision. The longer the date range, the more abundance of data. Thus, the easier the decision. Shorter time frames offer misleading theories and lead to miscalculated decisions. Take into account returning customers, those who find the site via a paid ad, for example, and then return later to the site to make a purchase. You may miss out on important conversion data if you react too quickly due to a small sample set of data. Also, depending on your goal, it may take days or even months for many of your visitors to convert to customers. So, be patient and set a date range that will last as long as your expected sales cycle or return statistically significant conclusions.