Why Are Web Analytics Tools Important?
Web analytics tools allow you to track exactly where visitors go on your site, how long they spend on each page and how they interact with your site or app. This allows you to understand more about your potential customers and to measure, analyse and report on your traffic. Web analytics tools answer four key questions:
- Who visits your website – in terms of number of visitors and their characteristics?
- Where do your visitors come from – the source of traffic?
- What do visitors do when they get to your site – which pages do they visit?
- Where do they go afterwards – if you have links to other sites (e.g. you are an affiliate)?
This is useful to know so that you can begin to measure the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns and the performance of your website. Unless you measure something you won’t know if you are getting better or not and what changes to make to improve performance and revenues. This means using web analytics tools to set benchmarks and start monitoring changes over time. Web analytics tools allow you to measure:
- How many visitors land on your site every day?
- Your audience and their demographic profile – the gender mix, their age, what are their interests?
- What geographic location do your visitors come, such as the city or country?
- What proportion of your visitors are new or returning visitors?
- Audience behaviour – engagement levels and frequency of returning to your site?
- What browsers are they using? Important to know so that you ensure you support old browsers if lots of your visitors are still using them.
- Technology – what devices are your visitors using and their screen resolution? Again very useful because you want to optimize your site according to the devices & screen sizes of your visitors.
- Landing and exit pages – what are they?
- Which is your most popular content – which pages do they visit most? Critical for prioritising effort and A/B testing.
- Which channels drive most visitors to your site – organic, direct, referral, paid, social?
- Which campaigns generate most visitors to your site?
- Referrals – Which domains are generating most visitors for your site.
- Keywords used by visitors to find your site.
You can compare website traffic against your key competitors on metrics such as bounce rate, time on site and source of traffic by using a website audience comparison tool. These tools use information collected by ISPs, panels and other sources to track competitor website traffic and demographics.
Using Web Analytics Tools To Set Goals:
This is all interesting information, but what really matters is whether you are achieving your business goals. Web analytics tools allow you to set up your organisational goals to measure performance over time and identify reasons why you may not be achieving them .
One of the main tasks of conversion rate optimisation is to align each individual webpage with the relevant business objective. So for instance if you have an e-commerce site you will want to set up goals that lead towards a sale, such as view a product page, add to basket, enter checkout and finally complete a sale.
For a blog you will be more interested in engagement metrics, such as time spent on site and number of pages viewed. Once you have defined your key metrics you can set up automated reports to monitor your conversion rates and begin to investigate any changes that occur.
Next you need to better understand your visitor behaviour to identify user journeys and whether you can improve goal achievement through making changes to your site. You should monitor bounce rates and page load speed times to ensure any changes you make to your website don’t put visitors off browsing your site.
One of the most useful benefits of web analytics is the ability to look at the visitors’ path to purchase so that you can identify the drop-off rates at each step in the journey. You will be able to see if any particular stage is more problematic than the others so that you can consider what changes might help reduce this leak in the conversion funnel.
Variations in Conversion Rate:
You should then begin to investigate whether your conversion rate at each step in the funnel varies across some of the metrics we have just listed. This might highlight that your website is not that user friendly for visitors on small screens or that your site doesn’t render properly in certain browsers. You can then use one of many cross-browser testing tools to view what might be causing the problem.
If your overall conversion rate is significantly lower in Germany than the UK and there is no obvious reason why this is the case you might want to review your copy as German tends to use more characters than English and direct translations can sometimes fail to allow for local cultural differences. A/B tests have shown that cultural differences can influence how visitors respond to a user interface and so ideally web optimisation needs to allow for cultural preferences in design and behaviour.
Source of Traffic:
Web analytics tools can tell you where your traffic is coming from and which channels are converting better than others. If you are paying for traffic this helps you to understand if you are getting a reasonable return on investment. Again, investigate why you see differences in your conversion rate to try and understand if it relates to your website or the nature of the traffic for each channel.
Find Broken Stuff With Web Analytics Tools:
If you see a sudden drop-off in conversion or decline in traffic from a reliable source this may indicate something is broken on your or a referrer’s site. Use your analytics to flag up when and where on your site there may be a problem with your site so that you can prevent it going unnoticed and costing your organisation significant sums in lost business.
With most subscription web analytics you can set up automated reports that will be emailed to you on a daily basis to help you monitor your key metrics. This will save you having to login every day and allow you to monitor site performance even when you are out of the office.
Web Analytics Tools – Recommendation:
I’ve used all the most popular web analytics tools on the market from IBM Core Metrics, Adobe Analytics to Google Analytics. The clear winner for me is the free version of Google Analytics because it’s by far the most intuitive solution, it’s fast, very little delay in reporting and it integrates so easily with other tools. The support in terms of documentation is second to none and there is a wealth of advice on the web as so many professional optimisers user it.
It is difficult to beat Google Analytics if you are on a limited budget. If want a more sophisticated product then Google 360 is worth considering as this has all the benefits of the free version with the advantages of a paid solution.
17 Website Analytics Tools Compared:
Below you will find the 17 most popular web analytic tools, some of which are free, and so there is no excuse not to start measuring your visitors and their behaviour.
1. Adobe Analytics – Marketing Cloud:
Previously Omniture/SiteCatalyst. Adobe Marketing Cloud is one of the most popular of web analytics tools on the market. An enterprise solution with e-commerce sites that you can fully integrate with Adobe’s Test & Target A/B, multivariate testing and personalisation platform.
A comprehensive suite of features, including mobile, ad-hoc analysis, and the ability for real-time and rule-based decision-making tools to target key customer segments.
This positions itself as a behavioural analytics solution as its focus is on tracking events rather than simply visitors. Amplitude offers real-time monitoring of user behaviour and unlimited individual user timelines. Pathfinder, their user flow analysis, allows you to better understand how visitors navigate through your site or app by visualising the aggregate paths that they take.
The behavioural cohorting feature allows you to define a group of users based upon the actions they have or have not taken on your site. You can then apply cohorts throughout your analysis to understand how different behaviours impact specific KPIs such as retention and revenues. The Microscope feature allows you to click on any point in a chart and create a cohort of everyone who did or did not take a certain action to investigate what is driving their behaviour.
Amplitude offers a free plan for sites or apps with up to 10 million monthly events. For organisations with up to 100 million monthly events the Business Plan costs just $995 per month.
This offers a suite of analytical and testing tools for tracking and optimising editorial content and advertising spend. It focuses on helping organisations understand what content captures and holds audience attention and monetize inventory on the page.
Real-time web analytics tool with an extensive range of features including data at an individual visitor level, on-site analytics, heatmaps, up-time monitoring, a flexible API, Twitter analytics, Google search rankings, video analytics and big screen mobile mode. Free for single websites.
An enterprise level web personalisation and analytics platform which is popular with e-commerce websites. Used by many of Germany’s top 100 online retailers. This solution combines high-end technology with an intuitive user interface.
Econda’s Cross Sell combines a recommendation engine with an online sales tool and re-marketing suite. Product recommendations are context-sensitive and all entry pages can be tailored for your visitors.
Formismo is a state of the art form analytics platform to identify how users interact with your forms and checkout fields. The tool tracks every input field so that you can identify which fields users don’t complete, plus when they do and don’t use auto-complete.
Your form or checkout is unlikely to work as well on all browsers, devices or certain languages. Advanced filters allows you to view all reports for a segment of your visitors to identify and remedy cross-browser or other performance issues. A highly recommended tool by many conversion experts.
Gauges is positioned as a low-cost real-time web analytics tool for small to medium sized organisations. Gauges was designed to be a website analytics API and the dashboard that you see on the Gauges front-end is a web client that consumes the API. 7 day Free trial available.
The default option for web analytics tools for many organisations. It’s free and being the most popular web analytics tool there is a constant stream of posts on how to get the best out of Google Analytics. What I love about Google Analytics is that the user interface is intuitive and because it’s from Google it integrates really easily with other Google solutions such as the SEO tool Google Search Console, their A/B testing tool Google Optimize and AdSense.
The tool is also generally fast to generate reports, no waiting around for data to be processed or sent to you via email. It’s a great tool to begin getting into web analytics.
Once you have installed Google Analytics you will need to set it up and this article takes you through the basics. For reports to use here are 12 Awesome custom Google Analytics reports created by experts . For common mistakes in setting up Google Analytics see this excellent post by Natalie Henley.
The free version of Google Analytics offers most features that smaller organisations need and implementation is simple and quick. It uses sampled data when you have over one million unique dimension combinations in standard reports, or more than 500,000 for special queries, such as in custom reports.
Google Analytics 360 is the new enterprise suite of six applications which aims to directly challenge Adobe’s Marketing Cloud. It combines Google Analtyics Premium (now called Google Analytics 360) and Attribution 360 (previously Adometry) which it acquired in 2014. You will also get access to an enterprise version of Google Tag Manager.
It gives you access to Audience Center 360, a data management platform that integrates with Google’s own tools (including DoubleClick) and will take data from third-party tools. Of particular interest is the addition of Data Studio 360 which offers advanced data visualization and analysis solutions. This is powered by BigQuery – Google’s data analytics platform. This provides a native report building option for Google Analytics 360 with all the features of Google Docs (e.g sharing & multi-user editing).
Finally, Optimize 360 is a brand new A/B testing and personalisation tool which includes a visual editor interface to bring it in line with other leading A/B testing solutions. Optimize is the free version which allow you to run up to 3 A/B tests at any one time.
A real-time web analytics tools that gives you insights and access down to the individual user-level. A modern and intuitive user interface GoSquared offers business and enterprise solutions, together with a Free version for the small entrepreneur.
10. Heap Analytics: A unique real-time web analytics tool that doesn’t require any code to be implemented to setup event tracking. The Event Visualizer allows you to define analytics events by performing the action yourself and so anyone in your organisation can set up a conversion funnel or retention report in seconds. You can also search for an individual user to see every action they’ve done or find users based upon a specific behaviour.
Heap Analytics offers an integrated graphics solution to plot changes in key metrics over time. This allows you to adjust the range, granularity and visualisation as you require. The solution integrates easily with most popular data analysis tools and you can run your own SQL queries or export data to tools such as Tableau.
A free plan is available for up to 5,000 sessions a month or up to 50,000 sessions per month if you add their badge to your website. A 14 day free trial is available for the Custom Plan.
An enterprise web analytics tool incorporating near real-time web analytics, data monitoring and comparative benchmarking. The click-stream reports are very powerful and allow you to see how visitors navigate around your site.
You can expand the IBM Digital Analytics solution to include multiple sites, offline customer behaviour, ad relevancy, impression attribution and social media channels.
A highly recommended and powerful web analytics tool and digital marketing optimisation platform. The solution has three key advantages over traditional web analytics tools. It allows for flexible custom data with an easy to use API, it focuses on individual users and it tracks user behaviour on a multi-session basis.
By tracking user behaviour on a multi-session basis, and by aliasing anonymous cookie data with identifying information, (e.g. email address), Kissmetrics doubles as a customer database. You can collect detailed purchase information and analyse how it correlates with your behavioural analytics data. This provides a comprehensive view of an individual’s interactions with your site over time. This make it one of the most unique of the web analytics tools on the market.
The product is highly thought of for identifying holes in the conversion funnel. It allows you to build ad-hoc queries to drill down on very specific segments.
A comprehensive real-time web and conversion analytics tool. Now with a Free tool – Is my site broken, which will show you how your Google Analytics stats match up with the industry standard. It offers a range of plans, including an enterprise solution. 30-day free trial available and a 60-day money back guarantee.
This is technically one of the most advanced of the web analytics tools on the market. It is superior to Google Analytics for behavioural tracking and is great for content-focused websites. It is less relevant for e-commerce sites.
It is easy to create funnels on Mixpanel and to visualise them in the user interface. It also allows you to segment users based upon source of traffic or other characteristics (e.g. city) and how they interact with your site. The Explore feature enables you to create profiles for individual users which can be very useful for assisting Customer Services in supporting existing users.
Due to the complexity of the solution it requires a dedicated analyst who can manage it on a daily basis to fully understand the tool and ensure it is set up correctly to measure all your key metrics. To fully integrate API tracking within the solution also needs a fair amount of technical knowledge. It also requires frequent integration with your website if it has to measure specific events or you regularly update or release new features.
A self-hosted, open-source Free web analytics platform. Piwik is a comprehensive web analytics tool but unlike many packages, there is no limit to the amount of data you can store for free. It also has a mobile app. Because it is held on your own server you own the data and can integrate easily with your own internal systems.
A fully integrated and powerful enterprise web analytics tool that includes analytics, segmentation, testing, targeting and re-marketing. An excellent tool for tracking user segments, purchase funnels, scenarios, drop-off and bounce rates. The solution integrates with 3rd party data including app stores, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Webtrends analytics offers:
- Unlimited data collection
- Multi-channel measurement across social, mobile, web and SharePoint
- Configurable digital dashboards
- Standard and customized analytics reporting
- Extensive data export
- Custom and calculated metrics
- Ad-hoc data exploration to unlimited dimensions
Real-time tracking of customer activity across multiple channels including web, apps and emails. It provides a comprehensive profile for every user, customisable segmentation, funnels, retention and automated driven actions. A Free version is available.
Web analytics tools are critical to get visibility of what content your visitors are engaging with and to better understand visitor behaviour when they land on your site. For start-ups get yourself Google Analytics as this is a free and very comprehensive solution that will meet most needs. Other solutions often provide free trial periods and so if you are looking for more advanced web analytics tools there are plenty to choose from without having to commit to a major investment.
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- About the author: Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for brands such as Deezer.com, Foxybingo.com, Very.co.uk, partypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
- Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on CXL and Usabilla.com. As an ex-market research and insight manager he also had posts published on the GreenBook Blog research website. If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow Neal on Twitter @conversionupl, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.