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Deciphering Web Analytics

By Kelly Kubrick

Last issue, we discussed the need to review your Web site analytics reports so that you can understand the value your site offers you and your visitors.
The first time you look at your analytics reports, you may find yourself overwhelmed by unknown language, incomprehensible charts and graphs, and contradictory numbers. In fact, this may be the case the first couple of times you look at the reports. Hang in there: All will eventually become clear!
Ask your Web master how you can access your site’s analytics reports. Typically, you’ll be given a Web site address (or URL) to go to, and also a name and password so that you can access your confidential data. However, before you log in, it helps to know that there are generally four categories of information available to you:
• Volume of traffic
• Source of traffic
• Content consumed

Activity levels
This month, we’ll focus on volume—how much traffic you are getting in a given period. Critical metrics are “visitors” and “visits”. Ignore “hits”. Hits are not an accurate measure of demand; instead, they are a technical metric and irrelevant to a business analysis. To give you a sense of what you should look for, this is an example of what your Web analytics traffic volume data might look like:

2006 internet chart

Think of the number of visitors as a very rough proxy for the number of people arriving at your site. Rough, because there are several factors which may skew the number one way or another but, for now, stick with people. How many visitors did you have last month?

… and Visits
Next take a look at your visits; these tell you the number of times you see a visitor in a given time period. As an example, let’s assume a prospective customer (visitor) arrives at your sales centre on Saturday and again on Sunday. According to Web analytics for that week, you would count one visitor with two visits. How many visits did you have last month?
Typically, you will see more visits than visitors, simply because of Internet consumer behaviour in our increasingly high-speed environment. In the early 1990s, researchers from Palo Alto Research Center coined the term “information snacking” to describe this trend. Given the increasing availability and decreasing cost of broadband connections, we now see that Web site visitors “snack” on information, a change from the “dial-up” days. Today, visitors spend less time on any one site, but visit more frequently, for a shorter time, and to answer a specific question.
Depending on the analytics tool your company is using, you may find slightly different names for the various metrics. For example, you may see “sessions” instead of visits. You may also find that you can’t find the “visitor” report. This means that the Web analytics tools is not as good as it could be, and that’s a problem. You need to be able to understand demand for your Web site, and you’ll do that best with a combination of visitor and visit reports.

The Ones Who Come Back
On the other hand, some of you may find other reports such as “new versus return visitors,” which can tell you if the majority of your traffic comes from those you’ve never seen before or seen with regularity. Think about how you treat prospective home buyers: You speak to them very differently the first time you meet versus when they come back to purchase their second home through you. However, if you don’t remember that returning customer or his or her particular needs, you can damage the relationship… and potentially lose the sale.
The same thing applies to Web site visitors. How would you communicate differently to someone if it’s the first time he or she sees your home page versus the fifth or fiftieth time? Yet we often leave the exact same messaging up on our Web sites for years at a time, regardless of who’s looking at that page or how often they’ve been there.
Your analytics reports can offer a wealth of information about your potential and actual customers. Review them and begin quantifying the reach your site is delivering.

Kelly Kubrick, former director of e-commerce at Time Warner in New York, is president of www.OnlineAuthority.com, an Internet marketing consulting firm.

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