Web Analytics: A Powerful, Free Tool

“What gets measured gets improved” is an old saying that applies to everything from weight loss to profit-and-loss. Measuring the many ways in which people interact with your website and adjusting the content or structure accordingly is a powerful way to improve your bottom line. Read on to learn how free web analytics can boost your bottom line…

Measure, Improve, and Excel

Website analytics tools can be very helpful, but there is no limit to the number of metrics that can be measured, analyzed, and tweaked. Web analytics can become a horribly geeky, tedious career that distracts you from your real business. So it’s important to identify the handful of Web metrics (measurable variables) that make the biggest differences in your bottom line and limit your analyses and tweakings to them.
Focusing on the wrong metric(s) can lead to “tweaks” that, in hindsight, should never have been made. Relentless pursuit of every scrap of data about site visitors has led to gross invasions of privacy and harm to overly-inquisitive businesses’ reputations. Each measurement consumes a bit of bandwidth and processing power; too many measurements can degrade the speed of your site. So avoid over-analyzing.
Website Analytics
For most businesses, mission-critical metrics include Pageviews, Visits, Conversion rate, and Bounce rate. Now, let’s see what all that jargon means and why it’s relevant.
Pageviews is the number of times that a given Web page is loaded by a user’s browser, enabling the user to view it. Thanks to local caching of Web pages, a page may be loaded without being fetched from the Web server; in that very common case, the server would have no record of a pageview. So most Web pages now have “tags” embedded in them: invisible URLs that fetch a one-pixel image from the server every time a page is loaded, whether the page is cached or not. That fetch gives the server’s Web analytics software the signal it needs to record a Pageview.
Visits is the number of times that any user has fetched at least one page from the site. A visit is considered to last until the visitor stops navigating the site; typically, a visit is treated as “ended” after 30 minutes of inactivity. If the same user returns later, it’s counted as a new visit. Visitors may simply leave, or they may be converted into prospects, buyers, readers, referrals, or whatever you are trying to persuade them to do as a result of consuming your Web content.
Tracking visits is critical to measuring Conversions. A conversion occurs when a visitor is converted into something else you want: a reader, subscriber, qualified prospect, customer, referrer, etc. The ratio of conversions (of any specific type) to total visitors is a metric of your website’s effectiveness. If conversions to prospects are running lower than desired, you want to know about that so it can be fixed.
The Bounce Rate is the percentage of visitors who load just one page and then leave, not returning within 30 minutes. Normally, this number should be very low. The Bounce Rate of a given Web page may indicate that it is truly repulsive to a significant portion of your audience, or that it needs tweaking, or that you are mistakenly attracting visitors who are looking for something else. A high bounce rate is most problematic if you’re paying for clicks.

Some Free Analytics Tools

Google Analytics is a free service for webmasters that offers a very comprehensive set of tools for helping you keep track of how many people are visiting your pages, where they come from, what they do there, how long they stay, and whether or not they buy. It has the capability to track the effectiveness of advertising and search engine optimization campaigns, referrals from social media sites, and which pages are the most popular.
Because of the robust feature set, and the fact that it’s free, Google Analytics is by far the most popular website analytics tool. It’s a snap to start using Analytics – just sign up, place a snippet of code on your web pages, log in to the web interface when you want to check your stats. In most cases, adding the code to a sitewide footer is the easiest way to get rolling. The downside of this tool is that it’s Javascript based, so if your site visitors have Javascript turned off, their activity (visits, pageviews, etc.) won’t be recorded
Another popular, free analytics tool is AWStats. It’s different from Google Analytics in that it runs on your own server, not Google’s. If you want to make sure that you’re the only one who has access to your website stats, this is a plus. If you’re not comfortable getting under the hood of your Linux web server to install the software, that’s a minus.
Another difference is that AWStats analyzes your web server’s log files, instead of relying on Javascript, so it may do a slightly better job of tracking all the visitors to your site. AWStats keeps track of many of the same things that Google Analytics does, and generates reports and graphs on demand.
Are you using an analytics tool to monitor what’s happening on your site? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below…

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  1. Anna90216 says

    I’ve been using Google Analytics for several years, and have found it extremely helpful. I love the ability to see which browsers and operating systems people are using, and what countries my visitors are coming from.

  2. Statcounter is another option, for basic hit counter functionality on your web pages.

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