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Website analytics, Google and beyond - maintaining your site health.
A website these days is not a set and forget endeavour. It’s an integral part of any business, community or organisation, which means at the base level if you don’t have one, you really should. Having a website means you need to look after it, keep it healthy and performing well, and make sure it’s doing its job and stays relevant to the ever changing online world. That’s why a website is a long-term commitment which needs ongoing monitoring, maintenance and updates. Treat your website as your star sales or spokesperson - it’s kind of a big deal!
There are a myriad of factors at play when judging the health of your website and just as many tools and techniques to help you get there, so where do you start? It really depends, but in my opinion the two big musts for any website which should be considered standard are installing Google Analytics and verifying your site with Google Webmaster Tools. They are easy to set up, cost nothing to use and can offer a tonne of insight into the many aspects of your website’s performance.
Google Webmaster Tools.
Webmaster Tools is a conversation between you and Google about how you want Google to see your site and how they actually see it and represent it to searchers. It’s important to run a tight ship in here if you care about your search results and site health.
Things you can tell Google:
- To ‘www’ or not to ‘www’ in search results. Pick one or the other so you don’t double up on results to the same page (tip: ‘www’ is redundant; we don’t need it any more).
- Where your sitemap is to make sure all your pages get crawled, even if Google can’t find it through links or navigation.
- To stop search bots crawling and indexing unwanted folders on your website, by generating rules for a robots.txt file on your site and testing it (but that might be for the more technical types out there like me!).
- To remove unwanted site links in search results - those links that sit under your main search results. Google guesses at these and sometimes gets them wrong.
- When a site address has changed.
Things that Google can tell you:
- Which search terms are leading people to your site and how those search terms have performed over time.
- What websites are linking to your site.
- What internal links your site has - links between content within your site.
- What keywords are on your site and their degree of significance.
- +1 Metrics - Google +1 activity on your site.
- Malware - if any malicious content has been found on your site.
- Crawl errors - links to content that it has a reason to look for but for some reason is not able to find.
- Crawl stats - Googlebot’s crawl activity on your site.
- A sneak peek of how the Google search spider would see a page on your site.
- Diagnostics - coding and structure suggestions towards potential search or content issues that may be on your site (get your geeks to look at this!).
Google Analytics gives you the raw data. Number crunchers and sticky beaks alike can get lost in there for hours assessing visitor stats, what they’re doing on your site, how they got there, how long they stayed and where they left. There’s a lot you can glean from Google Analytics but you should at least start with the basics and see how deep it takes you.
For the basics you get the surface level stats:
- How many visitors to your site (return visitors and unique).
- What pages they are viewing ie; what content is most effective for you.
- How long your visitors are staying and how deep into your site they are going - are you keeping your visitors engaged?
- Which pages they exited the site from which could identify a poor performing page where you’re losing your audience.
- Bounce rate - how many visitors weren’t interested at all and didn’t click on anything.
- What sources your visitors came from (search results, websites, ads).
- What search terms are leading visitors which you can use to evaluate and direct your SEO efforts and ad campaign wording.
- What countries they are from.
- What browsers and devices they are using. You can use this information to at least ensure your site works seamlessly in the majority of browsers that your visitors are using. To take it that one step further you could enhance their experience by taking advantage of the full capabilities of those particular browsers or devices.
You can then start getting a little deeper:
- Goals/conversions - set paths or conversion funnels for any calls to action you wish your users to take, such as filling in a form or buying a product. From these funnels you can see where along the conversion trail your visitors may be giving up. Assess this data to identify sticking points or problems in the flow of your goal paths.
- Campaign tracking - you can track links to your site from your email newsletters or non-AdWords ad campaigns by adding campaign tracking code to your links. That way you can assess the effectiveness of your external campaigns.
- Social media engagement - tracking on your social media interaction such as Google +1, Facebook, Twitter and so on.
- Event tracking - add tracking to any onsite events you want to monitor such as file downloads, outgoing links, video views and so on. Your more technical types could use this function in more inventive ways such as tracking validation errors on forms to identify sticking points and potential problems with the mechanics or user interface of your forms or other goals.
- Google have just added site speed to analytics so you can monitor how quickly your pages are loading for visitors across the globe. Site speed is a proven important factor in retaining visitors, providing a good user experience and has been used as a factor in determining search rank for quite a while now.
Google are constantly evolving, enhancing and improving these tools. The latest funky analytics toy they’ve given us is real time tracking where you can watch visitors interact with your site as they do it. The Google evolution of course means the search landscape is also constantly changing not to mention the fact that things on a website can break. This means you need to keep an eye on how your site is performing as an ongoing exercise. Use these tools to your advantage, identify issues and maximise the effectiveness of your star performer - your website.
Of course it doesn’t stop there, this is just scratching the surface of getting the best out of your website. You can then move into the world of mouse tracking, click and hover heat maps, a/b and multivariate testing, user testing, feedback, surveys... but we’ll get to that later.
The Technical Type