How to Monitor Your WebsiteWednesday, July 16th, 2008
If you don’t monitor your website’s statistics, you really cannot run an effective website. If you do monitor your website, are you looking at the right information? There’s a lot more to effective monitoring than just looking at website “traffic”.
It has been said that “you cannot change what you do not measure”. For example, if you don’t know what your visitor numbers were before changing the design of your homepage, how will you know if your numbers have changed afterwards? In this case, has your design change succeeded? It’s impossible to say! In which case, you should have saved your time and money and not changed anything.
Monitoring allows you to access details about how your website is being used and by whom. By interpreting your statistics, you can change and improve your website to better meet the goal of your website. Another key reason to monitor is that it allows you to understand the source of your visitors, helping you to refine your strategies to increase visitor numbers and improve search engine optimization (SEO).
How to monitor
In the early days of the internet, one of the most common appearances on a website was a “web stat counter” - often a small graphic indicating the number of visitors that had visited the website. Monitoring tools have developed considerably since these early days, and there are now highly sophisticated solutions (see some recommended website analytic tools).
There are two main methods of collecting website analytic information:
- Log Analysis
- Software that analyzes the traffic details sent and received by your servers
- Page Tagging
- Code that is placed on a web page, and which sends visitor information to a server
While neither method is perfect, page tagging is used more commonly nowadays as it allows for greater information collection than log analysis. However, as with all monitoring, a combination of approaches is best.
What to monitor
Depending on what software you install, you will be surprised at how much information you can collect about your visitors.
There are three key areas to study:
- How people arrive at and leave your website
- Who your visitors are
- And what they do
How people arrive at and leave your website
Understanding this area is vital to increase targeted visitor numbers. Arguably, this is the most important area to monitor and act upon, as without visitors, your website may as well not exist.
You can use web analytic software to find out:
- Which websites your visitors are coming from
- Which search terms that brought them to your website
Visitors to your website will come from either:
- Directly inputting your domain name
- Through search engine results pages
- Or from links to your website from other websites
Any popular source of visitors should be investigated: for example, where are people finding your domain name - perhaps from an offline advertisement or your business card? What search terms are leading to visitors to your website? Are these keyphrases you have targeted? Which websites are linking to yours and what is the context of that link - a positive review, an advertisement, etc.?
By understanding how people are finding your website, you can see where your marketing has been successful, or where it needs to be stepped up. You may also find that a marketing strategy you overlooked or rejected has potential to be very rewarding, e.g. perhaps there is an unlikely keyword combination that has led to a number of visitors to your website, and you may decide it is worth optimizing some webpages for this term. Or you may have found that a website design review has led to many visits, and you may decide to submit your website to other design competitions.
Who your visitors are
The amount of data you can find out about your visitors is fairly limited, but you can still collect some useful information, including:
- Country of origin
- Browser language setting
- Technical settings including browser type, screen resolution, connection speeds
Obviously, knowing how someone arrived at your website can allow you to guess what type of person they are, e.g. visitors from Digg.com are likely to be technically-minded, young and male. You may need to do some detective work to decide what kind of person is coming from a website you are not familiar with. Similarly, search terms may give you clues as to the type of person: e.g. a search for “hairdressers new york” is probably a female based in New York.
If you are attracting the “wrong” type of visitor you are wasting their time and using up your web server’s resources for no reason. The “wrong visitor” is any visitor who is not helping your website to achieve your website’s goals - in other words, not your target market. While it may be pleasing to see your traffic statistics soaring, if you cannot monetize or “convert” these people they are not relevant to your website’s success, and may be detrimental, by overburdening your server and slowing down your website’s response time.
What people do on your website
An screenshot of a Crazy Egg heatmap
This is of critical importance for your website’s success. If you are getting visitors, that’s a good start, but unless the visitors are behaving in ways that will lead to achieving your website’s goal, your website can still be a failure. By understanding what people are doing on your website, you are able to see what is or isn’t working, and to make improvements to your website - whether that is the design or content.
You should make sure you are able to answer the following questions:
- Which pages are most visited and least visited
- How long they are spending on which pages
- What they click on on each page
- Which path your visitors took before they bought your service/product (“converted”)
- Which pages they are leaving from
Being able to tell which pages are the most visited helps you to determine what parts of your content is most valued by your visitors: knowing what your visitors value allows you to provide a better service and helps guide your website’s growth. Knowing which pages are least popular either means these pages are not found or that the content is not valued by your visitors. In either case, you should take action!
The ability to tell what your visitors click on per page is very useful when you are fine-tuning your webpage. With this ability and using A/B split-testing, you can accurately assess the impacts of any changes you have made. For example, moving a button further up the page or altering the button’s colour may increase the numbers of clicks it receives substantially.
Some of the most useful information that website monitoring will provide you with is the route that visitors that have “converted” took. By studying how visitors that bought, sent a form, visited a page etc. travelled through your website, you can attempt to increase and improve the conversion process.
Equally important is knowing which pages people are leaving from and trying to understand why. Do all your visitors leave from page “X”? If so, is there an obvious reason? Maybe your visitors make it all the way to a payment form before exiting in disgust when they see the length of it! Whether or not there is an apparent reason, the message is clear that the page needs changing or increased promotion.
Don’t underestimate the importance of monitoring your website: making changes to improve your website has no meaning unless you can see the before and after effects. Similarly, ensure you are looking at the right data, otherwise you will not be able to tell the results of your changes.