Web analytics is the measurement and analysis of data to inform an understanding of user behavior across web pages.
Analytics platforms measure activity and behavior on a website, for example: how many users visit, how long they stay, how many pages they visit, which pages they visit, and whether they arrive by following a link or not.
Businesses use web analytics platforms to measure and benchmark site performance and to look at key performance indicators that drive their business, such as purchase conversion rate.
Web analytics became more established as an essential tool for web optimization, providing increasingly complex solutions that reported massive amounts of data. The Web Analytics Association (WAA), now known as the Digital Analytics Association, was born.
2005: Google Buys Urchin & Launches Google Analytics
Google Analytics quickly became the most widely used web analytics service on the market. Focusing heavily on quantitative analysis, it tied in directly with Google’s other web marketing offerings.
2006: The Birth of Clicktale (Now Contentsquare) & In-Page Analytics
The launch of In-Page analytics allowed website owners to see everything their visitors did on a webpage. Video session playbacks of visitor behavior delivered qualitative usability and conversion-based data, while heatmaps and form analytics provided online businesses with both quantitative statistics and qualitative behavioral data about website visitors.
2012: Universal Analytics
Google launched Universal Analytics, meaning that users could be tracked across multiple devices and platforms through user IDs. Beyond that, offline behavior began to be monitored, and customer data became richer with the addition of demographic and other information.
2016: Machine Learning on Mobile
Google Analytics incorporated machine learning into its app analytics, giving marketers smarter insights on the go. This enabled a streamlined mobile Google Analytics experience, showing more relevant metrics, with real-time monitoring. This was a turning point in the analytics industry.
The following are some of the most commonly used tools:
- Google Analytics: The ‘standard’ website analytics tool, free and widely used.
- Piwik: An open-source solution similar in functionality to Google and a popular alternative, allowing companies full ownership and control of their data.
- Adobe Analytics: Highly customizable analytics platform (Adobe bought analytics leader Omniture in 2009).
- Kissmetrics: Can zero in on individual behavior, i.e. cohort analysis, conversion and retention at the segment or individual level.
- Mixpanel: Advanced mobile and web analytics that measure actions rather than pageviews.
- ly: Offers detailed real-time analytics, specifically for publishers.
- CrazyEgg: Measures which parts of the page are getting the most attention using ‘heat mapping’.
- Number of visits, number of unique visitors
- New vs. Returning visitor ratio
- What country they are from
- What browser or device they are on (desktop vs. mobile)
- Common landing pages
- Common exit page
- Frequently visited pages
- Length of time spent per visit
- Number of pages per visit
- Bounce rate
- Which campaigns drove the most traffic
- Which websites referred the most traffic
- Which keyword searches resulted in a visit
- Campaign medium breakdown, such as email vs. Social media
There’s an old business adage that whatever is worth doing is worth measuring.
Website analytics provide insights and data that can be used to create a better user experience for website visitors.
Understanding customer behavior is also key to optimizing a website for key conversion metrics.
For example, web analytics will show you the most popular pages on your website, and the most popular paths to purchase.
With website analytics, you can also accurately track the effectiveness of your online marketing campaigns to help inform future efforts.
Advantages & Limitations
You Can Track Behavior
Using website data, you can learn how people find you (e.g., keyword searches or links at other sites) and what they do once they’re at your site. For example, if people land on a page, read information and then leave, they “bounce” without looking at other pages. You might find that you have a high bounce rate and need to address that, explains Engaio Digital.
If you have an e-commerce site, you can track visitors through the purchasing process. If you see that many of them start to make a purchase, but leave at the same step during checkout, you can analyze what’s going on with that page or step, conduct customer surveys or interviews, and try to fix the problems.
Surface-Level Data Isn’t Great
Let’s say you sell DIY painting equipment. You find out that your most visited product pages are for paint brushes. You decide to gear more of your content and advertising toward paint brushes. The problem is, if you had drilled down a bit, you would have found there’s another story.
It might turn out that most of your customers prefer paint brushes, while a smaller percentage prefer rollers and another group prefers sprayers. By just using your first-line data and not drilling down, you won’t be able to take advantage of this new knowledge. If you could, you would then serve brush pictures and links to visitors your algorithm determines are in that main group, roller images to visitors from the second group and sprayer product pages and links to visitors from the third group.
You Can Track Device Use
Even free, basic analytics programs and plugins let you know what percentage of your visitors are checking out your website on a phone, tablet or desktop computer. Using this information, you can make sure to optimize your site for each device, points out digital marketing solutions provider, Spotler. You might also decide that most of your visitors are younger, based on the fact that the vast majority of your visitors are on a smartphone, or vice versa.
Free Analytics Tools
Many website hosts provide free analytics tools for your website. If yours doesn’t, your webmaster can link your site for free to Google Analytics or another data-tracking program. If you have a WordPress site, you can download a variety of free analytics plugins. Many of these use the freemium model they give you basic data at no cost, but charge more if you want to upgrade and get more information.