two people talking over analytics charts

A well-designed website is an indispensable tool small business owners can use to reach their goals. However, setting up your website is only half the battle. The other crucial task is measuring whether your website is pulling its weight to support your business.

This is where website analytics come into play. Regularly viewing key web metrics is a great way to determine what’s working about your website and what isn’t, which then helps you increase web traffic and encourage visitors to take action.

Analyzing your website should not intimidate you. Yes, there are some advanced tools and metrics that can confuse even the savviest of web experts, but there are also a number of relatively basic measurements that are easy to track. In the end, taking advantage of these metrics will help improve your website’s effectiveness.

Here we will take a quick look at which metrics you should pay attention to, as well as tools you can use to easily measure your website’s performance.

Which web metrics should I track?

For those just getting started with web analytics, here are five metrics you’ll want to begin with:

  1. Unique visits. Unique visits are the number of people who visited your website over a specific period of time, e.g. daily, weekly or monthly. Each person is counted only once, even if they returned to your site multiple times during the period. You can also track total visits, which counts all the visits made by each person. Visits should not be confused with pageviews. Visits is the number of people who landed on your site, while pageviews refer to the total number of pages those visitors browsed while on your website.
  2. Bounce rate. A bounce rate is the portion of total visitors who landed on your site but then immediately exited by either clicking the back button or closing their browser window. This indicates that the visitor didn’t see anything they were looking for and decided to move on. A high bounce rate signals there is something about your site that makes visitors leave right away. And each lost visitor means you’re also losing a potential customer.
  3. Referrals. This metric tells you where your visitors are coming from, such as a search engine, a link on another website or blog, or a social media site. Because referrals give you an idea of where your visitors originate, it helps you see the types of website promotions that are working for you.
  4. Conversion rate. We’ve previously touched on monitoring conversion rates when it comes to email marketing, and the same can be done for your website. This is essentially the number of visitors who take an action that you want them to take, such as making a purchase or signing up for an email newsletter.
  5. Top pages. Examining and understanding which pages on your site are more popular is an easy way to see the types of information that your visitors are looking for. On the flip side, pages on your site that don’t perform well may need to be freshened up.

Which analytics tools should I use?

When it comes to web analytics, the most common starting point is Google Analytics. The basic version of Google Analytics is free to use and can give you all sorts of helpful information, including:

  • Number of website visitors
  • Where your visitors came from
  • Where your visitors are physically located
  • How many visitors are using a mobile device like a smartphone to browse your website
  • The most popular pages on your site
  • How many visitors placed an order or took some other action
  • The amount of time visitors stay on your site

To start measuring your website using Google Analytics, you will need to sign up for an account, install the tool on your website and set up your goals.

While Google Analytics is a popular starting point, it’s not the only game in town. Here are three other web analytics tools you may find useful:

  1. HeapThis tool shows you how your visitors behave when they’re on your site, such as where they click and which pages they view.
  2. Clicky: This service has many of the same features as Google Analytics, as well as a “heatmaps” feature, which shows you where on a page your visitors are clicking.
  3. Chartbeat: If you host a blog or regularly post original content on your website, Chartbeat is a great tool for figuring out which types of content work best with your visitors and which social posts caused visitors to land on your site.

Depending on the tool and the features included, these services may require a monthly or annual fee. Since it’s free, Google Analytics is always a budget-friendly place to start. But if you want to dig deeper and can make it work within your budget, there are a number of other web analytics tools – including the three listed here – that can provide valuable insights about your website.

What are my ideal metrics?

Now that you know some of the major metrics to track, along with tools to help you do so, you’re probably asking yourself what the ideal numbers are to target. For some metrics, such as unique visitors and referrals, your targets will vary based on several factors, including the size of your business and the amount of time you’ve been open. Ideally, these numbers will be growing every month.

Other metrics such as bounce rate and conversion rate have more tangible targets:

  • Bounce rate: Your site’s bounce rate should be as low as possible, but keep in mind that a zero percent bounce rate is impossible due to the simple fact that people will visit your site by accident from time to time. A general rule of thumb: A bounce rate below 40 percent is excellent, while 70 percent or above is cause for concern.
  • Conversion rate: Your conversion rate may vary depending on what you want your visitors to do. For example, converting visitors to sales will likely be more difficult than getting visitors to sign up for an email subscription list. That said, a conversion rate above 5 percent is a solid goal, while anything below will leave room for improvement.

Setting up a website for your business is essential if you want to be taken seriously by potential customers. The next step is to put your site to work for you and get the most out of it by taking advantage of web analytics. Start with some of the basic metrics to familiarize yourself with what works and what doesn’t on your site, and soon you’ll become more comfortable with more advanced analytics to help drive traffic, and eventually, sales.

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