Website Analytics 101

[NOTE: This website analytics post was published in 2010, which was a very, very long time ago in computer years. I’ve left this post live, both for fun and because some of it is still relevant. If you need help with your website or Google Analytics, please feel free to contact me for help or new info.]

Web analytics is becoming a normal and necessary practice, but I think many non-profits and artists are still working with websites that don’t provide them the info they need to grow, flourish, or even function well. So this entry will be an overview of web analytics, as well as a plea to install or become familiar with your website data (instructions on that further below).

Web analytics isn’t such a techie-term. Really, it’s about analyzing your website. What do you want to know about your website and its visitors? Good web analytics can tell you whether visitors come from search engines, paid advertising, or a ranking site. It can tell you the rate at which your visitors take an action (donate, request information, etc.). It can tell you their path through the website. It can tell you how much time they spend on each page and how often they return.

There are two primary areas of web analytics: off-site and on-site. Off-site analytics refers to information about a site you don’t necessarily own (Facebook, YouTube, WordPress, etc.).

On-site analytics, which I’ll focus on today, refers to information about a site you do own. You need to know if your website is working for you. I repeat: you need to know if your website is working for you.There are lots of Analytics systems out there that are either free or cost a pretty penny. Google Analytics is free, comprehensive, and I highly recommend it.

To install Google Analytics, you just have to copy and paste some HTML code into your site’s HTML code. If you have a webmaster, s/he can easily do this in just a few minutes. If you’re managing your site, the instructions from your Google Analytics account will help you.

Because this is Web Analytics 101, I’m just going to define some of the basic terms you need to know to get started.

A hit is a visitor to or a click on a website. Saying the site received 1,000 hits is the same as 1,000 visitors. However, there are first-time visitors and returning visitors, which are pretty self-explanatory. You definitely want returning visitors, but you also want first-time visitors. Both of those numbers should be on the rise.

The number of unique visitors is a more honest assessment of how many visitors your site gets. If you or your staff visit the website every day, you’ll each only be counted once in the unique visitors number.

A reference landing page presents information (text, images, links) to a visitor.

A transaction landing page encourages an action (a purchase, request for more information, etc.).

The effectiveness of a reference landing page is commercially determined by advertising revenue. If you’re selling something (artwork, services, membership), effectiveness is determined by the rate at which visitors complete an action: the conversion rate. In the non-profit sector, this can be gauged by how many visitors go from a reference to a transaction landing page.

With just these seven basic keywords, you can see whether your website is working for you. Are people visiting your website? Are there returning as well as new visitors? Are they receiving the information they need? More importantly, is the information they’re receiving moving them to take some kind of action? If so, your website budget (time and cash) can be justified.

Considering the costs of developing and maintaining a website, anecdotal “evidence” doesn’t make it a successful tool. There are very concrete and specific ways to make your website structure, content, and accessibility a positive force in your outreach and education efforts.


Photo credit Alan O’Rourke

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