By Robert Johannesson
A newspaper posts articles online, a clothing designer markets through Google, and a political candidate runs a web-based campaign. How do they measure the effectiveness of their effort?
The web’s democratization of publishing capacity has led to an unprecedented amount of content. As a result, cutting through the noise by knowing and effectively catering to one’s audience is more important than ever. Web analytics services can help gather this data and arrange it into easily legible tables, charts, and graphs. Google Analytics leads the analytics market, is free, and provides a wealth of traffic data.
Consider an online newspaper. The bulk of the staff’s effort is in creating engaging quality content. Therefore, they would want to know what content is garnering the most attention and engagement. Using Google Analytics, content popularity can be determined by knowing the number of views per article, and engagement can be measured by average amount of time spent on each of those articles. These statistics can be broken down into various date ranges to spot trends over time.
Google Analytics also lists referrals. Referrals occur when visitors arrive at a site from external sources, such as links from other sites. They gauge popularity by indicating where traffic comes from and which pages are being linked to. Sources include search engines, social media networks, other sites, or emails. When a blog’s visitor clicks a link and arrives at a newspaper article it becomes a referral.
Referrals can be particularly helpful to businesses because they are essentially free market research giving insight as to where interest originates from. Search engine referrals, in particular, can also include the actual search terms that visitors typed before arriving at a site. A local clothing designer could review these search engine referrals to discover search phrases such as bespoke suits, evening wear dress, or custom tailoring. Each industry will have a different set of popular search terms.
Search engines generally sell ad space for specific search terms through a bidding system. When users type phrases into the search engine they see the top bidders’ ads for that search term. Knowing that a specific search term leads to visits, which leads to sales, can result in better ad targeting. The local clothing designer, for example, might bid on the search term bespoke suits after finding it on the site referrals list.
While a political campaign would be interested in all of the above data, it might also want to break these statistics down by visitor location, age group, gender, interests, and shopping behavior. It could then, for example, discover how well it is targeting 25-34 year-old males living in New York City who are interested in news and politics, and glean how this slice of users is arriving at its site.
Many more possibilities and use cases can be realized with Google Analytics. It provides the insight needed to know one’s audience and its ease of use makes it a great way to get familiar with web analytics. Google’s commitment to the service, its continual improvements, and integration with its other products, such as advertising tools, make it a sensible choice for nearly anyone’s web analytics needs.