A closer look at website traffic analysis

If you have a website, you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of analysing the traffic that your visitors generate. By understanding a few simple metrics, you'll learn a lot about how your site is structured, how it functions, and the products and information that you offer. It's important to know whether your website is boosting your bottom line by bringing in new customers and visitors, and of course retaining loyal ones.

A company with a content-heavy website that relies on ad revenue should focus on how many people visit and how many pages each visitor views. Those with an ecommerce site will want to know which products visitors view and how far along each customer advances in the purchasing process. In many cases, you can combine the two metrics. A good content strategy results in higher sales, and a successful sales experience encourages visitors to spend more time at your site.

For a content site looking to optimise navigation, improve layout and design, and enhance content in order to retain visitors, the right tool should measure unique visitors, page views, navigation paths, and the amount of time spent on the site. Then you can develop more targeted content for your customers. Analysing reports that measure the clickstream (the record of a user's activity on the Internet) patterns can help you reorganise your site so readers can find information quickly.

The essence of web metrics for an ecommerce site is determining how effective the site is at converting visits into sales. Here are some questions a good ecommerce metrics tool should answer: How effective are email marketing campaigns? What percentage of site visitors buy something? Are visitors abandoning their shopping carts, and if so, at which point? How much of the business consists of repeat customers? Is it easy for customers to find what they're looking for?

By measuring page hits, you can identify popular items in your web store and feature them prominently on your home page. And following clickstreams can tell you where customers are dropping out.

For both kinds of sites, you'll want to know referring addresses, or how visitors are finding your site. Knowing this can help you identify who links to your site and why, so you can approach similar sites and offer to trade links. Keywords are another important source. By knowing which keywords people use to find your site, you can increase your rankings on search engines, a process known as search engine optimisation. Your top keywords are also good Google AdWords to advertise with on the web.

Who should you choose to provide the right solution? One popular tool is Google Analytics, which provides basic web analytics. Ideal for pay-per-click advertisers, it provides excellent keyword reporting and AdWords return-on-investment reports, which advertisers can then use to tweak their ad campaigns. The service also includes executive summaries for traffic, ecommerce and conversion trends, and powerful trend-reporting features to help you understand how site traffic varies over time.

For a more robust solution, VisiStat provides in-depth site traffic analytics. Real-time stats are an addictive way to get quick data about who is browsing your site and which pages they're viewing. You can get geographic or ISP reports, referral links, and keyword tracking. Add-ons such as PageAlarm, a site availability monitoring tool, and AdCam, an advertising campaign tracker, can contribute significant functionality.

Finally, another solution you might want to consider is Webtrends Analytics, which gathers “data beyond the tag,” which the company says “gives you a more well-rounded view of what’s happening on your site and why.”