Not a week goes by when I come across a website, usually a potential client, that is failing to make optimal use of the data that is available to them. Many people seem to think that just installing Google Analytics tracking code on every page of their site is enough and that this’ll tell them all they need to know about their website.
This is, of course, not true. There’s a lot more potential data out there that can be gathered and analysed to make better decisions about how to improve a website. Here are a few obvious and not so obvious data points that can be tracked, measured, and acted upon:
You’d be surprised at how many ecommerce sites I come across that have Google Analytics installed but don’t use Ecommerce tracking. This effectively means that their web analytics are close to useless.
Without ecommerce tracking, it’s impossible to determine which traffic sources are most valuable, which keywords earn you the most money, and where you should focus your online marketing efforts. In short, without ecommerce tracking you cannot make informed decisions about your website.
Another obvious one, every submitted form on a website should be tracked. A user that fills in a form has value to your organisation, because that completed form represents a certain amount of energy and dedication. That user has a genuine question, which can be everything from a lead to a complaint. These need to be acted upon, and it’s very easy to make these submitted forms – and their associated values – visible in your web analytics. This allows you to get clean dashboard overviews of your website’s ROI without having to do a lot of data processing yourself, and that’s something every web analyst should strive for.
So figure out what the value is of each of the forms on your website and the various options users can submit (this is called business intelligence and if you can’t do this, you have bigger issues than inaccurate tracking on your website) and track these appropriately. In Google Analytics you do this via goal completions or custom variables.
Another data point that is often overlooked is a website’s internal search function. How often your internal search is used, and the queries that users submit, can offer a wealth of information that can be used to improve your site’s information architecture. Tracking internal search is usually pretty straightforward in Google Analytics – often just ticking the right box in GA is all it takes – and the insights this data can provide make it a no-brainer.
It’s not just about what users do on your site that matters. How they leave your site can also provide valuable information. Wherever you feature a link to an external site, make sure you track clicks on these links. In google Analytics this can be done in many different ways, but my preferred method is to do it as an event. If you have a WordPress site, Yoast’s Google Analytics for WordPress plugin does most of the hard work for you.
By tracking the external links your site’s visitors click on, you can determine what information is most valuable to your users, and make changes to your own site accordingly.
In the same way you can track clicks on external links, you can also track downloaded files such as PDFs and executables. Whenever you offer such files for download, be they brochures, software, or anything else, make sure you track whenever someone downloads such a file. This can tell you much about what users want out of your site, and how they find the information they require.
Links in Emails
In all my years as a SEO and internet marketer, I have come across very few clients that adequately track the clicks in their commercial emails. Usually clients tend to rely on the data provided by their email marketing software, but by not connecting this to their web analytics they’re missing an important trick.
Always tag your links in your commercial emails with the appropriate tracking code. For Google Analytics this is easily done with the URL builder tool, and many email systems can add tracking code automatically to the links in your emails.
When you have multiple links to the same page, make sure to tag these links individually so you can see which link in your email message gathered the most clicks. This allows you to make informed decisions about which layout and call to action works best for your commercial emails.
There are many more data points that can be tracked and analysed to help improve your website. What are your favourite data signals, and how do you track them?
Dynamite stuff, Barry. Ashamed to say I have never acted on the majority of those points.
You can bet I will, though. 😉
I’m thrilled to say that I do all of these items for me and every client that I work with. It’s required or I will not touch their SEO campaigns. 🙂
I take it further and track every single element on a webpage/site grouped into a logical taxonomy. Then when people put **** on there for no reason, I simply point to the data and say why’s that there?
End of story. xD
What about split A/B multivariate and crazy egg for heat mapping? Also case studies from people just clicking through the site? Not many people do this but the information you get from it is great. I always like to watch clients navigate their site the first time. It shows a lot about how people find information and has taught me a lot of things.
Yes A/B and multivariate testing are very important instruments in improving a website’s performance, but I felt those tactics fell a bit outside the parameters of this blog post. I might dedicate a future blog post on it, as it’s a topic that deserves proper attention.
Heatmap analysis as done by Crazy Egg is indeed very useful and simple to get started with – definitely something people should get cracking on for their sites.
Great article Barry,
At ROI.com.au we generally notice the same, people think a bare installation of Google Analytics will be sufficient for their data.
It would be interesting to see now that Google wants to cut off organic search referrer data when signed in to Google, and how this will have an affect on website analytics data.. in particular with eCommerce tracking.
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