One of the most important elements of any marketing or sales effort is a detailed understanding of how effective it is.
Without this knowledge, it is impossible to determine whether your marketing investment is making an impact or if your firm is wasting its money on ineffective channels. All too often, small businesses spend money on expensive, high-profile ads that do little other than make the owner feel like they’re marketing. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to determine the success of many marketing channels due to their inherent limitations. For instance, if you spend money on a cable television spot, you may never know how many people saw the ad or, even more important, took action as a result of seeing it.
One of the most powerful aspects of marketing online is the channel's results measurability. With a web site, you can see useful information about which pages are being visited the most, where visitors are coming from, and more. Online advertising and social media campaigns can also This information can be very useful to a small business and can enable your firm to refine your online marketing efforts over time - making your web presence increasingly effective.
Using a free web analytics tool, such as Google Analytics, can provide deep insight into what activity is taking place on your website and whether specific campaigns are converting as expected. Every time an action takes place on your site, information about the action is entered into a database and can be reported against.
Web statistics can tell you some important information about the overall usage of your site, such as:
- The most popular web pages on your site. Most basic web statistics tools will show a report showing your site’s web pages ranked by the number of times it was viewed by a visitor. This is an important gauge of where visitors are spending their time on your site and whether they are going where you would like them to go. For instance, a home improvement contractor that finds roofing projects the most profitable would hope to see the page on their web site detailing their roofing services at the top of their most popular pages.
- The pages users most often enter your site through. Users may not always enter your site through the home page, particularly if they are arriving at your site based upon an inquiry they made on a search engine. Knowing what pages visitors enter from most often can shed light on why they are coming to you in the first place. As an example, a building contractor that sees a large proportion of traffic entering his site on a page about remodeling and additions may determine that these services should be highlighted throughout the site.
- The pages users most often leave your site from. Users will need to leave your web site at some point and determining where they leave the site can give an indication as to how successful your site is at driving your users toward a desired action. If you notice that most of the people exiting your site do so from a “Contact Us” page it is probably a better indication of success than if they leave from a very unimportant page on your site. If they are leaving on an unimportant page, it may indicate that they weren’t finding relevant information and decided to leave without taking any action. In other words, you may not have had a strong enough Call to Action guiding them toward your desired result.
- The sources that are referring users to your site. Knowing how your site’s visitors find you can be a very important indication of what marketing channels are successful at driving traffic. For instance, if you notice that a large proportion of your site’s traffic comes from a search engine like Google, you might want to consider advertising on the search engine to increase your success. However, if most of your visits are listed as “Direct Request” this means users are typing your URL into their browsers, possibly as a result of seeing a printed advertisement, television spot, or a direct mail piece.
In addition to understanding the overall usage of your site, more sophisticated web statistics packages can help you drill down further into your site usage. Some packages even allow you to view an individual user’s ‘clickstream’, which is the entire series of actions a particular user took from the point they entered your site until they left. In some cases, these packages ‘cross pollinate’ information from your online advertising account or other sources in order to provide a more complete picture how your site is being used.
More sophisticated web statistics packages can extract valuable information about a specific user or segment or users, including their:
- Geographic location. Often, small- to mid-sized companies have specific geographic regions they conduct business in or that represent their ideal customer locations. Web statistics packages can provide breakdowns of where users to the site reside so you can ensure that you are reaching your ideal areas.
- Frequency of visit. When a user first visits your site, they may be reacting to a banner ad, search engine listing, or some other stimulus that is influencing their behavior. Sometimes these external influencers may steer a user to your site that has no intention of doing business with you. They may have been looking for something else entirely and misinterpreted the external influencer. However, you can infer that users returning to your site are specifically there by choice and are therefore much more likely candidates to conduct business with your firm.
- Frequency of purchase. As a general rule, it is less costly to sell additional products to existing customers than it is to acquire entirely new customers. Therefore, if you conduct business directly over the web it is very useful to understand how many customers make repeat transactions and how often these transactions take place.
- Online ad response rate. For firms that advertise online, understanding how well a particular campaign performs is invaluable. High-end statistics packages can track the click-through rate for a particular ad and the resulting conversion rate for those that did click through. Generally, this involves using campaign parameters appended to URL of the destination page special ‘landing page’ for each campaign to make it easy to track the ad’s success in getting visitors to the site.
- Demographics. By now, your firm should be on its way to having a good handle what segment(s) your most valuable customers fit into and what products and services are a good fit for them. For this reason, understanding how different demographic segments use your site can be invaluable. Hopefully users of your site that fit into your desirable segments are visiting the portions of the site corresponding to products you’ve identified as being desirable. If they aren’t, you’ll probably need to make some changes to the site to better steer the desirable segments in their proper destinations.
- ‘Clickstream’ information. When a user navigates through your site, a sophisticated web analysis package can track the path they take through your site, which is called their ‘clickstream.’ By identifying and analyzing common clickstreams through your site, you can determine if the average user is taking the desired path you want them to or if there if they are getting diverted somewhere on your site. You can also break clickstream analysis down further to view the path that specific customer segments are taking. However, getting to this degree of granularity will require gathering information from specific users, just as you would in tracking general demographic information about your site’s users.
As you can see, web statistics tools range from the somewhat basic to the extremely complex – with corresponding prices associated. However, even a free web analytics tool like Google Analytics can provide a business with important information about their web site and online marketing campaigns. By taking advantage of this valuable information, you can learn how visitors are using your site in order to fine-tune your online presence and campaigns.