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Get Started With Web Analytics Without Throwing Your Arms Up

The web is a place for connection and wonder. But it is also a place for measurements, lots of measurements. With all the numbers flying around our heads, web and social analytics tools used to make me throw my arms up in the air. They can tally:

  • how many followers, favourites and RTs you get on Twitter
  • how many unique visitors find your blogs and the conversion rates of your business sites
  • how many Facebook likes, comments and friends you have
  • how many Facebook page fans you gathered
  • how many likes and reblogs you earned on Tumblr
  • and on and on. You get the idea.

From our deep need to be liked springs the desire to make these numbers go up, up and up. Always. Even though it shouldn’t, my heart sinks a little when my Klout score goes down. And I feel better when I get new followers on Twitter or Google+.
We tie our worth to these numbers. We know it’s reductive and inaccurate but we do it anyway. It’s complicated because we can’t dismiss these metrics in bulk.

Choose the right metrics or do not watch them at all

As we mindlessly obsess about them, we find ourselves trying to please everybody. Broadening and broadening our scope until it doesn’t make sense any more. Of course, we need some of these numbers. They can tell us where to direct our efforts better. However, we need to direct our attention to the right ones.
Standard reports from tools such as Google Analytics give us every number imaginable. It’s so confusing. We focus on the numbers that are easy to understand like monthly unique visitors and conversion rates.
Paying attention to the wrong metric is worse than not following any. If you track the wrong number, you’ll take all the wrong actions. Gerry McGovern explains it best in this article about an e-commerce site that connects sellers to customers. They focused on attracting more sellers and failed to focus on their customers. Of course, it didn’t increase sales or leads. Lead generation and consumer satisfaction aren’t easy to measure but, according to Gerry McGovern, trying harder to measure what matters makes a world of difference.
Hence, if you’re not going to take the time to learn how to pay attention to the right metrics, you might as well leave your analytics tool behind. People starting out on Twitter and on blogs out of personal interest need not worry about them. If you want to embark on a journey of learning, there are a few actions to take.

Measure basic website health

There are basic steps you can take to gauge the health of your website. Avinash Kaushik, who is the world’s most respected authority on web analytics, distills his wisdom and experience on his blog. Unmissable articles are clearly labelled as such and linked from the footer.
In the first unmissable he details the 10 steps he advocates you apply to any website. I would suggest you read his long post and take all the steps one by one. However, here are the gems that most probably apply to bloggers and social media enthusiasts like us.

  1. Traffic sources show you where your visitors come from. According to him, you should have diverse sources: search engines, other sites linking to you, and direct visits should all be well represented. Social media sites are big drivers of traffic as well. Pay attention at how much traffic comes from Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, and Paper.li to see which of the services brings you more value.
  2. Visitor loyalty is important for many bloggers. Our audiences may be small but we pride ourselves on keeping them engaged. The percentage of returning visitors is where most people look for information about engagement. Unfortunately, ratios are bad because they’re volatile and, hence, unreliable. Instead, look at visit frequency and recency which measure how many times visitors returned and how many days have elapsed between their two last visits. You should also take a look at the visit’s length. Again, avoid the average and watch the detailed report.
  3. Ever wonder which of your topics resonate with your audience the most? Keyword clouds will give you hints. Lists of the 10 most-used keywords to find your site are dull and looking at them too much may make you shoot for the common denominator in your audience instead of breaking it down to serve it better. Instead, go the keywords page of your analytics tool, export the raw data and paste it into Wordle. It will give you a great visualization of what your audience is looking for and found on your site.

These pieces of information constitute a great stepping stone to make you enter the exciting world of analytics. They may prompt you to take actions or, at least, ask yourself relevant questions and investigate further. Happy analysis!
Image credits: The proportions of men and their secret numbers, 1533 woodcut.

I wrote “Get Started With Web Analytics Without Throwing Your Arms Up” on Paper.li’s blog, it was originally published on July 26, 2012. Reproduced here with permission.