Wouldn’t it be great if you knew more about how your customers and prospects interacted with your website, so you could tailor content and campaigns accordingly and increase the opportunity available to you via the web?

Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock the past few years, you’ll know that you can. And it isn’t all that hard.

I know I rant and rave about web analytics, but they really are the holy grail for anyone accountable for the success of the online realm of a business. And as the web plays an increasingly critical role in the battle for market share, the incremental gains that can be made online can offer major competitive advantages.

Free tools like Google Analytics are fantastic for beginners (and let’s face it, having something is better than having nothing), but if you’re serious about your website, return on investment and continuous improvement, then a paid analytics package is essential. If you’re going to invest then you may as well measure – otherwise how will you know what success looks like?

Start at the beginning with KPIs. What is your website trying to achieve? The whole purpose of this exercise is to help you reach these goals. From there it’s hard to know where to look first, which measurements matter and what statistics you should be monitoring. My advice? Understand your visitors and measure based on objectives. Who is doing what, when and where? Using analytics you can focus on the specifics.

If you’re like most brands, your website will have a number of target segments – and each will have its own expectations. But I don’t need to tell you about the benefits of understanding visitor types – knowing your target audience is Marketing 101. What you should know is that web analytics can provide you with aggregated demographic and psychographic information on these segments, and then track them accordingly. How do Facebook users between the ages of 35 and 55 engage with your website differently from Twitter users under the age of 35 who access from mobile devices? These are the kinds of questions you can have answered. 

Measuring based on objectives is all about breaking down the end goal based on the actions that need to be completed in order to achieve the conversion; so that each action can be incrementally improved to increase the percentage of conversions. Have I lost you? I’ll break it down. For example, if the end goal is a sale, then the steps to achieving that sale are:

  1. Reach the website
  2. Go to the product catalogue
  3. Narrow down product options
  4. Check product details
  5. Add product to cart
  6. Proceed to order page
  7. Enter details
  8. Confirm payment

Each of these steps is an opportunity to improve. Web analytics will tell you the types of people who are making it to each step, what they are looking at, where they are dropping off and much, much more, comparatively. From there you can make informed decisions (rather than assumptions) about how to improve each step and the process as a whole (and you may choose to do so differently for different segments). Measure changes, assess the impact and then refine further. Your options are endless – multivariate testing and A/B testing mean you can test any number of versions so you can identify the most successful in context – it’s like having your very own crystal ball.

I always say if you can’t measure it, don’t do it, but we need to move beyond the basics in order to improve and take the next steps. Measure everything, miss nothing. From what I’ve seen, people are largely unaware of the possibilities of web analytics, and it’s an area in which companies can gain sustainable competitive advantage. More and more organisations are stepping up – so where will you be when the competition does?