Monday, January 16, 2006

Google Analytics - A Gift for Small and Medium online Businesses

Google has shaken up yet another industry and in the process given a great tool to Small and Medium online Businesses. The release of Google Analytics brings the power of web analytics to a whole new segment of online business and has the potential to reshape many websites out there in the near future. While high demand has forced Google to temporarily suspend new accounts on the service they have promised it will open to new users again soon.

Web analytics are essentially statistics that show who your visitors are and how they are using your website. Such information is as good as gold for an online marketer and no company large or small should be ignoring what visitors are doing on their websites.

While web analytics were once the domain of webmasters and Internet marketing gurus Google has opened web analytics to the masses with the release of Google Analytics.
In March 2005 Google bought Urchin, one of the most well known web analytics tools at the time. After months of industry speculation Google released a Google Analytics tool based on Urchin technology. The tool is free for Google adwords users and capped at five million page views a month for anyone with a Google account. We should never again hear that it’s too expensive or too difficult to track and consistently review web statistics.

So what can a small business do with all this new website data that is free for the taking? While there is a wealth of information collected by Google Analytics, below I’ll talk about the basics that most website owners can understand and easily use to improve their websites.

1. Where is your site traffic coming from?
Knowing where your website traffic is coming from is key in knowing if you are reaching the target audience you thought you were. All analytics programs including Google Analytics have information on the origin of your website traffic. Google Analytics will give you information on the country and city that your visitors are from and where on the Internet they are coming from, whether it is paid listings, certain keywords in search engines or other links.

With this information you can see if visitors to your site are from the geographic and internet regions that you target and if visitors are finding you through the keywords and Internet links you expect. I warn you before regularly checking on the origins of your traffic that the results may surprise you.

2. What was a visitor’s path on the site and how long did they stay?
Knowing how a visitor moves on your site is as good as opening up their mind to see how they think and react to your website. Most analytics programs including Google Analytics track information on entry pages to your site, the path visitors follow on the site, the exit page from the site and the length of time visitors stay on each page. With this information you can see where potential customers are being lost and if visitors are seeing the information they need to in order to convert them into customers.

For example, after analyzing your web analytics information you may realize that most of your site traffic from search engines is ending up at the articles section of the page without going through the homepage. If this were the case, your web analytics data is telling you to make sure that the articles section of your site includes prominent navigation to the rest of the site. It also suggests that your articles section may be a very good place to showcase special offers and strong calls to action.

3. What works on your web page?
Having accurate and detailed web statistics for your site allows you to do testing to see what can make your website work better and generate more revenue. Google Analytics shines here with an arsenal of comparison statistics for websites and Adwords campaigns. Google Analytics has features that allow you to do ad version testing and time series testing.

For example, if you have always had a gut feeling that your products would sell better if you changed your navigation layout you can try it for a month and judge by your web statistics which design worked better at keeping visitors on the site and converting them into customers.

Google Analytics provides a powerful free tool for small and medium on line businesses. While privacy of information is a concern, the power of Google Analytics as a free tool outweighs the potential privacy issues and as Google has pointed out, companies are already giving the same information to other analytics providers. So enjoy your new information but remember web analytics are addictive and you may find yourself checking your stats every night from now on.

With contributions from Nicholas

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