Analytics 101: The Beginner’s Guide To Web Analytics

These days, everyone in the digital world is obsessed with analytics. It informs the content they create, the websites they build, the changes they make, and everything down to the most minor elements of running an online business.

Unfortunately, though, it isn’t the easiest subject to tackle for many businesses, leaning heavily on countless pieces of jargon and generally operating in a way that makes it an intimidating prospect for those who aren’t familiar with it.

As such, the goal of this article is to provide a practical, easy-to-follow outline of the basics of analytics, taking you from what it actually means to how you can use it to achieve clear improvements for your website (and your business overall). We've written it with accountants and bookkeepers in mind but the rules apply for all businesses.

What Analytics Means

Analytics is the process by which you collect and analyze data, looking for patterns and connections. Applied to a website, it concerns the collection and examination of information involving user activity, system performance, and anything else you care to track.

For example, when you visit a website with analytics, the system will begin a timer, and then stop that timer when you leave the site; the time you spent on the site will then be recorded and added to a large databank.

What’s more, information about each visitor can be stored, including location and system language, and used to track user journeys. Analytics data can show how visitors reach a website and which pages they view (and in what order), and even follow them across multiple distinct visits to the same site.

Why it Matters

Quite simply, because information is power. The more a business knows about the activities of its customers, the more easily it can figure out ways to help them, get them to spend more, encourage them to provide recommendations, etc.

In the case of the example we looked at (that being the time spent on a site), the business can look for correlations between that figure and the others it collects. If it turns out that the likelihood of a user getting in touch goes up dramatically the longer they stay on a site, then they can make changes to the website in a targeted effort to make users want to keep browsing.

Through collecting and examining data about your business, you can find similar opportunities for building on the things that are working for you and improving the things that aren’t.

How to Use it

Fortunately for those new to the topic, it’s surprisingly easy to start collecting analytics data; you’ll mainly need to install either an add-on or a piece of tracking code to your website.

If you built your site using a free builder like WordPress or Wix, or created a free online storefront through something like Shopify, you’ll be able to find a free plugin or app to handle the bulk of the analytics setup.

Visitor Analytics

This is for Wix, but the procedure is much the same for most website builders.

If your site was a custom build, or you can’t find a free plugin for your platform, you’ll need to do some manual configuration. To set up Google Analytics, a free and comprehensive tool, visit the site and sign in with a Google account. You will be tasked with creating an entry for the site you want to track, then given a piece of tracking code to add to the head of each page on that site.

Note: if you have a web development team, you should pass this task to them. If you don’t have a team, consult the person who set up the website before you try to make any changes.

What to Monitor

By default, you’ll get a tonne of information about various things, but you don’t need to worry about every last item. You should initially try to identify a few factors that you think tie in to your goals for the site, then keep a close eye on them as time goes by.

For example, if you are an accountant or bookkeeper, you will want to focus on the effectiveness of your content strategy when it comes to engaging people and creating new leads for your business. You will probably want to look at creating blog content and content assets that focus on core business owner problems: profitability, payroll, bookkeeping admin, cloud software, business growth etc.

Look at Xero’s small business guides for some inspiration on the type of content that’s likely to bring you solid digital results:

Xero small business guides

Using Boma’s Xero HQ sync, you will have a library of content to choose from on these topics. It’s a great way to educate and inform your readers, without having to do ALL the heavy lifting. Win-win.

Track and monitor things like how much search traffic you’re getting, how long people spend reading your content, and what actions they take next. If they head straight to a sign-up form, you know you have done well.

Don’t forget that financial calculators and checklists are likely to be popular with your target audience. They aren’t that expensive to create, and can be great sources of referral traffic. They will also help improve key web metrics like time on page: a signal to search engines that your site is engaging.

It’s all about aligning your website goals with the metrics you track

Don’t forget that your digital marketing analysis should also take into account added value. Content isn’t always about conversions, it can also be about:

  • Building loyalty and strengthening client relationships by sharing advice, insight and useful information. You can become their go-to website for all things tax, finance, and invoicing.
  • Positioning your business to attract the right client (potentially replacing labour intensive and low value work).
  • Strategic growth : being in a position to grow your advisory service, opening up the opportunity to promote and discuss higher value services.
  • Building equity in your business by establishing your firm as an expert.

Note: Tracking conversions is useful when you want to track digital downloads, content assets, purchases, or contact forms. They can really help you build a well-rounded picture of how people engage with your content…and what they do next. While basic conversions will mostly be configured for you if you’re using a top-rated analytics add-on through a framework like Shopify or WooCommerce, they will otherwise need to be established manually. Review the basics, proceed carefully, and test before proceeding.

How to Interpret Data

The first thing you must remember when you start to review your analytics data is that a lot of apparent trends and connections are merely coincidental—this is most commonly an issue for small websites with low visitor counts.

For instance, you may look back over the course of a year and observe that you received the most support emails during the months when you had the fewest users from Scotland.

Does that mean that those things are linked somehow? Well, no. If you can’t fathom how two factors could possibly be related, they probably aren’t (there are always plenty of spurious correlations to be found).

Web analytics spurious correlations

You should be looking to discern patterns in the data that you think result from things you do (or can) control or exploit to your advantage. If people aren’t visiting your About Us page even though you put a lot of work into it, are you linking to it prominently enough? Are any of the links broken?

Think of a patient going to a doctor for a battery of tests. The tests may show that the patient’s iron levels are low, but they don’t show why. The doctor must investigate from there.

As such, think like a doctor. Make logical changes that you believe will have particular effects and see what happens. Are your expectations met? Subverted? Keep going until you hit upon something that works.

How to Get Better Results

Since there’s a significant learning curve to using analytics comprehensively, begin by focusing on one key element: indulging your curiosity.

It might sound peculiar, but look at it this way: the more questions you ask about your website, the more answers you’ll find, and you’ll discover that each broad question soon splinters into numerous other questions that inevitably start to reveal opportunities.

For example, “Where are my visitors coming from?” might give way to “Why am I getting visitors from there?” and “Where do I really want visitors from?”, which in turn could prompt “How can I make my website more attractive to the desired region?”. Answer that last question and you might just generate a decent boost in business.

So keep asking questions, keep experimenting, and remember that it’s a big process. Perfection may not be an achievable website goal, but analytics equips you to chase it all the same.

About the Author: Victoria Greene is an ecommerce marketing expert and freelance writer who loves delving into analytics data and spends a lot of time polishing content. You can read more at her blog Victoria Ecommerce.