It can be daunting to sit down and decipher your website’s data. It’s challenging to know which metrics are most important and to unravel the story they are telling.

Numbers are meaningless without the intelligent interpretation of what they represent, so deciding what you track, and how to track it, remains a crucial task for any site owner. Below we list what we think are the 5 most important factors to study through both short and long term cycles, as they will tell you the most about the successes and failures of your site.

Setting Up Your Web Analytics

Have you set up your free Google Analytics account yet? All you need is a verifiable Google account (for example Gmail). You can follow the steps to activate tracking on your website through this incredibly powerful tool.

If you prefer to use one of the other metrics tracking tools in the market, you can try Coremetrics, Omniture, or WebTrends. These services incur various levels of fees but can offer immensely robust reporting systems and customer support, too.

Either way, here are the key metrics that you should always track on your site. Let’s dip our toes into the sea of information that is the world of analytics.

#1: Total Visits

Total visits are your most essential metric. This number reveals the amount of traffic your site is achieving each day. Pay attention to the trends in traffic over days and weeks, especially as they relate to your marketing campaigns. If you launch efforts to drive traffic and you’re seeing a spike, that’s perfect feedback communicating the effectiveness of your strategies. The reverse is obviously true too. When you see unusual dips in traffic, check things like your site’s stability to ensure there were no outages.

Check your total site visits daily. It’s like the heartbeat of your site, as it consistently reveals how healthy your business is on a fundamental level.

#2: New Visits

New visits show the segment of your total visit traffic that are attributed to unique views. This metric is a comparison of your unique visitors, versus those who are repeat customers. If you have unusually high percentages of new visitors (above 30%), that’s an indication that your site isn’t sticky enough to warrant repeat traffic. You’ll clearly want to optimize and address this trend by highlighting your most valuable content, so you encourage people to come back. Likewise, if you see very few new visits (in the single digits), and you’re doing significant marketing efforts to drive new traffic, you know other strategies are needed to meet your goals.

This metric should reflect a balance between your acquisition and retention attempts. A good target for repeat visits each day is around 15%.

#3: Traffic Sources by Segment

Traffic sources communicate the places that are sending visitors to your site. These include:

  • Direct traffic – Visitors that access you directly through your URL, either by typing the address into their browser, or by clicking on a bookmark. These could also be sourced by untagged links from emails.

  • Organic traffic – Links from an unpaid search engine listing.

  • Referral traffic – This is traffic that is linked to from other sites.

Traffic sources do more than just reveal segments. They also show you how successful your SEO efforts are. If, for example, your organic traffic is less than 40%, that’s an indication that you’re not ranking well on sites like Google. Referrals should track around 20-30%. This percentage is a healthy amount of traffic coming from link-building efforts.

It’s integral that you create a nice balance of all three segments. You don’t want to rely solely on links or SEO efforts because this hardly ever results in stable, long term growth. By keeping in the know about your traffic sources, you can clearly map out your next necessary marketing tactics.

#4: Conversions by Source

Next, you need to track conversions by source. This metric reveals your current conversion rate and your total conversions from all referring traffic sources. You’ll use the same segments as you did in Metric #3 – that is, looking at your direct, organic, and referral traffic. It may be that your overall conversion metrics match up with each segment and source, but it’s likely there will be a fluctuation. These discrepancies reveal successes and failures with regards to the traffic you are sourcing, and the effectiveness of your website to convert visitors.

For example, if your conversion rate is 3% for organic traffic and 12% for referrals, you can deduct a couple of key points. First, your search engine results are not performing well, which likely means your keyword strategies need to adjust to match what your audience is actually typing to search for your services. A healthy conversion rate for referrals indicates you’re selecting ideal linking partners with demographics that match yours enough to convert well.

Your website is the single most important factor to conversions. You need to constantly study and tweak the various paths to help visitors down your conversion belt. Be clear about what you want your visitors to do next. Do you want them to subscribe to your newsletter? Buy your latest services or products? Remember that a clear call to action will increase your conversion rate.

#5: Top Pages for New Traffic and Conversions

Throughout your website, there will be a handful of pages that receive the highest levels of incoming traffic. These often include your homepage, but they can also be landing pages your marketing team is using to drive campaigns and promotions. Additionally, popular content pieces that are linked to repeatedly by other sites may also be your top traffic generators.

The pages on your site that get the most traffic are obviously the pages you’ll spend the most amount of time perfecting. If they aren’t converting well for you, the rest doesn’t matter. Your metrics will reveal both the highest trafficked pages, and their respective conversion rates. Always aim to have double digit conversions for this suite of pages.

Over to You

Website analytics isn’t rocket science, but it does require an overall understanding and a commitment to consistent tracking and analyzing. As you make changes and watch how your traffic responds, it will get easier and easier to decipher what a dip or jump in traffic or conversions is actually communicating. Regardless, these metrics are your friends. Get to know them as well as possible, and they will point you to your greatest successes.

How do you use analytics to track your progress? Please share your tips in the comments.

Thanks to Wolfgang Staudt for the image!

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