Using Google Analytics to Refine Your Website
Google Analytics is a free service that lets you monitor website traffic and more importantly, understand your visitors and what they are seeking. The data provided by analytics can be immensely useful for creating a targeted website that thoroughly engages your visitors.
Understanding Your Visitors
Analytics is a very comprehensive and capable service, however for the purposes of this tutorial, we're going to be mainly focusing on the Visitors section. This section contains a wealth of information on visitor engagement, technical profiles and visitor trends. Getting quality traffic is hard - knowing your visitors can help shape both your design and content.
Refining Your Design
So you've spent weeks on an elaborate design for your website that is nothing short of breathtaking. A great design can go a long way to produce traffic, but is your site accessible to your visitors?
If your website is targeted towards professional web designers, the majority of whom have large 24"+ monitors with high screen resolutions, you can get away with a lot more in terms of design. Similarly, if your site attracts college students who mainly use laptops, your design should cater for their resolutions. Fortunately for us, Analytics provides us a breakdown of the resolutions our visitors use:
For a site like DevGrow, we see that more than 75% of visitors have a resolution of at least 1280x800. This means that I can comfortably increase the width of this site to make room for more content without having to upset the majority of my visitors. Conversely, making my width less than 800 pixels will leave a lot of white space for most visitors.
Browsers and Operating Systems
Understanding what browsers your visitors use can also be crucial to the way you design and develop your site. If you find that the majority of your visitors use Internet Explorer, you better make sure your website looks and functions correctly in Internet Explorer. Clicking on the Browsers tab will show the overall browser distribution and clicking on any of these will show version distribution:
The same logic applies to operating system distribution - if you find that a large portion of visitors use their iPhones or iPads to view your website, it will be worthwhile to make an iPhone/iPad accessible site for them.
While chances are that the majority of your visitors will have a high speed internet connection, you may be surprised to see that people do still use dialup connections. Most mobile connections aren't up to speed with DSL or cable yet either, so if your visitors tend to access your website with mobile browsers, it will help to have a thinned down mobile site. Truth be told, even if most people do use high speed connections, it can only help to reduce your page load times and file sizes as your visitors can more quickly access your content. The least it can do is help your Google rankings, as the search engine giant takes into account page load times. They offer a handy set of Webmaster Tools, one of which tests your site load times.
Refining your Content
Having an accessible design is great but quality content is key to creating a sticky website. Analytics can help you understand what people are viewing, how loyal they are to your site and where they are coming from - all of which can help shape the content you create.
This is probably one of the most critical pieces of data measured by Analytics - it is essentially the "percentage of initial visitors to a site who 'bounce' away to a different site, rather than continue on to other pages within the same site." (Wikipedia) A high bounce rate means that people are leaving your website after visiting a single page, whereas a low rate indicates people are sticking around and exploring other parts of your website.
"It is really hard to get a bounce rate under 20%, anything over 35% is cause for concern, 50% (above) is worrying." - Avinash Kaushik, Analytics Evangelist
According to Google's Analytics Evangelist, Avinash Kaushik, anything over 35% for a typical website is cause for concern. For blogs, he notes that an average bounce rate of 50% is normal. Improving this rate is a huge undertaking, however the main concept behind it is simple: make your content easily accessible by:
- Making sure your navigation menus are visible, quickly accessible and above the fold
- If you offer a product, tell your visitor what it does on the landing page and above the fold
- Include links to other internal content (related links, popular posts, recent comments, etc.)
- Reduce overall page clutter
Time on Site and Visitor Loyalty
Similar to the bounce rate, the average time a visitor spends on your site is an important metric to gauge how engaging your website is. If people like what your website offers, they will spend more time on it. If this value is low for your website, you have a few options:
- Improve the quality of your current content
- Add new content
- Integrate new feature that promotes visitor engagement (i.e. social networking)
Visitor loyalty measures how many times your visitors come to your website. If you find that the majority of users visits your site only once, the same suggestions really apply - create more engaging content or try making your site more social. Content is really king here, as people will only visit your site repeatedly if it has something to offer them that they haven't seen before.
Better understanding your visitors will hopefully help you better understand the type of content you should produce and how to display it. You won't be able to satisfy every single visitor but you can make sure your website is accessible to the majority of them by properly analyzing your traffic.