Are you surrounded by data but starved on insights?

Unless you are measuring how well your online marketing and website content is performing you will miss out on the opportunity to learn, improve and, in the end, to increase your profit.

The keyword here is opportunity

Measuring your web visitors’ activity does not necessarily bring you actionable business insights. It depends on how you go about it.

It is easy to start tracking online activity and suddenly become so swamped by data that instead of propelling the business forward it ends up holding it back.

Since having too much information often ends up frustrating decision making rather than aiding it.

If this is your situation the chances are you are looking at the data trying to work out what they could possibly be telling you and how you could use this to your advantage.

Whilst there is a place for this type of analysis, to discover trends and uncover problems, it is no basis for managing your day-to-day marketing budget.

That is why the most important step when starting to measure website visitor behaviour is to determine what really matters to the business. Then set out to make sure that is what you measure and report on.

This way, when you are looking at the statistics the hard work is mostly done, since you have made sure you are reporting information that is relevant and meaningful.

Make web analytics work for you

1. Decide what is important to know.

2. Measure it.

3. Learn from it

4. Profit from it.

Is your online business flying blind?

Targeting the sources that bring the best customers to your website is key to having a successful online business. But without the data to give you the confidence that you are heading in the right direction, you really are flying blind. However, finding this information is far from easy, and that is where a specialist web analyst can help.

What to expect from a Web Analyst?

A good web analyst will reassure you that what you believed is correct or will tell you something you didn’t already know that has direct implications for how you run your business.

How do they do this?

Broadly this breaks down into two stages. The first is to make sure the data collected is as relevant and complete as possible and the second is to dig into the data and to identify or create reports that are relevant and meaningful to your business.

Collecting Relevant and Complete Data

Web analytics systems will all collect a certain amount of information as standard, but with some forward planning and additional set-up so much more information can be collected, and it is this information that can often make the real difference to your business.

It is also important to make sure that there is end-to-end tracking of visitors across the companies website or sites. Busy websites tend to grow: landing pages are added, layouts updated, new product lines launched. With so much to consider the tracking is often forgotten or added in a different way for different sections. The result being that it is not possible to piece together a full picture of visitor sources and activity.

Reporting Relevant and Meaningful Information

Standard reports in web analytics systems tend to provide high-level superficial headline information. Often interesting, but not very helpful.

The job of the web analysts is to understand your business and your analytics data and from this provide you with bespoke reports and analysis that are 100% relevant to your business.

Why use a Web Analyst?

A web analysis will not single-handedly propel your online business into the stratosphere. But they will help you make sure you are on the right path.

New reports in Google Analytics: Cohort Analysis Reporting and Active Users

Here is a brief overview of two new reports in Google Analytics, Cohort Analysis and Active Users, that are currently being rolled out across Google Analytics accounts.

Cohort Analysis provides a way of spotting trends in the behaviour of recent new visitors over the days and weeks following their initial visit. Whilst the Active Users report, facilitates the identification of longer-term trends by making it easier to compare the behaviour of visitors from different sources and with different characteristics over different timescales.

Cohort Analysis Report

Cohort, refers to the way the report groups visitors according to when they first visited the website (acquisition date). It groups together all the visitors that first visited the website on a particular day, week or month and then tracks the number of returning visitors and their actions over the following days, weeks or months, depending on the parameters selected.

The report is always based on the current date, and you select to look back 30 days, 12 weeks or 3 months.

By applying segments to this report, you have a quick way of comparing how visitors from different traffic sources and marketing campaigns have been behaving.

For example the graph below shows average number of pageviews by visitor for organic, paid search and referral traffic over the past 14 days. Immediately you can see that paid traffic looks at more pages and is far more likely to revisit the site the next day whilst referral traffic is more likely to revisit about a week later.

Cohort Analysis Report


To use the report, first select the appropriate unit of time to group the visits by: day, week or month. Then select how far back you want to look: up to 30 days, 12 weeks or 3 months.

By default the report will show user retention (the percentage of visitors who returned) over the days, weeks or months following their first visit.

But you can select from a range of other metrics such as goals completed, sessions or pageviews and, if you have e-commerce installed, revenue or number of transactions.

If this report has been rolled out to your Google Analytics account, you will find this in the Audience section of the reports.

Active Users Report

This report also appears in the Audience section of Google Analytics. It has been slowly appearing in people’s analytics views since at least May last year.

The report makes it easy to see how many visitors there have been. The graph plots a moving total of visitors on a daily, weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis for whatever time period you select.

But the real benefit comes when you apply segments to it. Any segments can be selected for comparison, helping you to identify short, medium and long-term trends in your data.

Below, the data has been segmented by traffic channel and you can clearly see that referral traffic consistently makes up the bulk of the traffic but is on the decline. You might also want to try splitting between different social media sources, or comparing mobile visitors to desktop and tablet devices.

Active User Report

Continuous Improvement

Google Analytics may be free software but that doesn’t seem to hold Google back when it comes to developing the system. New features regularly appear and tend to be slipped in quietly, beta version first, and rolled out steadily across its user base over several months.

If you have the above reports you will find them labelled Beta, if they are not currently showing, you can expect them to be appearing in your Google Analytics account very shortly.

What do websites and speed dating have in common?

Visitor meet website.

Website, you now have 30 seconds in which your visitor has to decide if there is any sort of a meeting of minds; let alone the prospect of something more physical, like ordering a product, before they dismiss you and move on to the next one.

Just like speed dating, when your turn comes you have very little time to impress.

You may have dressed your home page up to the nines. But even successful businesses may find that 60% or 70% of visitors will only look at a single webpage, take a quick glance and move onto the next one.

So how do you make a connection?

At least with speed dating you usually have a guaranteed 3 or 4 minutes.

And, most importantly, the interaction is both ways.

You can see each other, talk to each other and assess the other’s: dress, body language, personal hygiene, explore common interests, decide if you are both on the same wavelength?

With a website, it’s all a little one sided.

Most visitors will just glance at your web page and move on. You don’t have a chance to say  – well hang on a moment, before you go, how about this?

And how do you start to understand about your customers if you don’t even know they have looked?

Use web analytics to help you find that perfect match

Using the information collected about your visitors, web analytics helps you to refine your website and guide you towards targeting the most promising audience.

After all, if you’re a young lady looking for a nice young man, there is little point in going along to the Femme for Femme speed dating event in Birmingham next Wednesday.

I can’t promise a lifetime of happiness, but you will certainly have a better chance of finding someone who is interested in what you have to offer.

Good web analysis begins by asking great questions

What is the purpose of your website?

Is it to sell goods, collect sales leads, attract people to join your organisation, attract donations?

How successful is it? What goods have you sold online? How many sales leads have been generated? How many people have signed up to your email list or become members of your organisation? What donations have you collected?

What makes your customers click?

Where did these visitors come from? Which sources of visitors created the best response? Which pages were most effective at attracting their interest?

How many of them saw the key messages on the home page of your website? What path through your website did the people who bought goods / became sales leads / joined your organisation follow?

Do you use Google AdWords? Which keywords drive the most traffic? Which keywords created the most business?

How many times did they visit your website before converting?

Are visitors on mobile devices as successful at using your website as those with desktops or tablets?

Are there sources of visitors to your website that never or rarely become leads? Did you pay for these? Is it worth continuing?

Do your visitors keep coming back? How much of your website do they explore?

Get better results from your website

Sign into Google Analytics and ask a great question.

Google Analytics and a real-life example of how one website drastically reduced its bounce rate

Web analytics takes the guesswork out of improving your website. Right?


Web analytics will tell you where to target your guesses, along with your knowledge, experience, creativity and skill, and it will also tell you if they have worked. However, it cannot tell you what to do. But that does not mean it isn’t vitally important to the success of your website.

Here is a real life example of how a bounce rate was reduced from 70% to less than 20% that shows how important using a system like Google Analytics is.

You can see the results, in a graph taken from Google Analytics, below.

 Save Our Savers Bounce Rate

I used to run a campaign called Save Our Savers. Our website consisted mainly of blogs, each blog had its own web page. We used to publish a blog and then tweet and Facebook a direct link to it.

Because we used Google Analytics we knew we had a problem. We could see that most people simply looked at the blog page and left. People were not exploring the site and much of the content was being ignored.

In technical terms we had a very high bounce rate. Often between 60% and 70% of visitors only visited a single page.

I felt that there was more on the web site that they would like if only it was drawn to their attention. There were already big colourful icons below each blog linking to a related blog that might be of interest to the visitor, but hardly anyone was clicking on these.

Having identified the problem, I now had to find a solution.

The most obvious thing I could think of was to give people even more choice about where to go next. So I added some tags at the bottom of the post. Unlike the existing links these would take people to groups of articles on particular subjects.

You can see them in the image below: simple grey boxes which group the blogs into subject matter like “Interest Rates” and “The Economy”.

Adding tags to posts

Because we used Google Analytics, we saw the result immediately. The bounce rate dropped down to under 20% and for most of the next month it stayed below 5%.

Its amazing how much difference a simple change can sometimes make to how visitors behave on a website.

But without Google Analytics you wouldn’t have known you had a problem and neither would you have known when you had found a solution.

How time on site is calculated and why you should beware of the bounce rate

Is your web site capturing your visitors’ attention?

One of the best ways to tell is by looking at how long they spend on it and, in particular, which pages are keeping their interest the longest.

If they don’t stay long, then maybe people are coming to your site by mistake or the content needs improving. If they are staying a long time but not buying anything, then maybe the information is unclear or people are having problems working the site.

But to make a valid judgement you need to understand how these values are calculated.

How time on site is calculated

Google Analytics only knows when someone loads a web page or clicks on it and triggers more information to be sent back to Google.

So it will know when they arrive on the page and it may receive information that tells it they are still there.

But what Google doesn’t know is if they have left.

To get around this problem Google Analytics makes the assumption that the visitor has finished on a page once they open another page on the same website. It uses the opening time for the next page as the closing time for the previous one.

This works well until the visitor reaches the last page they look at.

Being the last page there is no next-page opened, so Google will not have a leaving time. Hence, the time spent on this page will be excluded from all of the time statistics reported in Google Analytics.

The only exception to this is if there are any interactions on the page set up to be recorded by Google Analytics, such as through event tracking, then it will use the time the last one of these was recorded as the time the visitor left the page.

So we have good information for all except the last pages. But the real problem comes when the last page is also the only page that the visitor looks at.

The affect of bounces on time on site

A bounce is the term used to describe a visit in which the visitor only views one page of a website.

In other words they do not explore the site they just stay on their entrance page.

Because bounce visitors only visit one page, Google Analytics only knows when they arrive and not when they leave. It therefore assumes a nil value for time they are on the page.

For sites with even a moderate bounce rate this can seriously skew any average time on site metric and you might find it makes more sense to exclude these visits when analysing the time on site statistics.

The importance of time on site

Time on site represents direct feedback from your visitors and it is a good barometer for how interesting your visitors are finding your website and how well it is working. But don’t forget to take the bounce rate into account.

Are new and returning visitor numbers accurate?

Have you ever wondered about the accuracy of the visitor statistics reported in Google Analytics?

It is all to do with how Google Analytics collects the visitor data, and that relies on cookies: those snippets of data that websites like to store on people’s computers.

Each time a visitor views one of your website pages, Google Analytics looks to see if they already have a cookie from your website. If it has, the person is a returning visitor. If it hasn’t, it will download a cookie (which contains a unique id) and the person will be treated as a new visitor.


However, this system does have its limitations:

The number of visitors will be overstated…

Google Analytics does not really know who is looking at your website. But what it does know is which browser is being used on what computer.  Cookies are unique to a browser so, for example: if someone first visits your website using their Google Chrome browser and then visits again using Mozilla Firefox on the same computer they would show as two separate visitors.

Nowadays, many people use several different devices for browsing the web. The same person visiting your website first using their office computer, then their smart phone and then their iPad will be recorded as 3 unique visitors.

This will also have the effect of overstating new visitors and understating returning visitors.

Or the numbers of visitors maybe understated…

Some people don’t like cookies and will set their browser not to accept them. In this case the person would not be included in the visitor count at all.

Google Analytics can only download cookies or record information if the browser is running Java. So, if Java is not running then it will not be able to record any information at all about the visit.

Good, but not perfect, data

The visitor statistics in your Google Analytics reports are a guide, a good, but not perfect, count of the total number of people who visited your website and whether they have been there before.

It is worth remembering that the same people visiting you for the first time on different devices or after clearing their cookies will overstate the number of new visits. And, in turn, the number of returning visitors will be understated.

Also, the longer the time period you are looking at the data for, the more likely it is that people have cleared their cookies; in which case the data is less likely to be accurate.

Don’t let this put you off, just learn to take it into account.

Web analytics isn’t about collecting perfect data, it’s about making good decisions informed by the data you have.

Six easy ways of adding extra information into Google Analytics

As soon as Google Analytics is installed on a website, it will start to compile enormous volumes of data.

How many visitors, how often they visited, how they got to your website, what they looked at, how long they spent looking, their location when they looked, their device, their browser etc. etc.

But this is only the start of Google Analytics’ ability to collect and collate information. The scope for capturing and uploading additional information is vast. Some methods of capturing additional information, such as e-commerce reporting and event tagging, require technical input, but not all.

Here are 6 easy and non-technical ways of adding or collecting useful information that doesn’t require any coding expertise:


Goals are used to count visitor actions and have their own reporting section that makes them easy to track. For example, you can set a goal to count how many times a brochure is downloaded or how many people sign up for a newsletter. Your objective might be to increase engagement on your website, in which case you could set goals to record the number of visitors who spend longer than a certain amount of time, or look at more than a certain number of pages.


Context is the key to understanding and making good decisions based on your data. Within Analytics you can easily add diary notes to record events, such as when marketing e-mails or press releases are sent out, trade fairs attended, adverts published, website redesigned, website down for maintenance etc. that affect website traffic. These events are visible in many of the graphs and help you instantly make sense of variations in traffic.

Campaign Tags

Campaign tags enable you to create links back to your website which, when clicked, upload useful information into your analytics account. They are often used in marketing emails or in adverts to appear on other websites. You can define up to 5 pieces of information to be uploaded. These are used to categorise and uniquely identify the links, so you will be able to keep track of how successful each one is.

The next three methods are all easy to set-up integration options that import data from other commonly used Google products.

Google Webmaster Tools

Like Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools is a free on-line product. It provides a level of insight and control over how Google indexes your website and how it is displayed in the search engine results. It also captures useful information about which pages of your site appear in the results for which search queries and how often they are clicked. There is an option within Webmaster Tool to have this information automatically updated into your website’s Google Analytics account. Once the accounts are connected a set of very useful Search Engine Optimization reports become available.

Google AdWords

If you advertise using Google AdWords’ you can easily link this account to your Google Analytics account and report on your advert’s performance within Analytics.

There is also an option to turn on auto-tagging, and this will automatically create meaningful campaign tags (see above) that relate to your AdWords’ campaigns. This helps you identify which adverts are most effective and also enables you to report on them alongside other marketing campaigns.

Google AdSense

If you use Google AdSense to place adverts on your site, this can also be linked. So data about which Adverts were clicked and how much revenue generated is fed directly into Analytics and integrated with the existing data telling you more about who clicked on those adverts. Although, be warned, it currently converts and reports all values into US Dollars, which isn’t ideal, but does not make the information any less relevant.

Better data, better insights


How to give meaning to your website statistics

Have you ever dived into Google Analytics, extracted lots of interesting information about your website visitors, but ended up with no more idea about how to improve web traffic and conversions than before you started?

If so, it is very likely to be because you are missing a vital ingredient. The ingredient that, when applied to your numbers, turns them from being interesting but abstract statistics to useful information that you can base decisions on and grow your business.

What you are missing is a frame of reference: a context that will help you relate the data to the real world.

How do you put your website statistics into context?

Here are three examples of how you can give meaning to your website statistics:

Event diary

Keep a diary of events and activities that should have influenced your business. You can even add these into Google Analytics as annotations to make their affect easier to spot.

Comparing the relevant statistics from your website traffic to a when the marketing email was sent out, the trade show was running, the adverts were placed etc will help you understand and quantify the impact these activities generated.

Connecting different data sets

Another way is to match up different sets of data within Google Analytics.

For example, a report that shows where your visitors come from is interesting, but a report that shows where visitors come from along with the average time on site for those visitors is empowering. It tells you where the visitors who are most interested in you come from and, hence, which of the sources of traffic are likely to generate the best returns if developed.

Historical comparison

You can also use history as your context. Rather than just looking at a metric, such as visits, for the past 30 days, look over the past 12 months and compare it to the previous 12 months. This will highlight any long-term trends and seasonality, and indicate whether the latest figures show a change or are a reflecting a seasonal pattern.

Context Puts You in Control

By looking at your data in context you will start to gain insights into the factors that affect the behaviour of your website visitors. You stop being a powerless observer, wondering why things are going on, and move to a position where you know how to influence the outcome.