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Basic Digital Analytics: How To Use Digital Metrics & KPIs To Improve Your Website Performance

Updated on February 27, 2014
Analytics drive insights which drive performance.
Analytics drive insights which drive performance.

Why Should I Worry About Website Analytics?

This is a question that a lot of people have asked, believe it or not. I am currently a Digital Analyst for one of the biggest companies in the United States, but I'll even admit that three years ago I would have asked similar questions like 'What is data analysis?' or 'what is digital analytics?' or even, heaven forbid, 'What is a KPI??'

Now, most major companies these days have massive websites, and pay for big analytics services and analytics software. But what about some of the smaller companies, who are maybe a little less digital or don't have the money to pay for website analysts? Or the start up company who is relying on their website and social media trends to get their company off the ground? Or even the blogger who just wants their stories to be seen by a larger audience?

Well, if you fall into those categories then digital analytics is something you really need to become familiar with, and I can assure you that it is far simpler than you might think. Check out this basic guide where I'll show you how website analytics can work for you without having to pay for expensive analytics software, or dedicate hours of your time.

Some Other Useful Web Analytics Tools

  • Facebook Insights - measure the success and impact of your websites Facebook Page
  • Twitalyzer - measure similar metrics but for your sites Twitter account
  • Google Webmaster Tools - get insights into your search engine presence and keyword performance
  • Crazy Egg - interesting 'heat map' tool which shows where people are clicking on your pages
  • Google Website Optimizer - an awesome free testing tool which lets you test different versions of the same thing on your site
  • iPerceptions 4Q - a free survey based tool for attitudinal insights

Analytics Software & Tools - What Should I Use?

So before digging in the all the great website data and drawing some incredible and actionable digital insights, there is the small problem of how exactly you're going to do it. What software or application should you use to do your web analytics? Well, bigger companies use a variety of fantastic software such as Adobe Omniture, Web Trends or Tableau. These are all fantastic analytics tools, but unfortunately they are also extremely pricey. So what other options are available? Let's take a look at some options:

  • Built-In Stats - many web hosting applications, for example Wordpress, have their own built in website statistics measurement systems. Or even if they aren't built-in, there are easy to download plugins which are usually free, that will measure some basic statistics for you. These are not very extensive, and will not provide you with all the information you need to really analyze your website, but if you're stuck they can certainly give you some of the basic metrics I will discuss later.
  • Google Analytics - Perhaps the best online resource for getting completely free (but robust) website analytics and a wide variety of kpi metrics is Google's own analytics platform. Now, I don't have the time or space in this article to provide a complete google analytics tutorial, but just know that you can easily sign up through your regular google account, and connecting it to your website(s) is really easy. Google has a ton of resources explaining how to use the tool, and I'll provide some links in this article. Installation is usually as simple as pasting a small code from your analytics account into your website hosting settings.
  • Yahoo Web Analytics - Very similar to Google Analytics, and also completely free, Yahoo's offering is a little bit more robust in areas and adds some interesting ways to simplify the work you'll be doing. It is a little bit more advanced but along with that comes a little bit more complexity. Perhaps consider this once you've mastered some simpler tools.

These are the primary tools I might suggest at first for specifically your digital website analytics. However, there are some other tools that come in handy as well for once you get a little deeper. Trust me, this stuff gets addictive once you see success and you might want to check them out as well. Look out for them highlighted throughout this article.

A preview of the Google Analytics interface
A preview of the Google Analytics interface

Establish Your Website KPIs - What Do I Want To Achieve?

So, you've picked an easy tool and installed it onto your websites. Now you might have the impulse to jump right in and start messing with data, but in all honesty that's not the most important next step. In order to make meaningful sense of all the website data that you'll have at your fingertips, and to avoid getting completely lost in it, you need to answer one key question.

"What am I trying to achieve with my website?"

The answer might be that you quite simply want to get more people to read a particular article, or you want to generate more sales/leads for a specific product. Maybe you want to get more people to retweet your articles or share them on Facebook. These are all legitimate goals, and it is your job to determine an initial strategy, or what is really important to you as an organization. These also need to be measurable goals, like site visits or sales. Without this initial purpose or goal, any numbers are meaningless and you don't even know what you need to be measuring and focusing on.

Check the example table below for a few basic examples of website strategy analytic goals and KPIs.

Website Goal
Example of Key Performance Indicator (KPI)
Awareness of my Business
' New Unique Visitors' to my website per week
Readers of my posts
Visits & Content Consumption
Mailing List Growth
Website email registrations
Website Sales
Product Searches, Product Page Views, Actual Sales

Some Basic Website Performance Metrics - What Can I Measure?

So you've got your goals all figured out, and the next thing you need to do is determine how are you going to measure them. Well, this can be an easy task in some cases, and in others it requires a little more thought. You can also measure things in a variety of ways sometimes, and success can get a little subjective. Some metrics have some grey area, while some are pretty cut and dry. Here are a few basic website performance metrics and concepts that will be available in most of your analytic tools, and how you might expect to use them:

Website Traffic

So, the simplest and most basic of all website performance metrics is 'Traffic.' This is quite simply just how many people came to your website, or viewed a page, depending on what level you look at it. You can ask how many people visited the site in total, or perhaps a specific page. There are some more complex nuances also, like how many visits were unique, which essentially counts each individual person only once, no matter how many times they visited. Visits and Visitors are too very basic metrics and many analysts consider them overrated, but in the early stages of a site, when the main focus is gaining an audience, it is important to understand how many people are coming to your site, and then in turn how can you best increase those numbers (we'll touch on that later).

Content Consumption

Now, getting people to visit your website is all well and good, but what if they don't do anything? If you have blog posts, you don't just want them to land on the page, you want them to read and interact. If you are an automotive website with a Build Your Own Vehicle tool, you want them to actually use it. You want visitors to look at your photos, watch your videos and go through the shopping process. Now, this is a difficult topic for me to summarize, because it all depends on the type of website you're running, but here are some of the generic content consumption metrics and concepts which you might want to look at as a beginner to website analysis.

Page Views Per Visit - This metric is simply the number of page views divided by the number of visits and tells you on average how many pages are people looking at when they come to your site. This is a good indicator of how interested they are in your overall site and how good your site navigation and linking is at getting the user to click around and see more. Compelling content helps here a great deal also.

Bounce Rate - This metric is one that fits in with a concept known to web analysts as 'stickiness' and it basically refers to the ability to keep a user on your site and have them see more content. It is calculated using a formula, but most website analytics tools will do it for you, but in basic terms a 'bounce' is a visitor who landed on a page, and exited the site without going to any other pages. The bounce rate is the percentage of visits that do this. Now it is not the be all end all, and you have to realize that sometimes your page was so good that the user got what they wanted immediately. That's great. So be sure to give this metric a bit more thought and put it in the right context. If you're trying to sell a book, and they landed on the sales page and bought it right away before leaving, you probably don't mind!

Time Spent Metrics - Another set of metrics that can be useful are time spent measures, which can tell you how long on average a user spends on your site, or even on a specific page. Now it's hard to measure whether someone is reading or not when they're on a page, but if the time spent is long enough then you might infer that they're reading your content. Now, bear in mind that someone who left their browser on too long when they left might skew your numbers, so look for outliers and compare them to the average if needed. Some tools have protections in place to avoid this problem.

There are a ton more metrics out there, such as photo views, video views, clicks on web apps and interactive content. The list goes on and it all depends on what your site has and whether it is tagged and can be measured. Just remember, that knowing what people are actually doing and comparing that to what you WANT them to do, is key to gaining valuable insights about your site's design and content.

An info graphic I put together highlighting a basic website optimization process
An info graphic I put together highlighting a basic website optimization process


Not that different from consumption metrics, are conversion metrics which become very applicable when your website is attempting to actually attempting to generate something such as sales, sign ups, registrations or leads. Great examples are actual sales, requests for a quote from an auto website or sign ups to join a company email mailing list. In terms of the metric itself it can be as simple as counting the conversion. Did they do the activity or not, and tools like Google Analytics have plenty of functionality in place to do this. However, if the conversion sits at the end of a very tangible process, involving multiple steps or pages, it is also useful to understand exactly where in that process they user stopped, so you can optimize accordingly. One interesting way to do this is using a method that is a little more advanced, called "Pathing" which I will discuss in future articles.

Acquisition and Audience Metrics

So, you've got a basic idea of some of the measurement of performance metrics in terms of what a visitor to your site did. However, one step further is understanding exactly where these people came from, because the reality is that they could come from a lot of different places in the modern digital world. They could come from Google search, a social media site like Facebook or even an email you sent out. The great thing about most analytics tools is that they can tell you exactly what or who is driving people to your website, and with this information you can add a lot of value to your business. Here are some examples:

Source of Entry (Acquisition) - What many analytic tools will do is tell you where your visitors came from specifically in terms of website, social site, email referral or perhaps they heard it word of mouth and typed it in themselves. Either way, understanding where people are coming from allows you to understand your best sources of traffic, and opportunities you are yet to leverage. However, to take this one step further, you can filter (or 'Segment' as an analyst might call it) your consumption and conversion metrics by these various sources in order to understand which are leading to the most successful website visits. Then you can pump more resources into those areas while you look to understand why the other areas are less successful. These are some of the most important metrics you will ever look at when analyzing your site.

Visitor Demographics - Most websites contain certain content that is specific to a topic or subject, and many contain messaging that is aimed to help build a brand or business. Therefore it is interesting to know exactly what type of people are looking at your site, and whether this fits the target audience you feel you can be successful with. Also, you might want to gain insights into what type of people from which places are proving most interested in your site. Well, analytics tools can also do this for you, telling you what countries and cities your visitors are from, or perhaps even what kind of income they make depending on your data source! This is also valuable stuff to many businesses.

So that is a very quick and painless introduction into the most basic metrics that are available in some of the free analytics tools out there. For more detailed information on each you should run a quick Google search, or check the resources provided by the tools themselves. They will tell you the relevant applications for each as well as the strengths, weaknesses and potential actions you can take with them.

Before reading this article, did you have any knowledge of website analytics?

See results

Website Optimization - How Do I Use My Results?

Well, you've gone away and done all this great analysis and you feel like you're really getting a grasp on this whole digital analytics and analytical thinking thing. Well, in order to transform these KPI measures and basic analytics into actual 'strategy analytics' you will need to follow your insights up with some actual actions. In other words, if you're data tells you that people coming from Facebook are way more likely to buy your service, you might want to bolster up your facebook efforts. Or if people that land on your homepage, as opposed to a specific article, are immediately leaving your site and never seeing your great content, you might want to enhance that experience a little bit.

The table below shows a few examples of great website optimization that come from actionable insights provided by analytics work.

Visitors that land directly on a blog post love to read them, but visitors to my homepage bounce immediately (high bounce rate) and read nothing.
A more relevant and engaging landing experience, with easy to see blog links and blog post previews to entice readers to click through and make sure they know they're at the right place.
A huge percentage of visitors are entering the sales portion of my site, but none are actually buying.
The sales process was simplifies, and the next actions were made much easier to see and redudant, uneccesary steps were removed.
People are not viewing many pages per visit.
Website navigation was improved by using smarter category names and making the menu navigation easier to see.
My homepage banner is not getting very many clicks and I have two pretty great alternative options.
An optimization test was run using Google's optimization tool, and both banners were tested against each other and the most effective was eventually promoted to be the permanent choice.

Look out for more articles, which will add more detail to some of the techniques mentioned here. Happy analysis folks! Feel free to share some of your website analytics success stories!


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