By Mark Smith. Updated December 09, 2016.
They say that data is the new oil, and if your business has a web presence then chances are you're sitting on vast reserves of potential customer insights you may not even know you had.
Far from being just a tool to sell or market your products to potential buyers, much of a website’s true value lies beneath the surface.
There’s an array of analytics tools out there that can tell you who is visiting your website, what time they’re visiting, where they are visiting from, how long they spend on each page (known as bounce rate) and how they got there -- be it through a Google search or a Facebook link.
“Dependent on the business objectives, analytics can offer vital data for key performance indicators which offer business critical decisions,” says Dr. Aleksej Heinze, co-director of the Centre for Digital Business at Salford University’s business school.
Getting your hands on all this information is relatively easy too -- and often free.
Arguably the most well known and widely used is Google Analytics. This free software tracks how users interact with your site right down into the smallest detail, from which page they click on to how long they stay and displays the information in a range of charts and graphs.
If you sell online it can also tell you how many people are buying and -- crucially -- the point in the customer journey where they abandon a purchase, allowing you to make changes to your strategy or website. There is also a wealth of free training material and videos available online to help you learn how to use it.
Open Web Analytics is also free. It offers many of the functions provided by Google’s platform as well as the addition of heat maps, which keeps tabs on where visitors click on your site, and it can also record mouse movements so you can see how many of your visitors follow your calls to action.
On the paid-for side, Clicky is an alternative to Google Analytics, which provides real-time information on your website that’s both straightforward to access, with a user interface that’s easy to navigate. Church Analytics also provides real-time data. Perfect for anyone put off by complex graphs and charts, it has a user-friendly interface that could be less daunting for beginners looking to take their first steps.
One firm making use of analytics is Hubble, an online marketplace for finding and renting spare office space in London.
“We can pinpoint exactly where customers are getting discouraged” says Varun Bhanot, head of business development at the firm, “and it might indicate that we need to tweak our website messaging, product offering or even something as simple as a button to click or photos. For example, we realized that startups were more inclined to click on offices in East London, therefore we put Shoreditch office options front and centre on our search page.”
Varun says the information gleaned has also been important for attracting investors. “It’s meant that when we went to investors to pitch, we had a solid set of data showing we really understood our customer and how they behave.
“Investors are bullish on having really granular insights so no doubt it helped us seal our seed investment and was critical in our latest round of pitching.”
With the majority of people now accessing the web via their smartphone, finding out which device someone views your site on can be crucial when deciding whether to invest in a website that’s optimized for mobile.
Matt Deighton, managing director at Sofas by Saxon, a bespoke furniture manufacturer based in Manchester, said Google Analytics revealed the company’s desktop site had a high bounce rate -- customers visiting the site and then leaving quickly -- and a low proportion of purchasing visitors. The firm realized it was down to its site not being optimized for mobile.
“Without a mobile-friendly site we had the key issue of site speed -- as it was slower than most mobile-friendly sites” says Deighton. “Potential customers just weren’t willing to wait for the site to load -- hence the high bounce rate. And as the site was not designed for mobile initially, call to actions were not clear to the user.”
“Now our call to actions stand out and as a result, we have seen the percentage of conversions increase as traffic is now flowing through to these pages.”
But once you’ve run your software and brought up all the numbers, how do you turn that into action?
Caz Nicklin and her business partner Lavinia Smith run two companies, Cyclechic -- which sells accessories to style-conscious cyclists -- and Faversham-based mobile picture framing website NowFrameIt. She found the statistics produced by analytics packages “overwhelming” at first.
“I am no data expert and there have been times I have stared at Google Analytics and [been] none the wiser as to what to do about [the numbers]. What I’ve learnt is to have a goal before you start digging into them.
“One example is that a couple of years ago we set the goal to increase sales by improving our conversion rate. When we look at the analytics we noticed our returning visitors were converting better than our new visitors, so we decided to offer our new customers a 10% discount code if they signed up to our newsletter. This was very effective and we had a 58% increase in sales from 2013 to 2014.”
One tried and trusted method of putting analytics’ data into practice is A/B testing. Businesses make two versions of a web page, with varying details, and use analytics data to see which one has proven to be the most effective. If the customer stays longer on one version or -- better still -- buys something, you’ve found your winner.
But despite the wide availability of both packages and training materials, not enough businesses are making use of the information at their fingertips, says Dr Heinze.
“Unfortunately, the number of businesses using analytics and data in general is still very limited. Data is positioned as one of the five key aspects of a successful digital marketing strategy [and] basic analytics knowledge is relatively easy to gain.”