Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Basics of Web Site Optimisation - Rule 4

This post is mainly aimed at small to medium businesses that are just starting out and are keen to get something going, or have just gone live. I can't tell you how many times I have taught people over the past few years just a handful of strategically important things. So...here goes again, this time in a way that I can now simply refer to. As for my credibility - I would rather not divulge that here, read my Web Site Optimisation Rules and you decide. They are, after all, common sense, and common knowledge....like most things I blog about!

My number 4 rule: Analyse your site traffic

If you are hosting your site at a basic web hosting ISP, you should have been supplied at least a basic (or advance) traffic reporting system. Use the system! Figure out what reports are useful (I will also be providing some of my ideas in this post) and monitor them!

If you do not have the luxury of being supplied with a traffic reporting system to help you with your analysis, then I recommend using Google Analytics. It is free and does give you quite a bit of useful basic information, and it is all accessible online. There is however the issue of privacy, but this is something that every responsible person should evaluate for themselves and decide on - I am not getting into that debate here!

Inbetween the easy, the free, and the raw examination of the log files, you have a range of commercial tools that will process your raw log files and present them as very very sophisticated and valuable reports! Personally I am not going to recommend any of them as my exposure is very limited, and also, if you're planning on using these tools yourself, you've probably moved into a "NON Basics of Web Site Optimisation" categorisation. :)

The final option is to actually take the raw web server log files and read them. As insane as this may appear at first glance, they are actually fairly interpretable, although you have the high risk of "not being able to see the wood for all the trees" - you may be overwhelmed! You will need some non-basic editor and ability to do complex searches, and regular expression based searches are a real win!

The kinds of reports these tools, or this analysis provides you with are listed below in my reasoning section.

Reasoning:
1. How else are you able to run little experiments with different pages, with different site structures, with different little things you are going to do, unless you can measure and verify the effect?
2. Visitors - daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. NOT VISITS! Visitors are physical entities (people or webbots) looking at your site. VISITS gives you an indication of how exciting they found your site, but not a good one
3. Bounce Rate - how many people found your site and instantly did not like and left. Gives you an indication that your Search Engine Optimisation strategy might be bringing you the wrong visitors, or that you should change your content to give these visitors something to stick around for!
4. Average Time on Site - is interesting. Search engine web bots normally "read" a lot faster than humans, but they are coded these days to be "sensitive" to the web server and act more like a human reader. But keep an eye on the average trend and work out if your pages are too long or complicated.
5. Pages/Visit - anything greater than 1 is good obviously. Compare this figure with the Average Time on Site though and again work out how fast or slow your visitors are reading. Check what your market is. Make sure it is consistent to have people reading detailed technical information slowly and carefully, versus quick brochure type information which can be gleaned in seconds, especially if there are "pretty pictures"
6. Top Content - monitor your top 10 pages, or top 20% of all your pages. Make sure 80% of your traffic is going to them. Make sure most of your best income-spinners are on these pages. Do not ever ever ever "break" these - everyone loves them, the search engines love them. Be VERY CAREFUL with them
7. Top Landing Pages - check that your new pages fall into this list as well as your Top Content
8. Top Exit Pages - it may make sense for you to think about deleting some of the really bad pages you have, except if you actually have had sales from them or need them to compete in a "me too" market place
9. Keywords - of course! How are people finding your site - give them more of what they want, or change the pages you have in order to make them more findable by searchers. This is in effect your market place competitive effort - make sure you are attracting your intended market with your offering! Alternatively (or additionally) identify an under-served market niche you are already attracting customers for, and could easily move into potentially. (there will be some rules about this in the future)
10. All Traffic Sources - here you want to compare the traffic you get directly (people who know and love you or are recommended to your site by their friends), versus your top "reciprocal link partners", versus your top search engine traffic suppliers. Make sure you have balanced your risks. Search engines change algorithms all the time and you could be dropped for periods. Same with link partners. And if you are not getting any direct traffic - you should definitely do some more off line marketing and public relations campaigning - think about loyalty clubbing and newsletters, etc!
11. Where your visitors are geographically dispersed - make sure your target region is correctly reflected as it is no good attracting visitors from Timbaktu if you are trying to sell items in London (and vice-versa) etc.
12. New Visitor versus Returning Visitor - new is always good - you are getting new traffic and new potential customers. Returning is very important though - this is your loyalty and/or "love" factor. If you are not getting "repeat business" then you are doing something very wrong potentially - it depends on what you are using your web site for though. Check how many pages the repeaters view, how much time they spend, and compare against your new visitors. Get a feeling for your "market"
All of these reports are about trend analysis. It is not useful to get excited or depressed about a spot measurement you do randomly. You need to see the changes over time! There are times however, once you become very familiar with your traffic patterns (eg you know when the Google web spider indexes your site), when spot analysis can get exciting - eg you just timed and launched a new section of your site and Google has finally located it and is indexing it. (believe me this is exciting if your site is dynamic and you just published 800 new pages, on an existing 100 page site...)
13. Use combinations of the above reports to check how many times your enquiry form was opened, check how many times it was submitted, check how many visitors and repeat visitors you had, check how many new visitors actually submitted on their first visit (rare, but does occur)

With a bit of thought and enquiry monitoring in your office, and the above reports, you should be able to verify where your income is actually coming from. Many people are very surprised to learn the truth. Make sure you know!

There are many more reports, and combinations of statistics you can look at - it all depends on what your needs are. These above I find sufficient for mine usually, and most small to medium businesses I have helped in the past can use them to improve their offering, to improve their processing, to improve their web site, and above all to improve their business.

And that is my Rule 4. I will be uploading the others as time allows!

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