When you think about redesigning your website, you need to have a plan. To come up with a plan, you need to know what's going on. Web analytics can be an invaluable tool to help you decide what to do with your website, and to do it better this time.
Analytics data can show you where your website was doing well before, so you can continue doing the same things well, and it can show you where your website was struggling, so you can find ways to make sure you correct those issues this time. While any web analytics tool can help you get the sort of information you need to redesign your website the smart way, we're going to be using Google Analytics as an example.
Here are four questions, among many, that web analytics data can help you answer, and that can give you a lot of insight into how you can make sure your next website is better than the last.
1. Is your website working properly?
Do you want to know what the best visitor and conversion repellent is? It's a slow, glitchy page that spews 404 "not found" errors every other link click and that doesn't work as a user would expect it to. But how do we know which pages are dragging down the rest of the site?
Site Speed Report
Content » Site Speed » Page Timings
This report will tell you how quickly (or slowly) your pages tend to load based on a sample of past visits. Create a custom report that measures site speed against bounce rate and exit percentage, and find out exactly what pages are costing you the most opportunities.
Customized 404 Error Reporting
Content » Site Content » All Pages
-OR- Content » Events » Overview
Note: A web developer's help may be required to implement this
By setting up a virtual pageview or an event rather than the standard _trackPageview call in the Google Analytics tracking code, you can gather a few pieces of information that will help you narrow down the reason and source of that error. Most of the time, 404 errors are caused simply by typos, either by the person who created the link from a referring website that the visitor used to get to your site, or by the visitors themselves. Other times, though, it may be symptomatic of internal linking issues and broken links from one page on your website to another. These cases can be solved much quicker when you and your webmaster know they exist.
Exit Pages Report
Content » Site Content » Exit Pages
This report will show you on which page most visitors leave your website or, more accurately, the last page they visited on your website. The pages with the highest percentage of exits (the percentage of exits compared to all pageviews is known as the 'Exit Rate'), are the most likely to have issues which are most likely to be repulsive to visitors. Have a look at the Site Speed report for that page, as it might be taking too long to load. Also, try selecting 'Browser' and/or 'Browser Version' to determine whether one type of browser is producing a higher exit rate than others - that webpage may have elements on it that are incompatible with particular web browsers.
2. How is your website attracting visitors right now?
Learning where your visitors are coming from is essential in several ways. You may find out whether a particular advertising channel has been working or has been wasted.
You could find out whether your SEO needs to be improved on your next website by looking at the number and percentage of visitors arriving through organic search. If you're attracting a lot of organic traffic, you'll need to make sure you have an SEO expert's advice on how not to lose your 'link juice' when you redesign your website: if the URLs are different after the redesign, you may lose your traffic, and you may have to build up your SEO ranking all over again.
You might even stumble on whole online communities of potential customers, donors, or adopters (as the case may be) where someone has posted a link to your website; you could start participating in conversations and answering spontaneous questions in order to prove your worth to their members, who are already predisposed to taking a look at your content due to their existing and relevant interests.
Traffic Sources » Overview
The traffic sources overview will give you a high-level view of the types of sources feeding traffic into your website. For example, Search traffic (traffic from search engines), Referral traffic (traffic from other non-search engine websites), Direct traffic (traffic from the address bar or bookmark in a visitor's browser), and Campaigns (traffic from your own online marketing or advertising initiatives.
Traffic Sources » Referrals
This report will go deeper into just the traffic your website has received from other websites, and will also help you understand the quality of traffic each site is providing you with. For example, website entries with a noticeably and significantly higher Pages/Visit, Avg. Visit Duration, and a noticeably and significantly lower Bounce Rate are feeding you high quality traffic from visitors who are very likely well aligned with your content, your product, your service, or your cause.
3. What are your visitors looking for?
If you don't know what your visitors are looking for, chances are good that you don't know what to give them. Whenever your visitors come to your website by organic search or use your on-site search box, they are explicitly telling you what they want. Listen to your visitors, and you're well on your way to making them much happier.
Site Search Report
Set Up: Admin » *Your Main Profile* » Profile Settings tab » Site Search menu near bottom
To View: Content » Site Search » Search Terms
If your website has a search bar, you need to set up Site Search in Google Analytics. If you thought organic search gave you huge insights into what your visitors were looking for when they found your website, you're going to love this. Not only are the visitors who use your on-site search bar already on your website, they're also telling you what they're looking for! All you have to do in order to listen in on this and gather some important information is to set up Site Search. Here is how:
- Do a search on your website and pay attention to the URL in your address bar. Look for a question mark and then either a 'q' for 'query' or 's' for 'search'. The term after the equals sign and whichever letter is in your address bar should match your search term.
- Go into your Google Analytics administration panel, select your main profile, and click 'Profile Settings'.
- Scroll all the way down to the bottom and find the header 'Site Search Settings'. Select 'Do Track Site Search', and add just the letter that came before your search term to the field 'Query Parameter'.
- Check the box 'Strip query parameters out of URL', which will keep you from getting a huge number of separate entries in your reports for 'search.php' or whatever your search page is, and hit 'apply'.
You should be able to, in a few hours or up to a day, depending on your usual traffic volume, head to Content » Site Search » Search Terms to find out what your visitors have been searching for.
Make sure to keep the most-searched-for items in mind when you go to design your new website: you should make sure these are easier to access once you're done.
Organic Search Report
Traffic Sources » Search » Organic
This report will show you what your visitors were looking for when they performed the Google search on which your website was listed, and which provided the link they clicked to get to your website. If you find your website associated with terms that don't apply to or accurately describe your website, its purpose, or its content, you may need to seek an SEO specialist to go over your website content and determine a course of action that will properly align your content with your intended audience. When you get to the point where you need to write content for your redesigned website, you will know which terms to sprinkle into your content, and which terms to avoid.
If you happen to be seeing a large proportion of organic search keywords recorded as '(not set)' or '(not provided)', this article by Scott Shannon provides some advice on how to deal with it and mitigate its effect on your digital intelligence somewhat.
4. Which parts of your website are working?
It's important, when redesigning your website, that you don't throw the good parts of your website away along with the bad. Determine which parts of your website most helped you achieve your goals, and learn from that to do those same things the right way in the planned redesign. Here are a few ways you can use Google Analytics to help you spot your website's best pages, content and attributes.
When you decide to redesign your website, you also have to decide what role it plays in your overall business strategy. Do you want to get large sales leads because you supply products to distributors, or provide services to enterprise customers? Do you want to sell product to anybody and everybody who comes to your website? Do you want to get a message out to the world, and your website is the billboard? Without a clear goal and a clear mission for your website, your redesign project will simply be a waste of time and money.
These reports will help you find out what your website is doing right:
Content » Events » Top Events
Note: A web developer's help may be required to implement this.
Events are a powerful and flexible tool provided by Google Analytics to track visitor actions that aren't easily covered by the standard reports. With events, you can find out whether there was a particular link or button your visitor used that tends to start conversion processes more often than usual. With a series of events and some code to trigger them when someone changes a user input form (like a contact page or a shopping cart), you can even find out exactly which part of the form causes visitors to abandon the conversion process most often, and take measures to correct how that field works or how that question is asked. To learn more about event tracking read Really Understanding Google Analytics Part 4 by Kent Clark.
Goal Reports and Funnels
Set Up: Admin » *Your Main Profile* » Goals tab
To View: Conversions » Goals » Funnel Visualization
Determine what visitor actions lead to or contribute to a successful conversion or microconversion, then set up a goal and a funnel for it. Head to the administration panel, select your profile, click the 'Goals' tab, and add the URI (the part of the URL that comes after your domain name, starting with a backslash) that your visitor would ONLY see after a successful conversion (ie. subscription confirmation page, purchase receipt page), select 'Head Match', click 'Use Funnel' then enter in the URIs of the pages that a visitor would have to visit in order to get to that conversion below. Make sure you click the checkbox that says 'required step' next to the first step of the funnel to avoid anomalies in your goal data. This sets up your goal funnel. Now you can see at which step your visitor abandoned the conversion process, and check that step to see if it can be made easier (or more psychologically palatable) for your visitor to complete.
Pro tip: to check whether the right goal URLs are being tracked, head over to Conversions » Goals » Goal URLs to check which URIs are triggering your goals. If you don't see the goal URI you set earlier down there, but that particular goal has been completed, your goal funnel may not be configured correctly. If you see unfamiliar URIs in the Goal URLs report, this is another sign that your goal funnel may not be configured properly.
Conversions » E-commerce » Transactions
Note: A web developer's help may be required to implement this
If your website is selling a product or accepting donations or money of any sort, you have to set up e-commerce tracking. It's very important that you ensure you're able to correlate transaction data with regular Google Analytics visit data. With e-commerce tracking set up, you can find out which landing page, campaign, traffic source, or other event resulted in the largest, quickest, or most profitable transactions.
E-commerce setup requires you to put code on a couple of parts of your page and ensure that they work with the server-side code for your shopping cart. Some shopping cart vendors won't make additions or changes to their code or services, but some will, and still others are quite familiar with Google Analytics e-commerce tracking and have built up easy ways to use it with their shopping cart. Make sure you look into this when looking for a new shopping cart for your e-commerce website. Learn more about e-commerce tracking on Nick Iyengar's post on the subject.