Learning to use your website’s analytic data to transform browsing shoppers into genuine connections
By: Lee Reinsch
So we’re all aware that Google and Amazon know what color underpants we’re wearing and that they cleverly use that info to wheedle money out of us later.
How can we do the same – find out about our potential customers’ metaphorical knickers-preferences so our businesses can get a piece of the action, too?
Enter website analytics. It’s one of those terms that makes your brain glaze over if you’re not a tech nerd. But if you reframe it as the “Hi, can I help you?” of the online world, it’s easier to absorb.
“Especially for small businesses, a website today is like brick-and-mortar was for yesterday’s businesses,” said Diane Penzenstadler, owner of 44° North Advertising & Design in Oshkosh. “One of the biggest challenges for any business in marketing is understanding who you’re talking to: What does your customer look like?”
The data from your website analytics can give you an idea.
When someone walks into your brick-and-mortar location, you immediately get some information: gender, approximate age, whether they’re crabby or cheerful, shabby or chic, public pajama-wearers or Armani aficionados. A few sentences exchanged gets you where they’re from and what they’re looking for.
But when you don’t physically see your browsing customers and they aren’t asking you where the briefs are, it’s hard to know who they are and how to adapt your wares to better suit their needs.
What are analytics?
In a nutshell, website analytics refers to the information behind your website traffic. Chances are you already have that data available, but you might not be using it.
Web analytics can identify how many visitors you have to your web site, what part of the world they’re from, which pages of your site they spent the longest time viewing, what time of day they visit, and other behaviors – like whether they put something in a virtual shopping cart and left it there.
All of this seemingly pointless minutiae can tell you something about your site’s appeal – or lack thereof – to those visitors.
“(Web analytics are) what your customers think of your store,” Penzenstadler said. “It’s up to you as the business to modify it.”
The good news – or bad – is that websites aren’t static, so there’s often something to modify. They require constant care and feeding, but they also let you fix what’s not working.
“Nothing’s changed in terms of what we need to gather from our customers,” Penzenstadler said. “What’s changed is where they’re shopping. They aren’t necessarily walking into your store. You’re building a brand and selling to them online. It’s just the vehicle that’s changed.”
The biggest name in web data crunching tools is Google Analytics. “Google is the big gorilla, and what they focus on is the experience of the browser,” Penzenstadler said.
Google transfers well, so if you change who hosts your site, the numbers don’t get all discombobulated.
“Nowadays everybody has at least one Google service they’re using, so they integrate together,” said Quentin Salzwedel, owner of Thundera Multimedia in Oshkosh. “All that data in one place helps you to have a lot better holistic view of things.”
The big “So What?”
Who the heck cares if your website visitors are animal, vegetable or mineral, visit some pages more than others, or shop at midnight in their Hong Kong Phooey boxers?
All that minuscule information that shows up in graphs and pie charts might be overwhelming if you don’t understand it, but it can be used to flaunt your assets.
“When you start to see what’s working you can put even more emphasis on it,” said Greg Linnemanstons, president of Weidert Group in Appleton, which bills itself as a business-to-business inbound marketing agency.
Analytics can tell you what to change.
“If you have a page that, when you built the site, you felt was really necessary, and after a few years analytics tells you nobody ever goes to that page, you can take it down and use that space for something else,” Penzenstadler said.
Say your data shows many visitors click around your site for 30 seconds and leave.
“I can make some assumptions (that person) didn’t find what he or she wanted,” Penzenstadler said. “Analytics tells you something about your visitors’ behavior, and you can modify your web site, whether it’s the information, menu structure, pages, or information on particular pages.”
The longer visitors stay, the better. Penzenstadler parallels it with an overheard conversation at Target: The clerk asked a woman if she found everything she needed.
“The gal said ‘No, but I spent this much and got a bunch of other things anyway,’” Penzenstadler said.
Even if you don’t have an ecommerce site and aren’t necessarily selling a retail product online, keeping people on your site is like keeping them in your store, she said.
“Even if (the website visit) doesn’t result in a direct sale, the more comfortable they’re going to be with me and my brand, the more they are going to feel like ‘OK, I know this business,’ and it’s going to increase the potential for a sale.”
Most websites have the “contact me” form for visitors who want to ask a question or be contacted. What visitors do before clicking “contact me” tells you something interested them enough to volunteer their email.
“(Website owners) absolutely have to pay attention to which pages are leading people to the ‘contact me’ form, because if it’s a product page, then it would seem like that product page is attracting a lot of people,” said Linnemanstons. “What you want to do is promote that page, product or service even more.”
If your analytics show the website visitor was reading your blog right before clicking “contact me,” it could mean your blog’s piquing interest. Send out update notices to your contacts and social media followers, Linnemanstons said.
Analytics can also identify which social media are working best for you, Linnemanstons said.
“It can tell you if your traffic is coming from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram, or if the majority is coming from organic searches, or referral sites,” he said. Referral sites are other sites that link to your page.
“If somebody read your blog and liked it so much they included a link to it on their website, it becomes a referral link for you,” Linnemanstons said. “If you’re in an industry where there’s some big online trade associations or publishers and they like your blog, they may link it on their site.”
Knowing how visitors found you can tell you where to spend marketing dollars.
“If you see that LinkedIn or YouTube are generating the highest quality or quantity of website visitors, you can double-down on that platform and divert effort away from those that aren’t producing,” Linnemanstons said.
Not all analytics numbers apply to all websites. Usually a high bounce rate isn’t good. It refers to guests who leave after seeing one page. Normally, you want people clicking deeper into your site. But what if you only have a one-page website?
One-page websites are trendy now with the rise of responsive design, Salzwedel said.
“Bounce rate isn’t the most important thing to you because you only have one page,” he said. “In this situation, other metrics might be more appropriate, such as session duration.”
Your first page could be so efficient that visitors find what they need, which could lead to visitors leaving the site sooner than you might expect.
How do they know everything?
Much of the information that analytics tools gather comes from social media.
“When you’re building your social media pages, you’re giving out a lot of information: ‘I’m interested in travel, purses, jewelry, puppies,’ whatever. Social media sites have that data,” Penzenstadler said. It comes in handy for targeting particular demographics.
Information forms on your site offering opportunities for customer feedback or short surveys can garner more data. The trick there is not to ask too many questions, Penzenstadler said. It’s a turn-off.
One oft-used word in this industry is “conversion” – and it’s not about religion – but transforming a website visitor into a connection or potential sale. Getting people to interact with you on your site can lead to conversions.
“Build a lot of opportunities on your site for people to, as we say, raise their hand and be counted,” Linnemanstons said.
He means give them something.
“Fill out a form to receive a free ebook or tips to getting your garden ready,” or whatever’s applicable to your industry: a coupon, newsletter, app, free shipping.
“Give them lots of opportunities to express their interest, download something, be counted, and you have an opportunity to have a conversation with them, a relationship with them that’s based on what they’re interested in,” he said. “Make your site as conversion-friendly as you can.”
Out of site, out of mind
Many businesses spend tons of money on their websites, then ignore the analytics. Months later, someone asks how their site’s working for them, and nobody knows. That’s unfortunate, said Linnemanstons.
“Almost always, if you study what’s happening behind the scenes, you see the opportunities to improve, and who wouldn’t take the steps to improve if they knew making a few changes could take them from five contacts a month to 10?” he said.
So why would anyone ignore this valuable cache of website traffic data?
“It’s intimidating,” Linnemanstons said. “It’s an awful lot of data. We’re certified in Google Analytics, so we’ve taken classes on it and it’s complicated …. You might stumble around with it, then throw up your hands and say ‘I just can’t do this.’”
Of course, you can hire someone to dissect and interpret your web analytics for you, but many small businesses don’t see the value in that extra expense.
“They might say ‘I’m getting a few leads from the website, that’s all that really matters, I don’t need to know the how and the why of it,’” he said. “But most owners would say if you give me a few hours to analyze and make changes once or twice a month, and it represents X in new business, does that sound like a good equation? Most would say you’re going to grow my business, so it’s worth it.”
Penzenstadler said it’s important to teach people to “drive the car.”
“In an ideal world, we give them the keys to the kingdom with our training we provide so they can make the changes … this product has to come down because it’s sold out, here’s a new product, here’s what’s on sale,” Penzenstadler said. “We want them to be able to do that on their own.”
One less expensive alternative is Facebook.
“You can build a database, buy and sell, and advertise on Facebook,” Penzenstadler said. “You can advertise your page and boost what you’re doing.”
Facebook is free, but there is a cost for promotion and for add-ons businesses might need such as security, payment options and shopping carts.
“But it’s an option that’s very viable that a lot of small businesses are turning to because they don’t have the means for building a website,” Penzenstadler said.
She said Facebook is striving to improve user experience and attract more businesses.
“I sort of say they’re working really hard at going toe to toe with Google or Yahoo,” Penzenstadler said. “It’s not the same animal, but it’s interesting how often you do a Google search, and it won’t come up as a website, but their Facebook feed will come up.” n
Lee Reinsch of Green Bay worked 18 years at daily newspapers before launching her freelance business, edgewise, in 2007.