Over the past few decades, the internet has become the primary space for companies to compete with one another to win customers’ attention and long-term loyalty. These businesses need to ensure their web pages and other online resources are performing well, and immediately correct any shortcomings.
Understanding what types of customers are coming to a site, why they are there, how long they are staying, what they are clicking on, and other details of their visits is an essential part of improving the experience and strengthening the business’s overall interactions with its audience.
For companies moving into the digital space from brick-and-mortar operations, this process is important. For organizations founded online and not possessing any physical storefronts, it is essential. To accomplish these digital-minded goals, companies need to harness analytics for the web.
What Is Analytics for the Web?
At its most basic level, the process of web analytics is the collection and use of data from a website. The Department of Health and Human Services’ usability website explains that the analysis and study of this data is done with the intention of improving the site and pursuing objectives which can be broken down into the company’s goals and the users’ desires.
Those two categories of objectives are separate but closely related, as web page owners are doubtless eager to ensure their site visitors find what they are looking for and have a positive experience that will build loyalty. By breaking down the usability and performance of the web page, web analytics processes allow organizations to know what areas they should be focusing on to encourage desired customer behaviors.
Rather than trying to parse raw numbers, the typical way to interpret web analytics results is through the use of graphical dashboards, which allow users to view trends over time and compare current performance to goals. Industry-leading website analytics tools such as Crazy Egg, Adobe Analytics and especially Google Analytics provide the frameworks by which companies can understand their websites and online audiences, and adjust their strategies accordingly.
How Do Companies Use Web Analytics on Their Websites?
Many of today’s outreach efforts center on inbound online marketing campaigns. These are efforts designed to bring curious visitors to a website’s landing pages, where they will ideally find the answers to their questions and convert into customers. The crux of such a strategy is a high-performing website that meets or exceeds expectations. Web analytics’ value in a business context comes from providing a barometer on these efforts.
Search Engine Journal explains that businesses need useful web analytics dashboards because without accurate measurement, it’s not possible to intelligently improve the company’s online presence. Search engine optimization and inbound marketing cannot be effectively changed based on intuition or observation, as there are often too many layers of complexity and granularity involved.
When digital marketing teams use web analytics, they gain a way to prove which of their efforts have had the greatest impact on customers, and which ones must improve. When their reports and dashboards are detailed and well-targeted enough, they also gain clues as to the form website optimization should take.
How Are Web Analytics Efforts Organized and Measured?
HHS explains that analytics efforts can be organized into a measurement framework, with each category informing the ones above it. The levels of such a framework are:
- Goals: These are the high-level aims of the company website, and explain why it exists on a fundamental level, such as selling products or gaining paying subscribers.
- Objectives: More granular than goals, these are the specific things the organization wants to accomplish with the website, like converting viewers into customers.
- Calls to action: CTAs are the tasks that site visitors perform to complete their goals: Are they clicking through and buying the products or services?
- Key performance indicators: KPIs are numbers that indicate whether the CTAs are being met at expected or hoped-for rates.
- Targets: Whether specific (a certain click-through rate) or general (an increasing trend), these are the lines that determine whether a website is succeeding in its purpose or needs improvement.
As Search Engine Journal notes, C-suite members who are not happy with the amount of business coming in will inevitably question their marketing teams. Web analytics processes give these marketers answers to the higher ups’ questions and help them create a path forward to better performance.
What Are the Major Types of Web Analytics Reports?
There is more than one way to slice user data flowing in from a website. Web designers, digital marketing experts, and other members of companies’ web teams can make use of multiple types of reporting to determine how people are interacting with their sites, each pointing to different outcomes.
HHS notes that while it may be tempting to simplify web analytics to traffic reporting, consisting of statistics about website visitors, page views, or which parts of the site are the most important, there is ample room to go deeper, and companies should do so. Opportunities for real improvement come from avoiding these superficial numbers and using reports that can explain more of the why behind customer behavior.
The following are seven types of analytics reports web developers can use to determine if they are on the right track with their campaigns and designs. They are based on the reports available in the Google Analytics interface, and apply to a wide range of companies across numerous industries.
Audience reporting is one of the most fundamental types of research for marketing departments to undertake. Search Engine Journal notes that by grouping users into audience segments based on specific metrics, companies can better shape and direct their campaigns. Groupings can be based on what people do (such as using a certain feature of the website) or when they do these things (for example, activity on the site within a specific time period).
The metrics compiled in these reports can be tracked over time, meaning it’s possible to determine the long-term relationship between a company and its site visitors. Lifetime value calculations fall into this category, allowing marketers to see how much a single member of the audience has spent with the company through all their sessions on the site.
Rather than breaking the audience into slices and analyzing from that high-level view, web analytics tools’ user behavior reports are based on the experience of using the website, and the types of activities that happen during a user’s session. In Google Analytics, that may mean creating flow charts of which actions lead to one another, determining how visitors are making use of search features and calculating the technical performance of the page.
Search Engine Journal adds that this category of analytics allows stakeholders to see heat maps to demonstrate which parts of their website are the best performing, as well as get a more detailed look at how their visitors are interacting with the company. Performance reports on the number of mobile vs. desktop visitors falls under this heading, as does tracking load times across different browsers or devices.
Especially important in e-commerce, where the website is the main point of interaction between buyer and seller, conversion reports can determine how users are finding their way to companies’ intended destinations and what factors could be stopping them. For example, if there is a page where users typically give up on a purchase and abandon their carts, this kind of report will highlight the trouble spot and empower web developers to correct the problem.
Since conversion reports can track user activity back and show how customers are finding the site, this branch of web analytics is essential for companies seeking to figure out which of their campaigns produce the most value. Identifying the most valuable combination of channels in the path to purchase is useful for marketers reporting to the C-suite and planning their next campaigns.
While a great deal of web analytics work is strategic in nature, there are tactical real-time insights available that help companies make adjustments in the moment. Google Analytics notes that it’s possible to process audience data in real time, allowing companies to perform fast-paced remarketing operations.
Search Engine Journal points out a few practical uses for real-time metrics. For instance, when a new and potentially valuable piece of multimedia content has gone live, stakeholders can see whether people are viewing it, what path they followed to find the site, and whether they are then converting and performing the intended next steps. If the reality doesn’t match the company’s hopes, a quick adjustment to the social media posts and other promotional content could improve performance.
When studying user acquisition information, companies compare the way users’ paths to the web page affect their behavior once they are on the site. Google’s console for acquisition metrics allows organizations to determine whether their social campaigns, search engine optimization efforts, and paid advertising reflect in the behavior of site visitors.
By combining a few different types of web analytics, acquisition reports allow digital marketers to adjust strategies. Rather than forcing their inbound marketing campaigns and user behavior calculations to exist in silos, stakeholders can draw explicit connections between the ways they generate leads and the resulting conversions. This correlation is important for allocating budget to impactful projects.
While today’s online companies are intent on attracting customers through methods such as social media outreach and inbound marketing, traditional digital ads still have a part to play in outreach campaigns. Of course, as with any source of website traffic, the impact of ads should be subject to intensive study and analysis to determine which campaigns are driving results and which can be rethought or discontinued.
In the case of Google Analytics, the integration between ads and analytics is especially close because Google is one of the primary sellers of online advertising. Companies that invest in Google Ads campaigns can track the resulting customers who have clicked through, determining the types of behaviors they exhibit on the web page. If these users have a high bounce rate, something has gone wrong with the campaign, but if their conversion rate is abnormally high, the business can boost its investment.
User Flow Visualization
There are a few different views that show the paths visitors take on a website. Each of these reports has its own strategic use, as companies strive to create the clearest possible paths from an initial visit to a desired outcome, such as a purchase or subscription. When seeing how actual users are moving across pages, web developers may realize where their pages have room for impactful improvement.
Google Analytics offers the ability to track individual users’ courses through the site, providing an extremely granular view that can inspire changes to website features. Stakeholders can also choose to create content groupings, which show how audiences are interacting with specific sections of the website. Each of these breakdown styles can inspire adjustments to the site that will promote greater numbers to reach intended outcomes.
What Can You Learn About Web Analytics in an Online MS MIS Program?
Due to the central role of web analytics in organizations’ digital marketing strategies and outreach plans, it’s natural for professionals to seek out an academic grounding in the key concepts associated with data analysis and presentation. As part of the online Master of Science in Information Systems degree program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Collat School of Business, students receive exposure to advanced analytics data science concepts that will help them make fruitful use of all categories of web reports.
MS in MIS students can select a concentration to focus their learning experiences, and the Business Analytics Concentration is specially designed for professionals who view deeper engagement with data as a career-defining interest. Courses such as Data Management & SQL for Analytics and Data Science for Business allow students to get a close-up view of the technologies and tactics that define business intelligence and data analysis in today’s information science roles and corporate operations in general.
Understanding how to not just crunch the numbers necessary for analytics processes, but also put together compelling visualizations with analytics platforms, will help online MS in MIS graduates settle into roles that make frequent use of web analytics. As today’s business practices become increasingly dictated by data and less determined by intuition or instinct, this knowledge is becoming an ever more central part of a balanced professional education.
If you envision a future for yourself in a tech-forward information systems role, taking on tasks at the intersection of business performance and raw data, you can turn to the online MS in MIS program as a source of knowledge, experience, and insight on analytics for the web, general data use, and many more tech topics.
Visit the program page to learn more about how online MS in MIS concentrations and courses fit with your personal objectives and areas of focus.
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Usability.gov – Web Analytics Basics
Search Engine Journal – How to Use Google Analytics: A Complete Guide
Google Analytics – The Finer Points
Google Analytics – Understanding User Behavior with Google Analytics
Occam’s Razor by Avinash Kaushik – Web Analytics 101: Definitions: Goals, Metrics, KPIs, Dimensions, Targets