The great advantage online businesses have over other businesses is that you can measure almost everything about your customers--where they come from, how long they spend on your site, how they got there, when they're showing up, and from where--and once you have this information, you can use it to grow your business, increase conversions, and troubleshoot underperforming pages.
All of this customer information is automatically recorded in your web log. You can access the raw data from your web host, but a better option is to use one of the many good, low-cost analytics programs out there. And one of the best options for small- to medium-sized businesses-- Google Analytics--is free! Its only drawback is that it operates on a 24-hour delay.
Getting started with Google Analytics is easy. Sign up and link your subscription to your AdWords pay-per-click campaign (if you have one). Once you're signed up, you're given a snippet of HTML code to add to the very end of the <body> part of your webpage (so put it right before the </body> tag). That's it.
Once you let it run for a while and have some numbers to work with, you'll discover patterns in your traffic and strengths and weaknesses in your strategies. These are the stats to look at:
Unique visitors: How many individuals are visiting your site? This number will provide a benchmark to measure the success of your future efforts.
If you're getting few visitors (easier to judge once you've been tracking your numbers for a little while), consider implementing a pay-per-click advertising campaign with targeted landing pages. Or perhaps you need better keywords? Fire up your keyword research tool of choice and start digging.
Page views: Each single viewing (and therefore downloading) of a page on your site counts as a page view. So if I visit your home page and then refresh it once, I've given it two page views.
Pages with high page views are perfect for directing your traffic. Encourage other sites to link to them, and create a clear path from them to your sales page. And don't forget to include an enticing opt-in offer on your popular pages so you can build your e-mail list.
Referrers: Which sites and search engines are referring the most visitors to your site? This information is gold.
Say you notice Wikipedia bringing you 500 visitors per month. You investigate and discover your tarantula resource site is listed in the Tarantula Wikipedia entry. Their readers love you! Are there other encyclopedia or educational resource sites whose readers would love you, too? These could make great linking partners. Or you could offer them some custom content with your keyword-rich anchor text in the body of the article? Or a video?
Or, if you notice that only a small percentage of your traffic comes organically from search engines, you'll know it's time to ramp up your inbound linking strategies and search engine optimization efforts.
Search terms: Search terms are the words that visitors typed into a search engine to find your site. They're your keywords. See which ones bring you the most traffic, and then use them to build up your pay-per-click advertising marketing.
Keeping an eye on your search terms can help you stay on top of trends, as well as show you potential markets that you hadn't considered yet.
Entry pages: Not the same as a home page! These are the first pages that a first-time visitor "lands" on when they arrive at your site--and the ones that are obviously well-optimized and working overtime to bring you traffic.
Are there pages that you expected to see in this list that aren't there? Like your sales pages for example? Try working on each page's search engine optimization, as well as directing traffic via other methods such as pay-per-click advertising.
Exit pages: These are the last pages a visitor lands on before leaving your site. Is there something about these pages that turns people off? This is one of those metrics you'll want to track over a longer period of time.
Bounce rate: What percentage of your visitors leave after less than 10 seconds? Is the content on these pages poor? Does it reflect the keywords the page is ranked for in the search engines?
It may be time to get back to keyword research, or you might try linking a page with high bounce rate to a more popular page that will get your traffic closer to a sale.
Visits by hour: Find out when visitors arrive on your site to the hour by looking at your "visitor trending" stats. Look for patterns: Are your visitors arriving between noon and 2 p.m.? Or do they like to burn the midnight oil?
If your visitors are up and around at particular times, try "dayparting" a pay-per-click campaign, so your ads only show up at your visitor's most active times. See if that improves your conversions.
Visits by country: If you thought the bulk of your visitors were coming from the U.S., but it turns out they're mostly from the U.K., you may have to rethink your strategies.
Try geo-targeting your pay-per-click ads to your top referring countries, and create "international" landing pages that reflect any cultural differences. You could even consider adding another country domain extension, such as .ca for Canadian traffic, or .co.uk for U.K. traffic.
Being able to track every movement, every ad campaign, and every keyword is one of the incredible advantages of an online business. You already have all the information you need to grow your business--you just need to use it.