Knowing more about how people use your website can provide direction for what pages and content to focus on. Advertising and promotional events may result in an increase of visitors. Site statistics can provide insights to how effective ad campaigns are.
This document doesn’t necessarily provide answers, but it provides questions you need to ask to arrive at answers. Having a better understanding of website stats will help.
One of the most important pieces of information for a website is knowing what pages or posts are most popular. This can guide you to what specific content to invest more time into, and perhaps topics to expand on.
Fluctuating Site Visitor Count
You may notice big fluctuations in the number of people visiting your website from one day to the next. An increase in site visitors may be the result of a recent advertising campaign.
However, extra site visitors could be the result of some other factor unknown to you, such as mention of your website online (or offline) to groups of people. Maybe a popular site has an article that mentions your website. Perhaps in a discussion forum, a person will mention your site and that results in additional visitors. Maybe your site is showing up higher or lower in search results and that is causing an increase or decease in visitors. It’s possible that all of the above factors are combination to influence site traffic.
Let’s say you have a bicycling website, and you launch a big ad campaign. You check your site stats and it seems that your ad campaign hasn’t produced any increase in site visitors. Then you realize that the ads were running when the weather was really nice. Your key demographic was out riding their bikes. Maybe the ad campaign actually was successful and produced 100 more visits to your site, but another regular 100 people that visit your site daily were out riding their bikes. So, the overall number of visitors doesn’t seem to have changed much.
Robots are automated systems that search your site content. They can sometimes produce misleading increases in apparent visitor traffic. If your site is searched on a regular basis, you may begin to notice a monthly pattern where it looks like a large number of visitors return to your site monthly.
These are just a few examples of how understanding and responding to site stats can be complicated.
Trying to understand visitor stats can sometimes be like a cave dweller moving a rock around in the dirt, and trying to decide if the placement of the rock is influencing when it rains.
Benefits of Landing Pages
Having specific landing pages can help track the effectiveness of an ad without cookies. You may have seen website addresses and links that take visitors to a specific page. The site owner can observe how many people visit that specific landing page and know the effectiveness of a particular ad campaign.
A content problem may be revealed if stats suggest that people spent very little time on your site. Maybe your site uses enticing headings or misleading keywords to make it discoverable in searches, but the quality of the content or topics aren’t consistent with what people are looking for. Eventually, this can cause your site to be poorly ranked by search engines. Evaluating page popularity and looking at visit duration can help better understand the effectiveness of your content.
Having old or incorrect links on your website can frustrate site visitors, and also can result in poor rankings from search engines. For this reason, it is good to make sure any outbound links go to working pages.
In addition to broken outbound links, there may be broken inbound links. In other words, someone is linking to a page on your site that has been renamed, moved, or deleted. This will show up on your website analytics report as something like “404 Document not found” instead of an actual page in your site. Over time, search engines will update their indexes, so there will be fewer of these. However, if other sites have links to your site, and they don’t update their links, you’ll get disappointed visitors to your site.
A missing page or moved page can leave a “hole” in your site. You can replace those with automatic redirection pages. This means instead of getting a 404 error, the person will get forwarded to the moved or new page of your choosing.
Site Visitor Devices
Your website should be easily viewed from any device or browser. In the past, people would focus their efforts on the most popular platforms of site visitors. Now this is less important because sites can be designed for responsive and mobilized viewing, making the content look great from any device or browser. If you design your site with an emphasis on a certain platform, over time if your visitors collectively change their preferred method of visiting the site, you’ll need to redesign the site accordingly. It’s best to make a site accessible for everyone.
Four General Sources of Website Analytics
There are two general ways to learn about how people use your website: (1) log files provided by your hosting company, and (2) analytics services that offer broader insights regarding site visitors.
The analytics services can match up visitor information with informative data. For example, when someone visits your site, you are given the IP address from their session. Analytics services will perform a reverse lookup on that IP address to report the location by country, state, and city. Perhaps the service provider name or the business name will be known.
SOURCE #1 — Log Files
A benefit of log files is that they are the raw instantaneously created record of your site activity. Every visit generates an entry in the log. Log files are viewable using web-based viewers such as AWStats. The log file provides a raw look at your site traffic and do not rely on cookies.
SOURCE #2 — Analytics Services
Advanced stats are referred to as analytics, because you can more easily analyze and act upon your site traffic data. These services will bring in information from public databases to gain more knowledge about your website visitors. Some services, like Google Analytics, will have better insights into your site visitors because Google knows what people search on and how they came to discover yours site. The more information you know about the flow of visitors to your site, the better you can serve your site visitors.
SOURCE #3 — Content Delivery Networks
To keep sites secure and loading quickly, content delivery networks deliver your website pages to many people from many different computers around the world. Sometimes these services can deliver site assets without you realizing it. This can be a problem for people using log files or traditional analytics services. One must check their CDN service to see the overall picture of global traffic. Not all your site visitors will be served by the CDN service. So, it’s necessary to look at all sources of visitor insights.
SOURCE #4 — Outcomes
An important reflection of your site’s effectiveness will the the outcomes it produces. As mentioned previously, the raw data of site visitors can be misleading. Robots and misdirected traffic can be incorrectly interpreted as popularity and effectiveness.
You don’t necessarily want increases in traffic if the increase doesn’t produce results. A site with fewer visitors may be more valuable if those visitors are engaged with your content and taking action.
What are your goals? What are the outcomes you desire for achieving those goals?
- ATTENDEES. If you are promoting events, and seeking to maximize the number of attendees. The number of tickets sold will be a measure of your success.
- CUSTOMERS. If your business is based on services and products sold to regular customers, then tracking the number of new customers and returning customers will be a good measure of your success.
- PRODUCTS. If you are trying to sell a product, then measuring your monthly sales can be a good indicator of your overall success.
- REFERRALS. If you have a business that grows through referrals, then measuring the number of new customers by referral is important.
- SUBSCRIBERS. If you have a newsletter or service people subscribe to, then the number of subscribers can be a measure of your success.
For businesses that are primarily searched for and discovered online, the above measures will be more useful.
Technologies like cross-site tracking, smart ads, cookies, and digital fingerprinting have raised some concerns about online privacy and security. In response to these privacy concerns, people are following these practices.
- VPN. Use a VPN service to disguise your IP address, location, and Internet service provider. Examples would be Surfshark or NordVPN.
- SEARCH. Use a private search engines like Duck Duck Go to keep search history private.
- CLEAR. Delete website cache and data to erase information that could be used to track your activity.
- COOKIES. Block cookies that are used to track your site visits and various characteristics about you.
- TRACKING. Use the do not track option whenever available.
- AD BLOCKERS. Advertising, especially ‘smart’ ads tailored to you, are invasive. Blocking ads can prevent this invasion of privacy. Ads can also be a source of malware and phishing, which is another reason to block them.
Declining Usefulness of Analytics
As described above, privacy concerns have resulted in millions of people surfing the Internet anonymously. So, your visitor stats may be misleading or non-existent. If you rely on cookies to track site visitors, you may not even know about visitors who have disabled cookies.
An effective web presence is like having a good resume that gets you called back for a job interview. Eventually your success will be measured by the quality of your product, service, and customer support. If the website is your product, then you may want to request direct feedback from site visitors to find out how the site can better serve them.