The Web is the only channel that allows you to track practically everything that your customers do when interacting with your business, giving you ample opportunity to learn more about them and their needs.
Proper analysis of your Web traffic will tell you more than just whether your Web site is realizing its design objectives. It can tell you about the real motivations and behaviors of your customers, because people are true to themselves behind the curtain of the Net. Furthermore, it can provide you with important information that you can use to predict the likely outcome of your future activities, such as product launches.
The question of what to look for when doing your Web site traffic analysis depends on what aspect of your interactions with customers you would like to find out about. Therefore, your business needs to develop a set of metrics aimed at measuring the performance of your Web site in attracting and interacting with your customers.
In a nutshell, Web site traffic analysis is about collecting, analyzing, and interpreting the following data:
How the traffic arrives at your site
Which users make up the traffic
How users interact with your site
What the results were of the visits -- were they happy endings?
The results of the analysis should help you to do the following:
Measure the effectiveness of your customer acquisition and retention strategies
Develop strategies to contain unwanted traffic leakage from your Web site and to enhance the online experience
Increase the number of happy-ending visits
Project the likely outcomes of future activities
More specifically, the following are some of the things you can achieve:
Changes in traffic volumes may help you measure the impact and reach of your customer acquisition strategies on your online audience.
Analysis of the composition of your traffic may help you with customer segmentation. You can identify repeat and one-time customers and segment the traffic accordingly. You can even tell whether any of your competitors are accessing the Web site and what areas are they visiting.
The segmentation of traffic may help you gauge whether you are attracting the right traffic to the site, and whether your traffic-generation channels, such as affiliate programs and search engines, are driving traffic to the site.
The amount of interest in the tools, services, and content offered at the Web site may help you enhance the relevance of existing ones -- and to design new ones.
The traffic pattern through your site (also referred to as clickstream data) and the amount of time spent on each page may help you understand the motivations and interests of your online audience.
Clickstream data may help you offer personalized content to individual visitors and customized navigation to audience segments.
Clickstream data may also help you understand if visits concluded with a happy ending. Measuring unique sessions without any relationship to the outcome of a visit is like standing at your storefront and counting the number of window shoppers or passersby.
Analysis of clickstream data may help you improve the navigation on your Web site and contain unwanted traffic leakage.
Analysis of the search terms people are using in their search engines to find you, and also the search terms they use within your site, may help you understand what motivates their visits.
The exit pages -- that is, the page your visitors are leaving your site from -- may help you understand if the visit had a happy ending and whether you can be assured of return visits.
The pages that people are looking at the most, and the least, may help you understand the interests of your online audience. If there is content that is not looked at much, but which your business wants your online audience to look at, a number of things might have gone wrong, ranging from navigation problems to design issues and a failure to attract the right audience.
Past traffic data may help you forecast the likely outcomes of future activities, such as new-product launches and marketing campaigns.
Changes in traffic volumes that you cannot explain by internal factors may help you understand external factors and their impact on your business. These external factors may range from your competition's marketing push to seasonal activities, such as major holidays and sporting functions. A good way to understand these fluctuations is the use of a panel-based traffic-measurement service. These services allow you to compare your site's usage to that of a relevant comparison group's.
Those are only some of the information and benefits that you can derive from traffic analysis. It is obvious from this list that analysis must not be seen in isolation from the rest of your business. It must be an integral part of how you run your business.
(This article has focused on traffic, not the technical performance of a Web site. Although technical performance is interlinked with the experience of the online audience, I have separated them because they require different skills. Technical analysis is a topic in its own right and has the objective of ensuring robustness, availability, and the correct display of information in browser software and different screen resolutions.)
If your business uses, or plans to use, an online platform as part of delivering value to its customers, you need to develop analysis metrics and regularly collect, analyze, and interpret your Web site traffic data. Doing so will equip you with important information to keep you abreast of what your customers are demanding and to position your business for the future.
Next time, two limitations of Web site traffic analysis tools.
Hurol Inan is a Freelance eBusiness Consultant, focusing on strategic planning and Web application effectiveness. He is currently advising an interactive strategy, design, and implementation company called The Eclipse Group. He has 11 years of management consulting experience with Andersen Consulting and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu.