Six steps to a thorough statistical Web site analysis

Understanding who visits your Web site, what pages they look at and what elements of the site they like can be an extremely profitable exercise for a small or medium-sized business.

Unfortunately it’s an exercise all too often overlooked, leaving business owners scratching their heads and bemoaning a lack of interest in what their company has to offer. Here are six steps to performing a thorough statistical Web site analysis.

  • Path to glory: The first mystery you must solve is to determine where the people who hit your Web site are coming from. In other words, on which search engine did your site show up, and which search terms were typed in to find your link. Any good statistics package (your Web host can usually provide you with one) can see the referring URL and tell you if a person clicked their way over from Yahoo, Google, MSN or some other search engine. This will provide you with an idea of how to proceed with any search marketing initiative you want to launch in the future.
  • Greatest hits: Next, gauge the number of unique visitors to your site. And remember: there’s a big difference between hits and unique visitors, says Tom Walker, owner of TSW Interactive, in Victoria, BC. A hit could be someone just looking at an image from your Web site that someone is using in a popular forum. This could be counted as a hit even though no one actually came to your Web site. Use your stats package to count real visitors.
  • Enjoy the views: Now determine how many pages each visitor is viewing. Divide the number of page views by the number of unique visitors to your site. “If the average is 1.3 or something you can tell that most people look at the home page and then just leave, whereas if the average page views is 12 or 13, you know you’ve got something good and people are interested in your content,” says Walker.
  • Time traveled: Now you need to know how long people spend on each page. The stats package that TSW Interactive uses allows it to track specific visitors. If Walker finds that the average visitor is visiting four or five pages per visit he’ll look for somebody just a little bit over that, say somebody with seven or eight page views in a visit. “Then we’ll track them to see how long they spent on each page, what the sort of path was that they took through the site. This to me is probably the most interesting and useful information you can get,” he says.
  • Now act on it: One of Walker’s clients was able to use the information that TSW’s stats software was providing to make major financial gains. After some analysis, Walker noted a clear trend on the client’s site. The client, whose firm provides hotel reservations, lists a set of hotels. Visitors would click on one and, in overwhelming numbers, about six seconds later they’d enter the photo gallery for the particular establishment. It was clear that photos were much more influential than text for those making buying decisions about the listed hotels. Unfortunately only about 20 per cent of the hotels listed actually had photos. Using the information, TSW and the client added pictures for all of the remaining hotels and also improved the quality of every photo on the site. “Sales skyrocketed after that,” says Walker.
  • The art of the switch: Another option, one that is especially useful for businesses with e-commerce sites, is to change things up and gauge the reaction. Walker will often perform what he calls split testing. For one or two weeks he’ll monitor one specific design, layout or element, noting how many people view it and how many actually buy the product behind it. Then he’ll switch up the element completely for an equal length of time. “If sales go up, we’ll stick with that layout. If sales go down or stay the same then we know we haven’t really improved anything. This is a good way for an e-commerce site to increase their sales and really make the most out of the visitors that they’re getting.”

Tom Walker is owner of Web design company TSW Interactive in Victoria, BC.

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