As the Winter Olympics continue in Beijing, among the athletes competing are world-class downhill skiers. As you watch each of them burst from the starting gate, reach blinding speeds and finish in less time than it takes to make a bowl of oatmeal, it can be hard to imagine the strategic precision that led to that result. Every tweak in form and adjustment to the training regimen has been tested, measured and refined to bring about peak performance.
Getting the most out of your website isn’t much different. Successful businesses can’t simply launch a site and walk away any more than trained athletes can skip practice and show up on race day. There are tremendous insights and opportunities to be gained from the wealth of data captured within a website; those who collect, study and employ that data will enjoy increased site traffic in a continuously beneficial cycle.
What to Study?
Yes, there is a lot of data available. No, you don’t need to go cross-eyed trying to understand all of it. Instead, focus on the metrics that tell you if your site is growing. The most obvious metric to start with is the overall traffic. Is the traffic increasing month over month? If not, why?
There are many data factors that influence whether or not your traffic increases. For example, check out bounce rates on the most important pages. If visitors are coming to your site and quickly leaving, it likely means they aren’t finding what they need.
Not only does bounce rate affect SEO ranking, but this simple bit of insight can also help inform aspects such as visual layout (maybe your call to action is buried at the bottom of the page) and content (maybe your point simply isn’t clear enough).
Studying new versus returning visitors can be a great starting point as well. Whether someone is visiting your site for the first time or the tenth, the data will tell that story. Then you can dig deeper into how the number of visits correlates to attraction, retention and visitor actions.
Beyond the basics, organic reach is a key metric and the ultimate driver behind much of your website strategy. Put simply, this measurement shows who is coming to your site via a search engine or other non-paid channel.
In studying this data, you can view patterns regarding how people are finding you, whether your search engine optimization (SEO) is strong and if your target audience is finding you. When you optimize organic reach, the resulting ripple effect positively impacts other channels like referrals and social.
UX: Positive Experience = Return Visitor
User experience is as vital as customer service is in the analog world. A positive user experience that keeps visitors returning is one where your message is clear, your offerings are relevant to the user and the transaction is easy. By studying your data, you can see exactly what is making customers return — or not.
If the majority of your visitors are accessing your site from their phones, for example, it’s critical that your site is mobile optimized. If by studying page bounce rates you discover your customers drop off at a certain point along the buyer journey, that user interaction can be reworked and tested to improve retention.
Tell and Show: Optimizing Content
Beyond SEO, website content should be intentional in how it presents information, prompts action and ultimately leads to conversions. By analyzing data, a business can determine if it is effectively using content to convert browsers into buyers. Successful content strategy demands that each web page be created with its end purpose in mind. For example, if a product description page isn’t crafted with the buyer in mind, it may not be providing the information a customer needs to be inspired to make a purchase.
Likewise, if a shopper has viewed the same product repeatedly for weeks and suddenly disappears, that is a missed sales opportunity. By analyzing bounce rates and engagement data along the buyer journey, marketers can use that data to refine content so that every page is optimized.
The What, the Why and the What Next
Most important, data is not the finish line; it must be analyzed and paired with insights. Reporting big numbers for visitors and page views doesn’t mean a whole lot unless those stats are put into context. Where are those visitors coming from? Where do they go once they arrive at the site?
What keeps them — or doesn’t keep them — on a page? By turning data into insights, marketers can understand how their websites are contributing to the overall digital strategy and are better positioned to share actionable updates to internal stakeholders.
By focusing on a business objective and then using that goal to inform website design, content and functionality, digital marketers are in the race. By tracking and analyzing data — and then acting on the insights gleaned — they can remain competitive… and maybe even win gold.