In my experience, there are three stages of analytics awareness.
- Understand what’s trackable, know the terms.
- Notice what’s happened, wonder how it correlates to what you (or someone else) did
- Experiment: Test hypotheses about what works, modify and repeat
1. Understand What’s Trackable
To understand what’s trackable, start looking at your analytics report each week to look at the numbers and start to understand what they refer to.
Basically, you have to wrap your head around the fact that, although analytics reffers to ‘visitors’ as humans, what they actually measure is computer activity, by IP address in terms of sessions in a tracking log.
Just Google for “Google analytics terms” and look around. Here’s one of the many you’ll find that starts to break down how analytics are captured and what they mean.
2. Notice What’s Happened, Look Back For Correlations
The first thing I look for is spikes in traffic. For each spike, think about what caused it. Was it something you did, like post a link on Twitter or Facebook or send out an email with links? How good a rate of return do you seem to be getting?
Other things I typically scan for:
- how long are people staying on the site?
- how many new visitors?
- where is traffic coming from? (sites, searches, locations)
- what’s the most popular content?
- what search terms led people to your site?
Basically, whatever you notice happening, ask yourself, did I do that (or do I know who did), and how can I do it better next time?
3. Experiment (Hypothesize, Test, Modify, Repeat) With Shaping Results Forward
Once we all become power users, we’ll not just look back at what worked (or didn’t). We’ll make guesses (hypothesese) about what is most effective and tweak our site and publicity to see if we can move it in the direction we want to go.
Looking back at your analytics report without any goals for your site can be a bit like looking back at your spending last month without having a budget: no way to see if you’re meeting your goals.
So you might start by simply trying to affect the outcome nextweek based on what you noticed about lastweek, but ideally you’ve got some larger goals for your site that can lead you to bigger experiements than simply trying to nudge what’s happening.
Bigger experiement typically involve
- A/B testing your email/newsletter publicity
- Creating convertion goals for pages to see if you can get people to take a specific action
- Tracking the efficacy of landing pages, A/B testing promotions