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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

If you own or operate a website, then you know the importance of web analytics. Without the right data, its virtually impossible to know which areas, features, and sections of your website are creating a desired result. Where are your visitors going? What sections are most popular? Knowing this information can help you to optimize your site and improve conversions. Today Sasch Mayer gives you the inside scoop on Google Analytics - fast becoming one of the most used website analytic packages.

Having used a large number of web site visitor trackers over the years, I first approached Google Analytics some time ago, with the somewhat jaded attitude of someone who's 'seen it all' or at least 'seen most of it'. What could possibly make this particular utility stand out in such a large crowd of competitors?

But first... What is Google Analytics?

Analytics is Google's very own visitor tracking utility, allowing webmasters to keep tabs on traffic to their site, including visitor numbers, traffic sources, visitor behavior & trends, times spent on the site and a host of other information gathered via two pieces of JavaScrípt embedded in the source-code.

Unlike other frëe visitor trackers, which insist on displaying annoying and often amateurish badges or buttons when they are being used, Google Analytics simply runs quietly in the background, gathering the necessary information without any visible signs of its presence.

Which brings me quite neatly to Analytics' first major plus-point; the price.

What webmasters are effectively getting, is a fully fledged visitor tracking utility without all the irritations and limitations normally associated with frëe products of this type.

Ok, so its free; but is it any good?

In a word; yes.

The sheer depth of information gathered, really leaves very little to be desired. From search engine analysis to page views, bounce-rates and more, the available data is presented so as to give users an easy overview of the most essential elements, with the ability to 'drill down' to less commonly accessed or more in-depth statistics and figures.

Additionally, on the 18th of July 2007, the Google Analytics old user interface was discontinued, making way for a newer, more ergonomic look which makes reports more accessible and the interface itself more intuitive for the user.

The new Dashboard provides 'at a glance' visitor statistics for the previous month, as well as a graphical breakdown of your visitor's geographical locations in the förm of a world map. A pie chart clearly shows what proportion of visitors reached the site through search engines, by referral or through direct access, whereas the 'Content Overview' provides a líst of the most commonly accessed pages.

What makes Google Analytics special though?

Although Analytics boasts all the features and statistical data to be expected from a top-class keyword analysis and statistics tracker, it also features a number of additional tools which put it ahead of most of the pack where ease-of-use and depth-of-information is concerned.

1. The Map Overlay

Essentially, this feature brings up a map of the world, highlighting the countries a site's visitors stem from. Clicking on a country produces a close-up view, along with a geographical breakdown according to the region and/or city from which visitors accessed the site. This tool in itself is invaluable for all those webmasters with geo-specific sites, concentrating on a particular catchment area.

2. The Site Overlay

This is conceivably Google Analytics' single most important feature from a webmaster's or online business owner's perspective, as it provides a hands-on view of visitor behavior. When clicked, 'Site Overlay' opens the tracked web site in a new window and, after a moment's loading time, overlays each link on the screen with a bar, containing information about clicks to the target page and goal values reached [more about goal values in a moment]. Since it allows the webmaster or site owner to navigate his or her site and see exactly how visitors flow through it, it is difficult to imagine a more effective tool than this as far as raising a site's conversion rates is concerned.

3. Goals and Funnels
Unless the site being tracked is an information site which does not rely on generating sales or inquiries, conversion rates are as important as sheer visitor numbers. The 'Goals & Funnels' feature allows users to set up specific goals for their site, such as tracking a visitor to the 'Thank you for your inquiry' page for instance. It also allows the user to set up specific monetary values for each goal, and thus track the site's financial performance and profitability during any given period of time.The term 'Funnels' refers to the specific path a visitor takes to reach the goal's target page. Since most web sites sell a number of different product ranges or feature a number of ways to inquire, all of which lead to a single 'Thank You' page, the funnel allows for the tracking of each individual path with a minimum of fuss.

4. Graphical Representations

A great many visitor trackers out there will present the collected information in a certain way, be it a líst, graph, pie chart, flow-chart or whatever. Whilst all these methods of presentation are of course valid, it is nevertheless a fact that most users are different, and a pie-chart is not necessarily ideal for those users preferring to work with graphs or vice versa. Google Analytics, however, allows users to choose between views on many of its reports. Although this may seem like a relatively minor point, it nevertheless makes things easier, as it allows the user to work with the view he or she is most comfortable with.

In Conclusion:

Google Analytics provides webmasters and site owners with a highly effective means of tracking visitors and analysing statistical data, easily the equal of most subscriptíon based services in the industry.

Although some concerns have been voiced amongst more paranoid internet users, that Google puts everyone's collective data to its own evil demographic uses, there really are precious few reasons not to recommend this fantastic tool as one of the best means to boost any web promotion and marketing campaign.

About The Author
As a technical writer with over a decade's experience, Sasch Mayer has been living and working in the Republic of Cyprus since 2005. Currently under contract to IceGiant Web Design and Promotion Services, he mainly covers topics such as SEM and Site Promotion.


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