So, you’ve built a web site for your business and you’re up and running. But, do you know what’s actually happening on your site? Do you know which pages people are visiting most, and which pages are most likely to encourage a purchase? What are your best traffic sources?
Trying to sift through all of the data that your site is generating can be a frustrating and confusing process. Thankfully, there are a number of great tools (both free and paid) that can help you get a better understanding of what your users are doing on your site and even how your competitors are faring in their own online efforts.
What is web analytics?
Before we go through our top 10 recommendations for the tools you should be using to better understand your web analytics, it’s worth doing a quick review of what web analytics actually is.
Web analytics is more of an ongoing process than just an analysis of data. The process does start with the collection and analysis of your data and competitors’ data, but even more important than the collection of the data is the second step: what you actually do with it all. Once you have your data in hand, you need to translate it into a set of actions that you will take to improve your web site. And finally, those actions must be aligned with your most important business goals: increasing sales, increasing social sharing, increasing customer engagement, or whatever the appropriate goals are for your specific business.
The best tools for understanding user behavior:
- Google Analytics [free]
We’ll start with what has become the standard in web analytics tools for businesses of all shapes and sizes (and it’s not the standard just because it’s free). Google Analytics is actually one of the most robust and powerful analytics tools out there. It will help you understand exactly what your visitors are doing on your site. If you run an e-commerce site, Google Analytics can track your transaction data and help you identify which pages on your sites drive the most sales. Beyond user behavior data, Google Analytics does a great job giving you a sense of your user demographics, showing you where you users are from, what types of internet browsers they are using, and even the size computer monitor they are using. While Google Analytics has reams of data available which can be overwhelming, they have thankfully recently added educational tips within the application so you can turn to help at any point.
- ChartBeat [$9.95/month]
If you’re a publisher and need to know what’s happening on your web site right now, ChartBeat is the tool for you. ChartBeat gives you a realtime view of what your customers are doing on your site, what content they are interacting with, and exactly what they are clicking on, scrolling to, etc. This is an especially useful tool for news sites that might want to adjust headlines in real-time to ensure that new stories get the maximum number of clicks.
- CrazyEgg [$9/month and up]
CrazyEgg’s secret to success is their heat mapping tool. A heat map is a simple way to get beyond the sea of data provided by other analytics tools and visually see exactly what’s happening on your site. CrazyEgg lets you see what users click on and also where they move their mouse on the page. You can even see how far users scroll on a page, which gives you the information you need to adjust your site design to make sure critical information gets seen by as many people as possible. If you’re a power user, you can even segment the data to see how users from just one traffic source behave compared to others.
The best tools for SEO and competitive research:
- MOZ [$99/month and up]
MOZ (formerly SEOmoz) is an all-in-one tool for tracking your rankings in search engines as well as what’s going on with your competitors and your social network presence. MOZ gives you detailed data about which sites are linking to not only your site, but your competitors’ sites. You can see exactly how you rank in Google for a specific search term and then track your performance over time compared to your competition. This gives you huge leg up as you try and optimize your site for search engines and climb the rankings. And, as Google and the other search engines put more and more emphasis on how your site and brand is shared on social networks, MOZ gives you actionable data to improve your presence on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.
- SEMrush [$69.95/month and up]
If you advertise on Google or Bing or Yahoo!, then SEMrush is an excellent tool for you. In addition to excellent data on your rankings (and competitor rankings) in search engines, SEMrush tells you what keyword searches your competitors are advertising on and even shows you their ad text. And, believe it or not, you can get an estimate of how much your competitors are spending on their search advertising. SEMrush is an excellent tool to understand exactly what is going on in the search engines and gives you actionable insight into how you can improve your rankings and your online advertising.
- Compete [Free and paid options]
If you want to know how much traffic your competitors are getting, Compete is the site for you. While limited to U.S. visitors only, Compete provides competitive data so you can see exactly how your top competitors are performing online. Compete will also help you find related sites that you should be keeping an eye on. Compete has a large suite of advanced, paid tools for deep analysis of advertising data, sales data, and more. But, for most small businesses, the free offering that provides competitive traffic data will be plenty useful on its own.
The best tools for testing and optimizing your site:
- Optimizely [$79/month]
Once you’ve collected data on how your customers are using your site, the next step in the analytics process is to try new things on your site and see if you can improve performance. Maybe you want to get more people to fill out a form or add a product to your shopping cart. Maybe you just want more people to “like” your page on Facebook. This is where a service like Optimizely comes in. Optimizely lets you quickly make changes to your site and then automatically tests which version—the old version or your new version—is better at accomplishing your goals. The best part about Optimizely is that you don’t need help from a web developer or engineer—the entire interface is point-and-click and you can make changes to your site without touching a line of code.
- Google Content Experiments [Free]
Formerly Google Website Optimizer, Google has now rolled this tool into the free Google Analytics product. While we already talked about Google Analytics, this feature is so useful that it’s worth talking about independently. Very similar to Optimizely, Google Content Experiments lets you see how two different versions of a web page perform so you can optimize your site. Unlike Optimizely, you don’t get a point-and-click interface for making changes to your site, but Google does take care of all the heavy lifting regarding analyzing the data and telling you which version of the page is better for you and your businesses. Best of all, this functionality is free and easy to use.
The best tools for tracking social metrics:
- Twitter Analytics [free]
Thankfully, some of the best social analytics tools are built right into the tools you are already using. For Twitter, log into their advertising site and click the “analytics” tab in the top navigation. You don’t have to advertise on Twitter to use this feature, so you can just ignore their buttons and links that encourage you to place an ad. Within Twitter’s analytics suite, you can see who your followers are, where they are from, what they are interested in, and even get the gender ratio of your followers. You also get an analysis of your tweets so you can see which tweets reach the most people and create the most conversion.
- Facebook Page Insights [free]
If you run a Facebook page for your business, then the built-in Facebook Page Insights feature provides detailed analysis of your posts—who they are reaching, who is liking them, and how your Facebook performance is trending over time. You can even see data on visits to your Facebook page and where those visitors came from. Like Twitter Analytics, you can also get summary demographic data on your fans and the people that read your posts. All in all, Facebook Page Insights provides fascinating and actionable information so that you can optimize your Facebook presence and increase your likes and content shares.
Now that you have all of these tools, the next trick is to figure out what you should be tracking. If you run a small business, finding the time to analyze your data can seem like a daunting task. Fortunately it doesn’t have to be, and I’ll go into more detail about the top metrics you should be tracking in a follow-up post.