Using website analytics tools to guide website maintenance

In summary Our resident Wordpress authority Jenn Soloway gives a rundown of the current crop of website analytic tools.

We recommend that every website undergoes routine maintenance. But, how do you decide what needs work when your website is constantly being worked on? The answer lies within your website analytics tools. The trick is in knowing which tools to use—and where to look within them.

What tools should you use?

All website analytics or statistics tools require some time to start collecting user data. You’ll need to install some before you plan to use them, so that they are sure to capture the data you need before you need it.

There are many options in terms of which services to use for your website analytics. These options range in the type of data they collect and analyze – from tables of information that tell you about general website use to recorded videos of each visitor’s actual interactions on your website. Here at Strategic Insights, we set up 3 tools for each website we launch:

  1. Google Analytics
  2. Google Webmaster Tools
  3. Bing Webmaster Tools

We stick to these 3 for every website because, when used together, they either give enough information to direct any updates that would be made during a typical scheduled website maintenance, or they provide enough information to tell us what we are missing from the equation. Either way, they are an excellent starting combo in getting familiar with how visitors use your website.

Plus, they’re all free. So there’s no additional cost to using them. Why not take advantage of that?

Now that we know what we recommend you use, let’s spend a few minutes talking about what each of these services bring to the table for your website:

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is the website analytics tool to install on your website. In fact, it is the only of the 3 services that we set up for our clients by default that actually provides website usage analytics (more on the others in a minute). In most cases, it also covers all the information that our clients need to make smart, informed decisions about their websites and how their visitors use them.

This tool is also easily customized to provide more specific data as needed.

Google Webmaster Tools

While Google Analytics is a very thorough and comprehensive, there is one aspect to it that falls completely flat: Collecting and showing which keywords visitors use to visit your website. That’s where Google Webmaster Tools steps in. While this service is not limited to strictly keywords, it is the biggest draw to including this service in your website’s analytics toolbox.

In addition to showing the keywords used for organic (unpaid) searches, Google Webmaster Tools will also display the number of times your website appeared for each keyword and the number of times a visitor clicked to your website using that keyword. Very critical information to have if you are running any sort of campaigns that require landing pages or are concerned in any way with Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

The only limitation to Google Webmaster Tools is that it only collects data from visitors who use the Google search engine. To cover a wider audience, we also set up Bing Webmaster Tools.

Bing Webmaster Tools

Like Google Webmaster Tools, Bing Webmaster Tools collects keyword information for visitors who arrive on your website using an organic search. Also like Google Webmaster Tools, its data is limited to visitors who arrive on your site by using the Bing search engine (which also includes Yahoo!).

For many website owners, keyword information for their visitors will be amply covered with this combination of Google and Bing Webmaster Tools, if not fully covered.

We know the tools. We know what they do. How does that help us with maintenance?

I’m not going to dance around it—website analytics tools can be overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time poking around one of them. Google Analytics in particular provides such a wealth of information, most of which most website owners never even need to consider, that it can be daunting to know where to begin.

Luckily, the information most websites need to gather in order to make informed decisions about website maintenance updates is fairly limited. Here are the places we recommend you start:

Google Analytics

  1. Audience > Overview – This section is often the default, and for good reason. It’ll give you a good introduction to your audience’s behavior on your site, and will show general trends in acquisition and interaction over time. Plus, when combined with data from the other sections of your site, it can give you a very good indication if there is an issue that would need to be addressed (high bounce rates/low time spent on each page) or who your audience is (new vs. returning visitor) so you can tailor updates accordingly.
  2. Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium – Tempting though it may be to click down to the Keywords area of this section, that is not what we’re here for. Odds are, you’ll be sadly disappointed in how much of that information is “hidden” from view in Google Analytics. Instead, taking a look at the All Traffic report will give you a listing of where your site visitors come from. Google’s and Bing’s search engines will be listed separately, which will tell you which of the Webmaster Tools you’ll want to visit later to get a much more thorough (and complete) list of your website’s actual keywords.
  3. Behavior > Site Content > Content Drilldown – This section tells you exactly how your various pages are performing with site visitors. Looking here will show opportunities for keyword improvement, pages that are good candidates for a call to action, and where content might be falling flat within your goal funnels.
  4. Conversions > Goals > Overview, Funnel Visualization – Speaking of goals, there are two reports in this section that we recommend you take a look at when determining what may need updating during your next maintenance:
    1. The Overview report will give you a general idea of how well visitors are able to complete action-oriented goals on your website.
    2. Funnel Visualization will show you where in the process of completing these goals unsuccessful visitors dropped off.

    Both of these are key in knowing what to update, if anything, on your call to action pages and any pages that are necessary for your visitors to reach said call to action pages. Updates in this area can range from content to design and layout tweaks in order to get the maximum goal completions possible. Often, when it comes to website analytics-based updates, this area will receive the most time and attention.

    In order for these reports to have any value for you, it is essential that action-oriented goals for your website are defined ahead of time, including necessary steps (pages) required for visitors to complete those goals. Your website agency should discuss goals with you during the web design and development process, and can offer assistance in setting those up within Google Analytics.

Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools

Webmaster Tools offer the keyword information that is missing from Google Analytics. Often, a website’s audience will favor one search engine over the other, so you may or may not need to check both of these. Using the All Traffic report in Google Analytics tells you if that’s the case, and which one to focus on, or if you truly need both.

In Google, select Search Traffic > Search Queries to view a table of keywords. Note that these are not limited to just the keywords that visitors use to arrive on your site, but also the keywords in which your website appeared in the search results. The information can be downloaded as a file for future comparisons, which you will want to do every 3 months (the limit to which Google stores this information online).

In Bing, select Reports & Data > Search Keywords to view the keyword report. This report will show you the same information as Google, but for Bing and Yahoo! searches. The information can also be downloaded as a file for future comparisons, though Bing has a longer online lifespan of the data (6 months or custom are also options).

While these reports definitely take a big step toward the realm of SEO, they are helpful in seeing how your content is performing for visitors arriving on your site via search. Updates can be made to the content or design with your web development agency based on keeping tabs on this information, or new content can be generated to help fill a hole. At the very least, it’s beneficial to be in the know of what people are searching for when they arrive on your site – it will give you an idea of the type of information they are expecting to find. At most, you may learn you need to add an SEO agency to your maintenance team, depending on your expectations.

Wrapping Up

Website analytics and website maintenance updates go hand in hand when it comes to truly owning your website. With this combination, pain points that can add up over time and lead to an expensive – and time-intensive – relaunch can be addressed as part of an ongoing maintenance plan. This is a much less intrusive approach, and one that will keep your existing website relevant and performing well with site visitors longer.

You’ve already invested in the legwork to develop the website. The best thing you can do for that investment is monitor its performance as you move forward.