How to analyze your website's performance

Understanding who is visiting your website is critical if you intend to make it big on the Web.

By Christopher Null, PC World |  Small Business, web analytics

Oftentimes this is a fool's errand. There's just too much randomness on the Web, and the power of social media and community-driven news sites such as Reddit can turn a quick late-night blog post into a completely unexpected hit. You can spend years trying to chase down repeats of those posts to re-create the magic, but that rarely works--and you may find that you've exhausted yourself building a lot of the same kinds of content, which no one ends up reading.

Here's a typical (and fanciful) scenario: The owner of a website/blog about animals finds that a picture of a cat sitting on a toy spaceship accounts for 20% of the past month's traffic, and StumbleUpon is the major referrer, with most of the traffic coming in a two-day span. The site owner then tracks down 100 more pictures of cats on spaceships, dutifully posting them all, but none of them perform well.

Meanwhile, a deeper analysis of the top 100 posts would have shown that the site's primary content--written advice about pet health, let's say--makes up 50% of the past month's traffic, and those posts are evergreen in nature, consistently generating traffic month after month, largely from Google. Long after the cat picture has been forgotten, these posts will continue to thrive. What the site owner should have done was continue to produce these pieces, building up more and more "long-tail" content that search engines--and users--find valuable. That doesn't mean you have to ignore the fluffy "dessert" of the Web--because people always want funny cat pictures--but focusing your site on the meat-and-potatoes items will keep traffic growing and reduce frustration.

The bottom line: Unless you're a veteran, use analytics as a tool to generate broad insights about your business and to tease out long-term traffic trends. Don't focus too much on what happens from day to day. Knowing what happened last Monday is less valuable than knowing what tends to happen every Monday. Always use the longest time horizon you can when examining trends. Locate the points where the trend lines undergo a change (did traffic rise until a certain day, then plummet?) and figure out why it happened.

Analytics can tell you only the who, what, and when...and almost never the why.

Next Page: What the Metrics Mean

What the Metrics Mean

First, let's look at what certain terminology refers to. Here's a glossary to help you understand the key phrases you'll encounter in any analytics tool, and how they relate to one another.

Page views: Each time someone loads a page on your site, it generates a page view, no matter who loads it and how often they load it. It's a crude, but still widely used, measure of a site's traffic.

Visits: This measure evaluates how many users have spent time on the site, regardless of the number of pages each user views.

Originally published on PC World |  Click here to read the original story.
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