Welcome to the June Highland Business Research Newsletter

How web analytics can help you stop your visitors vanishing

Is your website suffering from trapdoor syndrome?

Imagine the scenario.... You run a visitor attraction.

Every day potential customers arrive through the gates. They come in, families in tow - you can see their expectant faces from where you're sitting. They walk towards the ticket office, their wallets in their hands - all ready to enter your attraction.

Then thump! Somehow they fall through a trapdoor and vanish, never to be seen again.

Sounds fanciful?

Well if you have a website, then chances are you're already facing this very issue. Day after day, visitors to your site are falling through trapdoors, never to be seen again.

The trouble is, you can't see it happening.

It's a lot easier to ignore vanishing website visitors than people physically falling through trapdoors in your business. But it is exactly the same thing.

The virtual trapdoors in your website are a lost opportunity to convert a customer. They are losing you money as surely as a real trapdoor would - directly through lost revenues and indirectly through wasted marketing expenditure.

So how do you find the trapdoors in your website?

You may think your website visitors are completely invisible - but they're not. They leave a data shadow behind them. Follow the data shadow's trail and you'll find the trapdoors on your site.

Web analytics is the way to follow that data shadow and it allows you to understand the online experience of visitors in order to improve it.

You do not need to become a web analyst yourself - there are plenty of us out there who are for hire and can help you. But what you do need to do is have a tool in place that is tracking that data shadow. With the data in place you can either bring in an expert to help you understand the issues, or you can develop the skills internally and take the DIY approach.

Here are some tips that will help you find the trapdoors in your website and say goodbye to invisible customers.

1) Get tracking

If you're not already doing so, get a web analytics tool so you can start collecting data. This is likely to involve tagging the pages of your website with some simple code. Web analytics tools range from free to enterprise level and naturally differ in their sophistication.

What I suggest is getting a free or low cost tool onto your site asap. This could be a product like Google Analytics (free) or Microsoft AdCenter Analytics (also free).

If after a few months of using the free tool to its maximum you turn out to need something more sophisticated, you'll be better placed to judge what high-end tool will best meet your needs.

If you are already tracking your site, make sure your site is accurately tagged and that you have your web analytics tool set up properly. Google Analytics users can read more about getting the basic set up right.

2) Consider some guerrilla web analytics

Once you've got some data flowing, it is the ideal time for some quick and dirty guerrilla web analytics. This is where you combine your knowledge of your business with someone else's knowledge of web analytics and literally sit down together and get hands on with the site and the data. Between you (and generally in just a few hours) you can detect some of the most obvious trapdoors on your site.

What might these trapdoors look like?

  • Places where money is being wasted in attracting customers to the site who either promptly leave or do not interact with the parts of the site you intend them too. Typical examples include paid search campaigns where you are paying to acquire people who then bounce straight back out of the site.
  • Visitors (and revenues) that are being lost in conversion processes that don't work. Where are people falling out of the site? Can we see anything going on in those pages or processes that might be causing people to leave? It could be as simple as a broken link or a non-functioning form, it could be far more complex like content lacking key messages or trustworthiness.
  • Missing traffic, for example critical search terms that the site simply doesn't attract traffic on.

Guerrilla web analytics is a quick, superficial view of your site and the potential trap doors. For a longer term, more in depth view some deep diving is required.

3) Strengthen your internal analytics skills

The real value of web analytics is in maximising how the website contributes to the business revenues over time. Guerrilla web analytics is the sticking plaster, but ongoing analysis and optimisation is the strategy for improvement.

The choice therefore is to buy in ongoing analytics skills on an ongoing basis, or grow those skills internally by learning more for yourself.

I will shortly be delivering a groundbreaking new distance learning course for UHI on online customer insight and web value optimisation which will teach those skills to businesses.

This practical 15 week course starts in August and will cover web analytics and online customer understanding in the broadest sense, while also showing how to translate that understanding into action to improve your online performance.

4) No more Mr Invisible

While your website customers are "out of sight, out of mind" they will continue to fall through trapdoors in your site. Web analytics, combined with customer research and user testing gives you reliable evidence of who your online visitors are, what they are trying to achieve and how they think and feel.

Suddenly you are talking about marketing to and optimising the website for real people. And that's a lot easier to do than working with Mr Invisible.

If you're interested in more detail, I recently did a presentation to IT Wales & Swansea University on this very topic. You can view the slides here.

So, you wouldn't stand by while the people walking up to your business disappeared through trapdoors day after day. By making use of web analytics data means you don't have to put up with vanishing visitors online either.

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