Newest Review: ... the best part is the information that you are actually going to find out from having Google Analytics. This is where I feel like a... more
Member Name: sy2kgbr
Date: 10/09/06, updated on 10/09/06 (240 review reads)
Advantages: Packed full of features, adwords compatible, free.
In a nutshell, Google Analytics is a service which compiles data on your website (or websites, even!). A sort of site statistics service. Now, there have always been loads of site stats services around, but usually they involve ugly advertising or provide only very limited statistics. For example, they'll tell you that X peoplevisited your site in August, but they won't tell you if these were unique people or the same person hitting refresh for an hour, when in the day these people visited, how they found your site, how long they spend looking around it... I could go on...
The more comprehensive services have always charged, but with all things Google, a much better alternative has been born and it's 100% free. Now, I should point out that if a site you're tracking receives more than 5 million page views a month that Google reserve the right to suspend services or ask you for money, but how many of you actually have a web site that is that popular? Huh? So, as I said previously, this service is free. It's also designed to complement your Google AdWords account (this is a paid for advertising service provided by Google) if you use this feature. If you don't use Adsense, it's not a problem. Still free.
Now we've gotten what Analytics is out of the way, how does it work?
To use Analytics, you do need a Gmail account. But since this is free, and very useful, this isn't a downside at all. Once you've logged in for the first time, you can tell Analytics which sites you want monitored. At the moment, I can watch up to 10, but this number will go up as Analytics goes on. It works on the same principle as Gmail: the more users using the service, the more free things will be provided for all. I realise that this doesn't seem to make any commercial sense, but that's the way the cookie crumbles at Google Headquarters. Mad genius.
Now, since Analytics comes with more features than you can shake a stick at, I thought I'd just mention my favourite ones, to avoid accidentally writing a book. Reports are divided into "marketing optimization" and "content optimization" and various individual reports are compiled into five different overviews.
These are: "executive overview", "conversion summary", "marketing summary", "content summary" and "site overlay. The default one to load is "executive overview". At a glance, you can see how many visits andpage views you received (in a handy line graph), the number of new visitors and returning visitors (in pie chart form), the number of visits according to where they came from on the web (again, prettypie chart) and where your visitors geographically come from (a small map of the world with dots on it).
To access more detailed information, you need to open up a particular report (either under "marketing optimization" or "content optimization"). My favourite reports can be found under the sub-categories of "visitor segment performance" and "web design parameters". I'm going to describe what features are available in these two sub-categories only, because there are more features than you can shake a stick at, and 3p for a book is a bit on the cheap side!;)
ALL REPORTERS >> MARKETING OPTIMIZATION >> VISITOR SEGMENT PERFORMANCE
This section contains the following reports:
New vs Returning
- This report indicates how many of my visitors are viewing the site for the first time, and how many have come back. Whilst all traffic is good traffic, if all of my visitors were new, it would be cause for concern as it would suggest people viewing the site once, deciding it was rubbish and not coming back. If I did not have a high number of returning visitors, this would suggest to me that I needed to add more new content and make the site a bit more dynamic.
- This report tells me where my visitors came from on the web. For example, if I had a link to my site here (which I don't!) then under referring source, I would probably see "Dooyoo.co.uk" and the number of people who clicked on the link from Dooyoo. Since I know that the only search engine referrals come from Google, I know I need to SEO my site for Yahoo!, AOL Online, WhatUSeek, etc, as it probably means that Google is the only search engine to have my site spidered. Also, if I've done a deal with certain sites to have a 'link exchange' whereby I link to their sites and they link to mine, and Analytics suggests that I'm receiving no traffic referred by their sites, it indicates that I need to wind things up as the link partnership isn't doing me any good.
- This gives statistics on where people are accessing my site. Geographically, we're talking. It tells me how many people are viewing my site in the UK, and from further afield. Percentages and numbers. If I click on a country, usually I can access a breakdown of which city or area the visitor viewed the site from. Very nice. Since my site needs to attract international visitors, this report is handy as it lets me know if I'm winning or not! I also find it really interesting when I get a hit from one of the more exotic tiny countries.
Geo Map Overlay
- The Geo Map Overlay provides the same information as the Geo Location report, but it's in a visual format. Basically, we're talking about a world map with orange dots stuck where people have been logging onto my site! How cool is that? In terms of helpfulness, well, the Geo Location report is infinitely more useful, but this report is just more fun to play with! (Yes, us techy nerds are easily amused.)
- These four reports aren't especially useful to me. If I know which country my visitors are from, I don't really need to know which language they had enabled on their computer (perhaps unsurprisingly, all my visitors from Japan use Japanese on their computers), I don't really care where their ISPs are based and I don't care who their ISPs are. I've mentioned them only because they're included in this section.
ALL REPORTS >> CONTENT OPTIMIZATION >> WEB DESIGN PARAMETERS
This is one of the collection of reports that I consul the most often. The available data is broken down into:
Browser & Platform Combos
If you are a web designer, the information that Google Analytics compiles about your visitor is incredibly useful as it can help you optimise your web site for the majority of your visitors. With one of the sites I'm currently managing, 87% of all visitors use Cable or DSL, which means that images load really quickly for them. Only 10% of my visitors use dial up, which means that if I make the site particularly graphics intensive, it's only going to frustrate a small group of people.
Only 5% of my visitors have a screen size of 800 x 600 pixels - the majority, a whopping 60% see the site with a screen size of 1024 x 768 pixels and everyone else has an even bigger screen available to them. What does this mean to me? Well, it suggests that a fluid design using relative positioning and percentage values rather than absolute positioning and fixed sizes in pixels might be more appropriate, so that the site automatically expands to fit their huge screens. Armed with this information, I know how to make the site more accessible for the majority of visitors in the next re-design.
99.7% of visitors had java enabled browsers, which means that I want to incorporate java, practically everyone will be able to access it properly. Now, I don't code with Java, so this particular percentage doesn't interest me, but if I did... Useful to know.
Basically, instead of 'assuming' that the people viewing the site have the same specs as me, I know for a fact how the site appears for them and I know how to tweak it to make it look better for most of them. Invaluable knowledge for a web designer.
Analytics comes with all the site tracking features you could think of, and then some. If you're an amateur web designer with a small fansite, you'll find that there are just too many features for you to every fully explore, and if you're a professional running an online business, you may still find that there's more information than you could possibly need. I've seen services offering less features on sale for high monthly prices, so it really is unheard of to find something like Google Analytics for free.
I thoroughly recommend Analytics - if some of the things I've mentioned sound complicated or unnecessary, don't panic. Analytics is designed to be easy enough to be followed by Joe Average and packed with enough features to keep Joe The Techy Nerd busy for a long time. For those of you who hate computer jargon, I apologise for the use of it in this review, but since this service is only of any use to people who understand it, I hope you'll forgive me this one time!
Summary: Possibly the best site statistics service ever.