How to Maintain Sanity with Website Analytics.

Analytics are at the core of branding research, and they should play a significant role in decision-making for every business from local shops to worldwide corporations. At Proof, we rely on user behavior data daily to help us craft branding assets that drive ROI for clients and increase efficiency on an internal level. Statistical analysis has always been around, but over the past five years, we’ve seen it drive a rise in job titles, services, and just plain buzz. And with an overload of accessible free or low-cost tools on the market, every organization can and should incorporate top-line metrics into business goals.

The problem? Analytics is—or can be—a never-ending black hole of information.

But it doesn’t have to be. Many small businesses simply don’t know how to get started, and organizations of all sizes tend to spend too much time in the weeds and too little time taking action and following through. If you think about analytics on a macro level, sure—it can be overwhelming, intimidating, and a waste of manpower. On a smaller scale, the first steps toward valuable interpretation are a lot easier than you think.

Take advantage of inexpensive resources.

Perhaps the best thing about incorporating data reviews into your routine is that you can always start for free. In fact, unless your exceeding around 5,000 visits a month or managing multiple sites, Google Analytics should do the trick. With Google Analytics, a lot of organizations create an account, but get nervous about diving in and neglect the wealth of information it provides. While it has many, many levels, Google Analytics offers an Academy to show you the ins and outs of its functionality, how to prioritize tracking, and how to efficiently navigate each module. Custom reports, benchmark settings, and flow maps help minimize manual search and maximize interpretation.

If you’re ready to take it to the next level, or are seeing more than 10,000 users a month (on one or multiple sites), Crazy Egg is the best bang for your buck. At Proof, we use this platform to do a sweep of existing client sites before beginning a project, to understand how visitors use a website. Heatmapping (showing where users click), scroll mapping (showing where users spend the most time), and “confetti” (showing not only where users click, but their geographical origin, plus the search term that brought them to your site) are incredibly helpful tools that are actually kind of fun to explore. Plans start at $9/month, and the word on the street is that a front-end A/B testing feature will be ready by 2017.

Pinpoint what’s important.

A navigable black hole is still a black hole, so, it’s critical to weave in time management skills into every data review. The best place to start is by creating a simple report (or local spreadsheet, if it’s easier) featuring top-level site measurements like number of sessions/visits, session/visit duration, pageviews, page duration, bounce rate, acquisitions (What device are users using? Are they coming from social media platforms? Are they arriving from an organic search?), and basic user behavior (top landing pages, top accessed pages, top exit pages). Additionally, if your site features e-commerce, most platforms (e.g., WooCommerce) feature free plugins that track purchase data. Look for patterns, and with every change, give yourself at least a month to draw any solid conclusions.

Test changes with common sense.

If you’re seeing consistently low results (like little to no activity on a certain page), don’t jump to conclusions. Try a simple A/B test first. For example, change button copy, swap out imagery, move an important call to action further up the page if possible. Anything that involves professional redesign may need to wait until you have several changes, or an important event (e.g., a new product launch), to justify cost. Just like analytics itself, data-based changes should start small and grow with experience.

Put reviews on your calendar.

The only way to maximize time management with analytics is to make reviews a habit. Whether you’re reviewing daily, weekly, or monthly, block it on your calendar during an anticipated uninterrupted period—whether it’s first thing in the morning or after hours with a beer (recommended). As you learn more, you’ll start asking more informed questions, and your natural tendency will be to dive deeper into what’s in front of you. That’s a good thing, but you can waste hours if you’re not careful. Complete your basic report first, and if you’ve got a few extra minutes, go nuts. But beware the missed check-ins—they’ll start to add up, and your one-hour block will turn into a 5-hour review, fast.

With research, you can always do more. But time is money. By using a basic website analytics strategy first, you’ll get the information you need, be able to discuss key findings with your team, make minor adjustments as necessary, and go on with your day. Over time, this minimal investment will pay off, and you’ll be able to connect your decisions with increased ROI.

The hardest part is getting started. Don’t let it stop you.

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