If you work in marketing or in digital media—or are looking to work in marketing or digital media—you need a good understanding of web analytics. Having a solid a grasp on the fundamentals—who comes to your site, what pages they visit most, how many visitors become customers, where visitors tend to “drop off” and leave the site—can, quite simply, make you one of the most valuable people on the job.
But because you can measure everything on a website—who clicks where, when and how often, for example—it can become hard to know which reports to run and how to use them. Wonder no more. Here are some basic web analytics skills that will have you combing through data like an expert:
1. Know Your Terms
Do you know what a session is compared to a user? Or what “unique user” means? You’ll need to understand the terminology of these measurements, or metrics, to be able to understand the data. Here’s a quick cheat sheet:
- Unique user = an individual person visiting your site
- Session = a single instance when a user was on your site
- Bounce rate = percentage of users that visited only one page
- Session duration = how long a user stayed on your website
- Pages per session = number of pages a user hit during one session
- Conversion = what you want a user to do on the site (e.g., complete a form)
2. Identify Key Performance Indicators
Unique users, session duration, returning traffic percentage and so on are all metrics you can run reports on, but do you know what actually affects the bottom line?
There is a lot of value in being able to sift through all the data to find the metrics and reports that really tell a story about your website.
How to use this skill: If you’re able to analyze your company’s website data and map metrics into buyer personas—representations of your ideal customers—you’ll help the marketing department develop target audiences more effectively.
3. Set and Adjust Benchmarks
You have to know where you’ve come from to measure improvement.
Benchmarks are the foundational-performance level of any given metric. It’s the number you use to determine if a test performed well or not. Once you’ve done enough tests, your baseline performance will hopefully increase and you’ll need to know how to calculate the new benchmark for future tests.
How to use this skill: There are usually multiple people contributing to making the company’s website better—so be the person that validates all of their work and you’ll have a seat at the strategy table.
4. Map User Paths
Every prospect or lead has to take a journey to complete what you want them to do. Each stage of this journey can be mapped to create a conversion funnel, or the path a user takes through the site on the way to doing what you want them to. As an example, on an ecommerce site, user paths may show that users may:
- visit your website without hitting a product page
- hit a product page without adding an item to the shopping cart
- have an item in their shopping cart but not check out
- go to checkout but leave without buying the item
How to use this skill: Make a list of all the steps a user would take and use your analytics tool to segment or filter out each stage of the funnel. You can then run reports and set benchmarks for each stage of funnel to see where your website needs work.
5. Optimizing Conversions
More traffic is not always the end goal. In fact, increasing traffic is one of the harder things to improve upon consistently. Eventually your company will either want conversions to increase at a higher rate than traffic, or level out on net-new traffic entirely. When that happens, you’ll need a plan B to keep improving.
How to use this skill: Use conversion funnels to identify weak points and run tests that will eventually yield more conversions for the same traffic.
6. Create Test-and-Learn Plans
Smart marketers know that in order to continually improve you have to constantly test new ideas. Page layouts, calls-to-action, headlines and images are all things that could improve your conversion rate and need to be tested.
How to use this skill: Take the initiative to manage the timing and prioritization of all the optimization tests and you’ll soon become the person creating the strategy, rather than managing it.
7. Build Predictable Models
Being able to forecast how many conversions your website will get next month, or next quarter is very valuable. This type of analytics is called predictable modeling.
There are many factors that contribute to website performance, so it’s quite a feat to be able to predict future sales based on historical data.
How to use this skill: If you can tie historical trends to current performance changes, you’ll have the information needed to prove ROI on every effort related to the website. For example, if you can predict a 20 percent increase in conversions during a conference by analyzing previous trends during past conferences with somewhat accuracy, your marketing team will be able to do more of what’s working, and less of what’s not—and you’ll look like a rock star.
Once you start making decisions using data, you’ll become much more valuable than the person who just compiles reports each month.
If you’re interested to learning how to build these skills or the theory behind them, check out my web-analytics course on Mediabistro. And if you’ve already got a handle on these web-analytics basics, browse the job listings that require web-analytics skills.
Christopher White is a Mediabistro industry expert instructor, and director of marketing at MBO Partners.