Using Analytics to Spot Problems with your Website

Analytics is a current hot topic among website owners.  Analytics provides measures or metrics to allow a website owner to evaluate the performance of their website.  When visitors move around the Internet they leave very detailed footprints.  With the right software you can analyze these footprints and understand better where the visitors have gone and what they did.

An immediate problem is that there is too much data on where visitors traveled to.  How can you ensure you use your time well on this potentially huge analysis?  A related problem is that analytics only produces data on visitors who arrive at your website.  Those who almost arrived but did not enter the website are not recorded.  This article will discuss the most effective way of using your time to spot problems with your website.

Website Problems Imply Website Goals

If you are concerned with problems, one immediate requirement is that you have set some goals for the website to achieve.  Without clear goals, you really cannot have problems, except of the most obvious kind.  Once you have set goals, then you know what you should be looking for.  If you have an e-commerce site, the following might be typical goals.

  • The number of visitors
  • The number of visitors who check out information on products and.
  • The number of visitors who buy a product online

Analytics has an important role to play in identifying problems, but some effort should go to more fundamental ways of spotting problems.  These can particularly affect those potential visitors who almost arrived at the website.  We will quickly explore the necessary efforts to spot such non-visitors and after that discuss what then is best covered using analytics.

Website Problems The Website Owner Sees

Some website problems should be immediately apparent to the website owner and need correcting as a high priority.  If you have such problems then there is no need for tools to highlight these.  Examples are hardly needed but slow loading websites is one frequent problem.  Remember others have less interest in your website than you do, so their tolerance is very much less than that of the website owner.

Website Problems The Website Owner Does Not See

There may be some obvious website problems that the website owner is not aware of.  Usually these can be identified by asking colleagues or friends to check out the website.  The most frequent causes for such problems are either different browsers and/or different devices.  Many potentially important visitors may be using Blackberries and the smaller screen may produce an unsatisfactory experience.  The majority of potential visitors will still be using Internet Explorer and the visual experience may be very different from what is seen in other browsers.  If such problems exist, they need to be addressed with urgency.

Website Problems Google Sees

A high proportion of visitors to many websites will come via a a keyword search, most often done with Google.  If the Google search engine has a problem with the site then this may severely limit the visibility of the website in keyword searches.  The best way to check for Google search engine problems is to check out the site in the Google Webmaster Tools website.   With a verified website, a large amount of data on potential problems the website may have is provided.  Again such problems should be corrected with urgency.

Website Problems Visitors Encounter

If the necessary efforts have been put into the three previous topics, then at least we know there are no obvious barriers to visitors arriving at the website.  Will their  experience on the website be one they find satisfying?  You can of course ask typical visitors that question.  It could be done by having a sample group of visitors take part in a usability test and ask for their reactions.  Or you could have a small survey form on the website and encourage visitors to comment.  The problem with such methods is that people may not respond at all or may not be willing to give a critical reaction.  What they say is not necessarily what they do.

This is where analytics can swing into action.  The minute they put their ‘foot’ in the door, visitors start leaving electronic footprints.  The website raw logs will show a great deal about what visitors do and there are programs such as Funnel Web Analyzer (free) or Sawmill that can produce analyses of such visitor log data.

Analytics Software goes beyond this through the use of cookies or by having tracking variables on particular link choices within the site.  In this way, what they do can be identified with great precision.

Analytics Software choices

Given the richness and complexity of potential analytics data, it is not surprising that the software can command significant outlays.  Four choices that have good reviews are:

Google Analytics is favored by many since it is free.

All operate in similar ways and can answer some key questions:

  • How do visitors arrive
  • What do they do on the website
  • How do they leave

Problems may surface at any point in their journey through the website and some key measures help to pinpoint these problems.

Analytics – Key measures

The following measures are particularly important and even more so if reviewed on a regular basis over time.  Are things moving in the right direction?

Visitor traffic

The number of visitors arriving at any specific web page.  Web pages that do not receive much traffic may represent potential problems.

Top entry pages

A list of the top entry pages shows you where visitors are arriving at your site. Are these what you expected?  Are some obvious entry pages under-represented.

Bounce Rate

Bounce Rate measures visitors who come to a particular web page and then leave without looking at any other pages. This is a key indicator of whether that web page is engaging their attention.  Some web pages may be much better at others in avoiding bounces.

Path Analysis

The path typical visitors take through the website is important.  Are there indications.that preferred actions are being frustrated?  Are they following the intended ‘sales funnel’ as they move through the steps of awareness/interest/desire/action?

Top exit pages

How are visitors leaving the website and does this indicate how this might be improved.  Might there be additional opportunities to sell other products in a final thank-you web page?

Low clicks on Calls to Action buttons

This is a particularly important dimension.  Split A/B testing can be done to compare different placements and styles of buttons.  This is one of the most important areas to explore.  One should be looking for continual improvement here.

High Drop-Out Rate

For an e-commerce website, if visitors are abandoning their shopping carts without completing their transaction, then again this is an important problem to crack.

Poor Return On Investment for particular marketing approaches

This can be particularly important for PPC advertising.  Do particular ads and the associated landing pages produce higher conversions to more profitable sales than other combinations?  The integration of Google Analytics and Adwords is particularly effective here in identifying the strong and weak performers.


Most high-tech devices perform best when results can be measured.  Analytics provides the instruments whereby a website can be tuned for optimal performance.  Analytics of course can highlight problems but thereafter it can be part of a continuous improvement process.  The outcome will give a return many times the cost and effort involved.

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