Insights

12 min read

How to understand your web analytics data and use its insights to your advantage

Every decision you make needs to be data-driven. Learn how to understand your web analytics data so you can transform website data into actionable insights.

Someone working on a laptop with the Google Analytics data on screen.

Written by

Tasmin Lofthouse - Content & Marketing

Tasmin Lofthouse

Published on

14 November, 2022

Let’s talk about a little thing called web analytics data.

Every single time someone lands on your website or interacts with your app, you’re collecting sweet, sweet data. Or at least, you should be.

If you’re not collecting data then you’re missing out on some valuable insights that could be transformed into data-driven decisions — the kind of decisions that move the needle forward for your business, not backwards.

Here’s the thing — web analytics data might seem terrifying, boring, or wholly unnecessary but I’m here to tell you that data is crucial.

Every decision you make in your business should be data-led. Want to launch a new product? Update your website copy? Develop a new landing page? Then you, my friend, need data.

In this article, I’m going to dive into how to understand web analytics data and, more importantly, how to turn that data into actionable insights you can use to advance your business.

It’s time to stop relying on hunches and start trusting your data…

The power of turning your web analytics into actionable insights

Web analytics data is a broad term that encompasses the collection, processing, and analysis of data from online sources.

In most cases, web analytics data will refer to any data collected on your website. When we talk about web analytics data, we’re typically talking about the process of analysing how visitors behave on your website.

Traffic sources, referring websites, page views, conversion rates, and user paths are all examples of some of the data points collected in web analytics.

The power of web analytics data lies within its ability to transform your business performance. The data collected through your web analytics tools can be used to optimise the user experience and drive improved performance. You’ll also be able to gain an insight into competitor performance, better understand consumer behaviour, and measure the progression of your goals.

Essentially, you can use your web analytics data to make more informed decisions about your website, and wider business.

Website analytics is powerful — really powerful. Whatever data you choose to look at, don’t underestimate its potential to boost your business profitability and success.

In their State of Web Analytics report, Hotjar found that 11% of respondents (in-house professionals, consultants, and agencies) didn’t collect or report on any analytics data. These respondents were categorised as group M0 or Ignore.

Meanwhile, 43% of people not only collected data, but also used that data to measure what’s happening, determine why, and make data-informed changes. This 43% was categorised as group M4 or Elite.

Maturity level graph taken from Hotjar.

Image Source: Hotjar

There were five groups in total ranking from M0/Ignore to M4/Elite:

  • M0 or Ignore: don’t collect or report on analytics data
  • M1 or Basic: use data to measure what is happening
  • M2 or Intermediate: use data to measure what is happening and determine why
  • M3 or Advanced: use data to measure what is happening, determine why + make one-off data-informed changes
  • M4 or Elite: use data to measure what is happening, determine why, and make ongoing data-informed changes

Want to guess which group was most profitable?

If you answered those in the Advanced or Elite, you’d be correct.

Of the companies that didn’t collect or report on data, 8 in 10 make less than $1 million per year. Yet, for the companies that qualified as Advanced or Elite, 6 in 10 make more than $1 million per year. In the Advanced and Elite groups, a further 1 in 6 companies makes more than $500 million per year.

The data speaks for itself. If you want to build a profitable business, you need to leverage web analytics data.

How understanding web analytics helps business growth

Collecting data is all well and good. But what does that data mean? And what are you doing with it?

There’s no point in collecting data if you don’t understand how to use it to further advance your business growth. You need to be able to read the data points, know what they mean, and know how to turn those numbers into actions.

Let’s say your website is showing a bounce rate of 67% — you need to understand what that percentage means, whether it’s good or bad, and what you need to do next.

A bounce rate of 67% would be good for a one-pager marketing website that doesn’t direct people anywhere. But a bounce rate of 67% for a complex SaaS website might indicate there’s a problem.

It’s also worth noting that you can’t just look at your web analytics data in isolation. When looking at your bounce rate, you might also want to look at your website load speed, entry points and exit points, or calls to action, to name just a few potential impacting factors.

The business benefit of understanding web analytics is unmeasurable. By gaining a solid understanding of your web analytics, you’ll be able to:

  • Spot and fix weaknesses within your website and business
  • Improve performance over time
  • Improve user experience based on user behaviour
  • Better understand the user journey
  • Know how to capture more clicks (from the right people)
  • Make data-driven changes

Before you dive into measuring all kinds of different web analytics data, set up a measurement framework consisting of your goals, objectives, calls to action, KPIs, and thresholds. This measurement framework will help you stay on track, making sure you’re measuring the metrics that count.

This measurement framework should look something like this:

  • Goals: The overarching goal of your website should be the reason why you have a website
  • Objectives: Break your goal down into smaller, measurable objectives that help bring you closer to your goal
  • Calls to action (CTA): Determine what tasks, or pathways, site visitors must complete for you to reach your site objectives and goals
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs): Understand what metrics you need to measure to be able to determine objective and goal performance
  • Thresholds: Set thresholds to determine whether you are on track to meeting your goals and objectives

While I am zoning in on web analytics here, I want to take a moment to raise awareness of the importance of both on-site and off-site analytics.

On-site analytics captures any insights that come from your website. Yet, chances are your brand exists in more digital places than just your website. So, don’t forget to also measure off-site analytics such as social media metrics, email marketing performance, backlinks, forums, and more.

The basics of web analytics

Before we look at how to understand your web analytics data, let’s first tick off some basics.

Web analytics data is a vast collection of insights and metrics. I could spend hours, if not days, reeling off all the different types of web analytics data you could collect and measure for your business.

Instead of doing that, I thought it would be more beneficial to highlight the types of web analytics data you’re most likely to use — no matter your business type.

Audience data

Audience data offers insights into the people visiting your website. After all, if you’re going to improve the user experience of your site, you need to first understand who is actually visiting.

Audience data encompasses quantitative metrics such as the number of visits your website acquires and how many of these are unique visits. Other Audience data points include new vs. returning visitors, demographic data, and browser device usage.

The audience data you analyse may run deeper than this. You might also choose to look at your customer lifetime value (LTV) or customer acquisition costs.

Audience behaviour

I know what you’re thinking and the answer is yes — audience behaviour is different to audience data. While audience data focus on quantitative metrics, audience behaviour pulls from more qualitative data sources.

When thinking about collecting data on audience behaviour, think about insights such as heat maps, frustration points, bounce rate, session duration, user paths, common exit pages… You could even use the likes of customer surveys and interviews, but that’s a whole other story in itself.

User behaviour analytics incorporate any data points that tell you more about the way your audience is behaving. As such, these metrics help you uncover the impact your business decisions have on your audience.

You can use audience behaviour analytics to create an ideal customer journey map that can then be used as a benchmark or comparison tool for actual user behaviour.

Set a goal, measure the metrics that matter and turn those insights into data-informed changes.

Performance data

Performance data is a fairly broad term. You might review performance data on a campaign level or you may look at your website performance overall.

On a campaign level, performance data might look at which particular campaigns drove the most traffic to your website or which campaign landing pages received the most visits.

When reviewing your overall website performance, the following metrics are all useful in evaluating site performance and how to make informed improvements:

  • Page speed
  • Keyword rankings and estimated organic traffic
  • Backlinks and referring domains
  • Traffic sources
  • Conversion rate

Remember, this isn’t an exhaustive list — if it was, I’d be here all day. This is simply a list of metrics to give you an idea of what falls under some common types of web analytics data.

The metrics you measure will all depend on your exact website goals and objectives.

How to understand your web analytics data and use its insights to your advantage

I couldn’t tell you how many marketers and business owners I meet that collect web analytics data and do nothing with it. And no shade to them — data can be overwhelming if you don’t have the time, resources or confidence.

Collecting data is better than not collecting data. But, the real magic happens when you use that data to make changes. Whenever you collect data, you should then set to work understanding what that data means and how you can make decisions off the back of it.

Being able to read and understand data is an important part of A/B or multivariate testing too. You may, for example, want to test a hypothesis that call to action buttons with compelling descriptions are more effective at driving conversions than CTAs with generic copy. Comparing conversion data for a landing page with generic versus compelling CTA copy would help you understand whether or not your hypothesis is true.

To give you a headstart with understanding your web analytics data — and turning it into actionable insights — I want to walk you through some valuable web analytics data that you can start using today to make informed changes on your website.

Clickstream data

Clickstream data simply refers to any information collected about a user as they’re browsing your site. Clickstream data links together every interaction a single user takes on their journey with your brand. It basically records every click they make.

Let’s say someone wants to know the best platform to use for their website build. They may turn to Google and search “best website builder”. This search might then lead them to click on a comparison article on your website. Now, while on your site, the visitor may read the article, read a second related article, and then request a free 7-day demo before exiting your site.

In the above scenario, clickstream data would tell you where your visitor came from, their website entry and exit points, how much time they spent on each page, and even which page elements they engaged with before moving to the next page.

All of this data gives you a granular insight into user behaviour which you can then use to make effective changes to your online strategy.

Clickstream data could be used to forecast traffic estimates or assess user behaviour based on their engagement. You could also use clickstream data to see which pages have the biggest impact on driving traffic and conversions for your site.

The clickstream data might show weak spots in the customer journey. Maybe you notice a particular page has a high drop-off rate — this suggests you need to fix something on that page. Another way to use clickstream data would be to analyse which on-page features impact the user journey — does adding videos increase time on site, or perhaps using simple forms increases form completions?

To use clickstream data, collect data from your chosen analytic sources. Analyse the clickstream data along with other metrics such as conversion data, heatmaps, backlinks, and usability insights. Then, use all of the data gleaned to test various hypotheses and make data-informed changes about user behaviour.

Usability testing

I couldn’t talk about web analytics data and not mention usability testing. Whether you’re building a new site, developing campaigns, or managing ongoing site maintenance, you can’t overlook usability.

Usability testing tells you whether or not your website is accessible and easy to use. When working on your site, it’s easy to be clouded by expertise.

You know the saying “can’t see the woods for the trees”? That’s what happens when you’re too caught up in the details of your business. And that very same phenomenon can also stop you from being able to spot the usability issues with your site.

Usability testing lets you evaluate your site functionality by testing how easily your target audience can navigate your site, and whether they navigate as expected. In usability tests, participants will navigate your site while an observer reports on their behaviour.

You can also use remote tools like website recordings to see how users navigate your site in real-time. These website recordings are a powerful way to spot problems with your site’s functionality and interface. You can see where people get frustrated or if they act in an unexpected manner, where they make u-turns and where they drop off.

You can turn usability tests into valuable insights that inform how to improve the accessibility and UX of your site.

Traffic acquisition reporting

Traffic acquisition reporting is a critical component of web analytics. It pays to know where your site visitors come from, and your traffic acquisition data will tell you exactly that.

Traffic acquisition data will tell you which sources and channels send visitors to your website, as well as providing insight into the on-site behaviour of those users.

The data gleaned from traffic acquisition reporting enables you to see which channels brought the most traffic to your site, and which channels performed best in terms of conversions, time on site, page sessions and bounce rate — if you’re using Google Analytics, at least.

You can use this data to understand which channels require more investment and which ones are already performing well. You may use traffic acquisition data to identify hero channels for future campaigns. Alternatively, your traffic acquisition data might help you uncover which channels need more work to increase performance.

Keyword and SEO performance

You can also leverage web analytics data to further enhance your keyword and SEO performance. Data collected for keyword research and SEO purposes helps you make better decisions regarding your organic performance.

Keyword data should, at the very least, tell you which keywords your website ranks for. With keyword data, you should know: which pages rank for which keywords, what position they rank in Google search results, whether you have secured any featured snippets, and how many monthly searches those keywords receive.

You can then use this information to improve your SEO and content marketing strategy. Combine keyword data with competitor analysis to uncover missed opportunities and figure out how to improve on-page SEO and increase your organic rankings.

Keyword data isn’t the only valuable SEO insight you can capture with web analytics. You can look at a wide variety of SEO metrics including backlinks and referring domains, domain authority, on-page optimisation scores, and organic market share — to name a few.

SEO data can determine where you are best investing your time and energy to increase organic performance. You might use your SEO insights to develop a backlink strategy or plan new on-site content.

Conversion optimisation

If you want to turn as many site visitors as possible into active customers, you need to be analysing your conversion optimisation data.

Conversion optimisation data lets you see what encourages people to complete intended actions on your site and what, well, doesn’t. It can be difficult knowing which factors have the most impact on your sales, which is why you need conversion data.

The most important conversion metrics you should be tracking for your business are:

  • Total conversions
  • Conversion rate
  • Conversion value
  • Cost per conversion
  • New visitor conversion rate
  • Returning visitor conversion rate
  • Touchpoints to conversion

Keep a finger on the pulse of your conversion data to see how site features, campaigns, and pages impact your conversions, and what you need to do to improve.

Let’s say you’re reviewing touchpoints to conversions. You might find that a site visitor typically needs to engage with your brand seven times before they convert. You could use this data to test how to reduce the number of touchpoints and alleviate any barriers to conversion. Analysing this data and turning it into actionable insights will impact how quickly people convert.

It’s worth noting that the above is just an insight into some metrics you can measure as part of your web analytics data. The metrics you focus on will vary depending on your business type, goals, and performance.

Tools for capturing web analytics data

I know I’ve thrown a lot of data types at you throughout this article, but fear not — you don’t have to be a mathematical genius who knows web analytic formulas inside-out. There are several tools you can use to capture web analytics data.

Here are my favourite web analytics tools.

Google Analytics

First, you’ve got the OG — Google Analytics. Hook Google Analytics (or the latest GA4 which will soon be replacing the Universal version of Analytics) up to your site and watch as reams of data roll in. Google Analytics is a powerhouse of information and can be personalised with custom reports, dimensions and metrics.

Plausible Analytics

However, not everyone is a fan of Google Analytics. And for those people, I recommend Plausible Analytics (which we use here at Skyward!).

Plausible Analytics is an open-source and privacy-friendly analytics platform that offers full ownership over your web analytics data and ensures you can collect valuable user data in a cookieless world. It’s also a lightweight tool that’s far less complex than Google Analytics.

Crazy Egg

Next up, you’ve got Crazy Egg. Crazy Egg is a website optimisation tool providing insightful data to increase your site performance and user experience. You can use Crazy Egg to better understand user behaviour by collecting deep insights into their on-site activity. Crazy Egg offers A/B testing, heatmaps, session recordings, and more.

Optimizely

Last but not least, Optimizely is another favourite data tool of mine. Much like Crazy Egg, Optimizely provides A/B testing and multivariate testing tools. However, Optimizely also contains heaps more data to help improve your conversion rate optimisation. With Optimizely, you gain valuable insights regarding content management, experiments, and digital experience. All this data can enhance your site’s performance and profitability.

Final thoughts — using web analytics data to your advantage

Whether you want to gain more subscribers, increase your customer base, or secure more trial users, you need to tap into your web analytics data.

Learn how to understand the web analytics data that is most important to your business. Then, take this data and transform it into actionable insights so you can make data-driven changes that create a positive impact on your audience.

If the thought of analytics reporting makes you want to bury your head in the sand, talk to us. We love data!

So, if you’re not a data fan, or perhaps you don’t have the time to analyse your insights, we can help. We’ll review your data in line with your business objectives and activity, then we’ll provide a monthly report showing exactly what you need to know and do.

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