Jan 19, 2011

Measure Your Audience Using These Analytics Tools

If you run a small business, chances are you have a website. Are you using online analytics tools to measure the traffic to your website, track online conversions, and measure ROI on marketing campaigns? If not, you are missing a great opportunity to learn about your customers. There are a whole host of (mostly) free online analytics tools that are easy to install and provide valuable insights into how effective your website design is in attracting and converting visitors, not to mention how effective your online marketing efforts are in generating leads.

Here are my favorite online analytics tools:

Google AnalyticsGoogle Analytics is the online analytics tool that most website owners are familiar with, and for good reason: it’s free, easy to install, compatible with all your other Googlage (AdWords, AdSense, etc), and it’s extremely robust. With Google Analytics you can easily measure all the basic stuff: visitors, pageviews, uniques -- and you can drill down to a really focused level of detail on every individual page of your website, learning about readers’ geographic location, browser, bounce rate, time spent on page, and more. You can analyze the design of your landing page (in terms of where visitors click), visualize your funnel (where visitors decide to leave your site), and even set goals (clicks, traffic, sales) which you can track from Analytics.

The only downside to Google Analytics is that it doesn’t measure real-time traffic, so you have to wait 24-48 hours to get accurate data on a given day’s traffic activity. This can be rather frustrating if you publish in real-time and would like to analyze data immediately in order to make real-time tweaks and changes. For real-time analysis, I use Sitemeter and Chartbeat.

Sitemeter has been around forever (at least as long as I’ve been blogging), and I’ve used it since day one. It is not nearly as fancy or robust as Google Analytics (i.e. there is no funnel visualization or goal tracking), but it is simple, easy, free - and most importantly gives you minute-by-minute traffic numbers. The addictiveness of real-time analytics is the main reason I still useSitemeter alongside my Google Analytics account; I find it necessary to be able to gauge the visitors on my website in a given hour and see how they are responding to what I’ve just published (and tweak if necessary). So if you’re the impatient type and real-time analytics is important to you, I highly recommend Sitemeter.

Chartbeat is a fairly new and very sexy real-time analytics service that enables website owners to view exactly how many people are visiting a site at a given moment, along with where they are coming from and what pages they are looking at. Chartbeat even features heatmaps that let you see how users scroll and interact with individual pages. I signed up with the service last year and love the intuitive, innovative visual layout that makes the data a lot easier to digest than traditional analytics.

Chartbeat also has some fun bonus features, like tracking twitter conversations and social media, measuring how long your pages take to load for each visitor, and alerting you by SMS or email if your site goes down. Chartbeat starts at $10/month, but it’s well worth the cost.

Quantcast is an audience analysis tool that is trying to forge an interesting bridge between old-school media’s sample-survey measuring tools (such as Comscore and Nielsen Rating) and new media javascript analytics measuring tools like Google Analytics and Chartbeat. Unfortunately, from my experience, they don’t seem to have hit the sweet spot yet in terms of merging the best of both types of analysis.

Despite using javascript to measure visitors and pageviews in much the same way as Google Analytics, Quantcast does not provide accurate day-to-day measurement. A representative I spoke with at Quantcast told me that they don’t count traffic coming from search or other websites (referral links) as actual traffic, which is a little baffling. I’m not sure why any web publisher would not want to measure and analyze search and referral traffic, so this seems like a missed opportunity. This approach also means Quantcast delivers confusing information to potential clients, which is something most publishers work hard to avoid.

Compete & Alexa
Compete and Alexa are not really analytics tools in the traditional sense, but they are worth a mention here, simply because they can be useful in seeing how you stack up (relatively) against your competitors. Compete -- similar to Comscore and Nielsen -- runs sample surveys with small groups of people to ask them whether or not they’ve visited your website. The percentages of respondents who said ‘yes’ are then extrapolated to the population at large, and ‘traffic numbers’ are estimated for your site based on this data. Because this is survey data (of small numbers of people) and it relies heavily on respondents memories and how well-known your website is, it really doesn’t give an accurate picture of how many people are actually reading your site in a given day or month. It does, however, give you a pretty good idea of your website’s brand awareness and how it stacks up against other similar sites. If these websites are showing far less traffic for you than you know you actually have (using Google Analytics or Sitemeter), it might be time to invest in a brand awareness-building campaign.

Alexa doesn’t operate in quite the same way, but the results it provides are fairly comparable to Compete. Alexa bases its numbers on tracking a small population of people who have downloaded and installed the Alexa toolbar in their browser. From the tastes and web-browsing behavior of this sample group, traffic numbers are estimated.

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