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As the economy tightens, JOHN HARRIS explains how free software from Google can help measure and improve the performance of your website.


Figuring out the value of your website is a pain.

We know what a site costs to build: Most small businesses spend either thousands of dollars or a vast amount of time to set up a website – and then they usually forget it.

The Internet is littered with yesterday’s websites contains ancient news, glittery bits that once attracted web designers and an image of the company that is past its use-by date.

Even well-maintained websites often fail to deliver a measurable benefit because business owners are unable to quantify that value.

However a solution to that problem is available – and, even better, it’s free, in the form of Google Analytics. If you’re technically oriented, don’t bother with the rest of this article, just go to www.google.com/analystics and RTFM.

If you’re a normal human, read on for a basic rundown of what Google Analytics does and how it can help measure the effectiveness of your website.

In early 2005, Google acquired website analytics company Urchin Software and, about six months later, released Google Analytics, a set of free online tools that track how visitors use and move through your website.

Google made the Analytics suite free to help its advertisers improve the performance of their Google AdWords advertising. While the software gives AdWords advertisers a better understanding of the return on investment of their campaigns, it also gives the rest of us a free ride.

Google Analytics is a non-trivial toolset. To use it, you need to load some Google-provided HTML code on each of your site’s pages or its template. This allows Google Analytics to track the traffic on your site.

Creating an account allows you to see a top-level Dashboard, which provides an overview of the performance of one or more websites.

As well as a detailed report of how many people visit your website on any day, it can even tell you which search terms they used to find them.

You can also track how people find your website, how long they view each page and where they exit your site. Google Analytics allows you to drill down to review the relevant statistics for an individual web page.

The four major sections of the toolset are Visitors, Traffic Sources, Content and Goals.

A goal describes a web page that a visitor reaches after making a purchase or performing another desirable action. Google-given examples of goals include “thank you for registering” pages, receipts, flight itinerary confirmations or a “download completed” page.

Setting a goal allows you to track how many of the people visiting your site actually reach your “goal” – that is its conversion rate - and work out a financial value of the visitor traffic you receive. You can use this information to more effectively ‘funnel” visitors towards the goals you want them to reach and to optimise your site to more effectively attract and retain visitors.

If you don’t have time to get your head around how Google Analytics works, you can find a specialist search engine marketing agency to track how your site performs and suggest improvements.

Like an exercycle or a gym membership, you need to use Google Analytics to get any benefit - or else it just adds to the waste.

John Harris is managing director of Impress Media Australia. You can view his website at www.johnharris.net.au .


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