Turning 1s and 0s into Business Advice

Donovan Cronkhite
President, RJM

Posted On November 8, 2012

Over time we've grown accustomed to not knowing how well marketing efforts are performing. John Wanamaker famously said in the 1920's that half of his advertising didn't work; he just didn't know what half. In almost 100 years, we've been trying to quantify and qualify the effectiveness of our marketing efforts.

Then came digital, with its ability to track, analyze, and graph even the smallest of interactions. The quantify and qualify problem was solved, but an entirely new dilemma reared up - what do you do with all this information? And what does it all mean?

What Does It All Mean?

Unless you have a statistics degree, looking at website analytics reports is probably not going to get you overly excited. Loaded with tables, graphs, charts, and more numbers than your average algebra textbook, it can be a daunting task to even pick and choose what to pay attention to. But there are certain statistics that should be focused on when using this report to help plan marketing activities throughout the year.

Audience Behavior

While not an exact science, the analytics will try and provide you with a glimpse at the customer who is visiting your website. There are a few statistics here that should be of note. The first is where your visitors are coming from. Are they local, national, or international? Are they coming from areas where you are currently marketing in, or are they coming from someplace where you aren't currently concentrating? Secondly, you should find a statistic that tells you if they're new visitors who have never been to the site before, or if they're returning to your site on multiple occasions over time. You should also find how long they're staying on the site once they come. Don't worry if this number is lower than you expected, remember that visitors skim text and being in and out of pages within seconds is normal behavior.

Traffic Sources

Do you know where your visitors are coming from, or what they're looking for? Your report should help you with this information, providing a breakdown of how visitors arrived at your site, and if they came in through a search engine, which words they searched for to find you. A lot of time can be invested in this section, but if you're just starting out, concentrate on the graph that breaks down the percentage that each visitor source - referring traffic, direct traffic and search engines - brings to your site.

Site Content

Now that you know who's visiting your website and how they're finding you, your report should give you a glimpse of what they're doing there. In this section you'll find the most visited pages (are they what you expected?) and the traffic data for each including bounce rate (amount of people who came to and left from that page alone) and time spent on the page.

The Terms You'll See

When you're looking through all of these numbers and charts, there are a few terms that you'll continually run into. Many of these aren't terms that you'd normally use in your daily life, or they may not even be terms you've ever heard before. Knowing what they mean, and what they signify, will help you find the answers to your questions.

Average Visit

The average visit time is an average of the time spent on your website by all of the visitors. This measures how long someone is spending either browsing through your website or reading the content on the page. Combined with the Pages per Visit statistic, you can measure how much of your content the average visitor is absorbing. This can either be a lot of information on a specific page (high average visit time with low pages per visit), a lot of information across a variety of pages (high average visit time with high pages per visit), or nothing at all (low average visit time with low pages per visit).

Bounce Rate

Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors that only view one page of your website before leaving. As soon as a visitor clicks another link on your page, they are not counted in this percentage. The first bounce rate that you'll find in the overview is for the entire website, but you can also find the bounce rate for individual pages. This metric measures the quality of your page. It might indicate that the page design is not sufficient to get a person to browse the rest of the site; that the call to action on the page is not strong enough; or that the page content is not congruent with the source that brought them to the page.


Campaigns are custom tracked referral sources to your website. This can be from any number of sources that you can indicate. By using additional code within your URL, Google Analytics can track different sources and visitors specific actions within your site from those sources. Campaigns are handy to measure effectiveness of display advertising, email newsletters, and a variety of other online marketing efforts.

Direct Traffic

Direct traffic is any traffic brought to your website by typing your URL directly into their browser. This can be either through typing the URL in or by a bookmark. Direct traffic percentages may indicate traditional marketing effectiveness or the top of mind awareness of your brand in the marketplace.

Entry Page (or Landing Page)

The page that people enter your website from. This is not always your home page as referral links or search engine rankings can deliver traffic deeper into your site than you might have planned.

Exit Page

The page that people leave your website from. This may indicate issues with the page design or content if a page is one of the top exit pages in the entire site. Or, the page might have been designed to have been left from. If the entry page and exit page are the same, the visitor is counted in the bounce rate.

Organic Search

Organic search traffic numbers measure the amount of traffic that comes from unpaid or natural search engine results. These rankings are located in the center section of the search engine results page below the two or three paid listings. These statistics indicate how well your website is ranking with search engines.

Paid Search

Paid search traffic numbers measure the amount of traffic that comes from paid search engine results. These results are purchased often, in an auction style system, from the search engine itself. They generally appear on the right side of the search results page or at the very top above the organic search results. With Google AdWords and Google Analytics, you can get separate analytics on your paid search traffic to help refine and improve digital ad campaigns.

Pages per Visit

The pages per visit stat provides you with a count of the average number of websites pages that a visitor sees while they're on your website. It can be a leading indicator of how well your page navigation is structured, or how interested your visitors are in your website's content.

Referral Traffic

Referral traffic references any visitors that are sent to your website by way of another website. This can indicate how influential your website is across the Internet. Other sites referring their traffic to you can help drive visitors and search engine credibility.

Unique Visitor

An unique visitor is an individual visitor to the website over the course of a period of time. Unique visitors are only counted once, even if they return several times during the course of a period of time. This provides you with an accurate depiction of your total audience size.

What To Do With It All

Now within twenty minutes, you've boiled down that ream of paper into something manageable. Maybe there were some things that surprised you, or worried you, or confirmed what you already knew. Information is worthless without action upon it, so what do you do with all this data now?

A Roadmap to Changes

If you're using your website effectively, you should be investing a percentage of your marketing budget every year into updating and developing your website. The data from the traffic sources and site content section should provide you with a roadmap as to what changes you need to do next. Do you need to develop new landing pages for products? Or make changes to the design to increase time spent on site? These statistics should guide you in this process to make incremental changes that yield large results.

Guiding Your Marketing Budget

Are you seeing visitors from the areas where you're spending your advertising dollars? Is this a sign that you should shift dollars into areas where you're not getting traffic, or increase spending in those areas? That may be a decision that you may need more data to make, but if you're not seeing traffic from places that you're buying large amounts of media in, that is a red flag.

If you're purchasing online media, the traffic reports are a perfect way to analyze whether your spend is performing as expected. Comparing and contrasting the traffic statistics from each source will reveal which media sends the most traffic, or the most qualified traffic. Knowing this can help determine how much of each media you purchase each year, if any at all.

Track Shifts in Customer Behavior

As we watch the consumer landscape change, your website analytics will show how far along your customer segment is in this path. Website analytics will show trends when your customers start using their mobile phones more than their laptops, when Facebook starts sending more traffic than Google or when they start upgrading their browsers. This information can help you make sure that you're delivering the experience that your customers have come to expect.