By Mike Davin, online editor, Boating Industry — These days, building a Web site is pretty easy. There are free templates more advanced than the sites major companies used a few years back. And if you need something more robust than what's available for free, there are plenty of individuals and companies out there more than happy to meet your needs.
In fact, I'm guessing everyone reading this post has some kind of Web site already. The hard part is designing a site with a form and content tailored to your customers’ needs.
A good first step to figuring out those needs is tracking the activity on the Web site you already have. If you aren't currently tracking every pageview on your site, you need to start now. The company that set up your Web site should provide you with the tools to track traffic. If not, Google Analytics is a free tool that can easily be applied to every page of your site, and it will give you more numbers than you will know what to do with.
Of course, that's part of the problem. Even if you are tracking your site, do you ever stop to analyze the numbers? The data you collect is invaluable both for tweaking your site and when the right time comes, designing a next generation site. It's like a survey of everyone who comes into your business, asking exactly what they like about it – except it's not based on what they say they like, it's based on what they're actually looking at.
Once you've got your tracking set up, here are a few things to pay attention to:
Total visits: This is the total number of people who have been to your site. Like real-world foot traffic, this can be seasonal, but sustained drops probably indicate something about your site needs to change. Monitor this number closely and you may be able to anticipate how quickly Web traffic translates into actual traffic, as people move from thinking about buying to taking the next step.
Total pageviews: This is the total number of pages that have been viewed on your site. Each visitor will hopefully click on more than one page, so it will be some multiple of your total visits. The more content on your site that visitors find interesting, the higher your pageviews will climb.
Bounce rate: This is the number of people who went to a page on your site and then immediately left without visiting any other pages. If this number is high – particularly for your homepage – you probably want to redesign your site to better highlight what you have to offer.
Average time on site: The average amount of time visitors spend on your site. Are potential customers taking the time to read about your products, or are they not finding anything to capture their interest?
Top content: Here's where you can really dive into exactly which pages people are visiting. If you want to find out what's hot at the moment, it's as simple as checking out which pages are getting the most traffic. And if certain pages aren't getting any traffic, they may not be accessible enough — or they may not interest your customers.
Traffic sources overview: Where are your customers coming from? Are they coming to your site directly? If not, you might need to get the word out about your URL. Are they coming from search engines? If not, do you have enough of the key words on your site that your customers are likely searching for? You can even tell if visitors are coming from social networks like Facebook and Twitter, which can give you a sense of whether your efforts on those networks are working.
This is just a brief overview of the things you can learn by carefully tracking traffic to your site. Like an annual budget, traffic numbers can be an extremely valuable tool — but only if you take the time to learn what the numbers are telling you.