Big Data for Small Websites

Big Data is a hot topic these days; both online and in our daily lives. It offers the promise of improving everything from our health and fitness through to corporate sales and profit margins. The problem is for many SME (small and medium enterprise) businesses it seems like the cost of collecting and analyzing the information is too high.

I believe that (when set up properly) the added value from paying attention to what traffic to your site does during their stay and how long they stay is worth every investment you make. Done well it can greatly increase your opportunities for engaging with that audience, converting a visitor to a sale and getting your message shared.

My goal for this article will be to provide you with some easy to use tools for helping to turn “Big Data” into Visible (Actionable) Data.

What do you Want to Know?

A good place to start for deciding how to collect data about your website’s traffic is to deciding what you want to know. The different tools available each provide a different perspective on the traffic to your site. The following are some examples of the types of questions that properly sorted and analysed data can help answer:

  • Where are visitors coming from?
  • How long do visitors stay on my site?
  • What type of content are my users most interested in?
  • Which type of visitor is most likely to (Subscribe, Buy, Read, Use) each component of the site?
  • What is the best most valuable action a visitor can complete?
  • What inbound link is most likely to drive a sale or conversion?
  • How many times does the average user come back to the site?
  • Are there any users which show up on the site more consistently then others?
  • When do users tend to “Give Up” on “The Process”?
  • Was the spike in traffic caused by a contentious argument on social media?
  • Did recent traffic convert or did it have a high bounce rate?
  • Is your traffic landing on the home page and searching for content or is traffic landing directly on content?
  • Is your menu effective at getting users to read more?

Where to Get your Data

There are a number of different ways to get information about the traffic to your site. Some which are free and easy to implement, others which have a cost associated with them but which provide more in depth (demographic) data about who has been visiting your pages through integration with Facebook or Google+. For now – I’m just going to focus on Google Analytics since it’s the most common of these but you should be aware of some others such as HubSpotOptimizely and MixPanel.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a clear heavy hitter of Big Data when it comes to SME websites. A large majority of website developers include Google Analytics by default in their service offerings but there is often a lack of followup with performing the “Analytics” of Google Analytics. Collecting information on bounce rates and number of page views can be very helpful – but only if it’s used to provide a detailed overview of the site in a way that makes the next steps obvious.

What it Offers

The Google Analytics website is one which has been well designed for providing an overview of your site and the traffic it has received. The user interface is very slick and provides a way to really dig down into the data. Don’t just let the data go idle though – if you have a Google Analytics code on your site you should be habitually checking the statistics and learning how to analyze them.

Goals

Setting up ‘Goals’ is arguably one of the most important elements of using Google Analytics despite being used on only a small fraction of sites with Analytics tracking codes set up. If the types of questions you want answered about your traffic includes “When do users tend to ‘Give Up’ on ‘The Process’?” then Goals are the way to go.

A Goal provides an endpoint from which you can look and see how many users made it all the way through. When you know this – you can compare that against how many people got to the other stages where they then ‘fell off’. If you find a place where there’s a high drop-off on the path towards a goal that is a page you should focus more attention towards.

Goals are detected based on the length of time a page is active or the URL of the page which was loaded. They can be set up without any changes to the source code of the site.

Events

Another important piece of information that can be collected by Google Analytics is “Events”. These help answer questions like “What inbound link is most likely to drive a sale or conversion?” or “Which type of visitor is most likely to (Subscribe, Buy, Read, Use) each component of the site?”

The reason why Events can provide more detail is because they are set up in the code. Events require much more work to set up because you need to decide what you want to track. To do this you’ll need to think about what’s unique about your site and how to track it. Once you’ve figured out what you want to know about your traffic you need to work with your development team to set the events up. That being said – once the initial work has been done they provide much more detailed insight about the user or what they’re doing on the page.