The 5-Minute Web Analytics Snapshot (for Busy Managers)

web analytics

You may be a busy manager, but you should never be too busy to keep tabs on your web analytics.  To help make this process easier, Rebecca Shakespeare, Senior Digital Media Analyst for the Office of Digital and Design Innovation, offers some great advice for what to look at during your initial five-minute snapshot of web analytics.

There are three core reasons why you should pay attention to your web analytics:

  1. So you can thoughtfully and correctly answer the question: “How’s your website doing?”
  2. So you know when something’s going wrong on the website and can take action immediately to start damage control early;
  3. And so you know when something good happens; you can then congratulate staff and accurately brag about their accomplishments.

Rebecca has created a method for making a high-level baseline of website traffic for managers, to be a reference of what you expect from your web traffic on a weekly or daily basis. As a manager, having familiarity with baselines will allow you to judge whether daily or weekly traffic is within your normal range or out of it – and take actions accordingly.

Your 5-minute web analytics snapshot should be:

1)    Minute 1: Look at the type of traffic your website usually gets so you’ll know what kind of pattern you should expect when you check in again.  Look at about 3 months of daily visits to get this baseline. (In Google Analytics, look at the Audience > Overview Report.)
web traffic shapes

  • Hilly traffic is predictable, but typically has high weekdays and low weekends. It’s important to note this so you can tell if a day’s traffic has strayed from the norm. Knowing to expect hilly traffic means you’ll expect that Wednesdays have more visits than Saturdays, but it’ll also help you quickly catch a higher-than-normal Wednesday or a lower-than-normal Saturday, since it doesn’t fit the pattern.
  • Erratic traffic is not predictable. You’ll see a really big range between your lowest day and your highest day and not see a particular pattern. Knowing you have erratic traffic means that you’ll expect to have some days that are a lot lower than the day before and some days that are significantly higher. If you have erratic traffic, you should focus on weekly traffic numbers, since a given day doesn’t tell you much about the bigger picture of your website.
  • Smooth traffic is predictable and linear – each day is about the same as the previous one. Knowing this means that you’ll notice really quickly when a day strays from the norm, which means something new or different is happening to your website traffic.

2)    Minute 2: Note how many visits you’re getting for regular traffic weeks, low traffic weeks, and high traffic weeks. Look at the same time frame (about three months), but change your view to weekly visits. This will help you judge whether your traffic for any given week was really good…or really bad. And remember your “normal” week traffic number…just in case someone asks. (Audience > Overview)

3)    Minute 3: It’s not all about quantity. Look at your average page views per visit and bounce rate for the past 3 months to see how engaged your visitors are (page views per visit) and how effectively your website gets visitors to look at more than one page (bounce rate). (Audience > Overview)

  • Bounce Rate is the percent of visits where a visitor only looks at one page. It’s a proxy measure for how immediately engaging or relevant your site is to visitors. Since we’re focusing on content sites, one of our goals is to have visitors consume more content, and getting a second click is an indicator of that. You want your bounce rate to go down, which indicates that a greater percentage of visits include more than 1 page, and a lower bounce rate is generally better.
  • Pages per visit is a proxy measure for how many pages people look at in a visit. Avoid reading this number as “the average visit has 2.7 pageviews” -in reality, most of the visits to your site will have 1 pageview and many will have anywhere from 2 to 100 pageviews…2.7 doesn’t capture this distribution. Pages per visit is most useful as a comparison number. You can use it to see whether people looked at more pages per visit this week than last week, or to say that a particular day had more pages per visit than your baseline.

For the last 2 minutes, focus on your visitors themselves.

4)    Minute 4: You should also know how people get to your website. Look at the percent of traffic you’re getting from each type of traffic source to get a high-level breakdown of how people find you online. (Traffic Sources > Overview)

5)    Minute 5: Finally, get a sense of where on earth your audience is coming from – are they all coming from where you expected? Make a note of about what percentage of your website’s visits come from parts of the world or cities that you target. When you check back on a daily or weekly basis, you can tell if your visitor distribution has changed. (Audience > Demographics > Location)

Get to know your site and create a baseline by using Rebecca’s analytics worksheet:

Repeat these steps using Rebecca’s worksheet every 3-6 months to re-evaluate your baseline as your site and content changes.

In a follow-up post, Rebecca will provide an outline for 3-5 minute daily or weekly web analytics check-up for managers.  This plan will use baselines that managers have created using the worksheet provided above.  This daily or weekly insight can help managers make key decisions about content accessibility and interest.

(Thank you to Rebecca Shakespeare for her contributions to this post.)

(The foregoing commentary does not constitute endorsement by the US Government, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, VOA, MBN, OCB, RFA, or RFE/RL of the information products or services discussed.)

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April Deibert

April Deibert

April Deibert is the Multimedia Blogger/Producer for the Office of Digital & Design Innovation. Follow her on Twitter: @BBGinnovate and @AprilDeibert.

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