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How to use web analytics to discover and alleviate issues with your website

In a previous post, we touched briefly on how website analytics can help you identify issues with your site. This post explores three potential problems your online business could face, and how analytics can be used to identify and rectify the problems.

Issue #1 – Drop in visitors
Here’s the scenario, upon launching your website, you’ve been consistently promoting it and regularly adding new content. As a result, your site is gaining momentum and visitors are increasing month-over-month. All of a sudden you notice a drop in traffic and you can’t seem to figure out why. This is where website analytics come in handy. The drop in visitors could be for any number of reasons, but with a little investigation you can find out the root cause of the problem and fix it quickly.

The first place to look in this scenario would probably be Referral Sources, checking to see which is not sending as many visitors as it use to. If, for example, it has only been in the last two weeks you have noticed the drop, compare the previous two weeks to the current period, making it easy to identify which website is no longer sending you traffic. If it is a specific website, for example a business listing website such as Yelp, you can find your listing and try to identify the issue. It could be something as simple as a broken link.

If you discover that a search engine such as Google is not referring as much traffic, you may have to dig a little deeper and the issue may take longer to rectify. Take a look into which keywords are driving less traffic than they use to. You’ll probably see that there wasn’t a sudden drop off, instead the drop-off probably happened gradually over time. In this case you may have to do more optimization for that keyword in order to drive more traffic in the future.

Using Analytics for your Website

Issue #2 – Drop in Conversions
A drop in conversions could mean many things depending on the type of business. It could mean fewer sales, fewer Contact Form completions or fewer downloads of a white paper. Whatever you class as a “conversion,” the way to identify why a drop has occurred is the same across most websites.

Website Analytics can be used to identify which page(s) of your website could be causing a drop off in conversions. If you have goal or conversion tracking setup in your analytics tool, you will be able to see what percentage of users are completing a goal, i.e. converting. If that number suddenly decreases you know there could be a problem with your website. This is where conversion funnel analysis (or path analysis) comes in.

Conversion funnel analysis is the process of looking at each of the individual pages a user views on route to converting. By analyzing this path you will be able to see where “drop off” is occurring (where users are not proceeding to the next step of the journey). For example, if you are analyzing the funnel and notice that 100% of visitors are exiting on a certain page you can assume there is a problem with that page. It may be that your call-to-action is broken, causing your visitors to abandon the process.

However, the issue is likely to be more subtle than that, in which case the fix will probably require trial and error to implement. For example, if you have noticed that there has been a steady decline in the number of conversions, you can identify which pages have the most exiting traffic. Once you have done this, you can then focus your attention on these pages and try and find out why people are exiting.

Unfortunately it’s unlikely to be as straightforward as a broken link. It could be as a result of some new layout changes you have implemented recently on that page, or because you have added some additional fields to a form. In either of these cases, try rolling back to the original layout/form to see if that helps to decrease abandonment.

Quite often it might be difficult to identify the issue as you haven’t made any obvious  changes. You may have a scenario where everything seems to be working correctly and yet you are still seeing a steady drop in conversions. If that is the case, you should work on optimizing your pages in order to improve results.

Close attention should be paid to path analysis when optimizing your website. Try testing different elements of your web page. An example of an optimization test could be trying to make your call-to-actions more effective by experimenting with color or size. Alternatively you could optimize a flow by removing a step altogether, therefore making the path for visitors shorter. The effects of any change you make can be seen in funnel analysis and it will help you to make intelligent decisions to improve the performance of your website.

Using Analytics for your Website

Issue #3 – Broken internal links
Web analytics can also be used to find broken links on your website. By broken links we mean links that direct people to pages that do not exist and leading visitors to land on a 404 page. This is a bad user experience as it means users will be taken to a page they do not expect to see, but also it is bad for SEO as it means search engines will not crawl the correct content.

There’s an easy way to keep an eye on 404 page views. By using Google Analytics you can do two things:

  1. Create an alert to tell you when the number of 404 pageviews increase above a given threshold. For example, you can receive an email or text if your 404 page views have increased by 10% from the previous day
  2. Set up your 404 page as a goal. This means you will be able to see the last 3 steps before getting to that page

Setting up your 404 page as a goal is a great way to identify which pages on your website contain broken links so you can fix them immediately. You will be able to produce a report that details where visitors came from inside your website, so in effect it is actually telling you which pages contain internal broken links. Once you have identified the pages they can be fixed to navigate to the correct page.

Website analytics are extremely powerful tools. When used correctly, they can provide great benefit in helping you identify issues, fixing them and optimizing your site so it performs better.