Three things to look at in your web analytics before redesigning your website

We do a basic Google Analytics installation in every website we build. Google Analytics is free, its easy to understand, and even without serious configuration (which everyone should do, by the way) our clients get some valuable information about what is going on with users on their website.

Typically about a year after a websites initial launch, we start to have conversations about making major site updates or improvements. Id like to see those done quarterly, but thats another article for another day.

Most of the time the reason for the site update is a response to a technological change, an organizational change or requests from users. Theres usually a reason behind the site improvements: people are saying the donation form is confusing, we want to add a blog, we have a new program or department or advisory board. The list goes on.

When we start site updates or a redesign, we not only want to hear about the internal reasons for the update, but we also want to take a look at the actual traffic patterns and stats in the web analytics.

Our clients ask us all the time: What should we pay attention to in our analytics? My answer is always the same: It depends on what your goals are, so figure those out first! But what I want to take a look at here are three really important chunks of information that you should pay attention to all the time and especially when considering a redesign or major site update.

1. Top landing pages

Also called an entrance page, these are the first pages that people land on in a session. Users could come from serach results, directly typing in a URL, a print or online campaigns, Facebook, any way you are trying to get users to your site.* Your homepage is probably one of them, but depending on how well optimized your site is and if you’re running a campaign directing people to another page in the site, other pages within the site could be even more popular.

This example shows that the home page is #1, and then ranks all of the others. We know that #2 is a result from an AdWords campaign, in which we were actively trying to promote that page.

In this case, we talked with our client extensively about re-organizing their content in a way that made more sense for their users based on findings in these top landing pages (and other reports). People are searching for information and finding it on the site through search. They aren’t seeing those popular pages on the home page and navigating to them in some cases there’s no way to find them without coming in through a search result. When we look at this and In-Page Analytics, discussed next, we can see huge opportunities to reorganize the content and site structure based on what users are telling us they want to find (evidenced by search and landing pages) and how they are muddling through the current site to find the some of that content (as demonstrated in In-Page analytics).

One of the big mistakes we see a lot in nonprofit web architecture is organizing site content to mirror the organization. This site has that problem: The site is organized into the same divisions as the organization and uses the organizations internal language, which completely confuses users. At the end of the day what we care about is getting the message, tool or resource to the user. We’re not concerned about the organization’s internal structure on any page other than a staff page. The users rule.

Fortunately, were looking at data here. It has no feelings or politics: We can see that users are looking for the information through search and thankfully they are finding our clients site and going to the pages that helps them most. This popular content is what should be front and center on the homepage and in the navigation.

We can tell that we have different groups of users looking for very specific kinds of content here. This is they way users want to use the site, so this is the way the site should be organized.

*Note: you can compare top landing pages with other metrics. At the top of the page in Google Analytics, you can select a second Metric: Compare Top Landing Pages to Average Time on Site, Bounce Rate and others. You can also choose a Secondary Dimension below in the list to compare top landing pages to Source, or whatever you want to see. Here I chose Source and we see that most of our traffic is from Google, and we have one successful email campaign showing up in the list too. Neat!

2. In-page analytics

This is a newer feature in Google Analytics. Were visual learners here, so this is especially helpful for us. And for our clients.

In-page analytics is a color-coded display of the site traffic. It’s a great way to answer questions like:

  • Is our current site design and content organization getting users to what they need?
  • Are users clicking on things that are clickable? Or are our links too buried?
  • Is our site designed to accompish our goals?

In this example, for our client Parenting Perspectives, we designed this site to accomplish several goals:

  • To get people to go to their Services section to see the classes and workshops they offer.
  • To showcase our clients expertise in family counseling and workshops and to tell the company story
  • To direct people to their online store to buy DVDs and workbooks to empower parents to learn on their own.

If we look at the in-page analytics, we can see at a glance that these goals are met with the current design. Most of the traffic (red) is going to the Services and the About sections. Perfect. Thats where we want people to go thats where the most valuable information is. Then, we have a lot of users going to to the Store (orange).

Whats cool about in-page analytics is that you can follow the traffic by clicking on the site and it will display each page the same way: Color coded traffic. Try it by going to
Content > In-Page Analytics. Youll need to turn on the Show Color option toward the top of the window showing the site.

This is a successful example. To use In-Page analytics well, think about your sites goals from way back when you first designed. Are users finding what you wanted them to find? Are the looking for something else completely? Have your goals changed?

If not, it might be time to rethink your design and content.

3. Devices

This is possibly the most important piece of information to look at when considering a redesign. We all know that mobile usage is exploding. You barely have to read an article about it anymore; you know because you probably use your phone to look up websites and search for things. I do it all the time.

When one of our clients starts talking about restructuring their site, we not only want to know about revised goals, planning the content and traffic patterns we also want to know what users are using to physically see the site. Sure, we look at which browser they are using, but we also want to know what kind of device they are using if not a desktop or laptop and what percentage of users are using what.

Most websites arent responsive sites. Whats a responsive site? Its a site that reorganizes itself based on the width of the device accessing the site. So the same site will serve up almost the same information on a desktop, tablet or phone without having to create multiple sites for each device. Our site is responsive. Try resizing your browser window from wide to skinny and see what happens.??Here are some more examples.

If you want to see how people are seeing your site, go check out your site on one of these devices. It probably looks like hell if it wasnt designed to be responsive. Clicks are tiny, its hard to complete forms, you have the all of the site squished into a tiny screen, or maybe youre using Flash. Yikes.

In this example, we have good chunk of people using an iPad and an iPhone to view the site. 15.74% of all visits are on a mobile device. Thats not a ton, but if youre selling something and you have a 58% bounce rate with these users, youre missing a lot of traffic and potential sales. Or donations, or event registrations whatever youre trying to get users to do.

Overtime, you can keep tabs on this and see how mobile device access trends. Its going to trend up, I can almost guarantee that. So while youre planning your redesigned site with its new blog and re-organized sections, think about making the site responsive. Your bounce rate will drop if its done well and youll reach even more people.

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