Recently I had an opportunity to chat with a number of innkeepers about using analytics on their web sites. I was somewhat surprised that there were so many who were not using any type of analytics program, and of those who were using it, I was surprised how many were unsure of what it could do for them, or how to do more. We talked primarily about Google Analytics, but discussed others, as well.
First, A Bit of Background
Some years ago, when you wanted to know something about visitors to your web site, you needed to find a tool that would give a synopsis of the log files from your web server. These tools, such as Awstats or Webalyzer, could give you lists of which site sent the most visitors to your site (referers – yes, it is misspelled; that is a historical oddity for the term), what browser was used, which files were being downloaded, etc. That was useful information, but hardly enough to build a marketing plan on.
More modernly, several analytics systems have been developed. Most use a combination of the web logging approach with placing a snippet of code on any web page to be tracked. That code puts a “cookie” on the visitor’s computer, so their path through the web site, links they visit, etc., can be sent to the analytics server, which can then provide all that data in the form of reports which can be organized in different ways.
As a result of the more modern analytics approach a much greater level of detail is obtained about how a visitor uses the web site, and much more detailed reports can be obtained. Also, multiple web sites can be managed and viewed from within one analytics account.
What Analytics Can Do
Each analytics system will vary according to its own capabilities, of course, but there will be much overlap. We’ll use Google Analytics as an example. There are detailed descriptions of all of this on Google’s Analytics Help pages, of course. Briefly, however, the analytics system provides information on web site visitors (visitor locations, new and returning visitors, languages, trends, visitor loyalty, browser capabilities and networking properties), sources of traffic to the web site (direct traffic, referring sources, search engine traffic, overall traffic, keywords used to find the site, AdWords campaigns and ad versions), web site content accessed by visitors (most popular content, content drilldown, top landing pages, top exit pages, site search tracking, and event tracking), as well as tracking goals you set on your web site.
More advanced features include custom reports and creating advanced segments of visitors to the site.
While all these things sound complex, the clear web page that is used to manage all of this makes it relatively easy to navigate and to see just how your site is being used, and where there may be areas that need improvement. In future posts we’ll explain in more detail what these areas of analytics are, and how they can be used.
The Basic Setup
The setup for analytics is quite straightforward, and we’ll provide a detailed, step-by-step approach in the next installment of this series.
The overview is this:
- Obtain a Google account (skip this if you already have on)
- Open a Google Analytics account
- Provide verification that you are the site owner (or are authorized to manage it), by placing the Google Analytics ID (provided upon sign-up) on your web site, so that Google can verify it
- Wait one day, then start reviewing the analytics information on the Google Analytics web site.
Plans for Upcoming Analytics Posts
Certainly not all innkeepers are in a position to make changes to their websites, and while the changes needed to use analytics programs are neither difficult nor extensive, some people don’t have access to their own site to make even these changes, while others will not be comfortable making the changes themselves. However, once the analytics code is added to the page, anyone can look at the reports that Google Analytics (or other systems) provide, and can learn the techniques needed to get reports that address specific questions about the traffic to the site.
As a direct result of this discussion of analytics, About the Inn will be doing a series of posts to provide step-by-step instruction for setting up analytics on a web site or blog, and for some of the more common tasks to review and modify the reports to see different types of information that can be provided. We will emphasize Google Analytics, since it is the most powerful, and readily available, free program in this space. However, we will also touch on some others, at least to a limited extent.
If you have specific analytics-related questions, or topics you would like to see addressed, please feel free to post them in the comments. We can’t promise to answer every question, but we will certainly attempt to address the most common issues.