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Google Analytics: Your New Best Friend
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By Chris Diede

In 2005, Google bought Urchin, a software company specializing in web analytic tools. Rechristened “Google Analytics,” it was launched in November 2005, but due to high demand, the availability of new accounts was suspended only a few days after it became available. To appease the clamoring masses, new accounts were doled out via a lottery-based system; this created a fervor among web marketers for Google Analytics not unlike this holiday season’s Elmo-Does-Something-Annoying doll.

But what is Google Analytics and why all the fuss? Simply put, Google Analytics is a tool that helps you easily view how your audience uses your website. With over 80 different reports available, you can observe your customers’ behavior when they hit your website, including how they found your site, the search terms they used to get there, how long they stayed, and what they looked at while they were there. It will even help identify potential problems with your website flow.

Analytics: Free for All

At the risk of sounding like Ron Popeil hawking the Veg-O-Matic, how much would you pay for a service like this? The good news is Google Analytics is absolutely free! This is, I’m sure, music to the collective ears of small business owners everywhere tired of watching money fly out the door every month.

Even better news is Google has finally lowered the velvet rope and allowed the general public in – Google Analytics is now available to anyone who signs up. And yes, it’s still free. Because there is no cost involved, it’s tempting to write-off Google Analytics as glossy eye-candy that looks great on the screen, but not so useful in practice. If this is your impression, I would urge you to take another look. Google Analytics is in fact incredibly robust and provides a wealth of data that allows you to determine what to feature on your website and how to focus your online information.

Who Are These People and What are They Doing on Your Site?

Google Analytics’ wide variety of features and benefits make it well worth your while to sign up. One of its unique features, the “Funnel Visualization,” helps you discover the roadblocks that deter your users on the way to and through the pretty little “checkout” button. It helps you identify exactly the point in the process where your customers might get a little confused. Before Funnel Visualization, you had to guess what went wrong or assume your customer just had a change of heart. But now if you can actually see that, say, 80 percent of users are dropping out of the funnel at Step 3 of the checkout process, it’s a pretty safe bet Step 3 needs some work.

Another helpful feature is called Site Overlay. With Site Overlay, Google Analytics superimposes click-through data right onto your website pages, giving you an instant bead on what your users are clicking on. When you view Site Overlay, you will see a bar graph next to each link with a relative percentage. This gives you immediate visual access to what your users are interested in; this in turn helps you organize your pages in a way to best showcase popular items or place less popular items in optimum locations to boost clicks.

AdWords + Analytics = A Beautiful Thing

If you have a Google AdWords account (the “pay-per-click” advertising that appears next to organic search results), then Google Analytics is your new best friend. It will automatically import all of your cost and conversion data on a page-by-page basis; this helps you evaluate the effectiveness of your campaigns, keywords and conversion rates and ultimately helps you increase your ROI. This is a beautiful thing, indeed.

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Chris Diede is the Founder and President of Argus Interactive.
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