Introduction to website analytics

Joe Towner

Posted by: Joe Towner

Categories: Website design
Introduction to website analytics

Tracking how visitors find and use your website can play a very important role in the effective running of your website. The information most analytics programs provide can tell you how visitors found your website, what they looked at on your website and where they left. This information can give you a valuable insight into what areas of your website are working well and which areas need improved.

In most cases analytics providers will require you to add a bit of tracking code to each of your web pages. This tracking code will start to log information about your websites visitors which you will then be access through your analytics provider.

No analytics package is 100% accurate and different providers may log slightly different groups of data but if you know how to interpret your websites analytics you will have a valuable insight into how your website is being used.

Where visitors come from


Traffic will arrive at your website in one of three ways, by typing your website URL into a browser address bar (known as direct traffic), by clicking on a link from another website (known as referral traffic) or by using a search engine (known as search traffic). Most search engines earn money by displaying adverts alongside their natural search results. If you use a search engines paid advertising (such as Google AdWords) you can also divide search traffic into two groups, organic or natural search traffic and paid traffic (where someone clicks on an advert you have paid for).  

Knowing where your website traffic has come from can allow you to start attributing a value to that traffic. If you are a local business and you see some referral traffic coming from a link on a local newspaper website it would be reasonable to assume the is a high likelihood the visitor was a local resident that was interested in finding out more about your business.

When looking at search engine traffic you should also be able to see the words and phrases people typed into the search engine that lead them to your website. Knowing what people have typed into a search engine can sometimes tell you quite a bit about the visitor. If they used a phrase which contained a variation of your company or website name you could assume there is a high chance they have been to your website before. Those visitors that did not reference your website or company name will probably not have heard of you before.

How visitors use your website

There are a number of statistics you can look at to get an idea about how your website is used. The average length of time visitors spend on your website and the average number of pages they look at can give you a general idea about how engaging your website is.

Another good statistic to watch is a websites bounce rate. Your bounce rate is percentage of visitors that only look at one page. While generally speaking you want the bounce rate to be low this one is a little more complex than many of the other stats you will come across. With bounce rate it is very important to understand why a website or web pages bounce rate is high or low. In some cases a visitor may land on the exact page they want and have no need for looking at further pages (eg looking for your phone number).

With all statistics it can be very hard to compare one website to another. Every website is different and will cater for different people and businesses so finding a good comparison can be quite difficult. The best comparison to draw is with the same website over a period of time. Engagement statistics really come into their own when viewed alongside changes that have been made to the website. If you add a new feature to your website or change the layout you will be able to compare the statistics before and after the chance to see what effect they have. Looking at the changes you make and the effect they have can tell you how successful the changes have been and highlight ways you can improve the website further.


In most analytics packages you can set up goals to track when visitors perform a specific action such as visiting a specific page or submitting a contact request form. Setting up goals that correspond with the key areas of a website and the actions we are trying to encourage can give you a great insight into the things that influence website visitors. Like engagement statistics you can monitor how often a given goal is met before and after changes are made to the website to evaluate how successful they have been.

In some cases you can also attribute a value to each goal. If you know a customer is worth approximately £100 to you and you convert half of the website enquiries you receive into paying customers you can create a goal for website enquiries and give it a value of £50.

Combining all of the above

All the facts and figures you can get from website analytics are great by themselves but it is only when you start to combine them to segment traffic that analytics really comes into its own. Grouping traffic by the pages they look at, how they found your website and the actions they took can highlight the things that influence their actions. If you find that referral traffic from some websites converts much better than other sources you can start to investigate why that might be.

Remember the numbers represent real people

Like any other large source of data it can become very easy to get wrapped up in the statistics. To make really good use of website analytics you need to ensure you always look at the data in context, look at the pages of your website as well as the graphs in your analytics. It is only by seeing the whole picture that you will begin to understand what is really going on with your website. 


Joe Towner

About: Joe Towner

Joe is a Principal Systems Developer who has led the design and build of a variety of website and IT projects, drawing on his technical expertise in PHP7, HTML5, Windows/Linux servers, requirements analysis, web applications, web services and e-commerce.

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