Business Angle: Website Optimization
Professional Surveyor Magazine - September 2009
Jeff Salmon, Editor
Part Two: Using Google Analytics to measure your website performance (plus other ways to boost your survey shop's web presence) Read Part I
In part one of this series I presented the case that having a website improved through search engine optimization (SEO) is probably the most effective marketing tool you can have in these difficult times. I provided many free and low-cost ideas to help the small- to medium-sized land survey shop boost the performance of its website. In this part I look at a tool to measure that performance, Google Analytics
Google Analytics (GA) is a free service of Google that, with a little bit of groundwork, helps you measure the performance of your website by reporting statistics (metrics is the new term) related to what visitors are doing on your site. It helps you get a better "return on investment" (ROI) on your website. Whatever tool you are using to market your survey shop (and using a website is probably one of the better ones), you need to be measuring the effectiveness of that tool. If you are using direct mail, you'll want to have a coupon or some other tracking tool to see what response you're getting. If you've built a website, you want some measure of its effectiveness as well.
What will GA do for you? Some typical web metrics that GA provides are:
- How many visitors do you receive daily?
- What are the top visited pages?
- What is the average time spent on a page?
- What outside sites are referring visitors to you?
- What is the geographic distribution of your visitors?
- What is the "bounce rate" of your pages?
Once you set up your GA account, you'll be taken to the "Dashboard" view (Figure 1) on which a number of important metrics are displayed. Probably the first thing anyone wants to know is: "How many visitors am I getting on my site?" This function is the most prominent statistic displayed on the dashboard. It will show visits, pageviews, and pages per visit.
The next thing that should pop into your mind is: "What are they looking at?" For this you'll need to swing to the southeast part of your dashboard for "Content Overview" that lists your top viewed pages. Click on "view report" to drill down for details.
If you read across the top of the matrix displayed you'll see two more important metrics: "Average Time Spent on Page" and "Bounce Rate." Average time spent on page is self-evident; the higher the number, the more time your visitor spent on the page.
This leaves us with the very important (and often confusing) metric: bounce rate. Bounce rate has been flippantly described as "I came, I saw, I barfed, I left." It means your visitors are landing on a page, seeing nothing of interest, and immediately leaving. The higher this number, the greater the chance this page needs help. (See part one of this series for ideas on improving your website.) Conversely, a low bounce rate is considered a good indication of "stickiness." A page with a low bounce rate is doing well for you.
The tricky part of bounce rate is this: The second portion of your dashboard displays information related to overall site usage and gives an overall aggregate bounce rate for the site. This may well be over 60 percent, and a good rate is 40 percent or lower. Before you think of committing mayhem on your web developer (or on yourself if you built the site) remember this important fact: This is an average, and unless you have only one page on your site, it's not truly indicative of your overall website's performance. So when looking at bounce rate, use the numbers shown in the drill-down data that speak to individual pages' performance, not the overall website bounce rate.
Other interesting metrics include traffic sources overview (data related to where people are coming from to get to your website). The sources measured include search engines, direct traffic, and referring sites. You can click on "view report" and drill down for more information. While no one will be shocked to find Google as the search engine giving you the most traffic, you may find your data related to referring sites more interesting. This is where data measuring your site-linking strategies will be found. (Keep reading for more on this subject.)
Setting up GA
Set up is free and relatively easy. I say "relatively" because you do have to sign-up with Google (free and easy) and then you have to add a snippet of HTML tracking code (Figure 2) called Google Analytics Tracking Code to every web page you want to measure. This may be easy for websites with few pages and more difficult for larger sites. I just added this code to a small site and did five pages in about that many minutes. Naturally, if your website has been developed by an outside web developer, you can work with them to accomplish this task. The Google Analytics page provides clear instructions as well as plenty of helpful advice in the form of tutorials, forums, and so on.
Other Ideas for Getting the Most from Your Site
Adding your URL to Google for indexing: Most folks think you have to wait until Google "crawls" your website before you can get noticed by them. Not so; just go to www.google.com/addurl and follow the simple instructions and read their limitations and caveats.
Site-linking strategies: One of Google's gold standards for determining your website's page ranking is how many websites link to your website, and in turn what is the popularity of those sites. Here are a few free and easy ideas.
- Craigslist.org has services listed on their site. Place a free ad there with a link to your website.
- Squidoo.com is another easy and free way to promote your survey shop and boost your website Google rankings. You can create a "lens" about you company with a link back to your site. According to one social media marketing guide, "search engines love Squidoo lenses and you'll start getting traffic to yours in no time." See my Squidoo lens at www.squidoo.com/BusinessAngleOfLandSurveying (Figure 3).
Social media is a topic worthy of a separate article (or a series of articles.) Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter: the list gets longer every day. So maybe we'll come back to this subject at a more in-depth level. In the meantime, here are a few tips.
- Pick only as many of these as you and/or your staff can reasonably handle.
- Read the instructions and guidelines and follow them.
- Social media is more about connections, networking, and sharing than pure marketing. Don't just simply copy and paste your brochure or press release into one of these sites and expect results. You'll be seen as a spammer at best. Be helpful and very subtle in your promotional efforts.
For Google Analytics: www.google.com/support/googleanalytics. This has tons of useful advice, forums, blogs, tutorials, and so on and is highly recommended. The best book I've read (okay, the only one, but it had rave reviews on Amazon.com) is Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics. If you can't find what you need in here, give up.
For social media marketing, check out Secrets of Social Media Marketing by Paul Gillin. Also visit the different sites for their relative pros and cons.
About the Author
Jeff Salmon, EditorJeff Salmon is the new editor for Professional Surveyor Magazine. For nearly 15 years he has been involved with the geospatial and surveying industries. He has worked as an instrument operator, a manager for a surveying firm, a land-use project manager and end-user of land surveying services, and a writer and editor on geospatial subjects. He started in 2005 as the Business Angle columnist, then served as the web editor and then editor for our popular Pangaea newsletter, which he still produces.
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