Following the right tracks…

I recently attended a training session on Google Analytics. It was a really interesting day and having previously only really used webtrends or Omniture for tracking, it was really pleasing to see that yet again Google has closed the gap and made complex tracking something that is quite simple to do. Having “been there and done that” already, for me the session was mainly about getting used to a new interface, but what fascinated me was the other people in the room, who didn’t have much experience with the practical uses of tracking. The big question is “why should we bother with analytics?”. In response I think there are two parts to a well thought through tracking strategy; SEO and Analytics.

We all know that SEO is becoming more and more important. The proportion of internet users currently either start their journeys on, or very quickly access, a search engine to start searching for the content they are looking for. Making sure our sites are present for the right search terms is therefore critical. But once those users click into our sites we need to them see what is happening. Tracking allows you to see what they used as their search term and then what they did once they landed on your site. If they immediately bounced, and this is happening a lot for the same search terms, then alarm bells should be ringing. This probably means the site is either ranking against the wrong search terms or that the content on the landing page is not optimised to keep these users there. In which case, the SEO contributors need to be altered to correct this.

In the above example it is immediately obvious how SEO and Analytics work hand in hand. Without SEO then you can’t start to attract the correct users, but without tracking you can’t optimise your SEO and see what you need to improve on your site.

The combination of SEO and Tracking is a powerful tool. Analytics can now go into a huge amount of depth and it would be easy to get sucked in. Google’s interface now has a ‘real time’ interface so you can literally watch people access your site from around the room and see what pages they are looking at. It is compelling watching and can suck your time. In a more useful area, they are currently trialing social media tracking, so that you can see how your social campaigns are influencing visits to your site. For me, the more interesting thing is filtering out people from my own business and my clients, so that I can wheedle down to the ‘real’ users and see where they are coming from. I want to be able to see how they have arrived, what hey have searched on and then what their journey through the site has been. This gives me validation of my initial SEO assumptions and means I can further target my content. It also means that I can see where my site is failing to gain traction, so that I can optimize the structure further or move content as required.

The internet is only going to become more crowded in the near future, and search engines will get cleverer at matching search terms to sites. Analysing our sites in detail and using the data from our users to make sure our sites have the right content, structure and user journeys is the most powerful way for us to make sure we are right where we need to be and providing what our users want. The task won’t be easy, it will be regular and at times monotonous, but personally I also think it will be fascinating and will challenge us in ways that we weren’t before.

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