Your website is undoubtedly one of your most valuable marketing channels for your business and therefore it’s important to know exactly how well it is achieving your goals and where you need to make improvements.

The first step to effective website monitoring is to choose an analytics software on your site – by far the most common is Google Analytics which is what we’ll be focussing on for this post. Alternatives include Open Web Analytics, PIWIK and Clicky. Once you’ve decided you will need to embed a customised tracking code on each page of your site.

Once you’ve set up your analytics software you can login to take a look at your website’s activity – here are the five key things you need to look for.

1. What are people doing on your site?

This is the most important aspect of your site that you should be paying attention to – how many visitors are coming to your website and doing the thing that you want them to do whether that be making a purchase, requesting a demo or completing a contact form.

In Google Analytics you can set up goals (such as visitors completing a certain action or visiting a certain page) and then track what percentage of your visitors are completing the goal and what path they took to get there through the “Funnel visualisation” function.

If you’re running a full-blown e-commerce site you can set up integrated e-commerce tracking but you will probably need some technical knowledge or the help of a developer. See the full guide from Google.

2. Who’s visiting your site?

Number of sessions is one of the headline statistics on the overview dashboard for Google Analytics as well as number of users and the difference between new and returning visitors. Sessions are the periods of time that visitors are actively engaged with your site (previously called visits) and users are the number of visitors that came to your site during a set period.

It’s important to keep an eye on new and returning visitors as ideally you want to be continually attracting new visitors to your site.

You can also see various demographic and technical information about your visitors (where they are, what device they are using to access your site – even age, gender and interests if enabled).

3. Where are they coming from?

The next top-level area you will want to look at is how your visitors are finding your website in the Acquisition section. There are six main channels:

  • Organic: This is people that find your website through a search engine. This is a good indicator of how well your site is performing for SEO. (need help with SEO? Read our guide to small business SEO).
  • Direct: Visitors that type your URL directly into the browser are recorded as direct. These are likely to be existing customers, employees or people who are already aware of your brand.
  • Referral: Users that visit your sites via referral have followed a link they found on referenced a different site (not a search engine). For example you are taking part in a conference and your exhibitor profile is listed with a link to your website.
  • Paid search: This records all visits that come from advertising via Google Ads.
  • Social: Visitors that come via links posted in on social media are recorded in this category – a very useful metric for measuring how effective your social media efforts are at sending visitors to your site.
  • Email: If you are doing email marketing you can see how many visitors are clicking through on the links back to your website.

4. Do they like what they see?

So you know who your visitors are, where they come from and what they are doing on your site (be it good or bad!). Another indicator as to why you are getting certain results from your site can be seen in the level of engagement of your visitors shown on the main overview dashboard. The general rule is that low engagement converts to low goal fulfilment, high engagement to higher goal fulfilment.

The metrics to look for are bounce rate, pages per visit and time on site. Bounce rate refers to the percentage of people who landed on your site only to leave straightaway. A high bounce rate (40%+) is generally not positive – however there are exceptions so it’s best to take in context with other metrics. Pages per visit and time on site do exactly what their names suggest by showing on average how many pages each person visited and how long they were on the site.

5. How are individual pages performing?

Now that you’ve got all the headline statistics it’s time to dive into the details of how each individual page is performing. Under Site Content you’ll be able to see which pages are the most popular and which have the best engagement figures.

You can also drill down to see the performance of each page over time and also where users go after that page which is called navigation flow in Google Analytics. For example you may notice that during the second step of your checkout process visitors are returning back to the product page rather than continuing on with their purchase. With this in mind you may want to consider adding some additional product information to your checkout screens to prevent this and encourage them to finish their transaction.

So there we have it – the five key things to look for when you’re monitoring your website performance. Google Analytics is not the most user-friendly software and may seem a little complicated at first but with use it will become one of your most useful tools. As you get more accustomed to using it there are many advanced features including custom report and filters which can give you even more in-depth insights – but best to start simple!