Chapter 6: Control

Analytics & Feedback

Learning Objectives:
1. Understand why control is important in the context of your web engine.
2. Learn what technology is available to get feedback on your site's performance and what to do with that feedback.

Controlling Your Website's Performance

Would you buy a car with no steering wheel? Or with no speedometer? Would you board a plane that had no cockpit filled with ways to control the engines? I wouldn’t. You wouldn’t either.

Just like you would never buy a vehicle without the ability to control it, why would you do the same with a piece of machinery like a website? By now, you understand the potential that modern web machinery has to offer, but you need to also know that as you add functionality to a website, you add complexity. This can be true even for simple websites when you consider the psychological factors that are embedded into them.


You need a way to control how your site is performing. In order to control your site's performance, you need a way to measure visitor's actions and responses to the data that you are transmitting to them.

Gathering this data is actually very simple. There are a number of tools available to do so. One that is extremely powerful, very easy to implement, and free is Google Analytics.

If you happen to have some anti-all-powerful Google opinion, we respect that and are always happy to discuss alternatives. But we have to admit that Google has found ways to add a lot of value to website owners. Their software is standard issue for gathering feedback data on the web. But gathering the data is the easy part. The hard part? Sorting through it all and finding meaning! Let’s talk about some important feedback indicators.


Key Feedback Indicators

We have already discussed a couple very powerful metrics. In the 'Air Intake' section, we looked at the conversion rate, and in chapter 3 we saw that when people leave your site, it’s measured as a bounce rate. What are some other key metrics that you can use to measure your site’s performance?

It is important to note that these metrics should all be understood on some sort of time basis. Commonly, 'per month' is used and is a strong time period for indicating your website's performance. A week is too short to gain much usable insight (unless you have a very large userbase) and longer than a month will probably mean you will have too low a resolution to see meaningful feedback.

Visitor Count

One key metric that is easy to understand, and should precede any others, is a raw total visitor count. You should have a basic knowledge of how many visitors your site gets on average in a month. Without this information, knowing the conversion rate would be meaningless.

You can start with an estimate of the conversion rate you think you can (realistically) achieve to gain an idea of how many visitors you need to visit your site in order for you to achieve financial goals. This lets you compare your estimated required traffic to sustain business with your current actual traffic. As long as your actual traffic count is lower than your required traffic, you should be working on ways to increase your site traffic.

Sessions by Device

This is an indicator of which devices your site is accessed on. Primarily, this will be either Desktop or Mobile. This is important because you may have slightly different implementations of features and information for mobile users. If you don't, and you find that 50% of your users are mobile, you may want to consider optimizing the user experience for mobile as opposed to desktop users.

Pages Visited

You can track individual pages visited by users. This is very handy for assessing article performance or to learn how a new type of content is performing among your existing userbase.

User Retention

You can track how often a user is returning, which is an indicator that your content is of value to your audience. It is, however, possible that your site only requires a visit or two in order to achieve your call to action for a given customer, so keep your end goals in mind when interpreting this piece of data.

Traffic Source or Referrals

You can tell where a user was on the web before they were directed to your site (such as a social media site). You will hopefully be pulling traffic from many sources, so if you are running an ad campaign, you will want to measure that performance directly by looking at what increase in visitors is coming because of the new ad. It’s easy to imagine how this one can be an important part of analyzing what your relative strengths are.

Real Time Data

You can, at any time, get a real-life snapshot of what activity is taking place on your website. It is possible to see what parts of the world your traffic is coming from and what they are actively looking at. When I first discovered this, I constantly checked the analytics app to see how many people were on my site. It was more addicting than social media!

Keep in mind, though, that in spite of whatever qualitative data this snapshot might give you, you are probably better off doing month by month analysis with greater data sets and making decisions based on that data.

Custom Performance Indicators

You can also set up very specific indicators for user actions. For example, you might specifically track your calls to action or a product purchase. These are very powerful because you know which actions are most important for your business, and you can monitor and address any key performance areas that are lagging.

These are just a handful of metrics that you can monitor and analyze. Keep in mind that the data that matters is highly dependent on your site objectives. You can do analysis on your own, but it can be overwhelming to figure out where to begin.

As a business owner, it’s important to understand in broad strokes what each of these metrics mean and how they can help you achieve your goals and make better decisions, but hiring an expert to do the actual analysis can be invaluable. It will save you hours of time in the weeds of the Google Analytics interface, which does require some technical capacity.

Tip - One benefit of real-time data comes from analyzing spikes when you have scheduled a release of new content or a new ad to see what the immediate reaction is like.

What Do I Do With the Data?

So now you have the data, and you understand what it means... what do you do next? Depending on the structure of your website, you may only have a few things that you can change without involving your developer.

Gone are the days of hiring a developer to build a static site that performs positively with little active change. That is, of course, a nice goal, but the hard truth is that it takes lots and lots of effort to maintain a site’s effectiveness.

You want to start with a site that is as close to perfect as possible, but how do you know what 'perfect' is until you launch your site and start measuring how your users interact with it?

We obviously like to leverage our design experience in order to get you most of the way there, but you should plan on using your feedback systems to implement significant changes to the site over time in order to dial in your performance, just like a jet engine relies a control system for it to perform optimally.

Tip: this is precisely why we offer the Kaizen Plan, which lets you plan for making these changes over time without paying the high price of developer change orders.

Take Control of Your Site Today

If you have an existing site, ask your developer to install an analytics suite today. These tools are free, and you should only have to pay for the development time to copy and paste a code snippet into each html page of your website and set up the appropriate accounts and dashboards. This latter part can take some time, especially if a developer doesn't know their way around Google analytics.

There are some other analytics tools that you can use without installing anything, but they generally only work for sites with >1,000 visitors. Plus, installing Google Analytics is so darn easy and powerful (High Leverage Action!) that we see no reason you shouldn't just use it. In fact, we don’t build websites without analytics (of some kind) installed. As we mentioned before, you don't want to own a web property of which you have no tangible control.

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