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What web analytics can’t tell you about your site visitors

March 13th, 2009 by mdmcginnis

As we’ve said, web analytics can give you an amazing amount of information about your visitors, which can help you to serve them better. But is there anything that Google Analytics can’t do?

Analytics can’t determine the goals for your website. Yes, Google Analytics and its sisters offer detailed statistics about “goals”. But you have to set up these goals, by indicating which page or pages you’re hoping your visitors will reach, by clicking links such as “Donate Now!” or “Sign Up!” or “Count on Me!”

Many higher education webmasters think that such goals are only for commercial sites, and that is indeed what they were designed for. But maybe we don’t think enough about goals: what we want people to do when they get to our sites. Do we expect them to just read our pages and cluck approvingly? Don’t we hope that some of them will sign up, or donate, or enroll? So, how can we make that easier for them? Web analytics can tell you how many people are reaching your goal pages, where they came from, where they went instead of your goal page (boo hoo), and even what they did while they were on your site. Good things to know, aren’t they?

Analytics can’t tell you what keywords were used by the searchers who never reached your site. Yes, it’s important, even exciting, to learn what keywords people use to reach your site. You want to make sure you serve the needs of these visitors. For example, examining your search traffic sources may show that many of your visitors are probably doing research for their high school term papers. Well, don’t you want high school students to be interested in your work? Add a note to the pages they visit that says, “For more information about the fascinating fields of study in [Your department name here], or about becoming a student at Texas A&M University, visit [Your website name here] or http://admissions.tamu.edu/.”

Keyword analytics does tell you, very reliably, your top rankings on search engines. If your top search term is “dance major” and your most visited page is titled “Dance Concentration,” that means that your site is reaching dance students better than it’s reaching any other group. But it doesn’t mean that your site is mainly about dance. It doesn’t even mean that you couldn’t reach dancers more effectively. (It probably means that your site has good rankings for that keyword, but it might simply mean that your listing on Google seems more interesting than the others on the page.) Maybe your site is mainly for people who haven’t decided what to major in, and only peripherally deals with dance studies. But if your pages are titled “Undeclared Majors” which hardly anybody searches for, instead of “Choosing a Major” which thousands search for, you may not be reaching the people who are most important to your mission. Even if you reach a fair number of dancers.

Friday, March 13th, 2009 Analytics, Search
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