The most recent business buzz word is “big data.” Large corporations spend a great deal of money on collecting data and paying analysts to sift through it and report on its meaning. Unfortunately, for many small and home-based businesses, strapped for cash and time, data collection and analysis is often left on the back burner. However, collecting and interpreting data related to your home business can make the difference between having a struggling business or a highly profitable one.
Today there are many free and low-cost tools to help you gather data about your business. By strategically analyzing a few bits of information about your business, you can make decisions that keep your business in the black.
What Is Web Analytics?
Before we go into the tools and how-to of collecting data, here is information about the what and why of web analytics.
Web analytics involves three steps:
- Collecting data about your business
- Analyzing the data and making decisions based on what it’s telling you
- Implementing changes or strategies to improve your business based on data analysis
Why Should You Collect Data
The ultimate goal in data collection is to make your business run more efficiently and profitably. As a home business owner, you only have so much time and money to run your business. You don’t want to waste either on activities that aren’t giving you the results you need. Data gives you the nitty-gritty details so you can focus your time and resources on tasks that result in more leads, sales, and profits.
What Data Should You Collect?
There are tons of data you can collect regarding your home business, but if you’re a one-person show, you probably have limited time and resources. The most essential data you should collect include:
- Unique Visitors: The number of individual people who visit your site. This isn’t the total number of visits, but instead the number of people. For example, if visitor A visits your site 3 times and visitor B comes to your site 1 time, that is 2 unique visits (A and B).
- Referrals: Knowing how your visitors find you is crucial to developing your marketing plan. Referrals tell you from where your visitors have come, including search, social media networks, and other websites.
- Keywords: Not only does keyword data tell you what words and phrases people are using to find your website, but also, what they’re interested in. This is particularly helpful if you have a business that involves a variety of topics or subtopics, as it can tell you which you should spend more time on.
- Top Pages: Similar to keywords, knowing the top ten or so pages people visit on your site will give you a clue as to what your target market is most interested in.
- Average Time on Page: This is a good indicator of whether or not people are consuming the information you’re providing. If they’re only on the site for a few seconds, and then click somewhere else, they’re not really taking in what you’re offering.
- Exit Pages: This can give you information about pages you need to beef up on your site. While you can expect a high number of exits from the last page of an order system, if you have other pages with high exit numbers, you should work on improving them to retain the visitor. This includes your Thank You page from email sign up or order form, where you can redirect people to more content on your website.
- Bounce Rate: The bounce rate is different from exit pages in that a bounce comes from someone who visits the site and then quickly leaves. It’s usually an indicator that the visitor didn’t find what he wanted.
- Conversion Rate: This is one of the most important bits of data to collect as it tells you how well you’re able to entice people to do something on your site, whether that’s to order your product, sign up for your email list, complete a survey, or view a specific page. This can be a big help in knowing whether or not your call-to-action is working.
How to Collect Website Data
There are many tools for collecting the above-listed data on your website. Most web hosts offer stats on your website’s performance. Google Analytics through the Google Console offers a robust, free system, although it requires some setup. Through Google Analytics you can set goals and better track conversions on specific pages of your website.
Email List Data
- List Growth: Even with a big list, you want to continue to entice new subscribers. The more people that are on your list, the more people you have knowing about your business. But also, there is a natural loss of interests and subscribers to your email list, and you want to continue to promote your list to make up for those unsubscribes.
- Open Rate: While clickthrough rate (see below) is a more revealing bit of data, your open rate can give you a sense of how good your email subject lines are.
- Clickthrough Rate: The clickthrough rate tells you how many people clicked on one or more links in your email. It not only tells you the effectiveness of your email campaign, but also can help you determine which email version is best when doing A/B split testing. Further, it can give an indication of what subscribers are interested in.
- Conversion Rate: Similar to conversion rate on your website, the conversion rate in email is the percentage of your subscribers who clicked on a link and completed an action, such as ordering, filling out a survey, or some other task.
- Bounce Rate: Different from website metrics, the bounce rate in email is the percentage of email that weren’t delivered to the recipient. A soft bounce is usually temporary, and the result of some sort of server glitch. Eventually the email does get delivered in a soft bounce. A hard bounce indicates that the email doesn’t exist anymore.
- Unsubscribe Rate: You’ll always have people unsubscribing, so you don’t want to panic each time someone clicks the unsubscribe link. However, if you have a mass exodus from your list after sending an email, that’s an indication that something isn’t right.
- Return on Investment (ROI): Like all other expenses, you want to make sure that email is serving its purpose. You don’t want to spend money on email marketing if it’s not going to help you make money in the end.
How to Collect Email Data
Your email list service should offer much of the basic data provided above, such as open and clickthrough rates. It’s possible you’ll have to pay a bit more to get in-depth data. In some cases, you can get the raw numbers and use your calculator to determine the rates.
Social Media Data
- Number of Followers: While this number isn’t as important as it used to be, it’s still an indicator of potential reach, and therefore something to watch. Similar to your email list size, your number of followers should continue to grow at a steady rate.
- Engagement: Is a reflection of your influence. Are people liking, commenting, or sharing your content? This is also where you want to pay attention to what types of social media gets the most response. Do your followers like videos more than text posts?
- Traffic: Are people using the links in your social media to visit your website? This information is also delivered in your website analysis.
- Reputation: Social media is an excellent way to find out what others are saying about you and your business, and to respond accordingly.
How to Collect Social Media Data
Most social media platforms provide data, especially if you have a business account. Google Analytics offers data related to social media, as well. If you use a social media tool, such as Hootsuite, it likely offers data as well, although similar to email, you may have to pay a little bit more to get it.
Other Data You Can Collect
The above tips and resources offer a great start to understanding what’s working and not working in your business. But you can get even more specific in understanding where your income is coming from through the use of special link coding, by adding code to your sales and affiliate promotions that indicate the source of click. For example, if you have affiliate links in your lead magnet, you can use a special code that indicates the referral came from a specific link in the lead magnet. You can code your sales page link the same way.
You can use these special codes anywhere you’re providing a link, including:
- Specific locations on your website, such as sidebar, specific articles, header, etc.
- Lead magnet
- Social media
To create the code you need to use a UTM parameter, which are little bits of text added to the end of a URL. With a UTM code you can track:
- Campaigns (overall marketing campaign)
- Source (where the traffic is coming from)
- Medium (marketing medium such as social media)
- Content (which link is used on a specific campaign, such as sidebar)
- Term (what keywords are used in the case of a PPC ad)
You don’t have to use all of these codes in every link. But if you have multiple options for the source of a lead or sale, it can be helpful to pinpoint where it came from.
For example, let’s say you want to promote a specific affiliate marketing offer and are creating a campaign around it that includes an article on your website, as well as a link in your sidebar. Plus, you will run the affiliate product in your email, which a link in the message of your email, as well as in an ad. If you make a lot of sales, how will you know which links were the ones that drove the sale? You could use the following codes to indicate which links drove traffic to the offer:
- Article code: www.yourwebsite.com/longformarticle?utm_campaign=affproduct1&content=post
- Sidebar code: www.yourwebsite.com/longformarticle?utm_campaign=affproduct1&content=sidebar
- Email message code: www.affiliatelink.com?utm_campaign=affproduct1&medium=email&content=message
- Email ad code 2: www.affiliatelink.com?utm_campaign=affproduct1&medium=email&content=ad
The website codes were coded to tell us what campaign (affproduct 1) and where on the webpage the link came from (post or header). In the email, we indicated that it’s still the affproduct1 campaign, but provide the source (email) and the content to tell us which link in the email sent the lean (message or ad).
For affiliate codes, the affiliate program often has tools to set up special tracking for you. For any other links you want to track, you can use a URL shortening service such as Bit.ly or a URL builder such a Google URL Builder, which you can then track in Google Analytics.
How to Use the Data Collected
Now that you have the data, what does it mean and what do you do with it? Your data only helps your business if you analyze and make decisions based on what it tells you.
- What are your goals? Before you can interpret and respond to your data results, you first want to be clear on your goals. Your data is designed to tell you if you’re getting results, but it can only answer that question if you know what results you want. What are your goals for your website (More traffic? More sales? Email sign ups?)? What results are you looking for in your email campaigns? What are your goals on social media?
- Assign numbers to your goals. “More” isn’t a great goal. If your traffic goes from 1000 a day to 1001 a day, that’s “more” but probably not what you meant. Instead have specific goals, such as 10,000 more visitors a month, 1,000 new email subscribers a month, etc.
- Collect data that helps you determine if you’re meeting your goals, and if so, what sources are working and not working to get your results. For example, you may find that you’re getting more sales from email than social media. You may discover your Pinterest page is driving more traffic than Twitter or Facebook.
- Collect the other data above to help you understand the overall picture of your business. For example, you may be meeting your goals, but discover you have a high bounce rate on your website. Fixing that, you might be able to exceed your goals.
- Collect and review your data at least once a month. Consider keeping a spreadsheet of all the important metrics you want to track. This will allow you to not only know if you’re meeting your goals month to month but also, you can view the big picture for each quarter and year.
This all might seem like a lot of work, especially creating individual tracking codes. However, when you consider time is money, data tracking, collection, and analysis can save you time and boost your income by helping you understand what works best in helping you meet your business goals.