Questions? (877) 643-7244
FutureNow Post
Thursday, May. 14, 2009 at 11:08 am

Make Your Web Analytics Actionable in 5 DIY Steps

By Jeff Sexton
May 14th, 2009

I’ve written about this before, but new reports keep reinforcing the point that most organizations don’t know what to make of their Web Analytics, meaning they can’t take action to improve their site based on the information they have.  And while the best bet in these situations is simply to hire an expert guide, that may not be an option for you (or maybe you’re just a hard-core DIY-er when it comes to website improvement).  If that’s the case, here is a quick and dirty 5 step process to get you started:

1) Where are they entering?

Most analytics packages (including Google Analytics) make it easy to view your top landing pages.  If you haven’t checked this before you might be surprised at the number of visitors who aren’t entering your site through the home page.  That can be crucial information.

Maybe your PPC landing pages don’t provide all the information visitors need and you’re not giving visitors clear links back to your main site.  Maybe your UVP is only clearly explained on the home page, so that someone landing on your services (or a product category) page wouldn’t get that info.

But more than all of that, you’re trying to get an understanding of how visitors move through your site and why they take the actions they do, so you’ll need to know visitor entry points.

2) How are they entering?

Your analytics package should let you analyze traffic, breaking visitors down by source: organic search traffic, paid ads, direct traffic, etc.  And for organic and paid search, you should be able to see what keywords brought the majority of your visitors to your website.  From this information, you should be able to get a sense of the following:

  • What are their expectations? Given your visitors’ traffic source and keywords, what are they looking for?  What would they most expect to find when they land on your website?  What scent are they following?
  • What are their likely goals? The same key word search could easily be used by people with differing goals.  Chances are you might be ignoring all but one of them.  For instance, I could be searching on “Pensacola Day Spas” because I wanted to buy a gift certificate for my wife.   Whereas my wife might search the same term to see if they take last-minute or walk-in appointments.  Or maybe she’s searching  to see if they have a specific treatment?  The point is, it helps to mentally force yourself to brainstorm as many real-world behind the search terms as possible.
  • What do they already know? Someone searching on your name or on the name of a specific service or product line obviously knows more than a visitor entering from a general search term.  Use your keyword knowledge to get a sense of visitors’ differing stages of the buying process?   Are they just starting out and searching for general info?  Do they already know exactly what they want?  Or are they somewhere in between?
  • How well is your landing page matching up with visitor expectations and goals? Would visitors find their keywords on their entrance pages?  Would they know that they are in the right place, based on a 7-second scan of the page?  Do your entry pages have high bounce rates?  What is the average time spent on the page?

3) Next-page navigation – where are they going when they first hit your Website?

Now that you know where visitors are entering your site and you have a sense of their motivation upon arriving at your site, take a look at where they navigate to upon their arrival.  What are the most popular next pages? Look at this information while looking at the actual landing page.

  • Are the most popular “next pages” the same ones you would have guessed?
  • Are they pages linked to by prominent calls to action or embedded links placed within the active window? Or are they pages only accessible through your top or side navigation?
  • What questions would those pages answer for the visitor?  Why do you think the visitor is moving to those pages? Is that action congruent with what you’ve seen of visitor motivation from their keywords/scent?

After you see what those most popular next pages are, click through to them within your analytics package and see where visitors are going from that next page.  If the majority of entering traffic (for a given page) is clicking through to a couple of different pages, you’ll often find that visitors navigate to the remaining popular pages following their first click.  You should start to see patterns forming – key, or most navigated to, pages will stand out.

Watch out for situations where your most persuasive content is NOT one of those most navigated pages; you can’t persuade visitors with content they never see.  Also, watch out for situations where one of your most navigated pages are also exit points, in those cases the visitor either lost confidence or didn’t find what they were looking for.

4) Where (and Why) are they leaving?

First, let’s talk about the difference between bounce rate and exit rate. A bounce is sort of like it sounds, someone came in on a given page and left on that same page without going anywhere else on the site.  Unless visitors are also converting on that same page, bouncing is bad.  It means visitors are rejecting you – either because you are attracting the wrong visitors, or because your landing pages are not re-assuring them that they are in the right place to find what they came looking for.

An exit rate simply tells you how many of the people who came to that page also left your site from that page, including both people entering the site on that page AND people navigating to that page from somewhere else on your website.

  • Planned and unplanned exits. Some exits are good.  You expect people to leave your site after buying something/filling in a lead form.  Customers who log-into a registered user domain from your home page will likely show up in your analytics as a bounce.  Etc.  But you obviously don’t want customers to leave before reaching their goal or your goal.  Often you’ll find visitors exiting from pages containing your conversion beacons – product pages containing the “add to cart” button, service pages containing your lead form, etc.  Or you’ll see cart/form abandonment, where visitors start to convert and then back out.
  • Take a look at “time on page” for the conversion beacons. Abandoning a page after a few seconds isn’t the same as dropping it after a few minutes.  A few seconds means it was the wrong product or service for them.  Someone leaving your page after a few minutes engaged with your content and never got the answers to their questions and/or simply didn’t have the confidence to buy.  Take a look at the page itself, what information are you not giving them?  Are you using great photos, persuasive copy, points of action assurances, risk reversals, etc. in order to instill buyer confidence?  What about shipping information?  Most of the exits on both this page and the cart page are caused by inadequate information and content on these conversion beacon pages.
  • Page prior and broken scent? If you find a high exit rate page, look at the most popular entry paths to that page.  Look for mismatches between expectations in moving from the prior page to the exit page.  What were visitors hoping to find on that exit page and what did they actually find?  Was the hyperlink misleading or was the content simply anemic?  Try to figure out the Piss-Off Factor.

5) Form a hypothesis and test

Completing steps 1-4 should have shown you several mismatches between what you and/or your visitor expected and wanted to happen vs. what actually happened.  You should also be able to come up with some pretty good theories for why these mismatches are happening and what might fix them.  Even better, you should have a strong idea about what success would look like if your tested theory proves true.  In other words, you know what metrics are indicating a problem, so you know what metrics you should see change.  Congratulations, you’ve now made your analytics actionable.

Here are some further tips to help keep you going down the right path:

  • Don’t test randomly - always test with a hypothesis regarding visitor motivation/behavior.  You’re after insight as much as lift – a “negative” test that gives you a better idea of what motivates your visitor is     actually better for your long-term success than a positive test that provides little or no new insight.
  • The difference between micro-conversion vs. macro-conversion. Testing a page variable that reduces bounce rate and/or moves more people to a key persuasive page may or may not immediately impact your conversion rate, as you may be moving people down a funnel that’s leaking somewhere else.  Or maybe you’re engaging early stage buyers that won’t convert for another month or so.
  • Know when to test for micro-conversions, such as moving from one page to the next; when to test for macro-conversions, as in how much bottom-line impact this change made; and when to set-up a secondary, earlier-stage conversion, such as signing for the newsletter or downloading a white paper vs. buying or filling out a lead form.

Bonus step – answer their questions, manage their anxiety, stoke their imagination.

When looking at a page in terms of visitor behavior and motivation, always ask yourself how well that page is answering visitor questions, how well it is re-assuring them emotionally that they are in the right place and on the right track to accomplish their goal, and finally how well it is appealing to their real desires.

P.S.  A quick note on how to integrate “best practices” into your optimization efforts.  Rather than blindly testing best practices, allow your knowledge of them to help you form theories about why visitors are or are not taking a certain action.  For instance, it’s a best practice to place your calls to action within the active window.  If your main call to action is in a side-bar and almost no visitors are taking that action, you might test moving your CTA into the active window.  For some fabulous books on best practices and testing, take a look at Call to Action and Always Be Testing.

P.P.S. If you enjoyed this post please consider Tweeting it please.

[Editor's note: the author of this post is now blogging at]

Add Your Comments

Comments (76)

  1. This article is right on the money as in my experience it is very difficult to figure out what exactly to do with the information your web analytics provides.

  2. I’d like it if you would follow up this article with one that describes a real life example, where you discovered something in analytics, turned that into an action, and achieved a measurable optimization. Knock out a few articles like that and I’ll be impressed.

  3. [...] Make Your Web Analytics Actionable in 5 DIY Steps (via – High level look at some key areas to look at in your web analytics and how to act on them. [...]

  4. Greg,

    I completely understand your request and struggled with my own desires to include screenshots, but ended up not doing that for a number of reasons:

    1) They’d likely end up limited to GA shots, and I didn’t want to make this platform specific. This isn’t that big a deal, but if I was going to include screenshots, I wanted to get some of multiple analytics platforms and, frankly, that would have become a pain in the butt to compile.

    2) I’d be using FNI clients and they may or may not want to paste their analytic data out for everyone to see.

    But if someone wanted to volunteer a website/business for this purpose, I’d be happy to consider it.

    - Jeff

  5. [...] Make your Web Analytics actionable in 5 DIY Steps [Grokdotcom] [...]

  6. Greg,

    Here’s a real-life mini example. A “latest news” page had high traffic and was the top exit page.

    No wonder: the latest news was from 2 years ago…. And it was some boring ‘we-we-we’ stuff about the company.

    The page got a lot of traffic because it was in first (top) place in the side navigation. Methodical types would go there first.

    I scrapped the page altogether and nobody seems to miss it.

  7. Hi Jeff
    good stuff..I am a marketer not a techie. How do I get the analytics and then the actions needed done at a reasonable cost?

  8. Hi Jeff,
    Great info and really nice overview. We are a marketing firm that focuses on the staffing industry. With a lot of our clients sites we have found that new traffic generally procedes to the “About Us” pages on our client’s site. We initially found a drop off but have since used that data to craft copy that directs people to the next appropriate area. If you find a page that has a high drop off it could just be that you’re not telling people what they need to do next. My rule of thumb when writing copy is keep it simple and explicitly tell people what they should be doing next and how they should be navigating.

  9. Brad,

    Great example and very sound advice. People went to the About Us page to reassure themselves of the company’s credibility and then were not given any clear options on how to move forward from the sale. Providing that next step – making sure you have a clear path to conversion – can make all the difference. And high exit rates can often tell you were you’ve failed to provide that next step.

    Thanks again for the comment.

    - Jeff

  10. [...] 0 Comments No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack [...]

  11. [...] Make your web analytics actionable in 5 DIY steps (Via: @copyblogger) [...]

  12. This is really helpful. Analytics can provide an overwhelming amount of information and this helps make sense of it in a logical and actionable way. Thanks!

  13. Good review Jeff, thanks!

    Your job title “Persuasion Architect” is even better!

    Take care,

  14. [...] Make Your Web Analytics Actionable in 5 DIY Steps | FutureNow’s GrokDotCom / Marketing Optimiz… [...]

  15. Hi Jeff, you have done great job. It is really help to know about visitors thinking and what they wants. You have nicely described whole details withing 5 DIY Steps. Thanks for sharing this information.

  16. I definitely think that reviewing and understanding analytics is important but knowing how your competitors operate and achieve rankings or traffic is very important too. I recently tried and was impressed by the amount of data that I could find on my competitors….

  17. [...] so much from the articles and posts they  link to it’s incredible. They tweet more than just analytics, too. SEO, design, development, usability, you name [...]

  18. Nice post. Good comprehensive guide. No bullshit, practical stuff.

    Next up should be a case and some real results!

  19. [...] you are checking your web analytics, right? But not sure what the heck to do with them? FutureNow offers you some action steps. This is written for a commercial site, but nonprofits can still learn from these [...]

  20. I must say that bouncing is not always bad. It depends…

    If you are searching for a price on a website for a “brick and mortar”-shop – and then visit the shop to buy, then the bouncing would be fine.

    But of course it is pretty difficult to meassure!

  21. Amazing post!
    I´ve already subscribed the feeds and bookmarked it!

  22. I thank you for this very helpful post, lucky that Google brought me to this post…

  23. very great post and nicely detailed.

  24. There are a lot of people that even with their web analytics don’t carry on with the process of improvement in all the areas and only bother to focus on the parts that cover sales. Many people don’t get to that part of the lost sale if they aren’t reassured or easily transferred through to the sales portion.

  25. Good post. Just bookmark it.

  26. Great article!

    I just add this article in my bookmark.

  27. this post is definitely useful.
    Forming a hypothesis really plays an important role
    Good comprehensive guide!!!
    thanks for the sharing

  28. I have book marked this article, it is very interesting and helpful.
    Thank you

  29. You should use custom reporting to get the most out of Google analytics. The new ‘Intellegence’ beta feature within Google analytics is also quite good.

  30. I agree with the above, this is a great feature.

  31. It’s true, as a webmaster I would know.

  32. Thanks for the insightful article, I too am interested in the new intelligence functionality within Analytics.

  33. Another idea I would explore is click data. I’ve used clickdensity ( in the past.

    This will tell me where people click and (more important) where they don’t.

    For simple webpages this isn’t as interesting as for more complex ones though.

    (They offer a free plan :-) )

  34. This actually helped me a bunch, thanks much.

  35. Good article and useful needs our thanks.

  36. Thanks for this great article.มีด

  37. Thank you for sharing this article. really helpful.

  38. Thanks for the insightful article.

    I hope that this article will make money in the future.

  39. Thanks for the info…I recently tried and was impressed by the amount of data that I could find on my competitors!

  40. A very insightful article, bookmarked for further inspection :)

    - Lasik

  41. Focus on the keywords that indicate that the visitor has an immediate need to satisfy and/or has their credit card next to their keyboard ready to go.

  42. Very interesting your article.
    Already added the site to favorites!

  43. Ok i interesting this Aricle

  44. [...] 原文作者 Jeff SextonMay,原文链接。 [...]

  45. nice information!!

  46. Thanks for this informations

  47. Thanks… often I’m not sure what to do with analytics data. This gives me a place to start.

  48. I was enlightened on what analytics is all about. Before, I use analytics to analyze the traffic and from what KW they come from, but now, it has more use to me. :)

  49. Nice article. Thanks for this info.

  50. Good review

  51. This isn’t that big a deal, but if I was going to include screenshots

  52. where you discovered something in analytics, turned that into an action, and achieved a measurable optimization

  53. This is really helpful. Analytics can provide an overwhelming amount of information and this helps make sense of it in a logical and actionable way. Thanks!

  54. Very nice post!

    I´ve already subscribed the feeds and bookmarked it!

  55. It is good to be reminded on just how important analytics data is. In the past, I used to constantly observe my analytics data by analyzing what long tail keywords my visitors came from. This helped me tweak my LP to cater those visitors. But I haven’t done that in so long! So thanks for reminding me of the power and purpose of analytics.

  56. Nice Articles
    I very like this article ,i’ll bookmark it

  57. Very interesting Jeff, yes sound advice. Finding out your sites weaknesses can only help and that’s what analytics helps to do.

  58. i have been spending a lot of time on google analytics playing around with graphs…and trying to make sense of the visitors to my website. these tips have made me think hard about the analytic reports that i get every day. for example, my visitors are leaving pages after a few minutes…so, i am now assuming that i have the right product…. now, i have to figure out how i can get them to buy before they leave (given that they are the target consumer per the length of time on my web pages).

  59. It is something how we can tend to forget about the stuff that matters. I’ve forgotten about the importance of analytics data telling me extra information about my target audience. So, I have made the resolve to consistently check my analytics as often as possible.

  60. Thanks for reminding me of the power and purpose of analytics.

  61. Thank you for sharing this article. really helpful.

  62. good stuff..I am a marketer not a techie. How do I get the analytics and then the actions needed done at a reasonable cost?

  63. Parabéns, excelente post!

  64. Thank you for sharing this article. really helpful

  65. Excellent post. I think analtics are just checked quickly by to many people. Like you have explained if you spend a little more time in the results you would be amazed at what differnces you can make to your site.

  66. These facts are amazing .
    I was searching before last 5 weaks and ia dint get the perfect answer.
    But after all i found from your site.
    thanks for posting such a interesting topic.

  67. Great! Thanks for the great article posting and your all effort.
    I think the above article is valuable for all concerned people about this topics.
    For me the Informations are really really useful for my research. I’ve Bookmarked this page for future reference

  68. This was a really quality post. In theory I’d like to write like this too,
    taking time and real effort to make a good article…
    but what can I say… I procrastinate alot and never seem to get something done.

  69. Thanks, however this is not what I need. The system is much more sophisticated than that.
    First of all, extension check is not acceptable, and second of all, you can get an exe file rename it as a txt.
    However when you upload it it’s still an exe.
    I prefer to limit it as well to control how much bandwith is spent. I do so on my website Builders4u pretty well.

  70. I think there needs to be a 6th step where you repeat number 5. Testing out hypothesis’ and tracking data can lead to astonishing results over time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither should a website.

  71. Most new marketers have no idea how to read their analytics if they’re even using analytics. I personally use Google analytics and I love it because it’s free and fairly easy to use. Clicktale is also a very good paid web analytics program for people who don’t mind spending a little cash. My motto is “track everything”. Whether it’s an article that you wrote, or a keyword or whatever method you use to market it’s always extremely important to know exactly where your best traffic is coming from so you can fully optimize your site. If you’re not tracking religiously and continuously tweaking and optimizing your site based on your analytics then you’re leaving money on the table.

  72. [...] Make Your Web Analytics Actionable In 5 Easy Steps by FutureNow [...]

  73. [...] du lese mer om “actionable analytics” ( Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. [...]

  74. Your post really helps me to work easily. Thanks for providing such important information.

  75. I recently came across your article and have been reading along. I want to express my admiration of your writing skill and ability to make readers read from the beginning to the end.

  76. [...] 原文作者 Jeff SextonMay,原文链接。 [...]

Add Your Comments


Print this Article

Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

More articles from Jeff Sexton

Marketing Optimization Blog
FREE Newsletter Sign-Up
send it once every: