Training for the Long Run: How to Gain More from Website Analytics

June 05, 2017 Cathy LynkMitch Diehl

As we welcome the Summer season, many are getting their running shoes out to train for the (quickly approaching) Fall marathons. However, for those of us who haven’t run so much as a mile, how do we get started?

That intimidating feeling is often felt by marketers who are trying their hand at a strategy to implement analytics. Similar to the leap from three miles to 10, figuring out how to apply website analytics to your overall business goals is especially tricky.

The transition from the couch to running a full marathon is no easy task, and neither is laying the foundation for a meaningful analytics program.

We want this guide to help you move from a barely-there reporting plan to a long-term program for applying data across your digital initiatives.

Analytics Framework for Websites

Identify Goals
Before you jump into the data, you need to establish a baseline and set your target. If you already run regularly and can knock out a 5K without breaking a sweat, then measuring your pace during your standard 3 to 4 mile runs will not help you improve.

When training, you need to be honest with yourself and set realistic goals to measure against – such as, “I want to run a 10K by September.”

Similarly, your goals for website analytics should be actionable, measurable and rooted in your organization’s business strategy. The most successful goals are shaped by broader firm objectives.

Example Business Objective: Generate brand awareness across new customer segments.

Sample Digital Goal: Increase website traffic of first-time visitors by 20 percent in the next 6 months.

Pro Tip: Remember to measure your baseline so you have an anchor to reference.

Establish Key Metrics
In the world of website analytics, you have an overwhelming amount of data available at your fingertips. Google alone has over 400 metrics and dimensions available for custom reports.

Your goals from the previous step should help you prioritize these metrics and focus on what matters most to the business.

Metrics, put simply, are quantifiable measures used to gauge performance or progress.

As you train for that 10K, you may prioritize a metric for endurance – miles per week – over a metric for speed – average pace per mile – if your goal is to just finish the race.

When measuring the performance of your website, the more numbers you pull into the picture, the harder it is to assess and improve.

If we remain laser-focused on the sample digital goal “Increase website traffic of first-time visitors by 20 percent in the next 6 months”, we may prioritize the following metrics:

  • Percentage of New vs. Returning Visitors
  • Referral Sources for Incoming Traffic
  • Average Session Duration for New Visitors

Pro tip: Set a standard duration on your metrics so you can measure progress over time.

Measure Results
Once you’ve identified the key metrics to pay attention to, you can begin analyzing the data. Google Analytics is a common, easy-to-use tool for capturing website data and measuring performance.

Within Google Analytics, custom reports can be set up for the key metrics you are focusing on. These reports can help you:

  1. Save time. On opening Google Analytics, you can jump directly to the custom reports you have set up rather than drilling down to specific standard reports and repeatedly applying the same dimensions.
  2. Stay on track. At this point, the metrics are feeding you information about specific digital goals. Avoid distractions by carving out time to quickly review these custom reports on a regular basis.
  3. Tell a story. Reports can also be used to generate graphs or more comprehensive dashboards. Data visualizations make it easier to notice trends and pinpoint variances, giving you new perspectives to the numbers.

Pro tip: Always consider the context that surrounds the data.

As a general assumption, the longer a person stays on a specific page, the more they are positively engaging with your brand. So, in the example below, when you see low time spent on a page, it may raise a red flag.

creating context around website analytics

However, if you are properly analyzing your data, keeping the bigger picture in mind, you may realize that the data is telling a different story.

For instance, a low number for Avg. Time on Page may be a good thing, if the page’s purpose is to quickly give users information. A page that lists locations, such as office addresses, should be designed so users inherently find the information they are looking for and move on.

b2b website analytics strategy

Optimize Performance
So now you’ve hit your stride, and you are actively measuring progress against your goals. It’s time to draw implications from the results. In our viewpoint, implications can swing one of two ways when looking closer at analytics:

  1. Direct you to additional research. Analytics findings may lead to further questions, which can be addressed through additional forms of testing or investigation, such as a usability study or A/B test.
  2. Inform a website update. In certain cases, the data can point you towards a design change or content modification. When taking this route, it is important to continue analyzing the same metrics to determine the (hopefully positive) impact of the design or content effort on the digital experience.

Pro tip: Share your reports with others, across different roles in the business, to see if you are drawing the same implications. Fresh perspectives often lead to new ideas.

Optimization is about creating an action plan for improving performance, and the data collected through your analytics program can continue fueling this plan.

The Finish Line
By making progress one mile at time, hopefully you are able to reach that 10K goal. Once you hit an endurance milestone, you may pivot to focus on a new objective, such as speed.

At this point, a reprioritization exercise is needed to evaluate your metrics and track progress against those that will get you going faster.

The same exercise applies to website analytics. As business objectives change overtime and you break through new boundaries, it is important to make sure you are measuring progress towards the right goals and referencing the right metrics.

Establish a plan for regularly revisiting your digital goals and prioritizing metrics to keep your analytics program in good shape for the long-run.


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Cathy Lynk Manager, Digital Strategy

As Manager, Digital Strategy, Cathy partners with our clients to create and execute long-term digital strategy programs. Her background in User Experience design drives her to stay close to the needs and behaviors of target audiences through user research and testing. Cathy brings new ideas and data-driven insights to the strategic marketing programs she helps create and execute.

  • Favorite hobby: I love to run for fun. I try to run at least 3 miles in every city I visit.
  • Creative interests: I recently completed a full-stack design program where I had the opportunity to create functional prototypes for Chicago-based startups.
Mitch Diehl UX Strategist

At the time of publishing, Mitch was a UX Strategist at One North.

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