Is your website doing an effective job for your business?

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Is your website doing an effective job for your business?

by Alan Zisman
© 2009 First published in Business in Vancouver November 24- 30 2009 issue #1048

High Tech Office column

If you or your company has a website (and who doesn’t these days?) you should be wondering about its effectiveness.

Among the overlapping questions you might ask: does the website have a clearly defined purpose? How effective is it in communicating that purpose? How easy is it for potential visitors to find your website? When they find it, does your website’s design encourage them to stick around? To do something on your site? To come back another time?

In past columns, I’ve written about tools such as the free Google Analytics, which Google promises “gives you rich insights into your website traffic and marketing effectiveness,” and the local company Wider Funnel specializing in “conversion optimization,” which it describes as “the ‘science and art’ of getting more actions from the same amount of traffic.”

We’ve also looked at local digital video production company BaseTwo Media, which attributed 75% of its growth over the past two years to online advertising, mostly with Google’s affordable AdWords program.
I maintain a number of websites in support of my teaching, technology writing, musical and other activities.
While I’m not directly selling products online (other than, perhaps, selling myself), I have many of the same needs as any other business website: attracting visitors and providing an online experience that will encourage them to stick around and come back for repeat visits.

First step: find out how many visitors I get and what do they look at.

I’ve posted technology- related tutorials and articles dating back to 1992; a few of these pages turn up No. 1 for some fairly obscure Google searches, but that’s the exception rather than the rule.

I can gather some information about visitors to my sites from statistics provided by my web host, Vancouver-based NetNation. These tell me, for example, that in October 2009, zisman.ca had 73,920 page requests and let me compare this number to other months. I can see what folders on my site were visited most.

But the statistics aren’t as useful as I might hope. It’s unclear what the numbers mean.

For instance, I see that My/Articles folder had 910,349 requests. But I don’t know over what period of time these occurred or even exactly what a request indicates.

It would be nice if it meant that I had nearly a million visitors wanting to read my articles. But I doubt it.
While I’ve written about Google Analytics I’ve never used them. Here’s the process: first, a person with the power to upload content to your website (in this case, me) needs to set up a Google Analytics account. If you already have an account for Gmail or some other Google service, you can use that. Google then generates a few lines of JavaScript code to be inserted into your web pages.

This code doesn’t display anything to the people viewing your page, but each time one of your pages is viewed, information is sent to Google.

(Some people may be concerned about Google holding all this data; that’s another discussion.)

One problem: I’ve got well over a thousand separate pages on zisman.ca and my other web domains, and no automated process (or low wage rate employees) to add the code to each page. So even though my Windows 98-era tutorial on using the Windows Policy Editor (poledit) is one of my No. 1 Google hits, I’m not going to bother adding the Google Analytics code to that or any others of my “legacy” pages.

Instead, I’ve added the code to the zisman.ca home page, the home pages of the other domains I manage and to the templates I use to create new pages.

As a result, the quality of data I receive will be sparse at the beginning, improving over time as more pages return data to be analyzed.