8 Ways to Use Web Analytics to Increase Online Sales

Experts share their top tips on how businesses should interpret and use Web analytics reporting to improve customer engagement and increase purchasing on their websites.

Just about every online business or business with a website uses an analytics tool to track traffic. However, more often than not, business owners and managers do not take full advantage of the information contained in analytics reports - or they don't know how to.

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So how should businesses interpret Web analytics data -- and leverage that information to decrease bounce and exit rates and increase sales on their website? To find out, CIO.com asked dozens of Web analytics and marketing experts. Their top eight tips on how to use web analytics data to improve conversion rates and sales appear below.

[Note: Most of the advice below refers to Google Analytics. However, it can also be applied to other Web analytics software and services.]

See how people are accessing your site (mobile devices vs. laptops or desktops) -- and optimize accordingly. "Look at how sales, especially conversion rates, differ by device type," says Bill Elward, CIO, Castle Ink, a provider of remanufactured ink cartridges, laser toner and printer cartridges.

[Related: 6 Google Analytics Tips for Online Marketers and Small Business Owners]

"With close to 40 percent of Internet activity generated via mobile devices, it's critical to understand which devices are being used to access your website," Elward says. "Be sure to look at conversion funnels and bounce rates by device for your key conversion pages as it could highlight issues such as page load [times] and layout [problems]." And if customers are using mobile devices to view your site, make sure the entire site is mobile friendly.

Track where traffic is coming from -- to help determine where to invest marketing dollars and time. Ask yourself, "Is your traffic coming from other websites (referrals), social media or search engines (paid/organic)?" says Mike Wolfe, CEO, WAM Enterprises, a digital marketing agency. "Knowing where traffic comes from can help you understand where to invest more time and money to increase traffic."

"Analytics data can [also] allow you to understand what marketing channel is leading to the most conversions on your website," adds Chris Meares, director of Analytics at MaassMedia, a boutique digital analytics consulting firm.

[Related: How Analytics Tools Measure a Corporate Turnaround]

"By tracking marketing campaigns -- email, display and paid search -- companies can understand what campaigns are contributing to conversion by utilizing the Google Analytics attribution model," Meares says. "By understanding the conversion rates of each campaign, a company can move their marketing budgets to the most productive marketing channel."

Discover where visitors are located, so you can better target those areas. "Use a geographic filter to figure out which countries, regions or states generate more sales than others," says Noah Parsons, COO, Palo Alto Software, providers of business plan software. Then you can "use this information to create focused advertising campaigns for specific geographies." You can also use the information to "try and figure out why some regions don't convert and consider special offers, discounts or other incentives to boost sales for those regions."

[Related: 20 SEO Tools to Help You Achieve, Measure Success]

Use demographics data to better understand and target your audience. "Google Analytics recently released a Demographics and Interests segmentation in the Audience report," says Katya Constantine, founder, DigiShopGirl Media.

"This allows sites to see the age, [gender] and interests of their site users - and which segments have a higher conversion rate," Constantine explains. "Based on this data, you can create better targeting criteria in future display and paid traffic efforts."

Know exactly what your customers are looking for (with Site Search). "Use Site Search data in Google Analytics to find terms people are searching for while they are on your site, along with the page they were visiting at the time," says Dave Cannon, co founder, FindProz, a private instruction marketplace.

"This will help you pinpoint lost opportunities for product placements or additional mid-to-low-funnel content, and where they should be located on your site," Cannon says. For example, "someone might search for 'photographer' and then refine the search with 'wedding photographer.' [So] now you know to advertise wedding photographers."

Learn where visitors are landing. "Look at your Landing Page metrics," says Nick Mather, COO, CyberMark International, an Internet marketing firm specializing in ethical SEO. "These are the pages where all your website traffic lands from search engines and other referrers. The content (text, images, call-to-action elements, etc.) on these pages should be perfected as to decrease the bounce rate and increase the conversion rate."

Find out which calls to action generate the most interest. "When it comes to online conversion rates and lead generation, you can use in-page analytics to learn which calls to action are producing the best results on your Web pages," says Brendan Cournoyer, director of Content Marketing, Brainshark, a provider of cloud-based business presentation solutions for sales, marketing and training.

"For example, Google Analytics allows you to view a web page and see which links on that page are driving the most clicks," Cournoyer says. "Are some calls to action more effective than others? Does the placement of the call to action matter? Do some calls to action resonate better based on the topical focus on the page they live on? By using this data, you can further hone your messages to increase conversions based on the practices that work best."

Pay attention to bounce rates to see where you're losing customers. "Review the bounce rate of your landing pages," says Steve Lamar, vice president, SEO Production, Volume 9, a search marketing firm.

"Look for pages with higher traffic and high bounce rates relative to your other pages," he advises. "Pages with high bounce rates can indicate a problem with the information, layout or call to actions. Use bounce rates as a initial indicator of problem pages."

In addition, think about using "a conversion funnel to figure out where you are losing customers on the way to a sale," says Parsons. "Are there steps in your checkout process that are causing users to drop out and not purchase? Simple changes might result in dramatic improvements in the number of people who end up purchasing," he says. Moreover, "conversion funnels can be used for sites that aren't ecommerce sites, too."

Have another tip regarding how to interpret and use web analytics data to improve conversion rates? Leave a Comment.

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a regular contributor to CIO.com and runs a marketing communications firm focused on helping organizations better interact with their customers, employees and partners.

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