Without measurement your advertising investments are entirely faith-based which leaves you to make decisions based what you believe rather than what you know. In this article we will explore the basics of traffic measurement.
For site analytics we always recommend Google Analytics because it is free and integrates tightly with AdWords. AdWords and Analytics work well with each other but they are also entirely independent so you can use one without the other. Running a web site without Analytics in place is a marketing crime of the first order.
Google Analytics is a script based analytics product so the script (a small piece of code on the page) has to be installed on every page. If the code must be installed by hand on each page, make sure that after installation that you validate every page. Most CMS packages will have a template for the header or footer that goes on every page; this is where you want to install Analytics. The standard recommendation is in the footer so it loads after the page is visible to the user. To validate the installation simply view every page on your site and then check the next day to see that every page has some activity. Google Analytics is a very complex product and there are several very good books on this topic. If you really want a deep understanding of this topic I recommend the book; Advanced Web Metrics by Brian Clifton. I have read both versions of this book and it has some great tips and pointers on understanding your traffic.
The bottom line here is – Install Google Analytics now!
Forms are a popular way to allow visitors to contact you and we highly recommend having this option available. Once data is entered into your website’s form, the information is then emailed to you and the visitor is routed to a thank you page. Many Web Designers like to avoid the thank you page but you should insist on a separate thank-you page for tracking purposes. One major advantage of a form over a simple email link is that you can more accurately track your conversions. Another bonus is that you can control the fields of the form ensuring the visitor answers the necessary questions for you to help them. There is nothing worse than getting a great sales lead without a way to contact the customer. The guidelines for the form are; you should ask for everything you need but nothing more than that. When the form asks for and requires more information than you need it can result in a lower response rate. Every time you ask for additional information on a website the person may decide to leave. Web traffic is very transient in nature and visitors are easily spooked so make sure there are not errors on this page.
If you use an online form on your site, at some point a form-spammer will find it. The spammer will try to use your form to push email at you. The way to slow this down significantly is through the use of a CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turning Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart) field on the form. You can get public domain versions of this for free or you can install simple logic tests into your form. If the problem is bad then the more sophisticated CAPTCHA makes sense, but in most cases simply asking them to key a specific value in a field is enough to make most of the form spammers to go away. To give you an idea of how prolific these spammers can be, one of our guys in the office has a blog with almost 5000 blocked spam comments from the last 2 weeks.
There is no doubt that many websites are run to make the phone ring. Connecting phone calls to your web data is a challenge but it does not have to be completely disconnected. You can call your phone company and get what is called a tracking phone number. Simply put this is a phone number that is pointed to your primary phone line. By routing calls through this tracking number you can separate the source of the calls.
The next step is a little more complex, but it gets closer to the real contribution from your advertising. In this implementation you get two tracking numbers and the web designer displays one if the traffic is from your advertising and another if it is not. This will effectively separate your paid traffic from all the other traffic. This process is not perfect. When it fails it will under report your advertising’s contributions, but it’s better than having all the calls lumped into one big number.
Some businesses are not crazy about email forms and prefer to put their full email out on their site for people that want to contact them. Technically this is done with an href tag and a mailto: in the link. The problem with this set up is that you cannot track that event without special coding. However if you have Google Analytics installed you can extend the email link with an “on click” event as you see below.
This writes a virtual page to your analytics named email_bob.html. This page will have a visit logged every time someone opens the email link. It cannot measure if they actually sent the email but you will know if they started to send one. You can also link this page to a goal in analytics and then feed that back to AdWords.
Conversions & Goals
Conversions and Goals are ultimately what most people want to measure. Conversions are from AdWords and Goals are from Google Analytics. Goals include actions from all sources of traffic and Conversions are ONLY from AdWords traffic. One reason that we recommend a separate thank you page is because that gives you some place to install the conversion code and it gives you a separate page for the goal tracking. With Goals we recommend that you set up the full URL path that takes them from the landing page to the thank you page so you can see the loss at each step in the process. This is referred to as a funnel and Google Analytics can provide some very interesting data when this is done right. If possible you want to start this path is a page that they must visit, normally the landing page. When you set this up you make this page is required so you do not get goals that went directly to the thank you page. Because search engines create access to your site at the page level it is entirely possible to get organic traffic that goes directly to your thank you page.
This is far from a comprehensive coverage of tracking responses, but if you do at least this much you will get some great data that can help you understand how your advertising returns value to your business.