[This article is part of a series entitled: GA Implementation ABCs]

What came first?I had an interesting conversation while in Seattle recently. On discussing the progress of the book (95% complete now..!) with a friend from the industry, I described how my last chapter is going to be a sum up all the things learnt plus my thoughts on what’s next for web analytics. For the sum up, I was asked, “so what do you think should be the first thing to do when considering a web analytics implementation?”.

“That’s a great question” I replied and gave the following response: “Tag all your pages i.e. Collect the data”.

The conventional wisdom for web analytics, has traditionally said that before you even choose your preferred vendor for an implementation, you should prepare your web analytics business objectives, map who your stakeholders are, canvas throughout your organisation for KPIs, business plans, marketing plans etc. – anything that relates to the success of the web site.

But, you don’t know what you don’t know…
So I disagree with that school of thought, particularly if you are implementing a web analytics tool for the first time. Adding page tags is more important as your first step because they collect your valuable data. Seeing raw, unfiltered, non-segmented data will help you understand how visitors interact with your web site at a fundamental level.

Reflecting on this during my flight home, the first thing to do when considering a web analytics implementation is actually a combination of two elementary things – tag all your pages, then view reports to understand the initial collected data.

Step 1: Tag all your pages
Ensure you tag ALL your web pages with your tracking code (usually a javascript snippet). The emphasis is on ALL as quite often by default tools will not track download files (PDFs, XLS, DOC, EXE) or external links (banners, affiliates, advertisements). Google Analytics for example uses a function call to urchinTracker to create ‘virtual pageviews’ which you need to manually add to your download links. Also, quite often page tags are simply missed out – usually by human or machine error. For sites with many web pages that are constantly updated/evolving, consider a regular auditing service to ensure all page and virtual pageview data is consistently tracked. In fact regular tag audits are an important aspect for the ongoing management of your web analytics solution and many GAACs offer this service for Google Analytics.

Step 2: Understand the initial data
This is the initial pass by of your data before mapping who in your organisation your stakeholders are and what KPIs are useful for benchmarking your web site against. With good data coming in (usually 2-4 weeks worth), simple questions can then be answered, for example:

  • How many daily visitors do I receive
  • What is my average conversion rate
  • What percentage of visitors are from search engines
  • What are my Top 5 visited pages
  • What is the average visitor time on site
  • What is the average visitor page depth
  • What is the geographic distribution of visitors
  • What is the average visitor bounce rate (single page visits)
  • etc.

So my approach is first to understand the make-up (distribution) of your visitors with some base metrics of what these visitors do. That simply requires the tagging of your pages and an initial understanding of what the reports are showing you. Armed with this information, it is then time to start thinking about your stakeholders, KPIs , and how to benchmark yourself in order to make improvements.

How have you approached the implementation of web analytics? What came first, the data or the stakeholder maps, business plan or KPIs? Please add your thoughts with a comment.