6 Tools to Understand Your Web Analytics

Online Marketing

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When it comes to web analytics, if you’re not measuring something, how can you tell if you’re doing it right? Quick answer: you can’t. We often think that by following our intuition we’re making the right decision. Big mistake!

Today we have a lot of tools that will help us to know whether our website is working as expected. Trying new tools can be intimidating—some are expensive, and if your team doesn’t like them, you’ll have thrown your money.

Fortunately, today I’m going to explain to you 6 very popular web analytics tools that will help you better understand the data that your website emanates so that you can make informed decisions.

#1 Google Analytics

Let’s start with the king of web analytics. Of course, I’m talking about Google Analytics. It has everything it takes to continue being the dominant tool today: it’s free (although it has a premium version), it’s very easy to install, it gives you lots of information about your website, and it’s Google’s.

Screenshot of Google Analytics of Nelio Software
Screenshot of Google Analytics of Nelio Software.

Some of the main features offered by Google Analytics are the following:

  • See in real time how many users visit your website, where they come from, and what pages they are visiting.
  • Know in a specific period of time the users who visited the website, their origin, and how many pages they visited on average.
  • Compare data from a period with the historical data to see if things have improved or not.
  • View aggregated data about your visitors: age, sex, interests, language, location, used browser, device type, etc.
  • Explore the user flow on your website in an aggregated way: what pages they reach, what steps they take, where they leave…
  • Know the origin of the traffic that reaches your website: organic searches, social networks, emails, direct traffic, affiliate links, advertisements…
  • See what terms your visitors search on the web.

In addition to all these aspects, in Google Analytics we can even define specific scenarios that we want to count as objectives achieved on our website. A clear example can be the list of steps a visitor takes when visiting a particular page or when making a purchase. Once we define these objectives we can see the conversion rate of our visitors and the conversion funnel (where they come from, at what rate we’re losing them in each step, and how many end up achieving the objective).

Google Analytics Goals URLs
Screenshot of Google Analytics showing a 155% improvement in two months.

The information provided by Google Analytics is both extensive and useful. The main problem is that, for inexperienced users, it can be overwhelming to deal with this flood of data from the start. And if you want to go further and need to create custom reports, the learning curve is even steeper.

Be as it may, Google Analytics is one of the tools we recommend you install on your website if you haven’t already done so.

#2 Matomo

Did you know that there’s an alternative to Google Analytics where you have full control of the data? It’s called Matomo (it was formerly known as Piwik) and it’s an open source alternative (see the code in GitHub) 🤗

Matomo is a complete web analytics suite made in PHP and MySQL that you download and install on your own web server. At the end of the five-minute installation process you get a JavaScript code—copy and paste this code into the websites you want to track and you’ll be able to access Matomo’s analytics reports in real time.

Matomo aims to be a free software alternative to Google Analytics. It is already used on more than 1,000,000 websites.
Matomo aims to be a free software alternative to Google Analytics. It is already used on more than 1,000,000 websites.

Some of the features that make Matomo a different analytics solution are:

  • Real-time reports: In Matomo, reports are generated in real time by default. For high traffic websites, you can choose how often reports are processed.
  • You own the web analytics data: Matomo is installed on your server, so the data is stored in your own database and you can get all the statistics using the Matomo Analytics API.
  • Matomo is free software and you can configure it to respect the privacy of your visitors.
  • Matomo’s features are built as plugins: you can add new features and remove features you don’t need. You can build your own web analytics plugins or hire a consultant to develop what you need. Like in WordPress.
  • There is an open international community of over 200,000 active users supporting and developing the product.

With this in mind, Matomo is an interesting alternative to Google Analytics for anyone who wants Google’s functionalities, but still own all the analytics data. If you’re one of those who don’t want to be controlled by Google, Matomo’s the tool you need.

#3 Jetpack Site Stats

Jetpack is a plugin that adds several additional modules to WordPress. One of these modules is the web analytics module, which will help you to obtain very simple statistics of your WordPress site. And you don’t have to install any JavaScript code or even mess with HTML to get everything up and running. Simply install the plugin from the official WordPress directory and you’re done.

Jetpack Site Stats allows you to have basic control of your WordPress site analytics.
Jetpack Site Stats allows you to have basic control of your WordPress site analytics.

As you can see from the screenshot above, results are rather simple, but I think they’re more than enough for many WordPress administrators. It’s a good way to get started with analytics if getting into Google Analytics scares you a bit. You’ll see clear and concise numbers about the overall traffic of your website at different time periods, for posts and pages. You also have information about when and where you get the most traffic.

#4 Nelio Content Analytics

If you think the other tools are too complex for you and just want to know which content on your blog works best, I recommend you try Nelio Content‘s analytics.

Here we have focused on developing the simplest analytics page, which will let you know which content has more traffic and therefore is working best. We extract the information from your own Google Analytics account, so you don’t have to go through a complex configuration process.

Nelio Content Analytics Screen
Screenshot of the Analytics offered by Nelio Content.

In addition, the main idea of Nelio Content’s analytics is that they are actionable. Select the post you want from the ranking and with just one click you’ll be able to create a new message to promote it again on social media. It couldn’t be easier!

#5 Hotjar Recordings

Hotjar is a complex but very useful web analytics tool. It has many features, including heatmaps, form analysis and conversion funnels, or surveys, to name a few. One of the best things about Hotjar is that it can record the interactions your visitors make on your website. These recordings include clicks, mouse movement and scrolling within the page, navigating to other pages within your website, and other behaviors.

Hotjar Recordings allows you to see the real behavior of your visitors on your website.
Hotjar Recordings allows you to see the real behavior of your visitors on your website.

It’s a lot of fun to actually see what our visitors are doing. This type of analysis, somewhat different from what you are used to, can be a great help to detect usability problems on your website and improve them.

Give it a try by simply installing Hotjar’s JavaScript code on your website and take a look at the results you get. The personal plan is free and, although limited, can be used to test the product and run your first analysis.

#6 SEMrush

If you’re more concerned about the SEO analytics of your website, one of the tools you should try is SEMrush. SEMrush offers you a lot of information about your competitors’ ad strategies, organic and paid search, and backlinks.

SEMrush analyzes your website and your competitors' from an SEO perspective.
SEMrush analyzes your website and your competitors’ from an SEO perspective.

In addition, SEMrush includes a keyword analyzer that you should use in your content to reach the level of your competition. And if you have no idea who your (online) competitors are, SEMrush will show you a list of websites that are in your niche. Nice!

The paid version of SEMrush might be too expensive if you’re just getting started, but don’t hesitate to check out the free report you can get by simply typing your website’s domain name on SEMrush’s homepage. I’m sure you’ll get ideas with all the information you’ll find there.

Final Remarks

The tool you choose for your analytics should be the one you feel most comfortable with and that will help you measure what you think is important for your business. Whichever one you choose, don’t forget to make decisions based on data and not opinions.

It doesn’t really matter the tool you use, the important thing is that you get real data about the performance of your site so you can see how well you’re doing. Oh! And don’t get obsessed with your results and change everything from one day to the next: look at the trends that the results show and keep in mind that the impact of any changes you apply will take a little time to be reflected in the numbers.

Featured image by Patricia Serna on Unsplash.

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Antonio obtained his PhD in Computer Science at UPC. He has several publications in the field of data mining and information retrieval applied to conceptual modeling and health informatics. He specialized in the design, development, and integration of web services and cloud applications. He's an active contributor to the WordPress community and participates in meetups, seminars and WordCamps.

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