I’m going to write about Google Analytics today. This is not in the nature of an apology, since all the MyZippers use GA, and at least two of my readers have expressed an interest in the topic (way more than have expressed any interest in my views on most of the things I tell you about), but it is a warning. This way, if you don’t want to know about GA, you can leave now and find someone who is talking about something less geeky.

Before you leave, though, I know that you want to know that M. Bassoon advanced to the semifinals in his audition with the Philharmonic. I believe this means that they pour Gatorade over his head and carry him around the hall on their shoulders.

Anyway, on to Google Analytics. GA, from now on. This is a very fancy kind of sitemeter. If you look at your xanga footprints or other sitemeter and your GA numbers, you will find that they don’t match. That doesn’t matter. What GA offers you is way more data, with the numbers crunched for you, and you can track it over time. So if it matters to you for some reason to know who goes to your site, you should have GA there.

Why would it matter? Well, if you have a monetized site of some kind, like you sell stuff (so I have it on the store website) or you are paid for your site for some other reason and want to do a good job (so we have it on our MyZip sites), or even if you just get a kick out of having a popular site for entirely personal reasons, then you should have GA.

You get it by putting a piece of code — a string of letters and numbers — onto the site. This is important, because it means that you can’t get GA for other people’s sites. If you do not have the power to put that string on your page, then you can’t see the data, and that is as it should be. I have a xanga that is paid, so I put GA on that xanga. For the store, I had to send the code to the webmaster and ask that they insert it, but I had the authority to do that, so I can look at the data for the store. For our MyZip sites, we get reports of the information our bosses want us to look at, but we can’t go look for ourselves.

Okay, now we know what it is. What kind of information does it give us?  Lots of things, but let’s start with two big categories: visitors and traffic sources.

My MyZip reports tell me how many people come to visit that site every week. Now, you can just look at it and say, “Cool! 62 people came to see me!” but there is more information there. For one thing, you can see whether your traffic is increasing over time. I’ve had a couple of spikes — one in my second week, when I told people about it, and another when I was on the front page. Being on the front page was fun, and having more visitors was pleasant, but actually, that will have been other MyZip bloggers coming to visit. Friendly, but not related to the purpose of the site. What I want is local traffic actually looking for information. So I can ignore that spike and see that I have a slight increase in traffic each week. That is good  news.

The earlier spike, the one where I told people about the site? I shouldn’t ignore that one. It tells me that I ought to be telling people about the site.

The GA for the store shows that the traffic increases steadily — good news — but it also shows that we get dips when there are school holidays and during Spring Break. Makes sense. That means that — if the site were not being closed — we would be wise to email our customers before those times, run specials, or plan to spend those times dusting the shelves.

Our MyZip reports also tell us if our visitors are new or returning. Most of mine are returning. My paid xanga has mostly new visitors — that’s probably because people who read it regularly subscribe. I get lots of new subscribers and lots of people reading it on RSS feeds, but the largest number of visitors shown by the GA are new people coming from search engines. This is good, given the purpose of that site. But for the MyZip site, I want people coming back often to read it. The store has about 2/3 returning and 1/3 new visitors. This is a good thing for a store. You want new people coming in, but repeat customers are more valuable than new ones. If you don’t have many returning visitors, then your content is probably not as good as it should be.

GA will also tell you where your readers are coming from. My paid xanga has had visitors from 93 countries this year, which is kind of cool, but I am glad to see that the store has a high proportion of local traffic. This means that it was doing its job of sending people to the physical store, and not getting us too many overseas orders, which the folks who did the shipping really hated.

Since I want my traffic to increase (basically, you always want your traffic to increase), I also want to look at the traffic sources. GA will tell you something like “All traffic sources sent 4,860 visits via 36 sources and mediums.” Another of the sites I monitor has “3,662 visits via 98 sources and mediums.” Sources and mediums are things like sites that link to yours, search engines, and people emailing the link to somebody.

At my MyZip site, I see that I get traffic from directories I have submitted my site to, and from people emailing links, and from search engines like Google and Yahoo. At the store, I can see that hardly anybody comes from the vendor sites — that is, not many people go to the website for a publisher and then come to our store from the stores list. So, although I certainly want those links, I am not getting much traffic from them, and won’t make them a big part of my marketing strategy.

I can also see the “keywords” they used to find my MyZip site: that is, the things they typed in at Google or wherever. Since this is a new little site, I can look through all the keywords easily. I don’t have too many visitors for that (yet). I see that some of the people who visit are lost — that is, they are looking for information about a town with the same name, but in another state. I could help filter those guys out by including the name of my state in my posts, or by linking my site in places that are just about my state. If I could look at the GA for my MyZip site, I could also see where the people are coming from. I would want it to be mostly people from here, but if I saw that many of the visitors were from other places, I would know that I should include more tourist information, or interesting things for armchair travelers.

I can also see that a lot of the visitors who found me with search engines were looking for outdoor stuff like hiking and climbing, so I know that I should keep doing posts like that. At the store website, I can see that the visitors are either looking for the store in particular, or for specific things they want to buy. Sure, we have the occasional person looking for “hot teachers,” but there is an overall clear pattern in the keywords. This gives me useful information for my marketing ventures. There are so many visitors, though, and so many keywords, that I can’t see that pattern by just looking (or I could, I guess, but I don’t have that kind of tolerance for boredom). GA calculates it for me and shows me the most common stuff at the top of the list.

This is a very small taste of what GA does. If you are just starting out with it, it makes sense to look at a couple of factors at a time, and then to branch out once you have a handle on those. GA allows you to see whether your site is behaving the way you want it to, and gives you information that will allow you to improve your results.

Now you know.