If it’s not worth measuring, it’s not worth doing.
In any business, tracking statistics and interpreting the data in order to make good choices can be said to be one of the most pivotal reasons why the business will succeed or fail.
Businesses from big to small regularly take diligent spread sheets, tracking sales, stock, upcoming orders, expenses, and much more, so that they can successfully see where their business is headed and what changes they mind need to implement.
But why should an online business care about tracking so many numbers? And more importantly, what should an online business or blog be tracking? With your website, your sales, the most important thing to track is performance.
The result of your online businesses’ success is always due to combination of many ideas & efforts, and the successful “coming together” of multiple marketing strategies and different traffic sources.
Your business may be flying high at the moment, but where is it going? How did it get there? Ask yourself questions about your own business as if you were your own investor (and you really are), could you answer these questions?
To really get a grasp in truly learning what’s working for your site, a good analytics system will be your bread and butter. They don’t give you aggregate data or “could be” data, but rather exactly what is happening on your sits: separating out what is working from what is not.
Without a good analytics system, your web business is flying blind.
The Top 10 Web Analytic Tools
So let’s dig into this list, compiled by yours truly, in no specific order.
1. Google Analytics
The analytic tool that most people start with, and for good reason: it’s not a bad tool at all, it gives relevant information, and it’s free!
I’d like to add a disclaimer here that I would not recommend this tool for affiliate sites, and I would only use it for blogs or authority sites. Why? Maybe I’m totally wrong, but to me, Big G doesn’t like sites looking to only make affiliate sales, and you are pretty much handing over the info about your site to them by using this tool.
That disclaimer aside, this is the go to starter tool for measuring data on your site, and if you are not at least running this on your site, you definitely should be, and I would recommend running it in cohesion with Google Webmaster Tools.
Google Analytics also has a lot of great features that I feel like most people don’t take the time to use effectively. The KISSmetrics blog (ironically, as they are a competing brand mentioned below) actually has two great posts on utilizing Google Analytics to its maximum potential.
One is about 50 resources for getting to know the ins and outs of Google Analytics, and another is about 9 awesome techniques that you can use while utilizing this entirely free tool.
All in all a great pick for any website, but especially for people just getting into analytics, and you can’t beat the price!
While these aren’t in any specific order, I did have to put this one near the top, as it is, bar none, my favorite analytic tool out there, and the one that I most consistently use (and currently use right now).
Clicky Analytics (located at GetClicky.com) has been making waves in the analytics biz since it was released, and is often (as it was for me) the first tool that users migrate over to from Google Analytics.
The key difference here is in the delay of Google Analytics: you get information for the day before where as the information from Clicky is in real time, which can be essential if you get spike in visitors from some outside source (think the traffic flow from StumbleUpon and other sites).
All in all, if you want an overall analytics package which offers access o real time data, I can’t recommend another choice over Clicky at the moment, but don’t let it stop you from reading the rest of the list, as this is just my personal favorite.
Mint Analytics is one of my favorite new analytics tools, and it comes at a great price, since it is the only tool on the list that you only have to pay once for.
Located at HaveAMint.com, Mint charges an upfront fee of $30 per site, but with no recurring costs afterwards. This definitely beats out other tools that even charge a low monthly rate, if you plan on sticking with Mint, because the long term cost would add up to over $30 after only a year.
Not only does it have this great price incentive, the actual product is excellent, it comes with a really fresh (yes… pun intended) layout, with clean and easy to understand charts that display the info that you need to know.
Mint is largely comparable to the other overall analytic tools on this list that cover a bit of a premium price, but is the only one that features a upfront cost with no recurring fees.
4. Church Analytics
Created by one of the original developers of the Standard Theme Framework (which I use on my blog at Sophistefunk.com), this analytics tool has one of the most beautiful interfaces that I’ve seen.
Priding itself on providing the information you really need without the vanity data that won’t help your site, Church Analytics is a relatively new competitor on the scene, but from what I’ve seen when I was using on my music blog, it is definitely a solid system built by people who know what they are doing.
I like that the navigation (in the dashboard) is really easy to follow, it is important for a new analytics system to be easy to use, as those who might be willing to try it out need to be won over quickly, given the numerous great options out there.
One of my favorite analytics systems, and also one of my favorite company blogs, KISSmetrics is started by a couple of bright guys, one of whom’s blog I enjoy which you’ve might heard of, called QuickSprout.
Not getting off topic, KISSmetrics offers a great system for getting to know your visitors, although I would place it more in line for online commerce businesses over blogs.
Not to say that it cannot be used for blogs, especially blogs that have products to offer, and it is especially great to use in conjunction with KISSinisghts, but the tools that it has in place are definitely made for commerce sites, and I would recommend them over other tools for those sites above all else.
6. Open Web Analytics
Open Web Analytics focuses on the simplicity of their tool and the open source nature of it as well. From their own site:
Open Web Analytics (OWA) is open source web analytics software that you can use to track and analyze how people use your web sites and applications.
If you are looking for something free, something effective, and enjoy working with open source software, Open Web Analytics is the way to go.
It is easily comparable to Google Analytics, but again, if you like to use open source projects, this is one of the best serious alternatives.
If you really want to know how your customers are interacting with your site, you can literally view exactly what interactions they’ve had with your site by using Clicktale.
With this tool, you can see what your viewers did while on your site, visualizing their interactions with your on page content, to see if there are any parts of your site that really draw attention, or parts that get totally ignored.
One great use of Clicktale that I saw came from the DIYThemes blog, where Derek (of SocialTriggers) saw that people were putting their mouse by his “Resources” images, but wouldn’t interact with them.
This information made him realize (with customer feedback) that people were ignoring his resource pages because they looked like ads.
If you want this kind of insight into how your viewers on interacting with your page, then you definitely need to try out Clicktale.
CrazyEgg is another company from Neil Patel (current KISSmetrics co-owner) and offers a lot of visual ways to see how people are navigating on your site.
This tool offers a few “maps” from which you can choose to see how you visitors are browsing:
- Heatmap: A picture of where people clicked on your site. This lets you see what’s hot and what’s not, so you can make changes that increase conversions.
- Scrollmap: The scollmap shows how far down the page people are scrolling and helps determine where visitors abandon the page.
- Confetti: With confetti, you will be able to distinguish all the clicks you get on your site segmented by referral sources, search terms, and more.
- Overlay: When you look at the Overlay report, you will be able to see the number of clicks on each element of your page.
One of the few great ways to get a visual representation of the all important clicks on your site.
Piwik is another great example of a company providing a solid, free web analytics tool that is also open source, much like Open Web Analytics like we discussed above.
Piwik touts itself as being another open source option to Google Analytics, and from what I’ve seen, it provides a similar dataset, so you can say that it is comparable to Google Analytics, with the emphasis on the open source nature of the project.
The new service that I’ve come across known as CloudFlare is somewhat of an anomaly on this list, but from what I’ve tried of the service, I really like it.
The reason that I say it is somewhat different is because it places emphasis on the security and CDN services it can provide, as a complement to the analytics set.
It seems to be an overall strong addition to any site, even the free package, as it promotes itself as a product that scans sites for security, utilizes technology to improve site speed, and gives you an insight on your visitors with analytics.
I can’t say the analytics are totally different from some of the more established sites discussed above, but I’m impressed with the overall package of CloudFlare, and wanted to include it here for you to check out. The site is currently in beta, so try it, and if doesn’t work for you, move on.
It is important for you to keep track of your site and your traffic.
If you plan on turning your website into a business, you should be treating it as such, and no self-respecting businessman (or woman) would let the important stastics about their business no unnoticed, and for web businesses, understanding your traffic and thus your visitors themselves is key.
So find a good analytics tool from one of the above (or even another), try it out, measure your success with the information provided, change and tweak if needed, and keep your site moving in the right direction.