5 essential Website analytics – if you build it, they must come

Let’s take a look at a derivation of an old line now immortalized in popular lexicon: “If you build it, he will come.”

Those seven words, said by a disembodied voice, gave actor Kevin Costner inspiration to build a baseball field in the middle of his cornfield in the 1989 movie, Field of Dreams. Everyone thought he was crazy. When the field was completed, ghost baseball players came out of the corn fields and played ball. Thousands of people came from miles away to see the games. Eventually Costner’s dad (who was dead) came out and played and there was an emotional moment when Costner found closure.

Baseball legends emerge from a cornfield in scene from Field of Dreams.

Baseball legends emerge from a cornfield in scene from Field of Dreams.

It was all just the stuff of motion pictures. Pure fantasy. Yet, I have heard the words expressed all too often in business meetings, particular when the subject comes to how to enhance awareness online: “Let’s just build another website, and they will come.” Sorry but just another fantasy.

  • A client in the food service business needed a special website to promote holiday specials. The ad agency insisted on a flash technology site, ignoring warnings that flash does not appear on Apple iPads and iPhones. Result was a website that attracted minuscule attention yet cost more than $100,000 for custom development. Ad agencies love doing such things.
  • A college receives a generous grant for a news-oriented website to bring alive the exciting educational opportunities. A site is built on WordPress for practically nothing, filled with amateurishly written stories and ignored for two years. It attracts no visitors. Someone pockets a bundle.
  • A consulting firm, thinking a new website will change its whole image, invests a fortune in proprietary software sold by a provider with big promises. Buying proprietary website software these days is like buying concrete boots. You are always slave to someone selling proprietary software, and it usually fails to connect with search engines and social media. As I have written before, this is why companies from Lockheed Martin to the Wall Street Journal are using WordPress.org, open source software.

In such cases, I believe we are going to see more accountability. I hope so. If valuable resources are invested in a website, there must be results.

Websites are all about purpose and, especially, audience. As Ted Leonsis, co-founder of AOL, is fond of saying, “Being online is all about attracting eye-balls.” No audience, no attention, no results. Eye-balls are what counts.

In an online-driven world filled with more than 625 million websites, your site … my site … must have smart positioning or be lost among the corn stalks.

This leads me to sharing a few tests – free and easy to use – for determining whether your website is competitive and in the spotlight … or, just standing in the shadows:

  1. Alexa.com – free and a service owned by Amazon.com, Alexa.com instantly gives a comparative snapshot of site ranking versus all the other websites on the Internet. There are two numbers – global and host country. Here’s a rule of thumb – if global ranking is 1.5-million or more, the site pretty much has no meaningful traffic. On the other hand, if global ranking is about 200,000 and U.S. ranking is within the top 100,000, then you are headed the right direction.
  2. Compete.com – free to try a time or two, Compete.com shows actual audience numbers over a period of time.
  3. Google Analytics – another free tool to see traffic trends at specific days and times. Google Analytics also shows the length of time visitors spend on a site and what country they are in. Again, however, these are general results which are helpful when reviewed with Alexa and Compete.
  4. Woopra.com – one of the best real-time apps I’ve found for tracking site visitors, what is attracting them, and how long they linger. Woopra gives granular details including city and IP address of visitors.
  5. Tools.pingdom.com – websites that load quickly attract audiences and prominence. Tools.pingdom.com is free and measures how fast your site loads. If the time is more than 5 or 6 seconds, you have a problem … it’s too slow.

I recommend using all five website analytic tools together. No single one will give a clear or accurate picture but these five will let you know whether your online investment is effective or not … whether anyone’s paying attention or whether a website is just a vacant lot.