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Screen grab from Google Analytics
Screen grab from Google Analytics

Start: Mark Evans

Driving blind online? Here's a solution Add to ...

There may be no such thing as a free lunch but there are plenty of free online services that companies can use to efficiently operate their businesses.

For companies with a website – and who doesn't have a website these days? – one of the most valuable and useful tools is Google Analytics. In a nutshell, it is a free, powerful tool that provides information about who's visiting your site, how they got there, and what they do after they arrive.

Any business interested in learning more about how existing customers and potential customers behave, and the kinds of things they are interested in, Google Analytics is a no-brainer, especially because it's free.

Amy Chang, group product manager for Google Analytics with Google Inc., says the biggest reason to use it is that it helps companies make their Web sites more effective because they can be optimized based on what people do when they visit. If, for example, Google Analytics shows customers are visiting a Contact Us page, and then leaving the website, then something needs to be changed on that page to make them stick around.

“I have yet to meet a start-up that isn't using it,” Ms. Chang says. “Basically, you are driving blind if you aren't using Google Analytics. You don't know where people are coming from, what they're doing, and what you need to do to architect your site to make them do [what you want]”

Getting started is easy. Sign up for a Google account or use your existing username and password to create a Google Analytics account. You then have to insert a tiny piece of Javascript code on your Web site, which will let the service track the activity of people visiting it. To see the amount of traffic and the activity on the site, Google Analytics has a user-friendly dashboard. The service can be customized to measure different objectives, such as how many visitors purchase a product or click on a particular link.

Ms. Chang says three of the more popular features within Google Analytics include:

The bounce rate: Measures how many people came to your website and then immediately left. The higher the bounce rate, the more it suggests people couldn't find the information they wanted, or didn't find the site appealing.

Time on the site: The longer someone sticks around, the more likely they will do what a company wants – be it get enough information to make a phone call or purchase a product or service.

Geography: Google Analytics provides a breakdown of the countries people are coming from and the language they're using. Ms. Chang says Buena Musica, a website that sells Mexican music, started to see a spike in sales. After drilling down into Google Analytics, it discovered that a lot of business was coming from Venezuela. As a result, Buena Musica started to do more marketing to Venezuelan consumers, and expanded its business.

Ms. Chang says Google Analytics continues to be improved. A new feature is Google Intelligence, which provides a quick snapshot of the most important information in a short period of time.

Part two on Your Business: A look at companies using Analytics.

Special to the Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting, a content and social media strategic and tactical consultancy that creates and delivers ‘stories' for companies looking to capture the attention of customers, bloggers, the media, business partners, employees and investors. Mark has worked with three start-ups – Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye – so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshUniversity and meshmarketing conferences .

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