The Basics of Web Analytics for Ecommerce Store Owners

If you run an ecommerce website, you’ve heard that web analytics is important. You know it holds valuable information about your website traffic, sales, and customers.

Maybe you’ve tried it but found it to be too complex. There’s a lot of terms, numbers and graphs—it is hard to make sense of it all. If you’re new to web analytics, we’ll walk you through how to use it, what it can measure, and popular web analytics tools available for ecommerce websites.

What is web analytics? 

Web analytics is the tracking, reporting, and analysis of data generated by users interacting with a website, allowing you to better understand how people use your site. Typically, the web analytics process starts by setting high-level goals, such as increasing revenue by 20% annually. Raw data is collected from users over time, then processed into metrics to gain insights into how users interact with the site. Web analysts focus on key metrics that align with the business’s growth goals, and they develop an online strategy to improve the metrics over a period of time. 

For example, page views is a metric that shows how many times users have visited a web page. You can use web analytics to track the increase or decrease in page views on your site. Armed with the insights provided by the analytics, you might then develop a content strategy to increase page views through search engine optimization (SEO) and paid Instagram ads. After implementing the new strategy, you continue to track page views to determine if your efforts were successful.

What can you measure with web analytics? 

Web analytics can calculate data with great accuracy and utility. Some key metrics include:

  • Page views. Page views indicate the total number of times a page is viewed. It counts every instance a page is loaded, including repeated views by the same visitor. If someone visits your homepage and hits reload, that’s two page views. 
  • Sessions. Sessions refer to the number of times users access a website within a specific timeframe. If one user visits your homepage and then clicks to three other web pages within your site, that counts as one session. If that user returns the next day and does something similar, that counts as a second session. 
  • Bounce rate. Bounce rate represents the percentage of website visitors who leave after viewing only one page. Benchmarks for this number vary between industries and types of content, but in general, you want bounce rate to be as low as possible. Look for your pages with high bounce rates as opportunities to investigate.
  • Time on page. This refers to the amount of time a visitor spends on a specific page before navigating away. Higher time on the page generally means higher interest in the content.
  • New vs. returning. This metric categorizes site visitors based on whether they’re visiting for the first time (new visitors) or have visited before (returning visitors). It helps analyze user acquisition and retention.

While the above metrics apply to most websites, a couple of ecommerce-specific web metrics are worth knowing, too:

  • Conversion rate. Conversion rate is the percentage of visitors who complete a desired action or goal on a website, such as making a purchase, filling out a form, or subscribing to a newsletter. It’s an essential metric for measuring the effectiveness of marketing campaigns.
  • Shopping cart abandonment rate. This measures the percentage of users who add products to their online shopping carts but leave the website without completing the purchase. It can indicate the effectiveness of the checkout process and user experience.
  • Average order value. This represents the average amount of money customers spend in a single transaction. The average order value is calculated by dividing the total revenue generated, by the number of orders received within a specific period.

All of these metrics should be understood within the context of your business, its maturity, market, and overall strategy. For example, page views are often closely scrutinized, but low page views might be acceptable for a business with an extremely high average order value. Benchmark your metrics accordingly. 

How to use web analytics

When you have a straightforward question—like “Where did all that traffic come from?” or “Should I put more money into LinkedIn ads?”—web analytics tools and website statistics can provide clear strategic guidance. It’s best to go in with a goal. Here are a few to consider: 

  • Study your site’s visitors. Web analytics tools provide data about your users’ geographic location, browser and device, and even high-level demographic information, like gender and age. You can use this to better understand your users’ cultural context and web usage and refine marketing materials accordingly. 
  • Analyze your website’s conversions. Many website analytics tools go beyond conversion rates by providing the exact click stream—the series of pages and clicks—that leads to a successful conversion. Leveraging these insights can help refine your digital marketing funnel by isolating the most successful path to purchase. 
  • Boost your site’s SEO. Search engine optimization (SEO)—improving website visibility in search results—provides a way to increase web traffic. Web analytics tools can indicate what search queries bring people to your site. Analyzing top-performing content can show what your users are most interested in. 
  • Pinpoint your referral sources. If you notice a significant increase in traffic month-over-month, web analytics can help you find where it’s coming from. Referral sources can help you get to the bottom of it. Maybe a blog post went viral on Reddit or Twitter, a paid campaign proved remarkably successful, or SEO efforts generated a first-page result on a key search term. Knowing what’s working can inform and solidify future content strategy plans. 

5 web analytics tools

Web analytics tools track visitors by assigning a unique identifier to each visitor’s web browser. This tracking code, called a cookie, allows it to recognize returning visitors, follow their browsing behavior across different pages, and generate metrics like page views, session duration, and conversion rates. There are numerous tools that do this, but here are a few popular options:

  • Google Analytics: This is one of the most popular web analytics tools because it’s straightforward, free, and produced by the same company that dominates organic search. Google Analytics 4, the platform’s newest iteration, focuses more heavily on conversions.
  • Adobe Analytics: This tool is comprehensive and in-depth. Its suite of advanced metrics and reporting options are ideal for companies leaping to enterprise solutions or with a keen interest in website data. 
  • Shopify Analytics: Analytics and dashboards are built into Shopify stores, with easy to source reports on customer acquisition and behavior. You can also review marketing tactics, along with site inventory, orders, sales and revenue.
  • Hotjar: Hotjar specializes in analyzing user behavior through heat maps (visual representations of activity on a page), session recordings (which allow you to watch users navigate the site), and user feedback (simple pop-up surveys). 
  • Kissmetrics: This tool focuses on customer analytics and retention. It is best for tracking individual people and their actions across sessions, surfacing more data on unique behavior.
  • Mixpanel: Mixpanel allows ecommerce sites to track specific user actions, such as adding items to the cart or completing a purchase. 

It’s worth noting that many users delete cookies or use privacy enhancements that prevent cookies from working correctly, so no web analytics tool is 100% accurate. For the best results, pair the raw quantitative data from the above tools with qualitative data from website surveys, user testing, and customer service reports. 

Wrapping Up:

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