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Website traffic: Don’t drive with your eyes closed

Running a successful website is much about making the right choices incrementally until you build up a powerful advantage. To make informed decisions you need the right information.

There are quite a few options out there that are either free or low cost that give you a details about your website’s traffic. The best of the free options is clearly Google Analytics, as long as you aren’t too queasy about the Gevil getting it’s claws into your most intimate data.

We’ve already given the Google Devil access to our email, so…

… let’s take the plunge and go Google. The advantages of Google’s Analytics are:

  • Easy setup with little time fretting about it – it just works.
  • Doesn’t place a load on your server, which is big bonus in a shared server environment as more and more web hosting companies monitor processing time.
  • Can interface with Google AdWords very closely – if you use AdWords to promote your website this is a very valuable feature.
  • Has a configurable dashboard so that you can get the stats that you care about right there on the opening page.

Google Analytics isn’t quite real time – there is a lag in when your data is reported, unlike in a server-side application such as Mint. Mint only costs a onetime fee of $30 per website and may be more appropriate if you need full, up to the minute statistics.

However with Mint, you do have a bit more to worry about as it all runs on your web server which involves a significant amount of additional processing on every single webpage request. You can read a great back and forth story of David Seah’s experiences making Mint work and keeping his web host happy.

Getting Google Analytics working with WordPress

After signing up for Google Analytics, you get a little piece of tracking code. This tracking code needs to make its way into WordPress. One way of doing this is to open up your WordPress theme in the Theme Editor and simply paste the code right before the closing body tag on all the templates that have one.

A much more powerful option is to use a plugin for Google Analytics like Google Analyticator. While there are many plugins out there that work with Google Analytics, this one has a number of advantages that help to separate it from the pack:

  • It can make it so that you can track outbound links in your reports as well as your page views. This helps give you an idea of what your visitors really like.
  • It doesn’t track visits to the website from you or your administrators, as long as they are logged into WordPress. This is important as you want your data as pure as possible.
  • It helps your website load faster by placing the tracking code in your WordPress footer as long as your theme designer has properly coded their theme. Most plugins simply place it in the header to avoid complications due to poorly architected themes.

Once you are all setup with Google Analytics and have configured your plugin you are going to want to spend some time looking through all of the options you have in Google Analytics to review your data and “pinning” the ones that are most relevant to you to the website Dashboard so that you can keep things efficient.

Most webmasters and bloggers get a bit addicted to statistics at some point. Putting the things you care about on the Dashboard saves lots of clicking and at least makes this addiction a little more manageable. A minute or two saved every day adds up to more free time and more money in the long run.

One Comment

  1. luq - March 15, 2008 - 10:36 pm

    great article…was wondering how to exclude our own traffic in a simpler way,,generaly you’ll need to setup a static ip and filter it in the analytics settings..