Today, making it in the eCommerce world is both easier and harder than ever before: easier because the barrier to entry has been lowered so much by convenient software and online resources, and harder because that ease of entry breeds competition. You’re not just going up against a few competitors — you’re going up against hundreds of comparable sites.
Because of this, if you’ve already got a store running (and you’re eager to not only stay in the game but actually start to get ahead of your rivals), you need to be optimizing every facet of your operation. Driving traffic, winning visitors over, and converting at every opportunity.
This optimization demands careful tracking, which is where analytics come in. eCommerce analytics record everything from which times of day are most profitable for you to how long visitors spend on each product page. If you’re not paying close attention to your analytics, then you’re leaving money on the table.
If you’re aware of this, but not entirely sure where to start, you may need a general primer on the topic. That’s what we’ll provide here. Here are the basics of e-commerce analytics that every online merchant needs to know:
They’re not always tracked by default
While it can be manually added to the source code easily enough, every decent online sales platform has native support for Google Analytics, typically in the form of a default field for adding a Google Analytics ID tag (or a free plugin that does the same thing). But having a CMS account doesn’t automatically give you a GA account: you need to create that separately and get the ID tag you need to start tracking analytics.
Now, sometimes Google Analytics is tracked by default and provided for you through an internal dashboard, allowing you to skip the previous step. The problem with this route is that every implementation is different, using a distinct dashboard design with a unique set of features, and there’s no guarantee that it will meet your needs. It also means that you’ll stand to lose access to that data if you ever decide to migrate to a new platform.
If you created your store manually, then you’ll know if you ever configured GA — if not, and you’re unaware of having access, then consult the developer you used. If you haven’t been tracking so far, then you’ve been allowing valuable information to go abandoned. The more information you can store, the better, so ensure that you’re gathering it from now on.
You need to pick your battles
The ideal scenario for an online seller is raising performance across the board: more sales, more interest, more visits, longer stays, etc. Unfortunately, there are only so many hours in the day you can spend on marketing, making it akin to a game of Whac-a-Mole — make one thing better, and another will get worse through neglect. It’s all about choosing your priorities carefully.
When doing this, consider that the greatest value is in sustainable performance, something that is generated through slow, iterative improvement as opposed to short-term gimmicks. If you can only put time into either PPC or organic SEO, for instance, choose SEO. You can see the volatility of PPC by checking out an online store marketplace: the wild fluctuations in revenue that you see there stem from stores relying on ads to drive traffic. Search engine traffic, though, is fairly predictable and doesn’t require active investment.
And when you look at all the pages on your site, don’t get hung up on side pages that are doing very poorly. You could make such a page 100% better and get little out of it, or you could make your homepage just 5% better and see a huge improvement. Invest your time, money and effort as wisely as you can.
Metrics only matter within context
The first time someone looks at a store’s performance analytics, they can easily become overwhelmed by the sheer weight of data on offer. Countless stats, figures, charts, and graphs, all presented in grand style through a comprehensive dashboard.
To the uninitiated, it can feel like coming across a goldmine of actionable points — bounce rate quite high? Lowering it will help. Certain pages not getting much traffic? A little promotion will sort that out. Unfortunately, that’s not how the process works, because metrics only have significance when placed in context.
I’ll give you an example: I mentioned bounce rate, which gauges how many store visitors view only one page before leaving. Having a high bounce rate is typically considered a negative sign, because you want people to browse several pages (including the checkout and order confirmation pages, naturally). But it isn’t always a big problem.
For instance, you might have informational pages that are purely intended to help visitors while promoting your brand and website. If someone has a question, visits your site, gets the answer, and leaves, that’s not an issue for you — that’s a success. It’s only a problem if you didn’t give them opportunities to view other things while there.
In short, then, don’t make the mistake of thinking that every number is cause for celebration or despair. Plenty of metrics just don’t mean much, and you don’t have the time to obsess over the most minor things. Pore through the data available to find the metrics that matter, then give them the context they need to be meaningful — that’s how you’ll get ahead.
You’re not going to become an analytics expert overnight. It takes a long time and a lot of experimentation to learn what does (and what doesn’t) work for your store in particular. Ensure that you’re collecting all the data correctly, and don’t get so distracted by the range of metrics on offer that you start putting effort towards things that don’t matter. That will get you off to a good start — the rest is up to you.