Clare Associates - Blog

Why even small businesses should be using Analytics

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IBM is currently running an expensive advertising campaign all about ‘Big Data’ and ‘Analytics’. Here’s one of the adverts. You’ve probably seen it.

IBM’s campaign is obviously aimed at big businesses and big public sector organisations, because that’s who IBM’s customers are. But small firms can and should be using these techniques to make more informed business decisions. And doing so really doesn’t have to be expensive (at least not if you ask us to help!)

Let’s go on the pretty safe assumption that you have a website. How many people visited it last month? Ah, you can tell me that because you have a hits counter installed. OK. Now how many of those people were native German speakers?

Why is the number of native German speakers important? Well, it might not be. But what if 10% of your site visitors are native German speakers and your site doesn’t have a German language option? Your site – and by extension, your business – won’t be as attractive to those people as the German language version of your competitors’ site.

We’ve actually seen this first hand with some of our clients. We have a number of clients who provide holiday accommodation in Devon and Cornwall. You might not realise this, but this area is very popular with German-speaking tourists. (Why? Well obviously, the beauty of the scenery yada yada yada, but specifically because of a very long-running, very successful German television series based on the works of the Cornish author Rosamunde Pilcher, most of which are set and filmed in the southwest.) We did some web analytics work on one of these clients (the one with the properly translated German language version of their website), and noticed not only that they were getting much better results from their German language visitors than similar businesses, but that the reason for this was that the presence of the German language website.

 

This sort of analysis is pretty easy to do using Google Analytics, a free service from Google. This sort of powerful analysis tool used to be really expensive, putting it out of the reach of SMEs, until Google acquired Urchin Software in 2005 and developed Analytics from the old (and expensive) ‘Urchin on Demand’ and offered it for free. So you don’t have to spend money on expensive Analytics software.

Analytics

 

Analytics CertificateSetting up Analytics is a little bit tricky, and you might want some help with this. You could train yourself – Google’s course is free and will take you a few days to complete, although it’s not easy. Don’t think that you’ll be able to do it when you have the odd spare half hour – you’ll really need to concentrate and set aside the time. You might prefer to ask a qualified professional to set up Analytics for you. The relevant professional qualification you should be looking for is the ‘Google Analytics Individual Qualification’. Here’s my proof of qualification on Google’s site.

 

The Analytics qualification isn’t just about setting up Google Analytics. It’s also about understanding the data presented and reaching appropriate business conclusions. That means that the qualification is more appropriate for business managers and marketing professionals than it is for IT geeks. Unfortunately, the coding required in setting up Analytics is somewhat intimidating for the average non-geek. That may be why there aren’t actually that many qualified Analytics professionals out there.

If you can get past the geekery, many of you business owners and managers would be able to say that actually, you’re pretty good at “understanding data and reaching appropriate business conclusions”. But qualified professionals, because they have more experience with data analysis, and because they have more experience with other websites, can often spot something that you might miss.

Here are some examples of the sort of things that we would probably spot using Analytics that you might not have thought of:

  • What were people searching for in Google to arrive at your site?
  • Your website gets lots of visitors, but they don’t stay very long – they instantly decide that this isn’t what they are looking for. Why?
  • Your visitors do generally stay for a while on your site, just not on a particular page – what is it about that page that makes users instantly click onto something else?
  • Your visitors stay a long time on the homepage and often don’t click through to the page that explains about your products – how obvious is that link?

Visitor Flow

  • Your pay-per-click advertising is getting you lots of visits, but most of them are from people who weren’t looking for what you sell. (True story: we once had a client come to us for help with their Google AdWords campaign. They were spending a lot of money on clicks, but these weren’t converting into sales. We were able to show them that because of the way their AdWords campaign was set up, their ads were appearing to people searching for any term including the phrase “special offers”. Most of their visitors were actually people who had searched for “lidl special offers” or “aldi special offers”. Our client wasn’t selling anything you could buy in discount supermarkets!)
  • While your website performs well for people using normal PCs and Macs (people stay for a while, look at several pages, buy your products etc), this is not the case for people using smartphones – quite probably your website is difficult to read on a small smartphone screen. (In which case, you need to talk to us about a responsive design website…)

Mobile device info

  • You’re spending lots of money to have your business appear in a prestigious online directory, but only a handful of visitors come to your website having clicked on your link in that directory.
  • You have an online shop with a typical multi-step checkout process, but a surprisingly high percentage of customers put goods in their basket yet never complete the transaction – what is putting them off? Or worse, is there a bug in your website’s shop that is throwing them out? Were all of these incomplete transactions on a particular type of device – e.g. Android smartphones? That’s a very easy way to lose a lot of sales very quickly, and without analytics, you would probably never even find out.
  • Which links on each page do people tend to click on? Which do they ignore? Why?
  • Many more people visit your site in the evening than during the working day, and those people are more likely to complete a purchase – maybe your product is something that people want to think about when they’re at home rather than when they are at work. If you have pay per click advertising, that might prompt you to bid more for clicks in the evening than during office hours. We can help you set up your campaigns like that.
  • You have a blog or a facebook page or a twitter account, but do you know how many people are signing up from your website?
  • Many of the visits to certain pages of your site are from your own employees or your web designers – if you didn’t realise this, you may reach the wrong conclusion about how popular those pages are. (Don’t worry, we can filter out those visitors.)
  • Visitors using a particular web browser don’t stay around – could it be that your website isn’t properly compatible with that web browser? Many web designers (even supposedly respectable ones) do not properly test sites they develop on other browsers, and not all browsers see websites in the same way.
  • Do most of your online sales come from organic searches, people who just typed your web address into their browser, your pay per click campaign, your directory listings or your email marketing campaigns? Analytics can track not just visits from these sources, but how many of those visits turn into sales. You need that information to decide where to spend your marketing budget.
  • A surprising number of your visitors come from one particular foreign country – are they genuine potential customers? (They might not be, but spotting the signs is something of an art…)
  • If you have a site search, what do your visitors type into your search bar?
  • Your site takes a while to load – you maybe don’t notice this because your internet connection at work is superfast, but sites that are slow to load get punished by Google. How? Lower ranking in search results, that’s how! And of course, if users get bored waiting for your site to load, some of them won’t wait. Analytics can even tell you how to speed up your website.

Site speed suggestions

That’s a big list, but it’s really only a tiny fraction of what Analytics and a clever Analytics professional could tell you about your website and your business. And it really isn’t expensive. Give me a call on 01822 835802.

Accounting for VAT on Google AdWords

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Something that my AdWords clients sometimes ask me is “How do we deal with VAT on Google AdWords?”. They know I know about AdWords and they assume that because I’m a chartered accountant, I’ll know all about VAT. I have to gently tell them that my accountancy specialism was audit methodology, not indirect taxes. However, I do know how to account for VAT on your Google AdWords expenditure.

adwords_certified_partner_web_EN-GB icaew_member_logo_RGB_smaller

 

 

 

 

It’s not as straightforward as it might be. Here’s what you have to do…

The Google company that invoices you is Google Ireland Ltd, based in the Republic of Ireland. This is important. AdWords is an electronic service, which means that for VAT purposes, the ‘place of supply’ is deemed to be the country in which the customer is based. So if you are VAT-registered, you have to account for VAT using the ‘Reverse Charge System’.

Under the Reverse Charge System, you are effectively both customer and supplier. (If you’re thinking “Huh?”, then bear with me, you’re not alone.) Assuming you are based in the UK, you pay VAT at UK rates. If (and only if) you gave Google your VAT registration number when you set up your billing profile, then Google won’t be adding VAT to your bills. (To check if Google has your VAT number, go into AdWords, click on the ‘Billing’ button, then select ‘Billing profile’. You have to fill out an online form with Google to get this status changed.)

 

“So if Google isn’t adding VAT to my bill, who is?”

You are. Or at least, you should be.

 

“How?”

Let’s assume that Google has just billed you £50. This £50 does not include any VAT yet, so you’ll have to work that out. At the time of writing, the UK VAT rate is 20%. 20% of £50 is £10. When you come to do your VAT return, add the £10 to Box 1 of your VAT return. (I’ve seen some people – including some accountants – suggesting that this should go in Box 2, not Box 1, but Box 2 is for goods, not services. The HMRC website says that Box 2 is for “goods that you buy from other EU countries, and any services directly related to those goods (such as delivery charges)”. AdWords doesn’t seem to fit that description, so you need to use Box 1.)

 

You’re not finished though. You also need to add the £10 to Box 4 of the VAT return as input tax. The clever among you will realise that this means that your VAT payable to HMRC has not changed. You’re absolutely right. Finally, don’t forget to add the £50 net invoice to both Box 6 (net sales) and Box 7 (net purchases).

 

“Isn’t that going to be really awkward in my accounting software?”

Quite possibly. Unlucky…

 

 

“What if I’m not VAT-registered?”

Ah, now that’s a little different. The Reverse Charge System does not apply if you aren’t VAT-registered. You need to make sure you’ve told Google that you are a business (again, check your Billing Profile in AdWords). If you haven’t, you won’t be able to change this yourself – you’ll need to contact Google directly to get your business status changed. Google won’t charge VAT on bills to non-Irish businesses. The only thing you need to worry about as far as VAT is concerned is that you need to add the value of the AdWords expense to your turnover when determining whether you must register for VAT.

 

“What if I’m not a business?”

That’s different again. If your AdWords expenditure isn’t for business purposes (or if Google thinks it isn’t – see above), then Google Ireland Ltd will levy VAT at the Irish VAT rate (21% at the time of writing) just as any retailer would. Most advertisers are deemed to be advertising for business purposes.

 

Simple, eh?

WordPress Users: Sometimes it’s not good to share

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This is a Public Service announcement.  I hope it will be useful!

If you have a WordPress website or blog, and you have administrator access to it, that’s YOUR administrator access.  It’s for you, only.

DON’T share your username and password with your cousin/friend/grandson/Great Aunt Fanny when they offer to ‘help out’ with a blog post, an article or some extra photos.  Sharing passwords at least doubles the likelihood that your password will end up in the wrong hands.  That could mean that your website will end up advertising Gentleman’s Stiffeners,  sending unfortunate emails, and generally causing you a world of woe.  It also means that if something does go wrong, it’s much harder to use the lovely WordPress history functions to work out what went wrong and make sure it doesnt’ happen again.

wordpress-newuser1

Instead, set up separate user accounts for each of your helpers, with no more access than they actually need.  It’s easy to do, and honestly, if you don’t, the chances are high that you will regret it.

This also applies to other content management systems – Drupal, Joomla, Moodle, CMS Made Simple,  and so on.  But I’m mentioning WordPress here because it’s such a popular system, and I’ve run across three separate organisations sharing WordPress passwords in the last 24 hours!

wordpress-newuser2

Make sure website visitor data belongs to the site owner

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Google Analytics is a great free tool for businesses, charities and anyone with a website.  You can see how many people are visiting your website,  work out which pages they are looking at (and which pages they ignore completely, or bounce off within a few seconds), and get an idea of what technologies they are using.  You can see where they are in the world, and which other websites or search engines they came from.  This is all really useful stuff.

But, if your Google Analytics account was set up incorrectly, this could limit the amount of useful information you can get out of it, and your ability to link it to other really useful Google tools such as Adwords and Webmaster Tools.

The problem is that it’s possible to group more than one website onto a Google Analytics account.  This is very convenient when all the websites belong to one organisation – you can log in once, and see all your website data conveniently in one place.

Analytics1

Unfortunately, many web designers, asked to set up Google Analytics for a client, will add the extra website to their own account rather than setting up a new account.  This is fine as long as the client just wants to see a basic report.  But once the client wants to start doing nifty stuff like linking their Google Analytics account to Adwords and Webmaster tools, or to produce custom profiles, they find that this just can’t be done.  The only option is to abandon the old Analytics account and all the collected data, and start over, creating a brand new account.

If you are having Google Analytics set up for a new website, please save yourself this hassle.  Make sure that whoever sets up Analytics for your website sets up a new account for you, and links it to Google Webmaster Tools right from day 1. And if you are a web designer, please, please, don’t lump unrelated websites that belong to different businesses onto one Google Analytics account.

I honestly cannot say that this mistake, common though it is, is down to incompetence by the web designer.    There is surprisingly little documentation for Google Analytics beyond the basics, and a designer whose primary focus is on gorgeous site designs can easily be forgiven for not realising the implications of how they set up Analytics.   Google could make life a lot easier for everyone just by providing a little more help information during the setup process – but until they do, if it’s your website, make sure you ask for your own account.  If it’s a client site you are working on, make the responsible decision, and set up an account for each of your client businesses.

How to give us access to your Google AdWords account

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OK, so you’ve decided that you want someone qualified to look after your AdWords account, a Google Partner in fact. And let’s assume that you’ve selected us.

Now how do you actually go about giving us access to your account?

What you don’t do is go to the Account Access screen, and add our email address. That approach works for someone who doesn’t already have an AdWords account (someone in your company perhaps), but it doesn’t work for an agency like us.

Instead, what you have to do is email us your AdWords customer ID. That’s the number that you can see in the top right of any AdWords screen. We then use the number to request access to your account. We’ll email you when we’ve done this and ask you to sign back into your AdWords account.

When you next sign in, you’ll see a message saying that we have asked for access to manage your AdWords account. Click the button marked “Yes, I accept. I understand…”

Now email us back and tell us that you’ve done this.

(Assuming you have Administrator access, you can revoke this access at any time.)

How to link your Google Analytics account to your Google AdWords account

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Strangely, not everyone realises you can do this. It’s definitely worthwhile because Google Analytics and Google AdWords working together can tell you a whole lot more about the traffic you are getting from your AdWords ads than the AdWords control centre can on its own.

Not quite so strangely, some people, even when they know that AdWords and Analytics accounts can be linked, struggle to actually do it. Why? Well, this is one of those things that Google has made much more complicated than you’d think would be really necessary. “Surely it would be just a case of clicking a box in AdWords asking you if you want to link your AdWords account to your Analytics account, and then selecting the account to be linked?” you might ask.

 

Well, you’d think so, wouldn’t you…?

 

Unfortunately, it’s a little bit more involved than that, and some of Google’s own help pages give the wrong answer and are really unhelpful! So, if you do want to link your AdWords account to your Analytics account (and trust me, if you use AdWords you really do), follow these rather more straightforward (if rather lengthy) instructions…

 

1. Make sure you have rights as ‘Administrator’ to your Analytics account:

a. Sign into Analytics and select your account and profile (if you have more than one)

b. Click on the ‘Users’ tab. Your email address should appear and the role should say ‘Administrator’. If it doesn’t, you will need to ask an existing administrator to give you Administrator level access.

2. Make sure you have rights as ‘Administrator’ to your AdWords account:

a. Sign into AdWords.

b. From the My Account drop down box, select ‘Account Access’.

c. If you can see your email address under ‘Users with account access’ and the access level shows as ‘Administrative access’, you’re fine. If you can’t see your email address at all, but you got this far, don’t worry – it’s probably because you (or someone logged in with your email address) created the account. If that’s the case, and you got this far, you probably do have administrative access.

d. (If you work for an AdWords agency and have an MCC account, you need to go to the MCC screen and then the Account Access screen from there to see what sort of access you have to the accounts in your MCC.)

3. Oh, and the email address that shows as having Administrator access to your Analytics account must be the same email address as the one that shows as having Administrator access to your AdWords account.

4. If you don’t have Administrator access to both products with the same email address, you will need to ask an existing Administrator nicely if he will give you those rights!

5. Sign into your AdWords account, and from the Tools and Analysis drop down menu, select ‘Google Analytics’.

6. Click on the ‘Admin’ button in the top right corner of the page. This shows all the Analytics accounts associated with your login (you may only have the one).

7. Click on the Analytics Account you want to link to.

8. Click on the ‘Data Sources’ tab (next to ‘Properties’, ‘Users’, ‘Filters’ etc).

9. Click on the ‘Link Accounts’ button. (If there is no button, but there is a big green tick, this means your AdWords account is already linked to Analytics.)

10. Select ‘Auto-tag my links’.

11. Select the Analytics profile or profiles that you want to have use with the AdWords data from the drop-down button under ‘Which Analytics profiles should this AdWords Account be linked to?’

12. Click ‘Continue’.

13. You should now see the green tick – congratulations you’ve linked your AdWords and Analytics accounts!

14. AdWords can now send data to Analytics. Go away for a while or a few hours, depending upon how many clicks you expect to see from your AdWords ads, and come back after you’ve had some clicks. Now go into Analytics (either from the Analytics control screen, or from AdWords, by clicking on ‘Tools and Analysis’ and then ‘Google Analytics’), go to Traffic Sources, then Sources, Search and Paid. You should see some data from your AdWords campaign – but nothing before the date you did steps one to thirteen.

 

So I should try to be a Panda..? Google’s Panda & Penguin Updates: which is which? And does it matter?

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Since 2011, the search engine optimisation world has been awash with talk of pandas and penguins. Google, in their ongoing quest to provide searchers with search results that are just what they were looking for, has come up with two new ways of checking for attempts to game the system.  They are trying to find and remove websites that don’t provide anything very useful.

We’ve all come across those websites – you run a search looking for a local business, and find a page that is stuffed with placenames, but is clearly just a template that doesn’t offer anything relevant locally. Or you click through to a page that’s all ads and doesn’t contain any of the in-depth information you were hoping for. Google would like to stop sending you to those sites, but it’s hard for an automated system to tell useful content from random text scattered with buzz-words.

So Google created Panda and Penguin as updates to their search engine.  Both, in different ways,  are designed to help people find only the good stuff. But as programming updates on very complex systems do, sometimes they had unexpected or unwelcome consequences for some people using them.

Both updates were originally rolled out as periodic changes.  Although they were intended to raise quality,both updates caused much wailing and cursing by website owners who found their websites had been hit.  When a new Panda or Penguin was rolled out, some website owners found their websites – fairly or unfairly – no longer appeared when searches were run that had previously brought in lots of visitors.   So you will probably find quite a lot of mentions of Panda and Penguin updates as scary stuff that makes it harder to promote your website.  That wasn’t the intention, but it can look a bit like that sometimes.

As I mentioned, these updates used to be a periodic thing, coming along every few months.  Now Panda has been integrated with the main Google system of regular updates, although the Penguin updates still happen as a periodic change to the way Google works.

But all this isn’t my problem. My problem is remembering which of the dratted updates is which. To help with that, I made this to help me visualise which one I was talking about:
Panda or Penguin Google Update: Telling the Difference infographic

Of course, part of the problem built-in to providing highly relevant search results is that someone who is really good at doing a job or providing a really superb product is not necessarily a person who is good at writing up information on websites, talking about it on Facebook or Twitter – or puzzling their way through whether their website looks more like a Panda or a Penguin.

If you are searching for a plumber, the fact that you can find a website for a plumber in Google may not correlate well with whether that plumber turns up promptly and quickly fixes your leaky cistern. Some people’s websites look like nice fat Pandas, but you only find out they are actually sneaky Penguins when you buy stuff. And some people will have skinny little websites that nobody is talking about on social media – yet will sell you the item you have always wanted and couldn’t find. Google still hasn’t got to the bottom of that one, and I wonder if they ever will.

Eight Top Tips for Smaller Accommodation Websites

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We’ve been doing quite a lot of work with travel websites and holiday accommodation providers recently, so I thought this might be a good time to summarise our top tips.

1) Take your time and get good photography.

Nice daffs, good sky - shame about the Bright! Orange! Car!

Nice daffs, good sky – shame about the Bright! Orange! Car!

    Your whole operation will be judged on the photos you show on your website, so make sure you have good, clear, in-focus photos taken on a sunny day.  Make sure that eyesores are tidied away – that old plastic chair or binbag you barely noticed will leap out of a photo!  If you can put tea and scones or a glass of wine on the outdoor table, so much the better.

2) Think hard about what people might search for that you provide, and make sure you have pages focussing on those features.  Is your accommodation ideal for honeymooning couples, dog friendly, ideal for people travelling without a car?  Do you have a special offer for Mother’s Day, or discounts for holidays in October?  If so, write a page about each of those things!

3) Allow room for growth when planning your website.  Unless you are quite sure that everything you do will fit neatly into less than seven pages, be cautious about getting a website with menu bars that go horizontally across the top of your website.   These tend to limit how easy it is to add content.  A vertical menu is much more expandable, without resorting to hiding information behind dropdowns.   Ask for a content management system, so you can easily add pages and highlight special offers.

4 ) Update whenever you can.  If customers may be concerned about unseasonal snow, Icelandic volcanos or too much rain preventing them enjoying their holiday, consider posting an update on your site about what’s still open and how much of a problem this really is. Photo-updates are good!

5) Make notes of questions you are asked. If previous customers ask about golf in the area, whether accommodation has wifi, or how easy it is to get to the pub, that’s an opportunity for communicating more effectively via your website.  Set some time aside to building new content to explain how your accommodation meets these needs.

6) Check your site on a mobile phone.  If you don’t have a smartphone, borrow one and take a look.  Is the text readable?  Does the first photo shown still look great?  Is the load time reasonable?

7) Pretend to be a customer.  If your customers are supposed to contact you via a form, or follow a link, try it yourself.  If you have online booking, make a booking yourself.  Was the booking process easy to use?  Did you get confused?  Would more information at a crucial stage help?

Just a snap, but it could help tell a story about this local cafe

Just a snap, but tells a story about this local cafe more effectively than just a line of text that says ‘cafe nearby’.

8) What’s local?  What’s REALLY local?  Be wary of listing the same huge tourist attractions that every other travel business focusses on – unless you really are just down the road, these may not make your smaller business stand out.  Instead, could you put more effort into showcasing more local attractions that might not have such a great web presence, but could be a good selling point?  Explain how close the local pub is, and show a photo of the nice meal you had there.  Tell visitors about the riverside walk, the secure bicycle storage or the canoeing trips, with photos if you can manage them.

Clare Associates Is Watching You – and that’s a good thing!

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Just so you know,  Google Analytics is installed on this website.  Google Analytics is a free website visitor analytics system which we use routinely on most of the websites that we work with.  It logs information like :

    We can see aggregated, non-personal data

    We can see aggregated, non-personal data

  • what searches were run that brought searchers to this site?
  • which posts did people look at?
  • what other sites linked people to this one?
  • what operating systems, browsers, screen resolutions, network locations did those people use?

We do this because we use Analytics all the time.  I find the data it gives me fascinating.  I love Analytics with an unhealthy passion.  And given that I’m sitting here typing all this stuff in, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to know a little about you, dear reader!

Personal data that you haven't given permission to collect- such as your preference in salad dressing, is not recorded.

Personal data that you haven’t given permission to collect- such as your preference in salad dressing, is not recorded.

Analytics does not record:

  • the name, email address, inside leg measurement or preferred salad dressing of the person using the computer to look at this.
  • Anything that your machine/network isn’t set up to disclose routinely.

Analytics does make a guess at your location, and I can see some very pretty maps showing where it thinks you all live. Because I live in Britain, Google kindly puts me right in the middle of the maps it shows me.  This makes me feel very important.  A lot of you seem to be using networks that say you are in Britain too.  You are in the centre of the world, like me!  But where, in our central little island, do you live?  I can see a map of that too! But oddly, it tells me that many of our visitors come from Billericay.  This seems odd.  We are based in Cornwall.  We have no customers in Billericay.  So who are all these Billericay people?

And in fact, the geographical guessing system is far from perfect.   My ISP, Zen Internet, is obviously not dispensing particularly accurate data about the location of its customers.  I know my location, and I can tell that Analytics is guessing my location to be either Crawley or London.  There are visits from Plymouth and Truro, which would be closer, but when I break down the reports for those locations, I can see that they are not me, since I do not typically visit our website by googling for my own name.

The geographic sensing has improved though.  There were several years when I connected to the internet via Claranet,  when Google geosensing was adamant that I lived in Germany, to the point where I had to override defaults to get a version of Google that wasn’t in German.

By looking at which pages and blog posts people visit (and which are less popular!) I can understand what sort of information is likely to be of use to our website visitors.  I can look at whether people arrive at the website and then go away straight away, and what sort of people are more likely to stop for a while and have a good rummage. I can look at which pages get lots of visitors, and which are mostly ignored.

Website visitor analytics offer a brilliant way for the people who build and own websites to understand what the visitors are wanting, without having to intrude and demand time and effort to explain directly.

Knowing how people use a website, what they searched for, which pages they visited and in what order,  helps the website owner either to help people find stuff they want more quickly and easily, or make it clearer that that isn’t what they do.

This makes the web better and more useable for everyone.  Analytics is a really important and honestly, not particularly intrusive tool that can help make the world a less irritating place.