As I mentioned in my last post, I’m a huge fan of online analytics. I love keeping track. Whether it’s keeping tabs on a link in a tweet or analyzing the keywords people are using to find my blog, I’m always poking around in my dashboard.

Surprisingly though, many organizations don’t have basic analytics on their web pages. Worse yet they’ve installed the software but fail to develop the expertise to really use it well. It’s too bad though, because a great deal of insight can be gleaned by knowing how to read your data.

If you don’t have analytics installed on your website, stop reading and make that happen right away. It should take you (or your technical folk) a matter of minutes to install on your site. No excuses. Get er’ done.

Whew, now that you have your analytics package in place, you’ll notice that there are numbers for everything. Visits, unique visits, exit rates, bounce rates, page views…oh my. What should a marketer pay attention to?

Provided below are three analytics metrics every marketer should pay attention to:

1. Goal Conversion Rate

Once you get comfortable in your analytics environment you’ll eventually want to use the ‘goals’ feature. In fact without using goals you might as well not bother with analytics.

A goal is basically a web page that serves to mark the end of a conversion process. For example, if you sell product on your site a typical goal might be a receipt page. Or if you have a ‘sign up’ form your goal might be a ‘thank you for signing up’ page. Completed goals let you know when your visitors have completed tasks you want them to.

Goal Conversion Rate is simply a percentage measure of how many goal completions versus how many visitors (or unique visitors). So if you had 100 visitors and 10 goal completions your conversion rate is 10%.

So why is the conversion rate important? Well, it shows how successful your web page is at getting your visitors to do the important things you want them to do. A low conversion rate shows that your page content isn’t compelling or what you are selling isn’t attractive. The overall objective is to always be looking to increase your conversion rate on established goals.

2. Bounce Rate

A bounce is basically when somebody visits a page on your site and then doesn’t click on any of the other links. Basically they visit a single page and then leave. In the words of Avinash Kaushik, “they came, they saw, they puked, they left.”

A high bounce rate generally means that your page sucks (with the exception of blogs, which generally have high bounce rates as people only want to read the latest post) or the traffic you’re attracting was ‘surprised’ by their landing page.   The goal of course is either to lower your bounce rate by either improving your pages or altering your traffic generation strategy to ensure you are only getting ‘qualified’ visitors. Either way, bounce rate gives you a starting point on making improvements.

3. Ratio of New to Returning Visitors

This one is pretty basic. It’s simply the number of people who have never visited your site versus the number of people who have returned. It’s a good number to look at as you always want to ensure that your marketing strategy is attracting new visitors to your site.

If ratio is heavily skewed to the returning visitors and your unique visits are low, you may have a small number of folks who visit your site over and over again (like your staff or your mom). Conversely it’s skewed all towards new visitors you may have a problem with retention.

One thing to note with this metric is that it takes a bit of time to get the metric dialed in. For example, if you just started your site you’ll likely see the ratio skew towards new visitors. But, over time you’ll see it even out.

Of course this just scratches the surface on what analytics can offer you. But if you start with these three metrics it should get you pointed down the right path.

Do you have a favorite metric not mentioned here? Drop a note in the comments and let’s chat it up.