The word “Analytics” refers to information resulting from the systematic analysis of data or statistics. That’s may not seem like a very helpful definition, I know, but it will become clearer.
There’s a big difference between data & information. Data refers to a collection of raw, unprocessed facts, figures, & statistics that lack context and meaning.
Information, on the other hand, is when we get when the processed & meaningful data has been organised, structured, and presented in a way that makes sense, and can be understood.
When used tactically, analytics provides knowledge that can be used for decision-making or problem-solving. In simpler terms, data is like the raw material, while information is the final product that is derived from processing and analysing that data.
When we talk about Google Analytics, or Bing’s, or any of the premium web analytics tools, we’re talking about analysing & processing information from the raw data & statistics about visitors and traffic to your website. Like most data, the information it contains must be correctly interpreted in context to be of value, and analytics is one way of doing that.
By default, all webservers will keep a running “server log”, where raw data about how many sessions, or page views are logged. In the early days on the web, these were all we had to work with and there are still many analytics tools that will read & interpret those logs (webalog, analog etc). But the raw data in the server logs is mainly intended to be used to make sure the server is working properly & efficiently (server load, bandwidth usage etc). It tells us that people used your website, but the data is basic & can’t be joined-up to show us a visitor’s journey through the site, or where they gave up trying; You can see how people use your website so it is not very useful for marketers.
That’s where tools like Google Analytics come in. Google Analytics is a free-to-use and very powerful tool for understanding how visitors use your site. In addition to logging the most popular pages, bounce rates, landing pages, exit pages and and what devices people use to access your site, Google Analytics (and Bing’s) can track how well your adverts are performing, and monitor events such as when people add to basket.
When combined with Google Search Console or Bing’s Webmaster tools (and, maybe, a PPC campaign), Analytics can provide valuable, actionable insight into how to improve conversion rates & achieve other business-related targets.
You can learn a lot from Google Analytics. It essential when measuring (& setting) benchmarks & evaluating the success of your online strategies. The measurements provided by analytics can be used to gain valuable insight into how your audience is responding to your PPC advertising, social marketing or content marketing strategies, helping inform your tactical decisions for the future.
Other, enterprise-level analytics tools are available for a price but these are only useful if you have a well-defined digital strategy and know how to use them effectively.