We all understand how important it is to know just how site visitors navigate a site, what they click on, where they come from, where they go when they leave the site and similar indicators of behavior. These are the factors on which great Web designs are built.
I’ve pulled together a list of sites I think will help you understand how a Web site looks and works to optimize design and copy. You can also think of these sites as services you can sell to your clients: In your initial pitch provide them with the option of your monitoring their Web site activity. That keeps you in touch with your clients after the initial work is done and you use the site-monitoring results to sell additional design services or updates.
If you want to find out whether your site is running on all its cylinders, you need to look under the hood. What you want to know are crucial mechanical details such as how site visitors navigate your site, what they click on, where they come from, where they go when the leave and related data. Here’s a list of sites I think will help you understand how well your Web site runs and provide tips on optimizing your copy and design:
Google Analytics. This is the best-known and most popular way people in the trade analyze behavior on a Web site. There’s a ton of information on Google’s Web site (lots of other places too). To get you started, here’s an article written by Brett Crosby, Google’s Analytics guru.
Hit Tail.You can find some of the same information on Hit Tail as you can on Google Analytics. The primary difference is that you can see your search traffic in real time among several other Google A-like features I haven’t tried because I can’t afford to pay for the service. I use Hit Tail’s free service that gives me search traffic in real time (you can get a WordPress plug in or drop some code Hit Tail will provide into your HTML). If you see a sudden spike in traffic during the day, you’ll know where it’s coming from.
useit.com. Jakob Nielsen’s Website is well known for its Web site usability studies. His outfit publishes a steady stream of reports on how design affects usability, traffic and several factors. I can’t afford any of those either. But what I do subscribe to is Nielsen’s bi-monthly (every other week) Alertbox. Those e-newsletters give you a taste of some of his latest reports and you can learn as much as grasshopper did from the Shaolin master.
Clicky. If you would like to track your Web site activity from your iPhone, this is one way to go about it. Clicky tracks file downloads, visitor host names, goals and conversation, bounce rates and other key factors. Clicky also offers some free services. A starter pack is $4.99 a month, which is not so bad. It’s the only one I know of that enables you to use your iPhone to keep stay on top of your site’s daily activity.
YSlow. You can speed up your Web pages with YSlow, which will tell you why your pages are slow-loaders and what you can do to pick things up. YSlow is a Firefox add on that works with the Firebug development tool.
crazyegg. This is another site that costs dough to use all its services, which start at $9 per months, which seems reasonable to me. crazyegg has a free version that allows you to track your top four landing pages, which might be enough to give you an idea of how well your site is working. You can look at what operating system your site visitors are using and where they come from and other factors.
clickdensity. You can discover hot and cold zones, gather visitor-data in real time, do before and after comparisons of changes you make to your site and other useful things. There’s a free subscription with limited options. A starter pack costs $5.00 per month, so that’s not bad at all.
Click Tail. It’s a hosted service that records a site visitor’s every mouse move and click, which you can save as a movie, among other information. There’s a free, limited service. A starter pack will run you $9 per month.
I didn’t mention other Web site tools such as StatCounter, Sitemeter, Woopra and W3Counter. There are probably many more that I’m not even aware of. These I have either used or have some familiarity with, which is why I listed them. If you have some better picks, drop me a note and I’ll update list with a tip of the hat to you.