One of the questions our clients often ask about analytics is whether they can really tell who comes to visit them — could they, for example, email people who have come to the site?
You should be reassured to know that Google Analytics doesn’t capture the names, addresses, or phone numbers of the people who visit your website. Analytics will not be sharing your ethnicity with me, or your sexual orientation, or your political positions. There is no metric for occupation or household income. The most personal thing Analytics measures is your city.
Even so, you can make some useful guesses about the people who visit your site, based on your analytics. These are guesses based on generalizations, and you won’t get any email addresses out of them. However, they can help you determine whether you’re right about the guesses you’re already making.
Google Analytics includes reports on the age and gender of your visitors.
This report from our lab site shows us that most of our visitors are young women. Since this website is directed toward teachers and the National Center for Education Statistics tells us that 77% of U.S. schoolteachers are female, this is what we would expect. The average age of teachers is 38, though; we are talking to tech-savvy plugged-in teachers at this website, so it is possible that older teachers are less likely to go to our website because they are on average less likely to use online resources.
The site you’re currently visiting, HadenInteractive.com, has some visitors from educational institutions. Someone came here from Yale, someone from Harvard, someone from Rutgers, someone from the London School of Economics and Political Science — about a dozen colleges in all have sent visitors this month, and people from the two closest universities come pretty often. Two elementary schools have visited, and the top U.S. school publishing company. Our lab site, FreshPlans, has visitors from hundreds of schools and school systems: of the 2,618 service providers listed, over half were a school system, university, department of education, or education co-op. We are clearly seeing two very different populations.
How do I know? Look at Visitors> Technology> Network in Google Analytics, and you can see who is providing internet service for your visitors. Usually, it’ll be mostly commercial service providers like Verizon and Comcast. However, you can also see educational institutions if many of your visitors are teachers or students, health care facilities if you have a lot of medical professionals visiting, government offices, and companies large enough to run their own. Since FreshPlans is an educational site, the data confirms that we are reaching the population we want to reach. If your goal is to offer services to Fortune 500 companies and all your visitors are coming via Cox and AT&T, you know that you’re not on track.
Check your traffic sources report and see which websites sent you traffic. We can assume that the people visiting FreshPlans from TechSavvyEd.net are educators. That’s our target market, so we’re happy to see that.
If we see lots of referral traffic from Yandex (a Russian search engine) and Baidu (a Chinese search engine) to our local business, we shouldn’t be happy. Those visitors are not going to come and take classes with you or make an appointment for their children’s dental care. In fact, those visitors shouldn’t be counted among your website’s visitors at all.
Watch for surprises
If you do some detective work in your analytics and feel surprised, you ought to rethink your marketing message. It would make sense, if you just don’t see what you expect to see, to do further research among your clientele. It may be that your online audience is different from what you see in your physical store or office, or it may be that you don’t actually appeal to the people you think you do. You may be missing your target market — or you may have an entirely different market available to you that you hadn’t even recognized.