Monday, 27 June 2011

Web site statistics: why are they important?


I have recently published two articles in which we saw how to benefit from Google Analytics and which browser is the most popular, globally. The articles seem unrelated, but they are not. When we manage a web sites, statistics are fundamental and give us the right point of view in planning future developments. What I'm saying is that before changing something in our web site, or - more importantly - when we plan to change the whole web site, we do need to look closely at web statistics in order to plan our future work efficiently and effectively.

Recently, I have published other articles incidentally related to this one. For instance, I've been talking about the new mobile generation and handheld devices used to surf the net. That new way of surfing the web, is changing the way we develop web sites. There's - apparently -  the need to create handheld devices compatible designs, and target screen resolution becomes a nightmare for all of us.

That is all true, however I would like you to focus for a moment on the issue. We are basically assuming we need to change an old web site, or just add some features to it. Our web site statistics can really make a difference. And let me explain why.

The web thought has been up and running for almost one year. And I have some statistics to share with you, which I should take into account if I needed to change the site design. Let me say that I use Google Analytics, but the data I will show you is reported by almost any web analysis tool.

The browser
The first thing I would look at is the technology section of the visitors panel. Specifically "Browsers & OS". Here we can find the first important piece of information. People visiting the web thought are using mostly Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer, in order. Safari and Opera are much less used. The information is quite valuable. I could even break down every single browser statistic and see the preferred version - don't worry I will not go further, but in a thorough analysis it should be considered a smart move, to specifically evaluate browser compatibility.
Anyway... The point here is that, we can evaluate the potential audience of the new web site and forecast eventual browser compatibility issues. In the web thought case, for instance, I would not consider the 3,78% of people using IE6.

Operating system
More than 80% of visitors to the web thought is using Ms Windows. Probably that info should be mainly useful for marketing purpose. It won't have much of an impact on our web development plan. However, it should be considered together with the above browser analysis.

Screen resolution
Now it's getting really interesting. Visitors to the web thought mostly use high screen resolutions (above 1024x768). Only 9% use a 1024x768 screen size. This info is really important when evaluating how we will plan to display the new web site. We won't really need to satisfy visitors with a 800x600 (0.73%) screen resolution and - believe me - that could be quite a relief. Be careful, we are talking about desktop web browsers here - mobile browsers, OS and stuff will be considered in a separate section.

Screen colors, Flash and Java
Screen colors can impact on our color scheme choice, but - it's clear - not very much. Knowing that visitors have a fairly recent version of Flash installed is good news, if we plan to use that technology.  While, knowing that more than 13% of visitor do not have Java support, could be really a problem.
Those info can really help us when we are still planning the new web site development. Knowing that using Java we are potentially excluding 13% of our audience is not really good news. We should consider a fallback plan for those visitors - definitely.

Mobile operating systems
The web thought has sometimes some visitor using an handheld device. Mainly they use iPad, iPhone and Android. I don't know why Google Analytics reports iPad and iPhone as OS (iOS 4.2.1 or iOS 5.0 should be better), but in any case: should we consider those visitors? Is it a valuable piece of audience? Should we treasure it? Well, it depends. Mobile devices - as we saw - can be a real pain when planning the new web development. Know why? Read on...

Mobile screen resolution
In the web thought statistics there are three reported screen resolutions used by mobile devices: 768x1024, 320x480, 1280x800. Now, you should know that the web thought is fully compatible with mobile devices (thanks to Blogger), however let's forget about it for a moment. What should we do, considering our scenario? It's important to evaluate the information, in order to decide to consider those visits or not. It's a strategy issue, or - if you like - a marketing department problem. But it has many consequences - on us, poor web developers. If the managing director decides that we need a mobile version of the new web site, there will a lot of work to be done. If the managing director says no, we are going to take the blame when people will complain. It's a no win situation. I suggest to consider a mobile version of the web site. It will be trouble, but nobody will blame us! I am obviously joking, but not that much.
In any case, the point here is to value the information we can have from a tool like Google Analytics, when planning a mobile version of a web site. Obviously, the screen resolution is only one of the possible issues and probably the most notable.

Global statistics vs your statistics
Now, did you get the whole point of this post? What's the meaning of global statistics when we can tailor our new web site on our own statistics? Ok, Global statistics are useful if the new web site is really new (new domain, new design, new everything!), but as soon as specific statistics are collected by tools like Google Analytics, we should really consider them carefully.
For everyday improvements, introduction of new features, modifications, web site statistics are a valuable source of information, not to be underestimated.

Please let me know what you think about it in the comments section below.

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