You might not know what useful things are behind the scenes, the web sites that are familiar can be like a magicians trick, what you see is only part of the story. Here I introduce to you a technology that it is useful to know that it exists.
The shop at the end (or beginning) of Market Street that now is home to Snug has a large plate window, people will stop and see in. The glass is not at all sound proof and you can hear any conversion taking place on one side from the other; a common source of amusement when couples disagree on the lovelyness versus expense of products inside. I imagine every retailer observes and listens to customers as they browse, an informal customer survey.
If you have a shop on the web you're not sat there hearing people as they click your links. You can however record quite a lot of information and potentially put that to good use. Google analytics exists to do this recording and tries to organise it to make it meaningful and for free. The book about the history of Google 'In the plex' says that they wanted to charge but had no payment software so ended up making it free and then making even more because the analytics made Google's advertising more attractive.
At its most basic you can see whether anybody is actually coming through your virtual door using analytics. But you can glean maybe more useful information too. I am currently reworking Radiance website, to make it more manageable for Hannah and Matt, my main brief but it is still sensible and professional to take a look at how manageable it is for customers.
Looking at analytics I could see that the more products that were looked at the likelier the person online would buy; in fact if someone looked at 20 items they were 78% more likely to buy than if they looked at 2. To grow the sales effort encouraging people to look at more pages is going to be very worthwhile, probably more so than simply advertising the site more widely.
But advertising widely is important too. In the past advertising was pretty much instinct and faith. Analytics can add a new dimension to choosing advertising. For a few hundred pounds you are offered the chance to advertise your shop for a year, you like the sound of it and give it a go. The following year the price has gone up, do you renew? In a case I'm thinking about I went to the analytics and it told me (it took minutes) that in the year 415 people visited via that advertising and none had bought anything, much worse than the 4 - 8 sales that'd be expected for those visits. The conclusion was obvious, that advertising was a really expensive was to get a very small number of uninterested people to the site.
You probably knew all about analytics anyway. Let me know if you have any interesting stories of its use.