Most businesses understand the importance of a good website. But even websites that look nice, are easy to navigate and are easy to find often lack a critical piece – analytics.

An analytics tool installed “behind the scenes” in a website helps businesses understand the site’s performance: how often people visit the site; how they get there; what they read; how many pages they look at; and how quickly they leave.

Our favorite analytics tool is Google Analytics. To start with, it’s free. It provides more information than most small businesses are able to digest. And for the most part, it’s easy to set up and use. Google Analytics provides basic information in simple reports, but you can customize reports to show the types of information that are most important to you and your business.

It’s easy to go on and on about the information available in Google Analytics. Want to know what time most people visit your site? Where your visitors are from (down to the city)? What blog post was read most often last month? How many visits your Facebook posts generate? Google Analytics can tell you, and the reports can be quite interesting to read.

But information by itself has little value. It’s more important to use the information to guide improvements to your site and its content. For example, let’s say you have a page on your site where visitors can sign up for an email newsletter. Few people are actually signing up for the newsletter, but Google Analytics tells you that the page is getting lots of visitors. Dig just a bit deeper into Analytics, and you find that visitors to the page spend only a few seconds before leaving.

With that information in mind, you can study the page and try to identify the problem. Is the registration form prominent and easy to use? Does it ask for too much information? Does the text around the form clearly explain the benefits of subscribing? Is the page ugly? There are many possible explanations, but it was the disconnect between many visitors and few sign-ups that provided the clue. After your evaluation, you can make changes and watch your analytics to see if the changes are working. It might take several iterations to achieve the results you want.

Google Analytics also allows you to set goals and study how changes to your site or your social media efforts affect progress toward those goals. Goals can be as simple as increasing views to a particular page, or more complex, like analyzing and simplifying the online purchasing process to increase sales.

Using Google Analytics also helps you understand whether your online marketing strategies are effective. Are your search optimization efforts driving more traffic? Is your advertising on Facebook or Twitter working? Are your social media pages driving more business?

Daily Digital can help you manage and evaluate your website analytics. Your website is important, but you won’t understand how important or how it can be improved without an analytics tool.