I have recently been doing analytic word for more clients that usual. At first I thought that people were finally starting to heed the website advice I've been giving for years. I thought that these were efforts to raise their own awareness about how their site was performing so they could help it better serve it's purpose. I fear, however, that many have a skewed view of the value behind analytics. This will likely be the case when you don't understand the true purpose of a website.
The Problem of Analytics
Many business owners have a website, but have no idea why they have a website. They have one just because you have one. They had a listing in the phone book, now they have a website online. It's that simple. Then, once business starts to wane, they go to their analytics to figure out why. Do you see the disconnect here? There is an assumption that there is a direct relationship between website visits (or page views, etc) and business success. So, the assumption goes, if I increase the number of visitors I have on my site, I will directly increase the success of my business.
The problem is that is never true. That isn't even true if your entire business is online advertising (at least not in the long run). To prove the point, let me exaggerate the scenario a bit. If you have a company that sells books and a website that has nothing other than a picture of Disney World, you may very well get a lot of hits on your site, but it will go nowhere in helping you sell books. You can study the analytics, optimize for search engines, adjust your ads and drive traffic all day long, but you won't sell books.
In order for this correlation to be remotely true, your website needs to have and do certain things. Perhaps more importantly, you need to understand the goal of your website and understand how it can be a useful tool in achieving it. Remember that it doesn't matter how many people come to your site or how much time they spend there if the website is not built to achieve the end goal.
The Power of Analytics
Now, don't let all that lead you to believe that I am opposed to analytics. I think studying analytics can be a very useful endeavor ... once you have established the goal of your site. Let's assume for the moment that you're in the business of performing a service rather than selling a product. This can be a little tricky because your website really isn't selling anything through e-commerce, but it should still be selling you or your brand or the concept of your business. Some of your goals should be to increase brand awareness, maybe push a particular special, but in the end to increase clientele.
This is where analytics come in. Why? Even assuming your website has everything it needs, In order for your website to increase clientele people need to be visiting your site. The people visiting your site need to be within your target audience, within your area. Analytics will show you this and more. Analytics will show you how people are finding your site and show you where to spend your time and focus your efforts.
If the majority of users are finding your site through Google+, you might want to spend less time on Facebook. If the majority of users are searching for a secondary service that you offer, you may want to give that more priority in your copy and on your site. If the majority of users only show up for blogs post with pictures, you may want to incorporate more pictures. Let your analytics be your guide.
BUT, don't forget the possibility of a disconnect. If you spend ad dollars driving people to your site and you see no increase in business, the number of visits may not be the problem. You may need to do a better job of connecting your site with your goals.