5 Back End Essentials for Your Website
Everyone loves a beautifully-designed, easy-to-use website. But a site that looks great is only halfway to maximizing its potential. Beyond sleek UIs and pretty graphics are a suite of powerful tools that you should be taking advantage of.
A quick search will pull up thousands of under-the-hood apps and plug-ins that say they can improve your website — which can seem a bit overwhelming at first. So, we wanted to share with you our five favorite behind-the-scenes tools to make sure you are getting the most out of your website.
1. Google Analytics
Google Analytics might be the single most useful item in your virtual toolkit — and it’s completely free. Google Analytics has a deep set of functions that you can dive into, and this article could easily just be about the ways in which you can put Google Analytics to work. With that in mind, we’ll just touch on a few of the most important things you should know about it.
First is the simple and incredibly helpful ability to show you a snapshot of who is visiting your site. The Audience tab will give you information like age, gender, location, device type and even interests. There’s a lot you can do with this information, starting with either confirming assumptions you’ve made about who is using your site or challenging them.
You can set up Google Analytics to automatically generate reports for you, providing easy-to-read reports and real-time data at your fingertips whenever you need it.
Google Analytics will also let you analyze the social media traffic leading to your website. If you’ve got any kind of social media advertising budget, this is the data that will help you spend it more efficiently, as well as tell you where you need to allocate more resources.
2. Google Tag Manager
Another free tool, Google Tag Manager (or GTM) lets you edit and deploy marketing tags without having to do any coding. If you aren’t familiar with marketing tags, they are short pieces of code, sometimes called pixels, that perform a specific function on your website. There are several types of tags, but the ones we’re really interested in are the ones that collect information about your users and their behavior while they are on your site.
Before GTM, you’d probably want to hire a developer to come in to edit and manage your tags. With it, however, it is completely possible to do it yourself. That said, you are going to need to have some base-level knowledge about how it works, but it isn’t anything you can’t learn with a little dedicated research. Trust us, it’s worth it to learn your tags from your triggers and what the heck variables actually do.
GTM doesn’t do any reporting itself but it works beautifully in conjunction with Google Analytics. With it, you can customize exactly what data you want to see, like outbound links and specific button clicks. It can help optimize your site to run faster and even has a debug mode so you can easily tell what is working and what isn’t.
3. Hotjar – Behavioral Analytics
Before we talk about Hotjar specifically, let’s talk about behavioral analytics. Behavioral analytics is about examining exactly what people do (or how they behave) while they are on your site. It’s what happens in between clicks and button presses. Tools like Google Analytics are great at telling you how many people clicked a link, but it doesn’t tell you how long someone looked at a site before clicking it or if they left and came back again before making a purchase. That’s the valuable information behavioral analytics can provide.
Among the many applications that will help you analyze this, Hotjar is our favorite, and it is going to feel like an absolute godsend for visual learners. Hotjar will show you what your users are thinking as they navigate your site — what they are reading, how far down a page they are scrolling, what they are hovering over, etc.
This includes heatmaps that show you how long users hover certain areas of your site, how far down they scroll, conversion funnels to show where people are dropping off on their way to making a purchase and even full replays of actual user experiences within your website. It’s fascinating to use and puts context to the numbers you are getting elsewhere.
4. Schema Markup
Schema.org is a collaboration between the search industry giants – Google, Bing, Yahoo and Yandex. So, it’s worth paying attention to. Schema markup is a form of microdata that helps search engines put context to your website and produce those handy little rich snippets in search engine results, which have been shown to improve click-through rates.
For example, let’s say you’ve got the word “Monster” in an H1 tag on your website. It’s important and search engines will treat it that way, but it won’t necessarily know if you are talking about Monster energy drinks, Monster guitar cables, or the 2003 film Monster starring Christina Ricci and Charlize Theron. The microdata schema markups provide help search engines differentiate and highlight important information so people get results that are more relevant to what they are looking for.
There is a schema tag for just about everything. Incorporating them property into your code can ensure that your website gets in front of the people who are looking for you more often.
5. XML Sitemap
Websites can get pretty big, even for small businesses. A straightforward retail site needs separate pages for all of its products, not to mention the obligatory Home, About Us, and Contact pages. And, in fact, some experts recommend you have a lot more than that. All of these pages have different degrees of importance, especially to the people coming to your site for something specific.
An XML sitemap is exactly what it sounds like – a map to help search engines navigate your website. There are plenty of plugins that will help you do this depending on what platform your site is built on, but they all essentially serve the same function. With a comprehensive sitemap, Google understands what pages are most important and how to get to them, making sure people who are looking for your site aren’t having to click through a bunch of pages they aren’t interested in to get to what they want. Anytime you can speed up the user experience and make it less cumbersome, you are going to increase your conversions.
Get Under The Hood
There are so many more tools you can use to get more out of your site, but these five will provide exponential improvement in your site’s performance. With reports full of relevant data at your fingertips and a site maximized for searchability, you’ll have the edge on your competitors and be informed to make smart, savvy decisions.
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