Your small business probably already has a website. (If not, what are you waiting for?) But do you know what is going on and how it's being used? It would be a lot more useful if you did.
The good news is that there are a lot of options for tracking usage statistics on your site. They range in complexity and price from free and simple, to complicated and very expensive.
Even if you have a very basic website, it is a good idea to have, at minimum, one analytics tool set up, so you have some idea of how many people are accessing your website, how they access it, and what they are doing once they get there.
Installing analytics tools requires technical experience, so it is a good idea to have your web designer or programmer handle this (unless you would like to learn, which can be useful down the road).
But the control panels to actually operate the tools are pretty straightforward -- they are designed to be used by normal businesspeople.
Here are five different tools you should be aware of:
1. Google Analytics is the most popular free analytics tool.
You should probably have it installed on your site, if you don't already. There is a learning curve, but once you learn how to use it, you are all set.
After installing the code on your site, you will be able to see, on a daily basis, how many visitors come to your website, how many pages they load, which pages on your site are the most popular, and what percent of your visitors are new versus returning. You will be able to see which websites and which search terms they are using on Google, Yahoo and Bing.
You will also get a wealth of information about your visitors in aggregate, including which computer types they use, what percent are accessing your site from iPhones or other mobile devices, and in what part of the country or world they are.
And if you use either of Google's advertising products -- either to place ads on Google, or to run ads on your website to make money -- you will also be able to see statistics from those programs within Google Analytics.
2. Chartbeat is a newer, interesting analytics tool that works in real-time.
Google Analytics is great for seeing what was happening on your site yesterday or last month, but Chartbeat is all about right now. You can see how many people are on your site at the current time, what pages they are looking at, where they are coming from, what they are saying about your site on social media, and more.
This could be helpful for rearranging your site in real-time if something important happens. And it is also a cool way to see what is buzzing right now.
After a free trial, Chartbeat costs about $10 per month to use.
3. Quantcast will let you show your traffic stats publicly and will tell you demographic information about your web visitors.
If you want to be able to share some of your website's visitor information, you can get your site "Quantified," and Quantcast will start showing off the stats it tracks about your site (for free).
It will also be able to provide you with demographic information about who is visiting your site, such as gender, age, race, household income and education level, with an indication of how that compares to the Internet average. You will also be able to see similar websites that people use.
4. Mint is a gorgeous, real-time stats tool with lots of plugins available to add on new features.
The difference between Mint and these other tools is that Mint needs to reside on your web server -- and needs to be installed and updated. The other tools are hosted by other companies.
But like other options, Mint will show you how many visitors you have, where they are coming from, and more, and with a very simple, very attractive display. It also updates in real-time, so you do not have to wait until tomorrow to see how today's site activity is going.
Mint is $30 per web domain you are monitoring but does not have a monthly fee.
5. Omniture is the big daddy of analytics software and will do almost anything you want, but it is very expensive.
If you have a very big website or need extremely specific statistics, you may someday graduate to Omniture. It is not practical for most small businesses because it is so expensive -- potentially tens of thousands of dollars per month, or more. But it is important to know it is there when you need it.