The word “analytics” seemed to reach catch-phrase status for many thanks to the 2011 film Moneyball. The Oscar-nominated movie detailed how the Oakland A’s bucked the usual method of recruiting and signing baseball players in favor of next-level statistical analysis.

The success of that film, along with the emergence of statistician Nate Silver, who earned headlines with his accurate predictions of the 2008 election, put “analytics” in the mainstream.

So what can small business owners gain through statistical analysis? There could be valuable information there, especially when it comes to online traffic, searches and sales. Here are a few tips and benefits of digging into the numbers.

Take the first step

It would almost seem counterproductive to not at least start with Google Analytics. The service by the web behemoth should provide a good first look into web analytics, and it’s free. As Melissa Thompson writes for, it “gives detailed demographic data about your target audience. It measures engagement, helps you to determine which topics are best liked, and identifies exactly where the audience is likely coming from. You can trust Google Analytics to appraise the effectiveness of your social media marketing campaigns, plus many other custom strategies.”

Identify the issues

All this analysis may sound fascinating, but until small business owners know just what they’re looking for, all those numbers might not mean much. Mike Montgomery explores this for Forbes. “Trying to make sense of big data can be totally overwhelming for an entrepreneur,” he says. “A better way to think about it is as a tool to solve challenges. Are you trying to find more customers? Do you want to do a better job of targeting your marketing? Once you know the problem, you can start to use data to find a solution. Google Analytics is an easy way to track visitors and activity on your website. Experian lets businesses check on their competition through credit scores. Once you know the problem, you can do research on how best to solve it using data.”

Try the weather approach

Some analytics software takes the form of a heat map, as Thompson writes: “Back in the days of rotary phones and Rolodexes, this used to be called color coding. Today it’s called heat mapping, and it happens in real time — you can view your landing page or any other platform, and actually tell by how ‘hot’ the colors are, just what people are viewing and clicking on the most. It is analogous to a Doppler radar screen that’s tracking a storm. The more intense the red, the more activity there is in that area. This can be an enormous help in repositioning things like your [call to action] button for maximum effect.”

Increase your understanding of the basics

Take the keywords that people use to find goods and services online. Beyond the most fundamental batch of words, what else are consumers looking for and using? “We all think we understand the words and phrases that are driving people to our site,” writes Lisa Barone for “However, your analytics will actually tell you. You’ll be able to dig into your organic search traffic to see which phrases are most powerful in helping people to find your website. You’ll also be able to take a big step forward to see not only the rate at which people search a term, but how searchers looking for [keyword x] perform on your site. For example, how many pages do users looking for [custom cowboy boots] look at per visit? How long do they stay? Are they new or returning visitors? Does that search term lead to a visit or a conversion? Once you understand this information you can cross-reference it with other data to help make important site tweaks and segment keywords.”