Making Google Analytics a Useful Tool

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If you’ve got Google Analytics (GA) connected to your website, but never take a look at the story it’s telling you, you’re missing the point. There’s more to GA than satisfying your webmaster or SEO guys request. Below, we’re going to take a look at the basics of understanding the reports. Granted, Google has some awesome tutorials covering GA, and you can go through their online training and get certified. So let’s consider this the cliff notes of understanding Google Analytics.

What we’re not going to do is redefine all the terminology that you’ll find in GA. Google does a great job of that, not only in their training, but there are “?”s where you can click and get a simple definition. There’s also a great Help feature available at the click of the larger “?” icon on the top right.

The Main Dashboard

When you first access GA, you’ll come to your dashboard. It has a number of report summaries that Google feels are important. You’ll get a snapshot of traffic over the past 7 days, the traffic channel your users are coming from, what time of day they visit, what pages they visit, and a few others.

Key Elements to be Aware Of

Location — Where are your visitors coming from

This one is key, especially if you have a local business. We’ve had clients working with other SEO companies that were sending them traffic from all over the place. But they were a location-based business, waiting for people to walk through the door. They needed!! regional traffic.

You can see a summary report from your main dashboard. From the summary, you can click on Location Overview and it will take you to the Location Report (Also found under Audience > Geo > Location).

You can drill down by clicking on the map, or on a country in the list. As you zero in on the state, you can see statistics for traffic from the cities within the state.

Key point: Are you seeing traffic from sources you’d expect given your type of business?

Acquisition, Otherwise Known as Traffic Channels

How are people finding your website? Are they clicking a link on another website? Searching and finding you in Google? Typing the URL in, or is a marketing campaign working? These answers are within the Acquisition section of GA. You can get a direct link from your dashboard in the “How do you acquire users?” section, or click on Acquisition > Overview.

Once you get to the overview, you can click into the specific sections and see who is sending you traffic. This includes traffic from social media, other sites that have your site linked, organic search, paid ads, or marketing campaigns.

If you’ve got your Search Console connected correctly, you’ll be able to see the search queries people use by going to Acquisition > Search Console.

Key point: Especially if you are running marketing campaigns, it is critical to keep an eye on the metrics of the traffic they are sending you. When they give you monthly reports, are they using your general data, or data specific to the campaign… you’ll know by understanding how to check the metrics.

What Pages are People Visiting on Your Site

This is the most useful section of GA for us when we’re trying to pinpoint why a website isn’t performing. What pages people are visiting is one piece. The other is what are they doing on those pages? Clicking through to where you want them to go, clicking somewhere else, or leaving?

Your dashboard has a “What pages do your users visit” summary. That’s useful, but we’d like to direct you straight to the Behavior section of GA. There are 4 areas to look at.

1 — Behavior > Site Content > All pages

This report shows all the pages on your site, with the sort default of pageviews showing greatest to least. The basics you want to look at are

  • Entrances – people land on that page first when coming to your site
  • Exit – people leave your site from that page
  • Bounce rate – people that come and immediately leave without interacting with the page

Behavior > Site Content > All Pages

2 — Behavior > Site Content > Landing pages

This report shows only the pages that people first landed on your site. You want to make sure that especially for key pages, your bounce rate is as low as possible.

Behavior > Site Content > Landing pages

3 — Behavior > Site Content > Exit pages

Where are people leaving your site? It is key to review this report, especially if you’re not getting the sale or conversion that you expect. Are people bailing at key points instead of converting?

Behavior > Site Content > Exit pages

4 — Behavior > Behavior Flow

If you’re a visual person, you’ll love this view! It shows visually where people are initially landing on your site, and how many are dropping off vs moving on to the next page.

Behavior > Behavior Flow

Key point: Are people interacting with your site the way they should? And, are they finding the information they are looking for.

The Big Picture of Google Analytics

We’ve touched the tip of the iceberg. There is a TON of data that you can slice and dice in so many directions and use in so many ways. For example, if you’re working to identify your target market, you can find demographic information under Audience > Demographics (age and gender). And, if you’ve got time to sit and watch… and you have enough traffic to see it, there’s a Realtime section where you can see a user actively on your site — what pages they are on and where they came from.

But that’s where we want to hand the deeper dive off to the excellent resources that Google provides in their Analytics Academy. Their beginner section is generally enough for most. But if you want to get nerdy on GA, dive into the advanced or power user section.

Our focus, like most business owners, is to look at the story the data is providing to help make decisions on website improvements. That means we’re not total nerds, but we do pay a lot of attention to the sections we’ve noted above.

And, if you haven’t seen part 1 and 2 of this series, check out The What and How of Google Analytics and Using Google Search Console.