The Ins and Outs of Google Analytics …
You may be one of the many business owners with Google Analytics installed on your website who has never looked at the data it provides. Well, it is not too late!
Today we are diving into what Google Analytics does and how you can use it to make smart business decisions about your website and the ways you are using social media. First, I want to reassure you that you do not have to be a data guru to use Google Analytics, but on the other hand, if you are, you can have a great deal of fun with it!
What Google Analytics Can Do For You …
If you have ever wanted to be a fly on the wall while someone was browsing your website, Google Analytics gives you that capability. Intrigued? You should be, because with Google Analytics you can get information about who has been to your website and what web pages they looked at. It really is amazing! There are competing analytics tools available, but Google Analytics is considered the most comprehensive.
It collects information every time someone uses your website. This is true whether your website is primarily a blog, an e-commerce site or a comprehensive site full of information about your business, like mine is. Google Analytics is a powerful resource and I am happy to say it is free! (Although you can upgrade to a paid version for an additional layer of services.)
Here are some of the kinds of information Google Analytics collects about your website visitors and their actions:
- How many visitors you had on your website during any given time period
- The number of unique visitors, new visitors and returning visitors
- What times of day your website typically gets the most visitors
- How many “sessions” have occurred during a given time period (a session is defined as a group of interactions during a visit to your website)
- Average session duration
- The number of pages viewed per session
- What pages each visitor looked at, showing how they interact with your website
- What actions they took while on your website (actions could include clicking on a link, filling out a form or downloading a resource you posted as a lead magnet)
- How long they stayed on your website
- What web page they were on when they left your site (called an exit page)
- Where they came from, meaning how they got to your website – whether it was by using a search engine or by clicking on a link they saw somewhere else
- Your bounce rate – what percentage of visitors leave your site after viewing only one web page
- What country each visitor was located in when they were on your site
- Which of your web pages are the most popular
- What devices your visitors used to access your site
The longer you use Google Analytics, the more valuable your data will be as it lets you compare information across longer periods of time. For example, say you want to track how many visitors you had during a specific time period and compare that to other time periods of the same duration. You can compare this week to last week, this month to last month, the first half of the year to the last half of the year, this October to last October, etc.
A screen full of analytics data looks like a secret code, and in a way it is. That data has a lot of information in it, and it’s impossible to make sense of it without the key. Put another way, data can give answers, but only if you ask the right questions.
~ Marli Mesibov, Content Marketing Institute
The term for reporting how each visitor got to your website is traffic source, whether it was via a search engine or link from another site. Google Analytics does not only capture which visitors “Googled” you … this handy tool makes note of traffic from other search engines, too … such as Yahoo and Bing. Like I said, amazing!
So, there you have it, in a nutshell … what Google Analytics can do for you.
Also, a great feature is that you can customize Google Analytics to make it as useful as possible. For example, you can view your site’s data in a table, pie chart, bar chart, etc.
You can also set up your own dashboard for reports and create your own custom reports. Now you see why data gurus love Google Analytics! Seriously, if you do not want to get in too deep, but you see the value of the information Google Analytics provides, have someone like a virtual assistant (VA) set up your report dashboard. That will give you the information you are most interested in – at a glance – without you having to click through several screens to find it each time.
How Google Analytics Does It All …
It is all about the cookies! You have probably heard that term. When someone visits your website for the first time, Google Analytics places a cookie – a tracking code – in whatever web browser they were using. Those cookies can hang around for 2 years or longer unless the visitor clears their cookies or cache in web browser. If the same person uses more than 1 web browser to visit your site, Google Analytics will drop a cookie into each browser and will attribute those sessions to different visitors. Google Analytics will count 1 person as 3 visitors if that person visits your website using 3 different browsers. It can be a little crazy-making!
When a previous visitor returns, if their Google Analytics cookie is still in their web browser, they appear as a returning visitor. If their cookies have been cleared, though, Google Analytics sees them as a new user and … you guessed it … places a new cookie in whatever web browser they are using at the time. So, when people clear cookies from their web browser, it skews your data a bit.
So, how do you feel about Google Analytics so far?
Your opinion about this practice could be quite different based on your point of view. Are you looking at this from the viewpoint of a website owner? You can use the data you get to improve your website and increase your web traffic – and, ideally, to increase business revenue.
How You Can Use Your Newfound Data …
So … what do you do with this data? Numbers on graphs are not meaningful unless they are used in some context. Let’s take a look …
Google Analytics is most useful when you follow trends in the data you gain from all of this tracking. These trends tell you what adjustments you might need to make on your website to reach your goals. Goals? Yes, your business goals provide the context that brings your website data to life. Goals make your data dance and sing and tell a story … a story about your website, about where it is good and where it could be improved.
To illustrate how data contributes to achieving your goals, first you need to make a list of the ways you want your website to contribute to your business goals. Some examples could be:
- Bring readers to your blog … Goal: increase total visitors by 15% per year
- Build your email list … Goal: add 500 email addresses to your list each year
- Sell products or services displayed on your website … Goal: generate $20,000 in revenue through the website within the calendar year
If you measure the wrong thing, you set the wrong targets and if you aim at the wrong target you arrive in the wrong place. Even tiny mistakes in how we measure can lead to terrible outcomes. ~ Kenny Fraser, Web Analytics World
Suddenly that data is starting to take shape! Here are 5 steps you can follow to make use of the data:
- Install the Google Analytics tracking code on your website. If you are computer savvy, here is where you start: Go to https://www.google.com/analytics/ and click on Access Google Analytics. If you can already see this is not your strong suit, hire a web designer to set it up for you. When you create your account, Google Analytics provides you with a tracking code that you must add to every page on your website.
- At the end of one week, look at the report that tells you how many unique visitors you had.
- Look at the same report every week and watch for trends in the number of unique visitors each week.
- Look at the report that tells you where these visitors are coming from – those are your traffic sources.
- Beef up your presence online, specifically within your traffic sources.
Now things are getting very interesting! If your best traffic source is social media, up your game by becoming more active on the specific platforms that are driving visitors to your website.
- Create more pins on Pinterest with links to your website.
- Publish blog posts more frequently, then create corresponding posts on Facebook and LinkedIn featuring your blog posts with links to your website.
- Create more tweets to increase the number of times each week you send people to your website.
Continue to follow the data. Play with percentages!
Increase your tweets by 20% consistently for two weeks. After the two-week period look at whether your website traffic from Twitter has increased … and if so, by what percentage?
I realize by saying “play with percentages” I may be speaking to the data gurus in the room. For the rest of you, let me tell you what the data gurus already know: it is easier to track your results if you only implement one change at a time. Whether it is Pinterest, your blog, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, decide to increase activity on one platform and stick to the plan for a pre-determined period of time.
Great content marketers are curious. They ask questions, form a hypothesis, test it, and then act on the evidence.
~ Andy Crestodina, Content Marketing Institute
A word of caution: It helps to stay focused by creating a plan for exactly what online activity you want to increase by what percentage and being specific about what results you are looking for. If you adjust haphazardly, the data becomes much less meaningful.
What trends do you see? Are you getting increased referral traffic from the social media platform you beefed up or has that not made a difference? Each time you evaluate your results based on the reports you see, make adjustments to your website and then watch, again, to see if the next adjustment has a greater effect.
“If the statistics are boring, then you’ve got the wrong numbers.” – Edward R. Tufte, Statistician and Professor Emeritus, Yale University
Remember, you will also want to monitor the flow of visitors from other traffic sources as well. Here are the most likely traffic sources:
- This refers to people entering a search term in their web browser, for example graphic design, and then clicking on a link in the search results that takes them directly to your website.
- Organic traffic could come from Google, Yahoo, Bing or any other search engine.
- You could generate traffic to your site by writing a guest post on someone else’s blog if, at the end of the post, you include a link to your website.
- Another writer could have included a link to your site in their article or blog post. For example, if you have a page about butterfly habitats, and they are writing about butterflies, they may include a link in their article leading visitors to your page about butterfly habitats.
- This refers to a situation where someone has bookmarked a page on your website or has memorized your URL and they return to that web page using the bookmark or URL.
- Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter are the social media platforms most used to send traffic to a business website or blog.
The price of light is less than the cost of darkness. ~ Arthur C. Nielsen, Founder, AC Nielsen
Other Ways You Can Use Your Data to Grow Your Business …
- Save time:
If your efforts to draw visitors from Pinterest are failing, but your tweets light up your data, do not invest as much time on Pinterest as you do on Twitter. The return on investment tells you where to concentrate your efforts.
- Drive your content:
By looking at which of your web pages receive the most traffic, you can determine what content your visitors prefer. Give them more of that! You are doing something right, so capitalize on it.
- Learn where you need to tweak your SEO (search engine optimization):
If your bounce rate is high, meaning a high percentage of visitors view one web page on your site and then leave, something is wrong. Your keywords are driving visitors to your site organically, but when they get there they are not finding what they thought they would find. This means your keywords are not aligned with your content.
- See where you need to improve usability:
If visitors find your website poorly designed with low usability, they may just be leaving in frustration. One clue you can look for in Google Analytics is whether different visitors are leaving after they arrive at one certain web page. There may be something wrong with the way that page is set up. Maybe images are loading too slowly. Maybe visitors are accessing that page using a mobile device instead of a computer and the page (or site) not responsive. You are losing traffic because of it! Call your web designer! After changes are made, check Google Analytics to see if your site’s bounce rate has decreased.
- Schedule new content:
If you get more visitors on a certain day of the week or time of day, regularly publish new content within that time frame.
- Measure user engagement:
Besides number of new visitors, there is other data that can help you measure visitor engagement on your website. Examples: Number of page views per session or average amount of time spent on your site. Here is a biggie: the number of times your visitors have clicked on a certain link, played a video or downloaded a lead magnet you planted there for them.
What you are tracking with Google Analytics is how well your website is performing – how well it is helping you achieve your business goals. However, Google Analytics goes much deeper than what I have outlined in this post! I have given you a broad overview to show how meaningful your data can be and why you would be wise to follow it. You cannot track everything! Well, Google
Ask questions. … These two words are the holy grail of digital analytics which nobody wants to tell you. It is so important. This is my ‘one thing’ that drives my analysis these days. I spend less time in finding answers on my own and more time asking questions. I help the clients find their own answers. ~ Himanshu Sharma, Optimize Smart
To use Google Analytics most effectively and efficiently, do these 8 things:
- Know your specific goals for your business.
- Determine how you will measure your success in achieving these goals.
- Identify how your website (or blog) can help further your goals.
- Identify specific reports from Google Analytics that can show you where your website is contributing to those goals – and where it is not.
- Monitor the same data in Google Analytics over time, consistently.
- Make adjustments – one at a time – to your website based on what the data is telling you.
- Monitor the results of those adjustments.
- Rinse and repeat.
Now you know what Google Analytics can do for you and how to manage it, so it does not become unwieldy.
Too much data can be counter-productive especially in terms of time management.
You control it; do not let it control you!
Content may be king, but data is its queen. ~ Jordan Louis, Online Behavior.
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