In Part One of our Google Analytics mini-series, we looked at how to set up Google Analytics for your website. This article goes deeper into Google Analytics to help you make sense of the various reports and options.
Understanding Google Analytics
Now you have Google Analytics set up for your website, you can start to get to grips with the data and what it all means.
When you log in to Google Analytics, you’ll be presented with a screen that lists the various websites (‘properties’) you’ve set up under your account. Click on ‘All website data’ under the applicable website.
From here, you will enter the main Home screen, which has a menu running down the left-hand side and brings you straight to an overview of your website’s main data for the last 7 days.
To see data about your audience click on Audience Overview. If you want to get an overview of your audience for a different time period, simply click on the dates on the top right-hand side of the screen and enter the date range you want to see.
This initial Audience Overview screen contains some important data:
- The number of sessions – a session is a period where a user engages with your website in some way. One user could account for several sessions if they’ve been back to your site a few times.
- The number of unique users – this is the number of unique users (both new visitors and returning) who have spent at least one session on your website.
- The number of page views – this is the total number of web pages that people have looked at during the time period.
- The number of pages/session – in other words, this data tells you the average number of web pages people look at during a session. The higher the number of pages per session, the more deeply people are reading into your site.
- The average session duration – i.e. how long each session lasts on average. The longer your session average, the more likely Google is to view your site as ‘sticky’, attracting visitors who want to read what you have to offer.
- Your website’s bounce rate – this is the percentage of single-page visits to your site, where a visitor comes in and leaves on the same page without going anywhere else on the site.
As a rule of thumb, a bounce rate of 50% or less is excellent; 60-70% is typical, 70-80% is poor and 80%+ is cause for concern. However, we have heard of high performing websites with a 75% bounce rate, the key being that the remaining 25% are target customers who engage extensively with the website.
A high bounce rate might suggest that you need to look at ways to make your main landing pages, including the Home page, more engaging to your target customers. If your website is new, you can probably expect to see your high bounce rate come down over the next few weeks but keep an eye on this figure in case it doesn’t improve.
- The percentage of new sessions – in other words, how many of the sessions during the time period were first-time visitors to your site.
- The number of returning visitors and new visitors – this is a good indication of how much of your web traffic comes from visitors who are already familiar with your business.
- On this initial Audience Overview screen, you can also click on the various Demographics options under the Language, System and Mobile headings for a quick snapshot of where your website visitors live, what language they speak, what devices they’re using to view your site and much more.
Real-time data in Google Analytics
As the name would suggest, the Real Time option in the main left-hand navigation menu of Google Analytics lets you see what’s happening live on your site at any given moment. The Overview screen (see the picture above) shows at a glance whether you have new or returning visitors currently on the site, the top active pages – i.e. what pages visitors are currently viewing, how long they’ve been on the site, the number of pages they’ve viewed, where they’re located, how they found your site (e.g. social media, search engine), and the keywords used to find the site.
This is a really useful tool if you’re running a specific campaign or you’ve published a new blog and have promoted it on several platforms, as you can see which platform is driving traffic to your site most effectively.
Under the Overview option, you can also click on Location, Traffic sources, Content, Events and Conversions for more in-depth real-time data about who’s visiting your website and where they come from.
Audience data in Google Analytics
You’ll notice that there are a number of menus and sub-menus under the Audience heading.
- The Demographics and Interests data is there to help you better understand your website visitors – how old they are, their gender and their interests. This is all information that you can use to begin creating or refining your profile for your target customer.
- Under the Geo heading, you can click on Language or Location to find out more about where your customers are based. This is a helpful tool if you’re trying to attract local business.
For example, I’ve known clients who run hotels and restaurants make good use of this data as it’s shown them that a lot of their website traffic comes from people in London who are looking for weekend breaks to the countryside, enabling them to tweak their on-page copy to make it more appealing to these potential customers.
- The Behaviour report lets you look at data around your new and returning customers. You can see, for example, whether you get a higher bounce rate from new visitors or from returning visitors. A high bounce rate for new visitors might suggest that your website isn’t making what you offer clear, whereas you might experience a higher bounce rate for returning visitors because they are literally popping onto your site to read a specific blog article or to check something they’ve already seen on the site, then leaving because they’ve already read much of your content.
- The Frequency & Recency data shows you how many times returning customers tend to come back and the average number of days between sessions.
- The Engagement report lets you drill down more into how long people are spending on your site and how many pages they’re reading. Are people spending just 0-10 seconds on your site or spending minutes or even hours reading your content? You may spot some trends here.
- The Technology data enables you to see what browsers and operating systems people are using to view your website. It’s a good idea to check that visitors are able to see your website properly in any browser. You can do this using a tool like Browser Shots or BrowserStack.
- The Mobile data will show you how many people are viewing your website from desktops, mobile phones or tablets. Click on Devices and you can even see which mobiles and tablets people are using.
These days, it’s important to have a responsive website, or a desktop and mobile version of your site if you’re not in the position to create a responsive site at the moment. A responsive site is one that will adapt to fit the device on which it’s being viewed. If you don’t have a responsive or mobile version of your site, you may find you lose visitors who are on mobile devices because they may have to scroll horizontally as well as vertically to view your pages, the text may also be difficult to read, and buttons and pull-down menus wrongly sized.
- In September 2014, Google announced the return of Benchmarking in Google Analytics. This data is great for contextualising the performance of your website against trends in your industry as it compares your site’s performance to data averaged from thousands of other sites in the same sector.
In the image above, we can see that the benchmark uses data from 91,518 other websites under the Advertising & Marketing category. The website in question is largely following the benchmark line, outperforming the benchmark on 8th September and 8th October, for example, but slightly underperforming on 28th, 29th September.
The top line of data gives a good overview. In the website above, we can see that it attracts 8.85% more sessions than the benchmark and 26.27% more pages/session. People spend 52.35% more time on the site than the benchmark and the site has a Bounce rate that’s 39.01% lower than the benchmark.
The data in the six columns breaks things down by the default ‘Channel’ grouping, i.e. where the traffic came from, but you can also view the data by location or device. Positive percentages (indicated by green arrows and boxes) show where your website is performing higher than the benchmark, whereas negative numbers show where the site is performing lower than the benchmark. The only exception to this is in the Bounce Rate column where negative percentages mean your bounce rate is lower than the industry benchmark.
With the website above, the business owner knows that they have sat back with their social media and SEO efforts recently and the downturn in sessions and new visitors is noticeable as a result. What they can see is that when people find the site, they are spending a lot of time on it.
- The Users Flow data enables you to see how visitors move through your website – e.g. what pages they land on, which pages they visit next and where they leave the site.
You can sort this data in a multitude of ways; for example, where does traffic from Google bring people into the site? If they arrive on your Home page, where do they go next? If people are coming to your site because of blog links on social media, which blogs are attracting the most traffic? Do people just read the blog and leave or do they stay on the site? What calls to action could you add at the end of your blog articles to keep people reading? Do people on mobile devices flow through the site differently to desktop users? All of this information is available here.
Acquisitions data in Google Analytics
The Acquisitions information available in Google Analytics is where things get really meaty in terms of reviewing your SEO efforts. This is the section to review regularly if you want to know where your traffic is coming from and whether your various campaigns are working.
- As in the other sections, the Overview screen gives you an immediate snapshot of how your website is ‘acquiring’ visitors. This data can be sorted by Channel – e.g. organic traffic, social media, referrals, direct traffic, emails and other – or by Source and/or Medium. If you’ve recently written a guest blog for another site or you’re using a WordPress plugin to retweet old blogs, for example, this is the place to see whether they’ve generated any traffic.
- The All Traffic data will let you take a deeper look at how your visitors behaved from all channels, mediums and sources. You may see that organic searches through Google account for the biggest percentage or that when people click through from Facebook, they are less likely to bounce away from your site.
- Under the All Referrals category, you can see where visitors have found you through backlinks on other sites, guest blogs, links in your newsletter or directory sites, as just a few examples. If you’re attracting a lot of traffic from a particular source, you might think about how you can nurture this relationship or promote this source more frequently.
- If you send out a regular newsletter using a mailing service like Mailchimp or Mad Mimi, you can connect it to Google Analytics and review the traffic resulting from the campaign under the Campaigns heading. Which campaigns generated the most traffic, sessions or new users? Did you do anything differently in that campaign? Could you produce another newsletter on a related topic?
- The Keyword data is the one that people are often interested in but Google doesn’t tell us as much as it once did here. I personally prefer the data you find under Search Console>Queries. I also find that Google Search Console – which we’ll be covering in a forthcoming blog – provides more comprehensive keyword data.
Apparently, Google has reduced the amount of keyword data available in Google Analytics as a reminder that keywords are just a small part of successful SEO and shouldn’t be our primary focus. It’s worth checking out the data here for some information about keywords used to find your site in organic searches. If you use paid-for Google AdWords campaigns, you can also review the keyword performance here.
- The Cost Analysis data is in BETA testing and will let you see visit, cost and revenue performance data for your paid marketing channels, such as Google AdWords.
- If you run a Google AdWords campaign, you can link it to your Google Analytics account for a comprehensive breakdown of each campaign’s performance. You will find various options under the AdWords heading and subheadings.
- If you’re using social media to promote your business, then the Social information in Google Analytics will let you track which platforms are bringing traffic to your site. Are most of your visitors finding you through Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest or somewhere else altogether? Which URLs from your website are people sharing and talking about on social media? This is the place to look.
Under the different headings, you can find out more about where your traffic is coming from and trackbacks to your site. You can also track how they are performing with the Social Plug-in Analytics.
- The Search Console section of Google Analytics is where you will find the most helpful data about the keywords people are using to find your website. Click on Queries and you’ll be able to see a breakdown of the keywords used to find you during the given time period, the number of impressions for each keyword (i.e. how many times your website was seen in search engine results pages (SERPs)), the number of clicks through to your site from that keyword search, your average position for the keyword in search engine rankings, and your clickthrough rate (i.e. the percentage of impressions that resulted in clicks). A high clickthrough rate typically means that you are attracting targeted traffic, so you may not be getting a massive number of impressions but those that find your site are interested in visiting it.
Which are your best ranking keywords? Are they attracting much traffic? Which keywords attract the most impressions? Which keywords give you the best clickthrough rates? The answers to these questions can help you decide whether you need to tweak your content or write blogs around specific topics, for example.
- The Landing pages data under Search Console lets you see which pages most often show up in SERPs as well as the impressions, clicks, average ranking and clickthrough rate. The Countries section shows you where in the world the daily impressions are being seen.
Understanding how visitors behave on your website
The Behaviour data in Google Analytics is really valuable in terms of understanding which pages on your website attract lots of visitors, where people come in, where they go and where they leave.
- You can sort the Overview data by Page Views, Exit %, Average time on site, and more. This overview screen, which defaults to Page Views, will show you at a glance which were your ten most viewed pages during the selected time period. If, for example, your Rates page is one of the most viewed pages on the site, you might want to check that the information is up-to-date and that it reflects your latest rates.
- The Site Content sections will really let you get up close and personal with how the different pages on your website are performing. Which get seen the most? Which have the highest bounce rates? Which bring the most traffic into your site? Which keep people reading? Which tend to be the exit pages? This information can all be found within the subheadings of this section of Google Analytics.
- The page speeds of your website are important to the visitors’ experience. If certain pages, or your site as a whole, have a slow load time, you may find that visitors navigate away from the site to look for one that’s faster. The Site Speed reports will let you explore how your website is performing in terms of load speed. Click on Speed Suggestions to view the PageSpeed Insights from Google, what could do with fixing and how.
- The Site Search report shows you how many people are using the search bar on your website to find content and what keywords they’re using to search.
- The Events reports show you how people use the interactive elements on your website, such as video players, games and other interactive experiences. When a player watches a video, for example, no page view is generated, so the Events data means this interaction still gets captured. Google provides an Events Tracking Guide to help you make the most of this feature.
- Google AdSense is a free way to earn money by displaying targeted Google ads to your website’s visitors. AdSense also lets you provide Google search to your site users and earn money by displaying Google ads on SERPs. If you have an AdSense account, this is where you will find the key metrics.
- You can use the Experiments feature in Google Analytics to split test two versions of the same landing page to see which works best. Click on ‘Create experiment’ to set up your split test and generate the applicable code for Google Analytics to track the performance of the two page variations.
- The In-page analytics can be a bit glitchy at times but they’re incredibly useful in terms of seeing where people are clicking within your web pages to navigate through the site. Are they clicking on your main navigation menu, sliders, images, hyperlinks or calls to action? Knowing where people are most likely to click can help you decide where to put the most important information on the page.
Tracking and measuring conversions in Google Analytics
So now we move to the final section of reports available in Google Analytics: the Conversions menu.
- Essentially, a conversion is the completion of an activity on your site; this might be signing up to your ebook, downloading information, registering for a programme or filling out your contact form. You need to set up a Goal for each conversion you want to measure on your site. Google Analytics publishes a tutorial to walk you through the process of setting up goals.
The data under Goals lets you track how your goals are performing.
- If you sell products or services online, then you can add a snippet of tracking code to track data such as product sales, purchase amounts and billing locations. The various reports in the E-commerce section enable you to segment and analyse your data, and discover relationships between your marketing campaigns, user engagement and transactions.
- As Google Analytics explains, customers will typically visit your website multiple times before they actually buy from you, sign up or register. A potential customer may find your brand in an ad, on social media or through word of mouth referrals, visit your site to find out more, then finally return to buy from you. In fact, it’s estimated that people require between 7 and 27 touchpoints with a brand before they become customers. The data in the Multi-Channel Funnels and Attributions sections lets you analyse your customers’ conversions paths – in other words, the sequence of interactions that led to the goal conversions. This can help you make decisions about your advertising and marketing strategy.
So there you have it, our no-nonsense guide to using Google Analytics to boost your SEO. We hope you’ve found it helpful. Which sections do you think you’d like to know more about? How will you be using Google Analytics to supercharge your website’s performance? We’d love to hear more from you in the Comments below.