Having looked at the SEO basics as well as where to start with your keyword research over the past few blogs, we wanted to focus on how you can track whether your search engine optimisation efforts are paying off, so you can see what’s working and what needs tweaking.
Google Analytics is, in our opinion, one of the best tools available for tracking the performance of your website and how visitors interact with it. Not only is it free but it also gives useful, meaty data that easily competes with many paid-for analytics programs.
Setting up Google Analytics
If you don’t already have Google Analytics installed on your website, then that’s your first step. Essentially, you need to add a piece of code to the source code of your website that gives Google Analytics permission to track and capture data about your traffic.
To do this, you need to set up the website you want to track as a ‘property’ in Google Analytics:
- Your very first step, if you don’t already have one, is to create a Gmail/Google+ account. Once you have this, you can then sign up to create a Google Analytics account.
- Once you’re logged in to Google Analytics, click the Admin option in the navigation menu to the top right of the page (see number 1 in the image below).
- In the Account column (see number 2 in the image below), select the account to which you want to add the property from the dropdown menu.
- In the dropdown menu in the Property column (see number 3 in the image below), click Create new property.
- Select whether it is a website or a mobile app.
- Enter the website or app name (you can track more than one website or app, so – if you are going to working with several different sites or apps – give each ‘property’ a descriptive, easily recognisable name).
- For websites only, enter the website URL – make sure you use the correct protocol, i.e. http:// or https:// and that you enter your web address without any extra characters, such as a forward slash, on the end. The correct format would be http://www.example.com rather than www.example.com/
- Select an Industry Category.
- Select the Reporting Time Zone as this will help Google Analytics define when a day begins and ends for the purposes of reporting your data.
- Click Get Tracking ID – once you click on this, your property/website will be listed in Google Analytics but you won’t be able to collect any data until you’ve set up the tracking code.
Setting up your Google Analytics tracking code
To collect data from your website, you’ll need the web tracking code (we’ll tell you how to get that below) and access to the source code for your website or the help of a web developer who can add the code on your behalf.
- You can find the tracking code snippet for your website by clicking on Tracking info/Tracking code in column two on your Google Analytics admin screen (see number 4 in the image above).
- If you have a WordPress website, there are a number of plugins designed to make adding the Google Analytics tracking code to your website as simple as possible. You might like to try the Insert Headers and Footers or Google Analytics by Yoast plugins, which are both user-friendly, even for non-techy people.
- Alternatively, if you have a WordPress site, you can add the code into the header.php or footer.php file for your website (you’ll find these files through your WordPress dashboard, under Appearance>Editor). If you’re adding the code into the header.php file, paste it before the bit of code that reads: </head>. If you’re adding the code into the footer.php file, paste it before the bit of code that reads: </body>
You can find a great YouTube tutorial on how to add this code here.
- If your website isn’t a WordPress site, you may need to paste your snippet into every web page you want to track. Paste it immediately before the closing </head>tag on each page. As it would be impossible for us to cover every option in this blog, it’s worth looking on YouTube for a tutorial. Google Analytics also has a fantastic help centre.
- Finally, you’ll need to check that your code has been set up correctly and that Google Analytics is now working. It can take 24 hours for the Google Analytics servers to update after you add the tracking code, so it will take at least that long before you see data appearing in your Google Analytics account. There are several ways to verify your tracking code is working – you can find your options in the Google Analytics help centre here.
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 using the process outlined above. Click on ‘All website data’ under the applicable website.
From here, you will enter the mainReporting screen, which has a menu running down the left hand side and brings you straight to an overview of your website’s audience for the last month. 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 through 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.
In our next Google Analytics’ blog, we’ll be looking at the more in-depth information and data you can access and use to fine tune your SEO strategy. In the meantime, do you use Google Analytics already? How often do you check your stats? Do you do anything with this information? We’d love to hear from you in the Comments section below.