Oct 5

How to Interpret Basic Google Analytics

Google Analytics has a wealth of very useful information about the performance of your website. Although all sites can freely access this information, you do have to sign up for the service first. If you have not already signed your website up for Google Analytics, there are clear instructions on how to do so provided by Google.

How do I get into Google Analytics?

Once you have Google Analytics set up for your site, you can access the information at any time by going to https://www.google.com/analytics. On that page, click the Access Google Analytics button at the top right corner. Once you have signed in (which you generally will not have to do after the first time), you will be taken to your Home page. This lists all of your websites, with links to the analytics about each one.

What are the most important parts of Google Analytics?

     Home Screen

Your Home Screen itemises the sites that you have connected to your account.

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You can see key information about each account at a glance. For each site you can see (for a particular period):

  • The number of sessions – i.e. the number of times people have come to your site and engaged with it
  • The average session duration – i.e. how long, on average, did each visitor stay on your site
  • The bounce rate – i.e. what percentage of people left your site after looking at only one page
  • The goal conversion rate – if you have set a goal in Google Analytics, what percentage of visitors have met that goal (more on that later).

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Obviously, the aim is to have a high number of sessions, with a long average session duration, a low bounce rate, and a high goal conversion rate. In practice, you aim to see the number of sessions, average session duration and goal conversation rate all increase over time, and the bounce rate decrease.

     Changing website and comparison periods

One thing that is not particularly obvious is that if you click on the dates given, an option box pops up that lets you alter the date range. In the same area, you are given the option to tick a box marked ‘Compared To’, which will then give you the chance to either set up a comparison to the previous period, or indeed any set date range you want. The statistics that show now change to compare the two date periods, as well as providing the percentage change between the periods.

These percentage changes are clearly colour-coded, with increases showing in green and decreases in red. It is important to realise that these same colours apply to the Bounce Rate, i.e. a green-coloured percentage increase is actually an unfortunate change, in this case.

     The Reporting Tab Shows the Most Important Reports

To find out more details about the performance of any particular site click on its name. Alternatively, click on the Reports tab at the top left of the page and this will take you to the reports for the first site on your list. To change between websites, click on the site name in the top right corner, and then select the site you want to analyze.

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The Reports screen offers many options down the left-hand side:

  • Dashboards
  • Shortcuts
  • Intelligence Events
  • Real-time
  • Audience
  • Acquisition
  • Behaviour

If you are a beginner user of Google Analytics, you might find yourself daunted by the sheer quantity of information available. Much of the data shown is most useful for advanced users, and others can safely ignore it until you become more experienced.

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The first screen you see is the Audience Overview screen. If you leave it and need to get back to this screen, you can find it by clicking on Audience in the left-hand bar, and then select Overview. This will initially show a line chart, displaying the number of sessions on your site on a day by day basis over the period that you set on the Home Screen (the last month if you didn’t alter anything). If you set things up to show a comparison period, this second period is graphed in a contrasting colour. You can change the time period easily enough. There are buttons you can press to show data by hour, day, week or month.

Beneath the main graph, there are the stats and mini-graphs for Sessions, Users, Pageviews, Pages / Session, Average Session Duration, Bounce Rate, and % New Sessions. If you click on any of these, this information will show on the main graph. As on the previous screen, in most cases except Bounce Rate, an increasing number is better. It is less clear-cut in the case of % New Sessions, where a smaller number might be preferable if it means that you are building up a loyal following of people repeatedly returning to your site.

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There are a couple of points to remember about this data. A ‘Session’ is the distinct number of times that someone comes to your website. ‘Users’ are the number of different users. Obviously if a user keeps returning to your site, ‘Sessions’ will increase, but ‘Users’ will not. ‘Pageviews’ shows the actual number of different pages that have users have looked at in total.

So for instance, if a user comes to your site for the first time this period, and leaves after looking at one page, your ‘Sessions’ will have increased by one, as will your ‘Users’ and ‘Pageviews’. Because the user left after looking at a single page, your ‘Bounce Rate’ will also have increased. If they come back the next day and examine three pages, ‘Sessions’ will have increased by one and ‘Pageviews’ by three. In this case, the ‘Users’ and ‘Bounce Rate’ would not change.

Clicking on Acquisition in the left bar, and then Overview, brings up information relating to how visitors arrive at your site. There are four methods shown:

  • Referral – these visitors got to your site by clicking on a link from anywhere outside your site (an external link). It is like a recommendation from one website to another. Obviously referral traffic is good for your site
  • Organic search – these visitors found your site in a Google search for some key term, and clicked on your link
  • Social – these visitors arrived at your site because they clicked on a social sharing link in somewhere like a Facebook post or a Twitter tweet
  • Direct – this is where Google does not know how people came to your site. In many cases, they will have directly typed your URL into their address bar, but it may be because they clicked on a link in a PDF or an email footer, or indeed any way that isn’t referral, organic or social.

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Some Specific Tips about your Google Analytics Data

The main Audience Overview page offers you a chance to learn something about the visitors to your site. Towards the bottom of the page, you can learn some key demographics about your visitors, along with the systems and types of hardware they use.

For instance, if you click on Country, you can see where the majority of your traffic comes from. You might be surprised by this data, and want to alter your content to suit better the actual people visiting your site.

Under the Browser Section you could click on Operating System. This will give you a good guide as to whether you are now receiving much traffic using mobile devices, or whether your users still tend to use desktop computers.

One useful piece if information for even a beginner blogger is the analytics about what terms your visitors were searching for when they came to your site. You will find this if you select Acquisition / Search Engine Optimization / Queries, in the left sidebar. This will show the most popular search terms your users have queried. The results may surprise you, and it may be worth modifying your content to ensure that searchers find what they are looking for.

If you have spent money on AdWords, you can see statistics relating to the effectiveness of your AdWords campaigns by selecting Acquisition /AdWords / Campaigns.

Goals

One way to see how effectively your website is performing is to set up goals for it. You do this by clicking the Admin button at the top of your page (in the same row as Home, Reporting and Customization). This will give you three columns of options, with the third column named View. In this column will find an option to select called Goals.

Google Analytics Goals help you to track the data relating to a user completing a particular action on your website. There are four types of goals you can set:

  1. Destination Goal, which is met when a user gets to a particular page on your website
  2. Duration Goal, which is met when a user stays on your site for a particular length of time
  3. Pages / Screens per Session Goal, which is met when a user visits the required number of pages or screens during their visit
  4. Event Goal, which is met when a user does a particular task, e.g. playing a certain video.

To create a goal, select the +New Goal button, which appears at the top of the Goals page. You are then walked through the process of setting up your goal.

  1. Goal Setup – select one of the templates offered, or create a custom one, e.g. one template is “Find a location – viewed location or dealer information”
  2. Goal Description – name it (if you have used a template, a suggested name will be given. Select a Goal ID from the drop-down box (e.g. Goal ID1), and the Type – this is one of the four types of goals listed above, and obviously should match the aim of the template (e.g. in the case of a location, Destination is the appropriate type)
  3. Goal Details – this is where you include the required thing that the user must do to meet the goal, e.g. if you want your user to go to a particular webpage, you include the URL of that page here). For goals that include a number (e.g. a goal for number of conversions in a month), you would include the number here as well.
  4. Select Create Goal. Your goal is now set up

Once you have given sufficient time for your users to come to your site, you can see the progress you are making towards meeting your goals in the Reports section, by going to Conversions / Goals / Overview. This will graph and show percentages (and values) for your success at meeting your goals.

The reality is that the Percentage of Conversions figure for each of your goals is the key metric for judging the success or otherwise of your website. This is particularly useful when you have set up a more complex goal, for instance, where your goal is to get people to go through your Sales Funnel and ultimately purchase a product using your online shopping cart. A steady increase in the rate of conversion for this goal must be your ultimate aim if your website sells anything.

Conclusion

This is a simple introduction to the power of Google Analytics. I have only really scraped the surface. There is tremendous source of useful data here, but it will take you time to both build up the information have available, as well as building up your understanding of that information.

Google Analytics is a very useful tool that helps you truly understand how your website is performing. It is well worth your time returning to your analytics on a regular basis, studying and digesting the information it tells you, and then altering your site to better meet your goals.