Google Analytics is a great tool for understanding how users interact with your website, but the data can get overwhelming. What numbers should you look at and what do they mean? Let’s walk through some of the basics together.
One of the easiest things to monitor is how many people are visiting your site. This can be done in the “Audience Overview” section of Google Analytics. There’s a handy graph at the top of the page that shows the change in visits over time. (As a general rule: more is better.)
It’s very easy to jump to conclusions here, so play with the dates and times to make sure you have a full understanding of what’s happening.
For example, I recently logged in and saw that this happened last week:
Is traffic declining?! Look at Nov 17th. Yikes!
I was worried, so I expanded the date range to view the whole month:
Traffic dips every Saturday, and Nov 17th was a Saturday. No need to panic.
Then I decided to compare this year’s traffic to last year’s:
Year-over-year traffic is improving. Good!
Once you know how many people are visiting your site, the next thing to learn is where those visitors are coming from. This can be done in the “Traffic Sources” section of Google Analytics.
The main “Traffic Sources” page will give you an overview. Direct Traffic refers to people who got to your website by typing in the url. Search Traffic counts people that came to your site from a search engine. This traffic could be from PPC campaigns or organic results, and it includes search engines like Bing and Yahoo! in addition to Google. Referral Traffic includes people who came to your website by clicking on a link from social media or somebody else’s website.
Now that you have an overall picture of how people are entering your site, you can narrow in on more specific traffic sources: websites and search terms. First, look at referral traffic. Under “Sources” on the left side bar, click “Referrals.” Here will be the list of websites that drive traffic to your site. It’s likely that social media sites will be at the top of the list. (Note: t.co traffic is from Twitter.) Though you won’t know which individual posts or profiles are leading people to your website, this list can help you prioritize your social media time and budget. You can also use this section to find “regular” websites that are bringing you visitors. Is there a blog that you were unaware of? A thank you note might impress the blogger and lead to more traffic for you.
Next, look at the search traffic. You’ll notice that the Search section has three categories: Overview, Organic, and Paid. Organic traffic includes the “natural” search results. Paid includes your paid search campaigns. Overview is a combination of the two. Let’s look at Overview.
The first chart that Google Analytics shows you isn’t that helpful, so click “Keyword” on the chart to get more information about what terms people are using to find you.
It’s likely that (not provided) will be at the top of your list and some keywords with your brand name will be next.
You can use this information a few ways. First, if you’re running paid ad campaigns, you can get an idea of which ones are bringing you the most visitors. Second, you can get content ideas. Are a lot of people coming to your site because they’re searching “How to use [product]?” Maybe you should write a how-to guide. Are people searching for “[Product] reviews”? This may be a sign that you should add some reviews or testimonials to your site. Third, you can use this list to write better ads and website copy by incorporating the words that your customers use into the words that you use. For example, if you’re selling tennis shoes, but your customers keep searching for “sneakers,” you might want to rewrite your headlines to better match their needs.
Most Popular Pages
Google Analytics can also show you which pages on your site get the most visitors. To figure this out, click “Content” in the side bar, then “Site Content.” You’ll get a list of the most popular pages. (Again, be sure to play with date ranges to get a full picture.)
Next, select “Landing Pages” from the sidebar to see which pages people visit first (or land on.) It’s likely that the top page will be “/” which is Google Analytics code for your home page. You might learn some interesting things from this list, like maybe a lot of people are coming to your career page. Average Visit Duration is a good metric here. Is there one page that has an especially low visit duration? It might be time to redesign that page.
“/”means your home page in Google Analytics
Now move on to “Exit Pages” in the sidebar. These are the last pages that people visit on your site before closing the browser window or going to a new site. If you have an e-commerce site, hopefully your shopping cart “Thank You” page is toward the top of this list. If there are any surprises here, it might be good to consider redesigning or rewriting some pages.
For those of you who are more visual thinkers, “In-Page Analytics” is for you (it’s also under “Content” in the sidebar.) This section shows you where people are clicking on your site. Select Show Colors and you’ll get a sort of heat map.
Red areas are the “hottest” and get the most clicks.
Use this section to learn where people are clicking and where their attention is when they look at your website.
These are just basic insights. You can also use Google Analytics to check things like conversions, mobile traffic, and site speed. To learn more, check out Google’s handy learning center or read some of our previous posts.
Written by Stephanie Beadell, Master of Science in Mass Communications major at Boston University Dec 2012