Google Analytics can provide business owners with a lot of valuable information—but sometimes, it can feel like a little too much! Have you ever wondered what reports you should be looking at to get the best picture of how your business is performing? Perhaps you’re not sure how to tell if the SEO, social media, email, or digital advertising campaigns are actually succeeding. Or, maybe you are more ROI focused, and simply want to better understand revenues from marketing.
Unfortunately for anyone seeking quick answers to basic questions, Google Analytics is not getting any easier to figure out. With so many added features, segments, filters, dimensions, dashboards, views, GTM triggers, and other buttons you can click on these days, the complexity of Google Analytics can often create more confusion than answer questions.
For business owners who don’t want to get lost in the data jungle, the best advice is: stick to the basics! To do this, we only have to go back a few years when Google Analytics first launched. The dashboard of available data was much cleaner and easier to comprehend back then. Looking back at those fundamentals can help keep you from feeling overwhelmed while still seeing a clear picture of how your business is doing.
The outline below goes back to these original reports, which are still available in Google Analytics today. By using this easy summary, you can get back to basics—and monitor what really matters!
The most important data to figure out is your conversion reporting. Before looking at any other reports you need to know what type of conversions you have setup tracking for. There are two basic types of conversions:
Most goals are based on a desired action you want each user to make. For example, if your website has submission forms for visitors to complete (whitepaper, e-book, demo, contact, etc.), your best practice is to create a unique “thank you” page for each action and track these page views as goals.
If you have multiple goals running, you can also go one step further and look at the individual goal URLs report to see exactly types of engagement each action is getting.
Ecommerce: If your website sells products online you will want to make sure your shopping cart system is sending transaction data to Google Analytics. This will enable Google Analytics to report on revenue trends, average order amount, top selling products, overall conversion rate, etc.
One pieces of advice: When reviewing conversions, ignore “industry averages” & focus on improving what you can control.
Your business is unique. And, if your business is largely seasonal, expect ups and downs. For example, if you really want to know how Q3 of 2015 performed, compare it to your own conversion data from last year (Q3 of 2014). This will draw the best comparison and tell you if you are improving our not.
Although some report names have changed over time, Google Analytics’s original Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) remain unchanged, and continue to be the best. These metrics are found under the “Audience” section on the Overview report and include page views per session, average session duration, and bounce rate.
When you view these reports, it is often helpful to ask yourself questions like, “is my new layout/design better?” “are my paid keywords too broad?” or “is my content marketing strategy working?” By looking at audience engagement trends, we can answer these questions.
Pages-Per-Session: This report used to be called “pages per visit,” but Google changed the vernacular a few years ago. Basically, this report tells you how many pages the average person visits when they come to your site. Anything under 1.5 tells you most people are just coming to the read one page and then leaving.
With this report you can also compare long-term trends to see if over time, more people are engaging longer. This comes in handy more when doing before/after comparisons for UX testing, or call to action testing. Any major peaks or valleys along this data can tell you if you are on the right path, or not.
Time on Site: Time on site (or Avg. Session Duration) is another aggregate number that can help determine people’s interest in your content. Basically, the more time someone spends shopping or researching your services, the better.
This metric can also help determine the quality of your site’s traffic. For example, if you buy more ad traffic, but see a sudden drop on time spent on the site, you can assume the landing page is not meeting audience expectations, and more optimization is needed.
Bounce Rate: The bounce rate report has withstood the test of time, even though its usefulness has been widely debated. Knowing how many people came to your site and left without visiting another page is important, but added context can make the data more useful.
For example, in aggregate, you can find answers to questions like “is my new design more engaging?” or “are my call to action buttons attracting more clicks?” But I also recommend you dive in at the individual URL level, as bounce rate is not just a site-wide aggregate number. Each page has its own unique bounce rate, as well. A page-level view will therefore help you understand why the overall average trend is moving in a certain way.
For example, sometimes a company video or article can gain some viral traction and get a lot of page views, but that rarely translates in to a lower bounce rate with more clicks within the site. Getting people to click to another page can help you lower the average bounce rate percentage overall, but often it’s one or two pages that skew the bulk of the bounce rate, so it’s best to start looking at these page individually first.
Traffic Trends can be found in the “Acquisition” section within Google Analytics. While understanding these trends has become more difficult over time, we can still lump all site traffic into 4 major sub-categories:
- Search Traffic: The first note is to understand if your paid traffic is not tagged properly. Some sites have paid clicks under organic search. Google Analytics has taken steps toward fixing this common issue, but it’s often up to site owners to make sure their paid traffic is tracking properly. As you can see in the screenshot, this site has separated channel groupings from organic (SEO) search from Paid Search (PPC ads).
- Direct Traffic: Direct Traffic is traffic to your site from people typing the URL into their address bar, but it can also include other traffic that is not tagged, or referral path data that has been removed. This is common with some email providers and bookmarked links.
- Campaign/Paid Traffic: Any ad traffic you are getting across display ad networks, or social ad networks, can be identified as part of your larger paid traffic campaign. Recently, Google Analytics has been getting better at picking up and naming this traffic automatically, but you may want to manually classify and segment traffic to your site. It’s always a best practice to use the Google Analytics URL builder and build custom URLs yourself.
- Referral Traffic: Traffic from social media sites such as Facebook used to be part of the larger referral traffic category. Today, social media traffic gets its own channel grouping, but in the end, all traffic from a website that links to your website can be considered referral traffic.
Understanding content performance in 2015 is essential for digital marketers. The data will absolutely help you make smarter choices for the future of your copy, advertising, and SEO.
The best way to dissect and understand this data is to put yourself in your users’ shoes. If you can understand what their first impression of your site is, based on their reason for visiting, then you can start to tailor a more customized campaign that resonates with your audience better. Try answering these 5 questions below. Then, you can start to develop future article ideas, find ways to improve ad copy, and define your audience targeting for better media buying in the future:
- Which landing pages/articles are generating the most traffic?
- Which pages are getting the best engagement?
- Which pages are getting the poorest bounce rate and session times?
- Which landing pages are leading people to a conversion?
- Which keyword areas are providing the most conversions?
While Google’s evolution in Analytics has been great for consultants who deliver the sort of deeper analysis and marketing we provide at Rank Fuse, we also think it’s important for all our clients and any business owner to be able to quickly log in and understand their own Google Analytics data. The metrics in the outline above have stood the test of time through all of Google’s changes, and we recommend always going back to these basics whenever the volume of data you’re seeing becomes overwhelming.
Want to lean more? Register now for Kevin’s ECJC workshop on September 24th.