The Google Analytics Starter Guide for Business
Having an online business can be an incredibly lean and efficient way to operate. But do you know the kind of traffic you’re getting, or how long people stay on a page?
Google Analytics can help you measure all kinds of customer interactions—some you might find quite surprising. Knowing this information can be integral to the growth and success of your business over time. But where do you look for it?
This guide will show you how to use Analytics to find the most integral information about your business in a simple, easy-to-understand way.
Set Up Google Analytics
Start off by making sure your site is connected to Google Analytics.
There are several ways to get Google Analytics working on your site. It depends on your site’s set-up, and Google has a fairly comprehensive guide on how to do this. There are also videos that break it down for you if you need them.
Once it’s set up, it will work its magic without you ever having to interfere with it again (as long as you don’t completely redesign your site code).
Where to Look First: Acquisition and Behavior
NB: Click on any image to enlarge it.
Arguably, the most important information can be found under acquisition (where your traffic came from) and behavior (what the traffic did when it arrived), so these are a good place to start.
Despite being the third tab down, navigate straight to the Acquisition tab. The top 3 things you want to know here, are probably:
- How many people land on your site.
Find this out by going to the third tab down, ‘ACQUISITION’, and clicking ‘All Traffic’, then ‘Channels’. (You may find the ‘Overview’ useful, but for ease, ‘All Traffic’ shows everything more clearly.)
This will bring up a graph showing a day-by-day breakdown of total site traffic. The graph is the simplest, most visual way to get a sense of the direction your site is going in.
It’s useful to adjust the date range. To do this, click the box at the top right of your graph.
Bear in mind that, like in brick-and-mortar businesses, your site activity will fluctuate based on day/time of year, so setting a longer date range than Google’s default is a good idea—a month or two works best.
It’s also worth noting that Google measures a session slightly differently to other analytics tools you may be using on your site, so be prepared for their numbers to be slightly different from others you may have seen. Google tends to be a stricter measurement tool, only counting the true sessions as opposed to ‘hits’. While differing from competitors, Google’s method makes the data more indicative of your site’s success.
- Where traffic comes from
This will reveal whether or not your marketing and backlinks are working. Some of your traffic should be from sites that you know for sure contain links to your site. You’ll find this data under ‘Referral’ (see below).
Under the graph you will see a table of numbers like this (hopefully your numbers will be a little healthier than mine):
‘Referrals’ refers to site visitors who have arrived via another site. This could be traffic from a backlink or a social media post. Direct traffic is made up of those who typed your website into their browser. Organic search refers to those who came via a search engine.
The columns to the right of ‘sessions’ are fairly self-explanatory, but if you need to know more, hover over the little ‘?’ icon next to the bold text.
Of these other metrics, ‘Bounce Rate’ is probably the most important, as it gives you a sense of how many people leave your site immediately without any further interaction. We all do this when we inevitably fall for clickbait or realize we clicked the wrong link. So, in this case, the lower your percentage is, the better your site is engaging the audience.
Clicking the ‘Referral’ hyperlink will show you a list of your referring sites and ‘Direct’ will show you where direct traffic landed. Since direct traffic consists of people typing in your website address manually, it is most likely to be your site homepage. For this, you will just see ‘/’.
Finally, clicking the ‘Organic Search’ link brings us onto what is probably your third biggest ‘want’ from analytics data:
- Finding out what search terms led people to your site
Clicking ‘Organic Search’ will often bring up search terms used to bring customers to your site, but be ready for this to say ‘not provided’. Often, Google restricts this information to encourage you to upgrade to Adwords packages and premium Analytics (where more detailed data is revealed).
Secondary Dimension Tool
While a slightly more advanced tool, I’ve included it here since it is a great way to save time learning other elements of Analytics. The ‘Secondary Dimension’ tool is one of the most useful ways to quickly compare information. It allows you to offset stats against each other in order to draw new conclusions.. Clicking this tool essentially brings up a reduced version of the main menu, and allows you to select other data to appear in a new column.
For example, in the screenshot above, I have added ‘Destination page’ (from under ‘Behavior’, see below), and it places this data in a new column. This tool saves scrolling through each part of the analytics individually and enables you to quickly pair your most important data.
Behavior, in its most basic form, is incredibly useful. It shows how the customer actually interacts with, and journeys through, your site.
- What pages are being viewed?
This is behavior’s raison d’être. It, quite simply, breaks down which pages are popular, how long was spent on them, and can even go on to track where people clicked on the page if you set up events (see our advanced section below).
Click ‘BEHAVIOR’ > ‘Site Content’ > ‘All Pages’, and you will see your version of the screenshot below.
This is another instance when the ‘Secondary Dimension’ can be useful—you can click ‘Secondary Dimension’ > ‘Acquisition’ > ‘Source/Medium’ to add see how people navigated to these pages.
The bounce rates and exit rates displayed here are specific to each page that’s been viewed. It may not include every page on your site, as some of your pages probably aren’t getting any traffic.
- Landing Pages and Exit Pages
Pretty self-explanatory—these are the pages on which people arrive and exit your site. It can be enlightening to see what pages people land on, as it goes some way to explaining which of your pages are indexed by search engines or linked to from other websites (for whatever reason). Likewise with exit pages; is there one particular page where you lose your customers time and time again?
You can see these stats by clicking the respective tabs (shown in the ‘Behavior’ menu screenshot above), or, more usefully, you can see these in context by clicking the ‘Behavior Flow’ button.
This shows you each customer journey as a flow diagram, a simple and visual way to view this information.
This screenshot shows each of your pages that was a landing page as a white square (far left), and then the subsequently viewed pages in green. You’ll notice the number drop off as people close the session window. My longest journey is four pages (not great)—how long is yours?
If you’ve been looking at your Google panel alongside this article, you may have noticed we missed out the button second from the top, ‘Audience’.
This was deliberate. You can get about as specific as you want when it comes to your audience using Analytics but bear in mind that demographics, genders and other specifics are only generalizations. For example, it could be someone else using the computer, not the person logged in to the Google account.
Crucially, Audience is a metric that only really comes into its own when you’re:
- Achieving high enough numbers for it to be an accurate representation
- If you are carrying out a targeted advertising campaign.
More Advanced Google Analytics Features
It’s always useful when you’re given direction for the next level. These are our top features that you may find useful in the future if you’re an Analytics beginner, or perhaps if you’ve already taken some tentative steps into the world of Analytics.
Events are one of the most useful things if your main objective is to drive traffic off your site (although there are myriad other uses for them too). Perhaps you are using your website to promote a Facebook page, a product listed on an external site, or something like a song on Spotify. You don’t have access to the analytics data of the destination site, but you want to know how many times people click the button you’ve placed to send them there.
Using Tag Manager, you can create an event that ‘fires’ every time someone clicks a button. This is a useful guide to how to set this up.
You will need to sign up for Google Tags. This video will give you an overview of other uses for Google Tags.
Conversion goals are ultimately the most useful way of implementing Google Analytics. They tell you when a site visitor meets your criteria of ‘converting,’ going from a casual browser of your website to making a commitment. For example, a conversion could be signing up on a mailing list or purchasing a product. If set up correctly, conversion goals can tell you almost anything about how your customer transacted.
While fairly intuitive to understand once they’re set up in Google Analytics, adding them can be rather complex. To learn more about how to enable conversion goals, this guide is fairly comprehensive.
What is Moz, and do I need it?
You may have heard of ‘Moz’ or your ‘Moz ranking’. Moz helps you review your ranking compared to your competitors (or, more loosely, sites performing on your desired search terms). It’s also an easy tool to use.
Moz scores every site in its index by domain authority and individual page authority. These two metrics are known to help your search ranking and are determined by your backlinks, site content, popularity, and other factors.
Moz not only helps quantify backlinks but also has other neat tools such as a keyword research tool that can help you research and plan your site directly. Following your keyword performance can enable you to better position yourself against competitors for certain search terms/articles. For example, if you use a blog to draw traffic to your site, you can perform Moz searches to see what you have a good chance of ranking on, and then tailor it accordingly.
The Sky’s The Limit
Moz is just one of many other software options outside Google Analytics that can be useful. Mouseflow (and similar products) quite literally track the movement of the mouse on your website and then reproduce the exact journey someone took.
This may seem a little extreme but companies are doing this already. Let’s face it, information can hardly get more useful than seeing exactly how long someone lingered on a button, or whether they interacted with a sidebar instead of the main CTA you thought they would use. Perhaps they traced the cursor over your text as they read it—all interesting stuff!
And the more you learn, the more you want to find out which will lead you down new paths of discovery.
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