If you’re building or managing a website, Google Analytics is your best friend. It provides voluminous insight into visitor behaviors, demographics, and traffic on any site. Of course, because it’s such a robust tool, Google Analytics can also be challenging for new or inexperienced users; there is simply too much data and it’s hard to know what’s important. Categorization terminology such as “source,” “medium,” and “unique page views” can trip up new users or send them down time-consuming and unproductive rabbit holes. Furthermore, Google Analytics supports multiple ways to do similar things, which only adds to the confusion. All that said, I’ve found the most prevalent source of befuddlement for new Google Analytics users stems from not knowing why they are looking at the data. The question you should always ask yourself before diving in is, “What am I trying to find?”
Be specific. What exact problem do you need to solve? What key question do you need answered? What specifically do you want to know? Once you define what you’re looking for, you can target your use of Google Analytics. It will give you insight, and you can knowledgeably adjust website content or design to improve overall user experience.
If you’re a beginner, here are the three most important categories to focus on:
- Location, which tells you where your visitors are coming from
- Medium, which tells you how they got there (social media? Google? another site?)
- Site content, which tells you what interests them most
Focusing on these three brackets will give you a solid foundation for understanding: 1) how your site is functioning in the greater digital ecosystem; 2) whether you’re drawing the visitors you desire; and 3) where to direct any improvement efforts.
Best Practices for Google Analytics
While every Google Analytics investigation is a unique endeavor, there are best practices for using the tool. My tips for new users are:
- Define mission. Before you open the tool, think about what you want to investigate. For example, do you want to know where your visitors are coming from or which blog posts are the most popular to inform your content marketing strategy? Do you want to learn how many of your visitors use mobile devices to visit your site to inform your future website development process? Do you want to know what days of the week or times of the day bring the heaviest traffic to inform your content release timing? All great things to know, but pick one to investigate first. Precision begets effectiveness, so stick to the task at hand.
- Set goals. This enables you to track whether the site is delivering the business results you need. You can track goals by deciding on a call to action that correlates with your goal. The call to action is simply the response you hope to elicit from site visitors; for example, you may want them to fill a form, watch a video, visit a certain page, download a brochure, complete a purchase, etc. The performance of your calls to action directly indicates the efficacy of your site in achieving desired goals. And, what gets measured, gets done.
- Link your AdWords account. If you’re also running ads with Google, Google Analytics will provide detailed insights into how those ads are performing, including which ones are turning visitors into buyers. This is invaluable —and fluid —data, so you want to keep close track of it.
- Link to a Google Search Console account. Linking to this free Google service will show you atomized information about how searchers find your site on Google. Given 77% of users never make it past the first page of search results, this is especially important.
To Pay or Not to Pay
Not everyone needs Google Analytics Premium, and for most new users, you’ll probably only need the basic package to function effectively and glean plenty of actionable insight. If your requirements grow to the point where you feel you need to purchase a premium version of Google Analytics, you’d be better served engaging an experienced contractor or agency with the expertise needed to advise you on using Google Analytics at a strategic campaign level.
The main benefit of using Google Analytics is that it helps you constantly refine and improve your website’s content and navigation. Used correctly, it should provide you with sound evidence to determine your course of site-development action. Of course, if you ever feel lost, you can always email me for help!