Google Analytics is great for Digital Marketers, but I have had many Digital Marketers and Business owners ask “What do I need to pay attention to in Google Analytics?”
I consider my Google Analytics data to be my “Holy Grail” of interactions that users take on my site.
What is Google Analytics and Why do we care?
For me, Google Analytics is my “source of truth” where I can see just exactly how my site is performing.
Basically, Google Analytics is a suite of tools that allows you to track the ways that visitors interact with your site.
Did my client’s site have an increase in traffic in March? Well, it’s my job as a Digital Analyst to figure out what factors contributed to this increase.
You will need a foundation in Google Analytics to interpret this data. Hopefully, my guide will lessen the learning curve of Google Analytics and you can get started on interpreting this data in a meaningful way sooner, rather than later.
Again, why do we care?
It’s highly configurable, allowing you to adjust the types of data you gather and allows you to make informed decisions about content that may or may not resonate with your visitors!
With all this data, you can change the date ranges and anticipate seasonality as you see trends. If you sell products or book services on the site, you can track how many people start on the site vs how many actually book (called your Conversion Rate). What you do with this powerful data is up to you!
Overview of Google Analytics
I’m almost positive that you have taken the Fundamentals of Google Analytics in the Google Academy and if not, maybe consider that as a first step.
But if you have completed the Fundamentals of Google Analytics and you still aren’t sure what the heck is going on… it’s ok, you aren’t alone.
I want you to understand 3 concepts that make Google Analytics valuable: Metrics, Sources, and Goals.
If you can understand these concepts by the end of this article, my job is done.
We are going to do a brief installation guide and then get into these 3 key elements.
Getting Started with Google Analytics Installation
Skip this part if you have your Google Analytics tag already installed on your site.
Head on over to Google Analytics and create an account.
You will need to have your site up and running for us to add the Unique Google Tracking ID. I know this sounds scary, but the person who helped you build your site will know exactly where this belongs.
Simply copy/paste the code snippet onto the site. The blue highlighted text the Google Analytics code and the red part is the unique part of the code (which I have blocked).
This code belongs in the <head> of your site.
For WordPress, please use a child theme and add it by going to Appearance – Editor and adding it to the Header.php part of the page. There’s a countless guide online to help you with this, so don’t worry if you get stuck., Just Google it!
After this step, we can begin to see traffic.
Go ahead and check to see if you can see yourself in Realtime – Overview. If you are on your homepage in a browser, you should see something like this:
If so, congratulations! You’ve installed Google Analytics and we can move on to discussions the Metrics that Matter in Google Analytics.
Digging into Google Analytics
The greatest part of Google Analytics is that we can begin segmenting our traffic to see which marketing efforts are paying off or where we have the biggest opportunities for growth.
My favorite tab for this is the Reporting – Acquisition – All Traffic – Channels.
You can see all this cool data and more once you get in, but you will want to give it time for the data to be collected. Google Analytics will only capture data while the code we installed is live, so give it some time.
Sources in Google Analytics
Google Analytics (mostly) does a great job of organizing our traffic into a few sources. When we view these sources, we get an idea of how our users reached our site. Here’s a breakdown of our sources.
- Organic – Did this user arrive on your site via a Search Engine like Google, Bing or Yahoo? Then the session will be in the Organic category.
- Direct – Direct Traffic is when a user lands on your page by typing in your URL into their search bar or maybe they had the page bookmarked. While editing your own site, your sessions will appear in the Direct traffic category. I recommend Filtering out your own IP Address in Google Analytics too.
- Paid – If you are utilizing Paid Traffic campaigns like Google Ads, you will see those users and sessions in this category.
- Referral – When a user or a session is taken from a site you don’t own to your own site by clicking on a link, it will be reported here.
- Social – Pinterest, Linkedin, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media visits will be listed here.
- (Other) – Sometimes, Google Analytics doesn’t understand how users get to your site. This is unfortunate but we can help Google out by utilizing the URL builder.
As we said above, Not all sources carry over, which creates some confusion within Google Analytics. When configuring PPC or Email campaigns, I recommend using the Google URL Builder. We are going to have a separate blog post on Why Use the Google URL Builder very soon.
Metrics that Matter in Google Analytics
- Users – Each Person that visits your site will be counted as a unique user. Think of this as your visitor count.
- New Users – This is an indication of how many new people are landing on your site. Your past Users aren’t counted here, so checking this out can give you an idea of overall organic growth!
- Sessions – If a User lands on your site multiple times in a period, they will be counted as 1 User. But each visit will be counted as Session. Think of sessions as a unique hit, regards of if it was a returning user or a fresh face on your site.
- Bounce Rate – This is a % of how many users left your site after only viewing one page. Let’s be clear: A Greater % is Bad. A high bounce rate means that people are leaving without checking out more on your site.
- Pages / Session – How many pages your visitors check out (on average) while they are on the site.
- Average Session Duration – How long did sessions last on your site? More minutes and seconds are better than less. We want users to be engaged and read more.
Goals in Google Analytics
Let’s step out of the Digital Marketing world for a minute. Most of my conversation with my clients is about how to bridge the gap between the “real world” and the online world.
The way I contribute to a customer’s bottom line is through creating Goals in Google Analytics that correspond with their Key Performance Indicators (Called KPIs).
If my client makes money by selling concert tickets, It’s my job as their Digital Marketer to create Goals in Google Analytics that “count” the number of Ticket Sales. That way when a Concert Ticket is sold, our Google Analytics dashboard counts that KPI interaction as a “hit” and Phil can make an ROI argument that our Digital Marketing efforts contributed X ticket sales last month.
I love increasing a site’s traffic, but my clients cannot take their Organic Traffic increases to the bank and pay their employees.
With Google Analytics Goal Tracking and Reporting, my clients get a clear idea of how many leads/sales/sign-ups or whatever they’d like I am generating per month.
My weapon of choice for reporting is Google Data Studio. We are going into Google Data Studio dashboards setups in a later blog post – stay tuned for that!
Interpreting your Google Analytics Data
Now we understand Metrics, Sources and Goals, let’s talk about how to interpret this data.
Here’s where the rubber meets the road, as far as Digital Marketing Skills sets.
Can you turn the numbers that you see into your Google Analytics dashboard into meaningful recommendations and observations?
Honestly, this is the toughest part of my job. If I cannot articulate WHY our organic traffic is down, then I’m not able to offer recommendations or avoiding those Web Marketing activities that cause our traffic to increase or drop.
This will become more familiar as you create, review and deliver reporting to your clients, but here are a few tips I can provide that helped me:
- Talk with your clients and understand the historical context of the data.
- EG: If traffic was down in March, ask questions: “Did we not do an email campaign in March vs Feb or April?”
- Look at larger data sets
- Sometimes you just have a bad week, I prefer to look at months.
- This gets away from “sample size” problems
- Understand your site’s seasonality
- It’s almost universal that December traffic is poor. But there are seasonal factors that affect your site’s traffic and you must be able to explain that to your client. Looking at your data Year over Year can help reveal seasonality trends.
- I love dropping all this session, user and engagement data into tables in Data Studio.
- Use the Google URL Builder
- The URL Builder will help you categorize the source and mediums of your traffic, and get away from Direct and (Other) traffic Sources
I hope that this post helps you understand how important and powerful your Google Analytics data is for you and your clients.
Reach out if you have any questions or comments on this article. If not, get out there and make that Google Analytics data meaningful!
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