As a free resource, Google Analytics is used by companies of all sizes to gain information on their site visitors. It’s an essential tool for small businesses, as it allows them to get to grips with how people use their website.
Google Analytics can be a daunting prospect at first glance, with so many ways to view and sort data that it can be hard to focus on what’s important.
However, it’s important to make the effort and get the most from the data available, as it presents the best free source of information regarding your website’s performance, and provides plenty of opportunities to improve performance overall.
Using analytics can help you to identify pages on the site which are performing well, areas where potential shoppers may be dropping out, and ways to improve your conversion rate. It allows you to monitor progress over time and make data-driven decisions about your business.
As a starting point, it makes sense to identify some key metrics to track, all of which can be viewed and understood by people with little or no experience using Google Analytics.
This can be a metric which site owners can obsess over, but popularity doesn’t necessarily translate into sales. It can be more important to have the right kind of visitors (those that are more likely to convert) than massive numbers.
However, the Visitors metric (shown under Audience in GA) provides a snapshot of site performance and allows you to track trends over time. For example, you can track the performance of campaigns or new product launches to see if they drive up visitor numbers.
You can identify site downtime by dips in visitor numbers, or look at patterns like numbers of returning visitors.
To view this report, select ‘Audience’ then “Overview’ in the left hand column.
Further down the report, you can drill into information about visitors’ language, country of origin and more.
2. Traffic sources
This report, which you can find under the ‘Acquisition’ tab, gives some excellent detail on where your traffic is coming from.
Google breaks this down into six sources on most accounts (the screenshot shows a test account with ‘affiliates’ and ‘display’ as extra sources):
• Organic search. Traffic from Google and other search engines.
• Direct. This is traffic with no referrer. In theory it’s people typing the URL straight into their browser, or from a saved bookmark. In practice it can come from a range of sources which Google cannot identify.
• Referral. This is traffic from links outside of search engines. For example, sites which may have linked to your content.
• Social. Traffic from social media sites.
• Paid Search. Ads on Google or Bing for example.
This report allows you to view and compare the performance of your key channels.
In an ideal world, you’d have a good mix of traffic from various channels so that you don’t rely too much on one traffic source. For example, too much reliance on organic search makes you vulnerable to changes in Google’s algorithm or presentation of search results.
However, it’s likely that two or three channels will dominate, most often organic, email and direct/referrals.
What this report allows you to do is view relative performance across these channels.
So, for example, if paid search is converting effectively then maybe it’s worth increasing the budget. If organic search is sending traffic that isn’t converting as well, perhaps you need to look at the landing pages for improvements.
3. Bounce rate
Bounce rate is shown in several reports on Google Analytics, including the Audience and Traffic Source reports we’ve already looked at.
Put simply, bounce rate tells you how many people visited a page on your website and left without clicking through to another. All bounces are therefore one page visits.
There is no hard and fast rule for what bounce rates should be. 90% or higher may indicate a problem, or it could just mean that the particular page has enabled the user to find what they were looking for.
For example, a visitor looking for opening hours may come to that page through Google, and leave straight away having found the information they needed.
However, a high bounce rate on your homepage may indicate a problem, as it means people aren’t going further into your site to view other pages or make a purchase.
By comparing bounce rates for specific pages against the site average, it can help you to check for issues. Over time, you’ll develop an understanding of what bounce rates should look like, helping you to spot any unusual patterns.
4. Device data
Under the Audience tab, you can view detailed data on the split between mobile, desktop and tablet traffic, view the different browsers and operating systems used to access the site, and which devices people are using.
Assuming you have a mobile-friendly site, then you can see how performance varies between mobile and desktop. If, for example, bounce rates are high on mobile and conversions much lower than average, then some pages may be deterring mobile users.
We’re now at the point where mobile traffic is equal to or higher than desktop on many retail sites so the question of whether a mobile site is needed should be irrelevant, but by looking at different devices businesses can identify potential improvements.
For example, if iPhone users convert at a higher rate than Google Pixel users, this could indicate an issue with the site on the latter device.
5. Site content/popular pages
Under the Behaviour tab you can view Site Content which displays the most popular pages on the site, along with stats on time on page, bounce rate and value for each page.
From a content marketing perspective, this tells you which content is hitting the mark with users, or which products are most popular on an e-commerce site. For the latter, if a page is popular but converts at a lower rate than average then this may indicate an issue which you need to deal with.
Another thing to look at under the same section is Exit Pages, which shows the point at which users leave the site. If exits at the checkout or other stages of the purchase process are especially high, this may mean users are having problems when trying to buy.
Google Analytics won’t necessarily tell you why users are exiting the site, but by identifying areas to look at, it can alert you to possible issues. You can then look at these pages, perhaps with user testing, to understand and fix any problems.
6. Site speed
Site speed can be viewed under the Behaviour tab, and this provides a useful overview of site performance.
Speed is important for users, and slow sites can negatively affect conversions. According to stats quoted by Google, 40% of consumers will leave a page that takes more than 7 seconds to load.
The site speed report allows you to monitor page speed across the site, and identify any pages which are under-performing. It also shows page performance by browser, country etc so you can isolate certain possible issues.
Google also offers advice on speeding up pages, and the solutions are sometimes simple enough to implement – compressing images for example.
7. Landing pages
Landing pages can be viewed under the Site Content section within the Behaviour tab, and also under Search Console within the Acquisition tab.
Both reports show the pages through which users enter your site, alongside key metrics.
The landing page report under the Behaviour tab shows all landing pages, regardless of traffic source against metrics including number of sessions, bounce rates, conversions and page value (total number of sales from visits which started on that page).
Identifying key landing pages provides a valuable list of specific pages to prioritise when optimizing the site. For example, you may want to promote key products or link to more valuable pages from popular landing pages.
You can also look for unusual patterns to identify pages to improve (pages with lower than average conversions for example) or to identify and learn from high performing pages or pieces of content.
The landing pages report under the Acquisition tab helps you to track search traffic and monitor the progress of SEO efforts. The average search position helps you to see where Google is ranking your pages, while the stats on transactions and revenue allows you to see how effective these pages are at converting visitors into customers.
This is just the beginning of what you can do with Google Analytics, and all of these reports are available provided it has been set up correctly on your website.
Simply by viewing and tracking these metrics, you can identify high performing areas of the site, see potential problems that you might otherwise be unaware of, and be able to see what difference the decisions you take on things like product selection and page copy make to your business’ performance.
In addition, by using Google Analytics to track these metrics, you’ll become more accustomed to the tool, and be ready to move to the next level. For example, basic segments allow you to view reports and segments according to specific metrics. So, you could see popular landing pages segmented by region to find out which ones work best for different markets, or view popular pages by traffic source.
There’s a lot that Google Analytics can tell you about your site and the behavior of visitors, even without taking courses in analytics or hiring experts. The key is to start simply and learn as you go along.