Google Analytics Primer: Which Metrics are Important?
Google Analytics is a powerful tool for measuring traffic to and within your website, but it can also appear overwhelming at first glance. There’s such a wealth of information available through Google Analytics but unless you know what you’re looking for and how to access that data, you won’t get much out of implementing an analytics package like Google Analytics.
Last week Google debuted an upgraded version of Google Analytics (v5), and anyone with a Google Analytics account can now view the old version or the new version. In order to access the new Google Analytics, simply click on new version next to your email address on the top right corner of the page. While Google is still in the process of pulling all the old features over to the new version of GA, the new version seems to be working just fine and there are even a few new features to go along with the redesign and reorganization.
You could spend months learning all the ins and outs of Google Analytics, but here are some of the most important things to look for when you’re tracking visitors on your website using Google Analytics.
When you first log into Google Analytics you’ll see the Visitors Overview that includes stats like Visitors, Pageviews, Time on Site and Bounce Rate. The Visitors and Unique Visitors numbers are important because it lets you know how many people have come to your site during the time frame you’re looking at and you then know approximately how many of those visitors have been to your site before. Pages per Visit lets you know the average number of pages each visitor goes to while on your site. Don’t think that just because you have a high Pages per Visit number it means your visitors are happy with your site and they’re getting what they wanted from your site. I’ve seen instances where a campaign caused Pages per Visit and Time on Site to drop, but have dramatically increased conversion rates. As much information as Google Analytics provides you, it still requires old fashioned individual user research or surveys to find out users sentiments.
The term Bounce Rate can be confusing. A bounce rate is the percentage of visitors to your website that only view one page (the page they landed on first) and then exit your blog. In general, you want as low a bounce rate as possible, but much like the Pages per Visit and Time on Site metrics, a bounced visitor isn’t necessarily an unsatisfied visitor. If your website is more informational in general (many Local, State and Federal Agencies have more informational than sales or conversion goals), a higher bounce rate might not be a bad thing. But for most organizations the goal of your website is likely to sell a product, ticket, room night, service or something along those lines. If you notice high bounce rates for pages where you’re specifically selling an item or asking the user to take an action (sign up for an email newsletter or download a whitepaper), you should make some modifications to the page that could help lower the bounce rate.
Tracking where your visitors are coming from is important for any organization. Under the Traffic Sources section of Google Analytics, you’ll find detailed information about how visitors came to your site and you can determine which keywords, search engines, referring sites and even ad campaigns are driving the most traffic (and even which ones have the highest ROI, through more advanced Goals).
Keywords (Organic Search)
Most websites will see the plurality (if not the majority) of traffic come through search engines. Whether it’s paid traffic via search engine marketing or organic traffic from users typing search terms into Google or Bing, you’re likely to see a lot of visitors come to your site through search. Click on Traffic Sources –> Incoming Sources –> Search –> Organic to see all the search terms that people used get to your website. Looking at the organic search terms can help you to know what kind of content you need to beef up on your website to increase traffic and conversion.
Referrals are visitors that get to your website by way of someone else’s website, but not a search engine. For instance, if I have a link on my website to yours and someone clicks through to your site from mine, then The Tourism Tech Corner will appear as a referral on your website. Click on Traffic Sources –> Incoming Sources –> Referrals to view all referral sources for your website. It’s great to see sites that are referring traffic to you, but the real benefit of referrals is when you dig down just a bit deeper to see exactly where those referrals are pushing the most traffic on your site.
To dig down to the Landing Page you can click on the image at the right for a more detailed view. Next to Secondary dimension: just below the graph, click on Select –> Traffic Sources –> Landing Page. This will then give you the great detail in the screen shot below. You can now see not only which referring sites sent you traffic, but which actual pages on your site those visitors were sent to and what their Pages Per Visit, Avg. Time on Site, % New Visits and Bounce Rate were for each specific landing page from each specific referral. See how much information you’re getting now?
The campaigns section is one of the most powerful features of Google Analytics. I won’t go into too much depth about campaign tracking, but check out this post if you want more detail about campaign tracking – specifically as it relates to tracking referrals from social media properties like Facebook and Twitter. You can view campaign tracking by clicking on Traffic Sources –> Incoming Sources –> Campaigns. Campaigns are a great way to accurately track exactly how visitors are coming to your site.
If you place several different banner ads on a website (let’s say you have IntAdA, IntAdB and IntAdC as your different ads), you can append special Google Analytics campaign tracking codes to each link on those banner ads so you know exactly who came from which ads and which ads performed best. The first thing to understand is what Google’s campaign parameters are and how to add them to your links. Below are the basic campaign tracking parameters that we’ll use.
- utm_campaign: Your campaign name (IntAdA, IntAdB, IntAdC in this example, but it could also be another campaign name or a date if you’re tracking an email send)
- utm_source: The source for the link (The site your ad is placed on for this example – we’ll call it AdSite.com – but it could also be Twitter, Facebook, HootSuite, TweetDeck)
- utm_medium: Identify your medium (For this example, we’ll call it BannerAd, but it could also be email, search, social media, SEM, display ads, twitter, facebook, etc.)
If I were running an ad campaign to push people to the Interviews section of the Tourism Tech Corner, the page I’d push visitors to would be:
http://www.in.gov/visitindiana/techcorner/index.php/category/interviews/. But, to more accurately track the entire campaign – including the different creative versions of my ad, I’d append the following to the end of the URL:
?utm_source=AdSite.com&utm_medium=BannerAd&utm_campaign=IntAdA So the full link would look like this:
The easiest way to create trackable links like this is by using the Google Analytics URL Builder. Simply put in the link you want to append tracking code to and enter the campaign, source and medium names into their respective spaces and the site will generate your trackable link for you. Throw that long URL into a URL Shortener and you’ve got a short URL you can easily share via Facebook, Twitter and other social mediums. Within Google Analytics, you can now visit the Campaign section and you can filter sort and search for your campaign, source and medium names to see how much traffic you received from all your different campaigns.
Google Analytic’s Content section features detailed information on individual pages, events (like outbound clicks) and in-site search metrics. Depending on how you’ve set up Google Analytics, your outbound clicks and in-site search may or may not work right off the bat, but the Site Content section will be a section you use quite a bit.
Within the Site Content menu, you can look at Pages which sorts all the pages on your site by the number of pageviews. It’s a great quick way to check out what your most viewed pages are so you can know what your top content was for the time frame you’re looking at.
You can also look at the Content Drilldown section that allows you to drill down deep into your site architecture to see how many views a particular page or blog post got during the time period you’re looking at. This is where I spend most of my time, as you can add a secondary dimension like City, Region or Browser which can give you a much more granular look at who’s visiting which pages.
Google Analytics also lets you dig down into your Exit Pages. An exit page is the last page a visitor was on before leaving your domain altogether. In the end, the exit percentage for every website is 100, but by looking in depth at the Exit Pages section you can see which pages are particularly notorious for sending people away from your website.
If your top exit pages are confirmation pages that visitors receive after placing an order with you, that’s not necessarily a bad thing – but couldn’t you offer them something on that page to convince them to stay at your site a little longer? If some of your top exit pages happen to be during the checkout process BEFORE visitors have purchased from you – then you’ve got a problem and need to figure out how to close the deal with those visitors before the exit your site completely.
Landing Pages is another section in the Site Content area of Google Analytics. Here you’re able to see your pages sorted by number of entrances. It’s a great way to look at your top few landing pages on your site and dig down into how people are finding those pages. In the screenshot below, I took a top landing page and segmented it by source – now I can see how many people are coming to into our site from that post through Google, Bing, Yahoo, Facebook and more.
Google Analytics’ Site Search section allows you to dig down into how visitors are using your internal search to find what they’re looking for on your site. Setting up site search is something you’ll have to do (or have your IT department do) in addition to the basic Google Analytics setup, but it setting up your GA account to track your internal site search isn’t too difficult. In Google Analytics, you can modify the account settings and there’s a place under the Profile Settings tab where you can request that GA tracks Site Search. All you have to do is enter the parameter your site uses for search and GA will start tracking it.
Events is pretty flexible part of Google Analytics. you can set up the Events section to track all of your outbound links and any downloads you offer on your site. Events were added to Google Analytics relatively recently and they’re a great addition. Before Events, most outbound clicks were tracked as pageviews – which can seriously affect your webstats with inaccurate numbers.
There are many different analytics packages (including free packages like Yahoo Web Analytics and GoingUp or paid packages like Mint, Woopra and WebTrends) and Google Analytics may not be the best package for your business. However, as one of the most popular web analytics packages in use today, understanding Google Analytics and how you can use it for your business is extremely important.
Do you use Google Analytics or some other package for your blog or website?