When a customer walks through your front door, there is a lot you can learn from a quick conversation: Where are they from? How did they find you? What product or service are they looking for? At first glance it might not seem your website can provide that information, but in fact your website can provide a plethora of customer insights.
Before you can start collecting data you need to select a tracking software to install on your site. There are many options available - some free and some paid - but Google Analytics is by and far the most used website analytics software. And for good reason: it is extremely robust and free to use. While this article will specifically reference the Google Analytics platform (hereinafter “Analytics”), the data we will be discussing can be found in any website analytics software.
Install Your Analytics Software
Depending on how you are managing your website will dictate how you add your analytic’s tracking code to the site. Common CMS platforms - like Wordpress and Drupal - will have plugins or modules that make adding your tracking code fairly simple (of course, you’ll need to have the plugin or module installed on the site). If you aren’t going to use a plugin or module you can always upload your code within your <head> section via FTP/SFTP. Once uploaded, we suggest checking the Real-Time view in Analytics to ensure the tracking code was installed properly (or install Tag Manager).
If you aren’t comfortable with either of the above methods, we suggest contacting your web developer to help with the installation process.
Review Your Data
Once installed you will want to head over to your Google Analytics interface, which can be found at analytics.google.com. At first glance, Analytics can look overwhelming. So before you start exploring let’s review the main features:
- Date Selection
Befre reviewing data reports, you need to be aware of the date selection options. As you move throughout the different data views, Analytics will display the data for the time period you have selected. It is important to define this parameter first, so that your data matches the time period you are interested in reviewing. Analytics will give you a few preset options:
- Last Week
- Last Month
- Last 7 Days
- Last 30 Days
In addition to the preset options, you can also select Custom and choose any timeline you would like.
Analytics will also let you compare date ranges. For example, you can compare the amount of people that found your site through a Google search in May 2016 to May 2017 - just select the month of May 2017, then Compare, and to Previous year.
Once you have your date range selected, the first view option is Real-Time.
As the name implies, the Real-Time view allows you to see analytic data from your website as it is happening. In only this view does the Date Selection not matter. Click on Real-Time and you will be taken to the Overview page. This page will display:
- Number of Active Users on your site
- The Top Referral Sources
- The Top Social Traffic that drove users to your site
- The Top Keywords that drove users to your site via an organic search (why does it say (not provided)?)
- Top Active Pages
- Top Locations where your visitors are from
In addition to the information that is available on the Overview page, you can also dive deeper into real-time data by clicking a sub-view on the left sidebar. Your options are:
- Locations: what location is the user in viewing your site
- Traffic Sources: where did the user come from prior to getting to your site
- Content: what page are they viewing on your site
- Events: are they performing a specific event
- Conversions: has a current user completed a defined conversion
Examples Of How To Use Real-Time Data
Depending on your specific needs, real-time data can be used in a number of ways. Here are a few examples:
- Monitoring ticket sales for an event? By setting up a conversion you can monitor in real-time how many people are purchasing tickets from a specific campaign (eg. a Facebook campaign)
- Just installed your Google Analytics tracking code? Check the real-time data to see if Analytics is recording traffic.
The Audience view explores demographic data related to your users over the time period you selected (eg. the Last 30 Days). Here are the main data features available to review:
- Audience Overview: amount of sessions, users, pageviews, pages/session, avg. session duration, bounce rate, and % new sessions
- Demographics (this view needs to be enabled): user age and gender
- Interests (this view also needs to be enabled): affinities, industries, and other interests
- Geo: user languages and locations
- Behavior: new vs. returning users, frequency, and site engagement length
- Technology: user browsers, operating systems, and networks
- Mobile: user devices
- Custom: you can set custom variables
- Benchmarking: compare your data to websites in your industry (learn more)
- Users Flow: visualize user paths (learn more)
Each of these main views will have further parameters within them to compare data or filter data. To dig deeper into data comparison and filtering you will need to learn about metrics and dimensions.
Examples Of How To Use Audience Data
- Did you send an email blast to all of your customers? See if that resulted in a spike in user traffic.
- See how many of your site visitors are using a mobile device.
- Concerned how your site looks on Internet Explorer 7? Check how many of your actual users that would impact.
How are people finding my site? The Acquisition view will provide significant data on what digital (and even non-digital) sources are sending traffic to your website. The main data features are:
- Acquisition Overview: top channels, sessions, and behavior and conversion data compared to traffic channels
- All Traffic: channels, treemaps, specific mediums/sources that sent traffic, and referral sources
- AdWords: if you link your Google Adwords with your Analytics account this view will display your AdWords campaign data
- Search Console: if you link you Google Search Console with your Analytics account this view will display your Search Console data
- Social: social media sites that sent users to your site
- Campaigns: review and compare organic and paid search campaigns and analyze cost vs. performance
The Acquisition view is of particular importance for organizations looking to analyze the effectiveness of marketing campaigns and to guide decision making for future campaigns.
Examples Of How To Use Acquisition Data
- Running an internet display advertising campaign? The Acquisition view will show how many visits your site received from the campaign.
- Google or Bing or Yahoo - find out what search engine sends the majority of traffic to your site.
- How effective is a Facebook campaign you are running? Check your conversion successes in the Social section (what is and how to set up a conversion goal).
Analytics makes it easy to learn what visitors are doing on your site. In addition to visitor behavior, the Behavior view also gives website performance information that can be valuable to determine if your site requires improvements. The main features for the Behavior view are:
- Behavior Overview: you will find much of the same information from the Audience Overview, with the addition of the most visited pages
- Behavior Flow: visualize behavioral paths (Behavior Flow and User Flow are essentially the same tools, depending on how you configure the dimensions)
- Site Content: individual page data, compare content categories, landing pages, and exit pages
- Site Speed: page timings, speed suggestions, and user timings
- Site Search: review user’s on-site search terms (requires integration)
- Events: track predefined actions users are taking on your site
- Publisher: link your AdSense account with your site’s analytics
- Experiments: sophisticated analytics to compare user experiences on your site, to help build the best possible experience for users
The Behavior view is generally used as a means to understand what your users are doing and experiencing on your site, information that can be used to improve the experience for users and determine content users engage with.
Examples Of How To Use Behavior Data
- Is email marketing or social media posts sending more traffic to a page? Create unique URL paths for each campaign and compare which path saw the most traffic.
- Trying to determine if moving your site’s content to a CDN has increased page load times? Compare pre and post CDN timeframes.
The final data view of Google Analytics is Conversions. We are not going to explore this section in this blog, as the Conversion section isn't a "101" feature. We’ll be discussing how to use Conversions in a future blog, aptly named Google Analytics: How To Use Conversions.
Google Analytics - or any analytics program - can deliver a wealth of information on who your users are, where they are coming from, how they got to your site, and what they are doing on your site. This information should be used in your overall marketing efforts to drive future decisions and determine the success of previous campaigns.
If you have any questions on how to implement Google Analytics or how to best use Google Analytics for your organization, please feel free to contact us.