Visit analytics.google.com, log into your Google account and arrive on the dashboard. Right away, you're presented with all sorts of data in the form of graphs, charts, and different colors. There are buttons, percentages, and some random thing called "bounce rate" which kind of sounds familiar.
Logging into your Google Analytics account for the first time can be a little bit daunting. Unless you have previous experience with analytics platforms, you might not be sure where to look or even what to look for.
Trust me, I get it. When I opened my dashboard for the first time, I felt overwhelmed, light-headed, and completely confused. I knew there was tons of data here, right at my fingertips, but I wasn't sure what to look for, what it meant, or what to do with it.
If this sounds familiar to you, then you're in the right place. While there's tons of information you can find on Google Analytics, there are three categories I think are important to start off with.
Discovering Your Audience
In case you didn't know this, Google knows a whole lot about you. They know where you live, how old you are, what gender you identify with, and how often you search for cat videos. You know that embarrassing thing you searched for last week? Yeah, they know that about you, too.
While this may freak some people out, it works quite well to attract the right people to your site. Using this data, you can find out what kind of people are visiting the most often and what they're doing once they're there.
Whether you have a buyer persona determined or you have it on your to-do list (you better get on it, girl!), data on the people who are visiting your website offers great insight into who you resonate with.
Where to Go to Find This Information
On the left side of your screen, click "Audience" and then click "Overview". Here, you'll get basic insight into:
How many users (new and returning) are coming to your site
Their average session duration, or how long they're staying on your site
The average bounce rate, or the rate of people who come to your site and leave without taking any other action (such as clicking)
Now, turn your attention back to the left side of your screen and, under Geo, click "Location".
Here, you'll find a map of the world with the primary locations of your website visitors highlighted in blue. The darker the blue, the more people are from that area.
Click on the country with the darkest blue. For me, that's the United States. From there, it'll break it down by state using the same blue scale to notate the number of users from that location.
Whether you're a location-based business or operate entirely online, this is a great piece of insight. It gives you a good idea of where to target any digital advertising and any brand messaging tailored specifically to these markets.
There are plenty of other insights you can get from the Audience section. Clicking through the "Interests" tabs will allow you to dive into what your users are interested in.
For me, it looks like a lot of you are shoppers, lifestyle & hobbyists, and travel buffs. I can use this information for digital advertising or even possible collaborations with other blogs.
Have fun with it! Spend a few minutes clicking around and taking a look at your audience. Use a longer date range (at least a couple of months, if you can) to get a more accurate view of who your audience is over time, instead of just in the last seven days. We'll get more into setting date ranges in a moment.
Exploring How People are Finding Your Site
"It would be so nice to know how people are finding my site so I knew what to focus on," a friend told me as we walked down the street.
If that's something you relate to, then I have wonderful news for you: as long as Google Analytics is set up on your site, you can see exactly which channels are leading people to your site in just two clicks.
On the left side of your screen, click on the "Acquisition" tab and, for now, simply click "overview". This will bring you to a screen that breaks down the top-level of where your website traffic is coming from.
By default, your date range will probably be set for the last 7 days, not including today. If you're comparing week-over-week, this is a good way to start off. However, I like to see a larger data set and jump into the monthly view.
On the top right of the screen, you'll see where the date is set for the last seven days. Click that and choose a set of dates that you're interested in. Like I said, I like to start with month-to-date or the last 30 days, depending on what kind of information I'm looking to gather.
Scroll through the page and try to gain a basic grasp of what you're looking at. Ignore the goal part for now - we'll get that set up later.
Here's what you'll find:
This is where all your traffic from social media is lumped together. If you want to see this information by channel (i.e. Instagram versus Twitter), click anywhere in the "social" row and you'll be taken to a new page broken down by platform.
Direct traffic simply means that someone went to their search bar and typed in your URL specifically (i.e. www.ashhmarketing.com). This also works for people who have your site bookmarked and/or with any links you send directly through email.
This is essentially any traffic that comes from another website that isn't social media. If you get a backlink on another blog, have a business listing on an online directory, or have any other link to your site from somewhere else - this will be counted as referral traffic.
It's worth noting that backlinks are a great way to build up your site's authority and off-page SEO. You can do this by guest posting for other blogs, collaborating with other businesses (in exchange for a link on their site), or even using sites like Reddit or Quora.
When you type "where to find cute cat videos" into Google and click a link, you just gave that website a hit for their organic traffic.
Organic search traffic is what you're aiming for when building your website's SEO. Most often, it's the highest quality traffic (if you're offering cat videos, then the person searching for cat videos got what they came for) and is a great strategy for increasing your overall website traffic.
Note that building your organic traffic is a long-term strategy and won't happen overnight. When done correctly, however, it's a great way to boost your results.
If you're running ads on Google AdWords, any traffic you gain from there will be categorized under the "paid" category. This is automatically tracked through Google and will be listed here only if you are running ads through them.
You may or may not have an "other" portion of traffic listed. If so, this simply means this traffic is not recognized by Google's default system.
If you have a large portion of traffic coming from this unknown source, here's a guide that will walk you through how to fix that.
Determining High-Performing Web Pages
Whether you have a blog and want to know which content works better than others or just want to understand where your audience is going on your site, it's important to understand which web pages are higher performing than others. You can use this information to improve your site and the overall user experience to increase both traffic and on-site conversions.
Turn your attention back to the left side of the screen and find the "Behavior" tab. If you've been clicking around, you may need to scroll down the left side to find it.
Instead of clicking "overview" this time, click "site content" and "all pages". From here, you'll get an overview of which pages get the most pageviews, average time on page, bounce rates, and more.
Usually, the top page in terms of pageviews will be your home page. Under that, however, you'll see which pages are getting the most hits.
Measuring Site Conversions
If you're selling products on your site, conversions will likely be considered as how many people are adding things to their shopping carts and/or checking out. However, in some cases, you may be tracking things like newsletter sign-ups, resource downloads, video views, or anything else you want to track towards a goal.
Fortunately, Google Analytics has a ton of power to help you track conversions and work towards your marketing goals. On the other hand, these can be a bit more complicated to find out than simply clicking around, as they require an extra step to set them up.
I recently wrote a blog for Odd Dog Media on determining and tracking goals in Google Analytics. This breaks down the process of setting up goals so you can start to track conversions on your site and work your way to success!
Google Analytics is a powerful tool which you can use to gain insight into a ton of information about both your site and your business. This valuable information can be used to help you make smart decisions about everything from changing the copy on your About Page to optimizing your current blog posts.
Diving into your Google Analytics for the first time can be scary, overwhelming, and a little bit confusing. I get it, I've totally been there.
If you want someone to help walk you through it step by step, I now offer 60-minute brainstorming sessions at a low price where you can ask me any marketing-related question, including how to operate and set up your Google Analytics.
Take a look at your options and schedule a time to meet with me via phone or in-person meeting.