Our modern, data-rich marketplace means marketers must have working knowledge of Google Analytics or a similar website reporting tool like Adobe Analytics (formerly Omniture). These programs show you how visitors interact with your site, how long they stay, and where they come from.
According to W3 Techs, “Google Analytics is used by 83.4 percent of all the websites whose traffic analysis tool we know. This is 54.4 percent of all websites.”
Given its widespread popularity, almost every marketer should know how to navigate within GA and customize it for their needs. This article will guide you through the most important metrics and reports, but is far from a comprehensive guide to the whole platform.
Set Up Your Account(s)
First things first: you need to set up your account. It takes at least 24 hours for Analytics to start showing your data once you install the tracking code, so do this as soon as possible. Once you’ve got an account, make a Property for your website, and then build at least three Views: testing, filtered data, and a main data view. Your main data view includes all unfiltered traffic; you should just leave that one alone without making any changes. This keeps at least once data source with an uncorrupted stash of all your data in case of emergency. Add filters, segments and goals in your testing View, and then transfer that info into the filtered views after you prove they work. You’ll also want to add filters to your data to exclude your office and often-used personal IP addresses.
Next, set up a Search Console account and verify your site. If you have already set up your Analytics account, Google makes the process really easy. Once you’ve set up both of these accounts, go into your Analytics and verify your Search Console site in the Property Settings. Wait about 24 hours to check your data. As long as you have visitors to your website, you’ll start seeing those numbers.
Now, what do you do with them?
Traffic is the most basic and high-level metric you can follow on your site. You’ll of course want to look at overall patterns and the 10,000 ft view of your sessions, but once you’ve fully absorbed that overview, you’ll start to wonder exactly how your users find your site. Traffic metrics can help with that.
Channels are how your customers reach your site and how Google documents each of those visits. If your customer finds your site through a post they clicked on Facebook, Google will count that visitor under “Social.” Traffic can be designated in any of these channels:
- Direct — user came to your site by typing your URL into the search bar or using a bookmarked link.
- Organic — user found your site through a search engine like Google, Yahoo, or Bing.
- Social — user clicked a social media post shared on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
- Paid search — user clicked on an ad you purchased that was placed on a search engine results page. This includes Adwords and Bing Ads.
- Referral— user clicked on a link to your site from another site on the web. These metrics do not include search engines or social media websites.
- Email — user clicked on a link to your site included in an email campaign.
- Other — user-defined mediums via a UTM campaign or otherwise defined campaigns.
Each visit to a website has a referral source, whether it’s direct or an actual website. Use the source/medium report to identify where your traffic comes from and what type of campaign it came from. If you send out an email newsletter, clicks from that will likely be filed under newsletter/email, while Google search traffic will be filed under Google/organic —unless it’s from your Adwords ads, in which case it will be labelled as Google/CPC
This is where you can find some really cool insights about where your traffic comes from. Sure, if you have a lot of organic traffic, search engines will probably be high on your list, but you can also find pages that are linking to you in this report.
Find this report under Acquisition> Search Console. Whether you get a lot of organic traffic or you’re hoping to build traffic, it’s important to set up a Search Console account and connect that data to your Google Analytics. This way you can view your impressions, clicks, queries, and landing pages in the same reports as your overall traffic.
There are limits to the data in Search Console. It’s only from the Google search engine (but that’s like, 80 percent of the search engine traffic worldwide, so that’s fine), they only take the top 1,000 queries per day, and your data is only stored for 90 days. This data goes through a bit of cleansing to pull the top queries, so there is always a two-day delay on what data shows. This means you see data in your Search Console dashboard and in Google Analytics for the past 92 days, and the most recent two days will be blank. You can get around the 90 day limit by connecting to a marketing reporting tool that stores your data.
These are the actual search terms people type that result in impressions and clicks to your site. Here you can see the number of times your site made an impression (showed up in the search results) for specific keywords, how many of those impressions turned into clicks, the click through rate (CTR), and your daily average position for each keyword. All these metrics come from actual users on the search engine results page (SERP). Unlike some other tools that allow you to look up where your keyword generally ranks, Search Console will only give you data on a keyword query if:
- A user actually searched for that keyword and your site impressed on the SERP
- The impression for that keyword is within your top 1,000 searches
These limitations can make the data you get more significant, and they help filter out noise that might otherwise cloud your analysis.
Search Console records which landing pages a user sees in the SERP and eventually visit. This data comes directly from the Google SERP, so it can tell you a couple of things:
- Which landing pages get the most traffic
- What kinds of content users and Google find to be most relevant
- Which pages get a lot of impressions and few clicks, so you can work on title and meta description
When you click into the landing pages report (Acquisition>Search Console>Landing Pages), you’ll immediately see a list of the top landing pages sorted by impressions. Click into any of those pages to see a list of the top keyword queries that result in an impression of your site.
Goals help your team understand how user actions impact business and marketing objectives, whether that be newsletter signups, form fills, or purchases made on an e-commerce website. Nearly any action a user takes on your site can be tracked, which gives you a lot of power to watch user behavior and test your strategy.
Set up goals in the Admin Panel>[Name of your View]>Goals. There are three types of goals:
- Template: Template goals have been made by other users and you can copy them to your View without a lot of work. I use template goals to explore how other Analytics users build goals that work, and then I tailor those outcomes to the site I’m working on.
- Custom: You make Custom goals from scratch, and they require that you have pretty good knowledge of how your site works.
- Smart Goals: Smart Goals are tied to an Adwords account and require you to share data between your Adwords and Analytics accounts. Smart Goals work great for e-commerce because they run off specific product information. You can set one Smart Goal per view, but if you need more information than that you can set up multiple views.
Once you’ve setup your goals in Google Analytics, the program will start collecting data. Check back in 24 hours to ensure data is populating. If you have a low-traffic site, think about setting up a page load goal for your homepage that will show your goals are working even if you’re not yet getting a lot of conversions.
Reports and Dashboards
Technically, Google Analytics is a free reporting tool, and every table and line chart you see is a report. You can get a lot of information about how your site works just by visiting these Overview reports:
This report outlines the channels through which your traffic finds you. Especially helpful is the behavior column in the table, which shows bounce rates, pages per session, and time on page for each of these channels. From this information, you can surmise where your “best” traffic comes from.
This report shows how your users act when they get to your page. The KPI metrics right under the main line chart show pageviews, unique pageviews, bounce rates, and average time on page for all pages on your site. Drill down by page by looking next at the Behavior>Site Content>All Pages report to show those same KPIs broken out for each of your top pages.
This report breaks down how each of your overall goals are performing. Remember that goal data takes at least 24 hours to start populating, and requires that you set up your goals correctly, so have patience with yourself here.
Once you know the metrics that you want to follow, start adding those KPIs and tables directly to a dashboard. You can find dashboards by navigating to Customization>Dashboards. Click the red Create button and choose whether you want to make a custom dashboard or use the Starter Dashboard and name your dashboard. The Starter Dashboard is a good place to begin, because it will give you a lot of the high-level metrics you’d want to see.
If, while you’re poking around in Google Analytics, you find a particularly helpful report, use the quick “Add to Dashboard” button at the top of the page. The pop-up window will ask you to choose the dashboard you want to add that data to, and then which table or chart on the page you want to add. You only get 12 widgets (tables, charts, KPIs) per dashboard, so don’t be afraid to make a bunch of these for different metrics you’re tracking.
Advanced Placement Analytics
Think you’re ready for AP Google Analytics? To get really specific data that drills down to button clicks and movements through your site, you’ll want to implement Tag Manager. In Google Tag Manager, you can identify events across your site and then tie those events to goals within your Google Analytics. Be forewarned, once you transfer to tag manager, you’re committing to setting up events across your site, and until those tags exist, your data is going to look weird.
To learn more about Google Analytics, your best bet is to go straight to the source and start learning directly from Google. The GA beginner’s course will take you through setting up Analytics on your site and tracking your most important metrics.