How to Use Google Analytics the Right Way
After we build websites for our clients, we show them how to use Google Analytics. We love this tool, but we realize it's a little daunting when you first get to know it. And while Google Analytics can guide you to really smart decisions about your website, it can also become an unproductive obsession if you approach it the wrong way.
Today, we want to talk about how to use Google Analytics in a way that maximizes your results and minimizes your angst.
Attracting Quality Traffic Comes First
The most important thing you can do with Google Analytics is tracking the success of your efforts to bring quality traffic to your site. First, some background. "Quality traffic" means people who will fall in love with your offerings and buy from you. You have to get out there and help these dream customers find your website. You can do this by:
- Creating content like blog posts that speaks to their needs, desires and interests. By the way, you can help your content get discovered by using the right tools. Choosing WordPress or Shopify for your website amps up your SEO right out of the gate. Add the Yoast plug-in for an even bigger SEO bump. We swear by these services and use them for our client websites.
- Sharing that content on the social networks where your ideal customers hang out — and making sure that the words and images of your social posts pique their interest. (Having a few go-to templates for social media graphics can help a lot on the visual end.)
- Building your email list. An email newsletter is another great way to share the useful content you create. After all, you can't expect people to keep checking your website for what's new. You have to stay in touch with them to keep them coming back.
Be Smart: Measure Your Success
After you start creating content and sharing it, the next step is gauging how well your efforts worked. This is where Google Analytics comes in. You can track how much traffic your website is getting today or look at trends over time (for example, the past 30 days, or the past year).
By slicing and dicing the data this way, Google Analytics helps you identify what drives visitors to your site. Let's say you're looking at traffic over the past 90 days and notice a couple of big spikes. By comparing the Google Analytics graph with the editorial calendar for your blog, you realize the traffic jumps came when you wrote about one particular area of your expertise. That’s a sign that your audience wants more of that type of content. You can also look at how traffic changes after you post a Facebook update or send your newsletter. If you aren't seeing much of a bump, experiment with posting or emailing on different days or at different times and watch your Google Analytics numbers for changes.
Are Visitors Engaged? Here's One Good Sign
Besides using Google Analytics to create content your customers your want — and deliver it to them the way they want — the other vital way to use this tool to see how visitors engage with your site. Google Analytics frames visitors' activities on your site in terms of sessions. Now, it's possible to get a lot more technical with this definition, but basically, a session begins when someone navigates to your site, and it ends when that visitor either leaves your site or is inactive for 30 minutes.
On your Google Analytics dashboard, check out the "Pages/Session" stat. This lets you know the average number of pages visitors looked at on your site during their sessions. If visitors take the time to look at multiple pages, you can feel good that they're interested in your site (and that you're on the road to making a sale).
If you'd like to see your pages-per-session stats improve, try using more calls to action to encourage visitors to explore your site. For example, in your next blog posts, you could link to past blog posts on similar topics. Or you could guide visitors to next steps — like viewing your portfolio or reading testimonials — after they visit your About page.
Why Your Bounce Rate Matters
Another Google Analytics stat that can show how you're doing with engagement is your bounce rate. Your bounce rate is the percentage of site visitors who arrived on one page of your website and then left your site without taking any other actions.
Remember that your bounce rate applies to all pages on your site, not just your home page. In other words, someone could land on your About page from Google search, decide your business isn't what she's looking for and immediately exit.
What's an acceptable bounce rate, and when should you worry? That depends on your site's purpose. The leading SEO Kissmetrics breaks it down by industry.
If your bounce rate feels a little high, don't automatically assume that customers just aren't digging your offerings. Google points out some other possible reasons, like design or usability issues and pages. If one of your pages takes too long to load, for example, users might give up and head somewhere else. (This is one of the reasons we think professional web design is such an important investment for any business.) Bottom line: Examine your website's content, SEO and "under the hood" technical stuff to get to the bottom of bounce-rate issues.
How to Use Google Analytics Without Driving Yourself Crazy
You've probably noticed we haven't talked about much about the big statistic that Google Analytics tracks for you: the number of visitors to your site over a certain time period (today, the past seven days, the past year, etc.)
We're not saying these numbers aren't important. We totally want you to look at your Google Analytics chart a year from now and see an uptick in traffic for your site.
But we don't want you to get caught up in the idea that total site traffic is the be-all, end-all and not dig any deeper into what's going on with your site. Let's say you get a big bump in users next month over this month. Woohoo! But if your high bounce rate hasn't moved, that tempers the good news. Having lots of visitors to your site isn't as meaningful if they aren't the right visitors: people intrigued by who you are and what you offer — and who'll buy from you.
Another reason we don't want you to obsess too much about traffic is that you start thinking in terms of raising numbers instead of serving people. The strategies we've given you here keep the focus on your audience: using Google Analytics to create content they want and a website they'll want to hang around. When you serve your audience, your numbers will take care of themselves.
That's our overview of how to use Google Analytics. As you can imagine, it's possible to go a lot deeper and unlock more of this tool's potential. A good starting point is the Services & Support center for Google Analytics. We're also happy to talk with you more about how we build websites that Google loves and help clients shape game plans for drawing customers to their sites.