Understanding the Basics of Google Analytics And Your Website Traffic

Posted by Gregg Alexander on Dec 14, 2018 7:45:00 AM

When we typically sit down with a potential client to explore their goals and vision for their website project, we ask them if they have Google Analytics set up on their current site. Most of the time the response is yes, but occasionally we are met with a blank stare. For those who do have Google Analytics, we are always curious about how they use the tool. This helps us find out how truly engaged they are in their digital marketing efforts. Those who are leaning on that data to understand the impact of their marketing efforts have a much better understanding of their results, their audience, and their goals. Those who don't use Google Analytics are a bit lost. If you are one of the lost souls of Google Analytics, this blog is for you. I am are going to break it down to give you the lay of the landscape and help you get up to speed on using the tool to understand your website traffic. 

What Is Google Analytics?

Let's take a step back here. If you one of the blank stare clients mentioned above, maybe you need a little more information. So let's start from the beginning. Google Analytics is the industry standard when it comes to tracking, reviewing, and analyzing your website traffic. To use Google Analytics, your webmaster will need to add a little snippet of JavaScript code into the HTML of your website. Once that is in place, you can see how many people are visiting your website, how they found your website, what they are looking at on your website, and essentially track them (anonymously) throughout their time visiting your site. Now, when I say anonymously, I mean that Google Analytics doesn't capture any personal information. For example, I can't see that John Smith from Boca Raton, FL who lives at 123 First Avenue visited my site. But I can see that I had a visitor from Boca Raton, FL, and if the demographics tracking is enabled, I can also see that we had a male visitor between the ages of 25-34. That's about as deep as it gets. But all of this information can help you create a better understanding of your website's results.


Basic Metrics to Keep An Eye On

Now here is where things get interesting. If you are a Google Analytics novice, you are probably not even scratching the surface of what this tool can do. You may just be logging in and looking at how many visitors your website is getting, so let's go a little deeper. Google Analytics is organized into five reporting categories, Real-Time, Audience, Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversions. I'm going to keep it basic and touch on three of these categories: Audience, Acquisition, and Behavior. The Audience section will give us some insight on who is visiting the site, the Acquisition section will help us better understand how they are finding the site, and Behavior will tell us what they are doing on our site. Let's Go!



Audience is a great place to start your Google Analytics journey. I typically use the Audience Overview report to see how many sessions (visits) a site gets in a given period of time and how many users (visitors) are coming to a website.

Let's define these a little better. A user is an individual person who visited the site, usually tracked by the IP address on their device while a session is how many times the site was visited. Sessions should always be higher than users because a user can visit a website more than once. These two metrics are your basis for analyzing your website's traffic.

Other metrics you will find in this report include Page views, Pages/Session, Average Session Duration, and Bounce Rate.

  • Page views refer to the total number of pages that were viewed by all users during a given period of time while Pages/Session refers to the average number of pages each user views a site. The higher these numbers are, the better because it is an indicator of how engaging your website content is.

  • Average Session Duration refers to the amount of time users are spending on your website, and again, the higher, the better.

  • Bounce Rate is displayed as a percentage and indicates the percentage of times a visitor views one page only and leaves the website. The lower the percentage, the better. I like to see a bounce rate around 30% - 40%, but that is a rule of thumb only. Websites that use a lot of paid advertising typically see higher bounce rates while sites that get a lot of search engine traffic see lower bounce rates. This metric can also be an indicator of the design or user interface of the website. If your bounce rate is high, it may not be visually appealing or hard to navigate.

You literally only have seconds to prove your worth when someone lands on your website, so first impressions are everything. There is much more to know about the Audience tab, and we will dive deeper into it in future blogs, but for now, you should have a basic understanding of the numbers you'll see. 



Another important metric that we need to understand is how people are getting to our website. These are the traffic sources. Sources include search engines, advertising, social media, links back to your website, emails, or when people navigate directly to your site using your URL. Knowing what avenues people took to get to your site will help you identify what types of marketing are effective at attracting visitors.

One of my favorite reports is the Channels report under "All Traffic." This report breaks down traffic sources into Organic Search, Direct, Email, Referral, Social, Paid Search, and any other traffic type your site receives. This is a great way to understand how your site is performing in these areas. For example, if your organic traffic is low, your pages aren't ranking very well on search engines, so you need to look at your on-page SEO and the content within those pages. Or, if you don't see much traffic from social media, then you may want to review your social strategy to make sure you are using those platforms to bring people back to your website. Other helpful reports in the acquisition section include Source/Medium, Referral, and Campaigns.

The Source/Medium report takes your traffic sources to the next level providing you the traffic category and the specific website where the traffic came from. The Referral report will show you the website that people were on when they clicked a link to your site. This is an excellent way to evaluate how effective your inbound links are. Inbound links are links on other websites that link back to your site. And finally, for the advanced analytics user, the campaigns report will allow you to track traffic by the digital marketing campaign. There is a little more work in organizing campaigns and tagging campaigns to track accurately within Google Analytics, but the capabilities are there. 



The last section I am going to cover is the Behavior section. So far we've looked at who is on our site, and how they got to the site. Now let's focus on what they are doing on the site. You will find this in the behavior section. My favorite subsection under Behavior is the Site Content. This will show you what pages they are looking at and help you understand how visitors are interacting with your content.

Let's start with Landing Pages. A landing page is the very first page someone sees when they visit your site. This can be an indicator of which pages are performing well on search engines or social media as well as which pages have a lot of inbound links. For most websites, the home page is going to be the top landing page, but for pages with extensive content or an engaging blog, you may find that other pages outrank the home page. You can use this report to plan your digital marketing strategy. You want people to land on pages that draw them deeper into the website, so look for pages with low bounce rates or high Pages/Session. Both of these metrics are indicators that visitors are using that landing page to explore more on your website.

The other important report is the All Pages report. This report will help you better understand your most popular pages. Ideally, these pages will include a lead capture form or will push people to your lead capture landing page(s). But regardless, this report will show you what people find most relevant on your website. The more you know about the usage on your website, the more prepared you will be to make updates to your site or develop a more robust digital marketing strategy.

These three areas should get you started in the world of Google Analytics. What I have provided is still pretty limited on the power of the entire tool. There are many segmentation layers you can add/remove, turn on/turn off with each of these reports. I will dig deeper into these tactics in later blogs. But for now, get in there and see what insight you can glean from your website data!

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Topics: Web Analytics and Tracking

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