Hacks: How to use Google Analytics: learn how to improve your website from raw traffic data
How to use Google Analytics: Acquisition
Acquisition data tells you where your audience came from. This doesn’t mean where in the world they’re located (that’s under Audience, as mentioned above), but rather what online source directed them to your website.
Search vs social
If you’ve paid for an SEO (search engine optimisation) company or social media guru to overhaul your site, this is a section you’re going to want to focus on closely. This tab tracks which sites your users were visiting before they followed a link to your site, and filters this information into four different types of acquisition: organic search, direct traffic, referral traffic and social.
Organic search basically means search engines. If someone has landed on your site from Google, Bing, Yahoo, or even Lycos (it does still exist!) then it will be recorded here. Direct traffic is when a user arrives on your site with no previous browsing activity — in other words, when they type in your web address by hand, so you can expect your homepage to get the bulk of this direct traffic. It is advisable to take this figure as a guide rather than fact, however, as it’s thought that Google Analytics counts any source it can’t properly trace as direct traffic.
Referral traffic represents links from other webpages. This can be slightly misleading, as big aggregating sites such as Google News and Reddit are shown here, so the line between search results and referrals can be a bit blurred.
The last acquisition type is social. Here you can see how much traffic comes from social networks, as well as discovering which of your pages are most popular on each platform — that is, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and so on.
Knowing the breakdowns of where you traffic is coming from can help you make decision on where to invest future resources. If you’re spending and equal amount of time trying to market your website via each medium mentioned above, Google Analytic’s broken down data can tell you how each is performing, and therefore give you the confidence to invest in the correct source in future.
How to use Google Analytics: Behaviour
Google Analytics’ behaviour data lets you see which pages on your site are attracting lots of visitors, and which are less popular. You can track the exact number of views and users each page has received, and if your site has an internal structure — the site map, to you and me — lets you see how each individual section of your site is performing.
What are my site’s top performing pages?
Under the heading “site content” you’ll see four different options. You can choose to view either page URLs or titles; if you want to see a list of your top articles, click on the All Pages tab. Here you can see view counts for individual pages, plus details of unique views, the average time spent on each page, entrances, bounce rates and exit percentage. If you’re looking for traffic information from a specific page, an easy way to find it is to paste its address (after your domain name) into the search box.
The next main thing you may want to look at in behaviour is the content drilldown tab, which lets you see how entire sections of your site are faring. On pcpro.co.uk, for example, we can see how many users are visiting our reviews section, versus the number coming to our features section. Such data can help you make decisions about where to focus your efforts and resources — for example, you might choose to invest in shoring up a section that isn’t as popular as it should be, or focus your energies on the parts of your site that get the most attention.
For the more advanced user, the next two sections will be important. These are the Landing and Exit Pages tabs. Landing pages are simply the pages that users are arriving to your site on, while exit pages are the last ones people visit before leaving your site. Any pages that stand out in either section deserve close attention, and as these may be driving up your overall bounce rate.
One final section worth paying attention to is the Site Speed tab. We recommend you sort the results on this page by average page load time, and try manually loading the slowest pages in a separate web browser. Visitors will lose patience if a page doesn’t appear almost instantly, so if you feel the page takes too long to load, consider reducing its complexity or reducing the size of images, so it opens more quickly.
How to use Google Analytics: Real-time data
Google Analytics’ real-time data can give you an ego-boosting “right now” count of active visitors to your site — and you can also investigate further into who’s doing what. On the overview page you can see stats regarding top live referrals, active pages, social traffic, top keyword searches (to an extent as Google has started hiding a large percentage of this data) and top locations.
It’s easy to make too much of live statistics. If you’re in charge of a website, you shouldn’t make any decisions based solely on a single snapshot of visitor activity. However, real-time data gives you a valuable glimpse at what content is the most popular at certain points. Unexpected patterns of activity can also expose bugs: many commercial sites keep a live analytics view open running on a dedicated terminal at all times. We’ve certainly found that this approach can bring server-based errors or broken links to our attention before many automated services.
How to use Google Analytics: Summary
The great thing about Google Analytics data is that it automatically gathers data about what your site is and isn’t doing. With the guidelines detailed above you can start to turn this raw data into valuable information and then make intelligent changes to site. The beauty of Google Analytics is that if the changes you make don’t work, you’ll soon see via the Real-Time and legacy data, so you can revert back and reassess.
Alternatively, if the data-led changes you make do work (and there’s no reason they shouldn’t) Google Analytics will show you that in scores of ego-boosting graphs… which you can then use to fine tune your site again.