This blog post is the first of a four-part series, “The Top 4 Ways To Get Value From Google Analytics”. These posts are intended for those who haven’t used Google Analytics before, and are looking for a place to start.
The question you must ask yourself is why should someone visit your site out of the 750 million options available?
Google Analytics, or “GA” for short, is a tool dedicated to helping you answer that question. Specifically, it will help you determine why people visit your site, who visits your site in the first place, and how they behave while on your site.
Why Use Google Analytics?
First of all, the tool is absolutely free – all you need to do is sign up and put your unique tracking code onto your website. If you don’t manage your site directly, you may need to pay a small fee to have your web developer input the code – however, the tool itself is free of charge.
One you’ve done that, GA will automatically start collecting reams of data for you to review.
What Is “Analytics,” Exactly?
Analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of Internet data for purposes of understanding and optimizing web usage. And GA is a free tool for tracking, managing, and reporting web analytics.
Is It Really Free?
Yes, it’s really free. We’re of the opinion that GA is free because it helps Google convert more customers to its popular digital advertising tool, Google AdWords. Or maybe it is just part of Google’s mission to help organize the world’s information.
Either way, there’s no reason for you not to hop on board!
Once you’ve got GA set up, there are four big ways that any organization – commercial or nonprofit – can use the tool. They are:
- Finding the problem pages on your website, and taking corrective action.
- Setting “goals” for your visitors, and tracking their progress.
- Tracking the activity of your offline campaigns through your website.
- Tracking the behavioral difference between social media-referred visitors and regular visitors on your site.
This article will focus on #1: using GA to find problems on your site, and fixing them.
Analyzing Landing Pages
Once GA starts tracking visitor behavior on your site, it’s very easy to identify which site pages are least engaging, and to take action to increase the usefulness of those pages.
One of the first places to look on your GA dashboard is the standard landing page report.
That said, the landing page report feature has been available for several years, and it can tell you a lot about the performance of specific pages.
There’s a term we need to introduce at this point to understand this report: bounce rate. Your bounce rate is a measurement of the percentage of visitors who enter your site on a specific page, and then leave your site without visiting any other pages.
For example, if half the visitors who land on any given page don’t visit other pages on your site, then that page has a 50% bounce rate.
What’s a good bounce rate? According to Google, about 35% is the average bounce rate. However, if you are a blogger and have a much higher bounce rate (i.e. 75%), don’t panic. Blog articles are typically contained within one page, and most of your web traffic may not go further into your site.
The key here is to look at each of your landing pages and diagnose your problem areas to find out which ones need fixing.
Once you’ve found a page with a really high bounce rate, take a look at the keyword that visitors used to get to that page – is the keyword actually relevant to the page content?
On Massainc.com, we have a page called “Clients” that lists our many past and present clients, including Midas International. Through GA, I’m able to see that a number of visitors to this page are actually looking for a Midas location near Chicago. Unfortunately for local Midas stores, we’re tracking higher on those keywords than they are. In this particular case, there’s not much we can do about that, unless we wanted to wipe out our client list.
Are you attracting people to your page that didn’t really want to be there? If that’s the case, you’ll need to go into the keywords in the code of that page, and remove or adjust them.
I’ve worked with a client who changed a short-tail keyword (i.e. “animal) to a long-tail keyword (i.e. “animal house”) and saw a 30% drop in bounce rate in 24 hours. By using this longer keyword, search engines were able to index their webpage more accurately, which resulted in higher-quality traffic.
The same thing holds true for the titles of your webpages. It’s worth examining the title of each page, because search engines will show these titles to potential visitors.
Besides the keywords on the page, you may also want to look at the SEO settings on your website that determines what potential visitors see when your site appears in a search. By tailoring this description more specifically to your subject matter, you can improve the quality of traffic to your site.
Please note that you cannot change your website code directly from GA – you’ll need to work with your web developer or go into the back-end of your website to do that.
Identifying Traffic Sources
Another strategy for finding and fixing the problem pages on your site is by using the standard traffic sources report.
This nifty report shows you what percentage of your traffic is coming from search, referrals, direct, or campaigns.
According to Google, a nice balance of traffic to your site is 40-50% from search, 20% direct, 20-30% from referral sources, and the remainder from campaigns. These referral sources could be visitors arriving at your site from another website, or they might have arrived there via social media.
Our last category, campaigns, refers to traffic from actual marketing/advertising campaigns you’re running, such as e-mail campaigns, banner ads, or Facebook ads.
Determining Visitor Loyalty and Frequency
The final reports we’ll review are visitor loyalty and frequency reports.
Let’s first discuss loyalty reports. These reports allow you to see how much of your traffic is non-repeating. Let’s say you received 1,000 visits to your site last month – if 700 of them have come to your site one time only in that month, then 70% of your traffic is non-repeating.
That’s probably a sign that your site isn’t providing enough value to your visitors – either it isn’t a strong enough resource, or they’re being mislead by what they think they’ll find by your search engine descriptions.
However, you might also find that certain visitors are returning, 5, 10, or 100 times to your site – in that case, well done!
Frequency reports paint a different picture of your site traffic. These reports measure the gap of time in between visits for each return visitor.
How do they gather that information? It’s all about cookies, the snippets of code that GA places on the computer of anyone who visits your site. Cookies from GA are called first-party cookies, and are completely anonymous. In contrast, third-party cookies are placed by websites that do gather specific information, such as your online banking website or web-based e-mail account which may store your username and password. Of course, any web browser can turn cookies off, but most of us don’t bother.
You can also track reports that examine the length of visit, and the depth of visit, telling you how long visitors are spending on your site, and how many pages they viewed in a single session. This can provide useful insights into the nature of your content, and the data may surprise you.
We hope that gives you a solid understanding and lots of take-aways to identify the problem areas on your site. In our next post, we’ll explain Google Analytics’ “goals” feature, and how it allows you to track the progress of your site visitors.
Food For Thought: Braised Country-Style Pork Ribs
One of my favorite programs to record and watch on Food Network is THE NEXT FOOD NETWORK STAR. If you are not familiar with it, it is a cooking competition with about 12 chefs/cooks aspiring to get their own TV show and they cook their hearts out every week to prevent being eliminated. I don’t remember how many year’s ago it was that Melissa d’Arabian won but I had picked her as the winner from the first episode of that series and she won! Bam!
She had a show on Food Network for a while called $10 DINNERS. Every recipe of hers that I tried was richly flavorful and inventive. One that I have made many times is Braised Country-Style Pork Ribs. I like a sparerib or baby back rib that has a good dry rub (thank you Larry Meek) but country-style ribs have always been my favorite. This recipe from Ms. d’Arabian is so easy and after an hour and a half braising in the oven they are fall off the bone tender with a rich gravy that will absolutely make your brains fall out especially served over creamy polenta!