Google Analytics – First Time Through

The first reaction that we get when we show newcomers to Google Analytics  exactly what information it provides is often one of sheer amazement. When people get over the initial surprise and, particularly when they try and use the tool themselves, the first questions are “What should we look at?” and “What does it mean?”

Gareth Edwards, eMarketing specialist at the National B2B Centre, provide a quick overview of what he looks at first when using Analytics and what you can use the information for.

Google Analytics  is a very powerful tool to measuring website performance and understanding what people are doing on your website (or your blog). For those of you using it for the first time the amount of information it provides and the different measures it gives can be a bit overwhelming. The good thing is that you can get a pretty good feel for what’s going on by looking at just a small number of items.

This article is intended to highlight just some of the valuable information that Analytics provides based on how I use the tool when working on client projects. Some people may query my choices and omissions but the essential thing is that you start using Analytics and find out how easy it is and how essential.

Getting Started
If you haven’t already got Google Analytics  then the help facilities are very good at explaining how to install it (it’s free by the way). If you don’t feel confident about putting it on your website then ask your website developer to help. The code has to go on every page of the website and be tested so don’t expect it to be done for free. The task isn’t particularly difficult though (and it is made much easier if you have a template page) so don’t pay too much.

To get to Google Analytics  sign into Google (look for the “sign in” link at the top right of the Google home page) then select “My Account” link from the top left of the screen. If “My Account” isn’t displayed then look out for a “Settings” drop down on the top right of the Google home page. The drop down menu should show a link for “Google Account setting” which you should click.

Google Analytics should be listed as one your Google products. If you select the Analytics link the next screen will be an overview of all your available accounts – just the one at the moment with a bit of luck. Selecting the account will bring up a dashboard view (see below – the NB2BC website).

What First
So what do you look at first. Well the big graph dominating your screen is a good place to start. It gives you a view of the number and distribution of visitors to your site over a month period. Most of you will see a series of peaks and troughs where the dips correspond to weekends. If there any particular peaks then this may show you the impact of an email campaign or the publication of a blog that contains links to your site. On the graph shown the peak is when the B2B Centre newsletter was published.

analytics dashboard

Underneath the graph are a series of high level performance metrics. Most of them are self-explanatory but you might not understand the term “bounce rate”. This refers to the number of time people have visited a page on your site and then immediately clicked of the page and left your site. The bounce rate you see on the dashboard is an average for the whole site so you stay calm even if it looks quite high. As a rule of thumb anything up to 55% is probably OK. Bounce rate is a more useful indicator when you look at specific content – see the section below.

You can change the data that is displayed if you wish (see “Change the Graph” on the illustration) but perhaps for your initial experiencedate range with Google Analytics  the most interesting thing to do is look at date ranges. If you click the arrow next to the existing date range (see “Change the Date Range” on the illustration) you will see a 2 month calendar appear, 2 sets of date ranges (in US date format) and a check box that says “Compare to Past”.   For the time being stick to ticking the check box because that will automatically display all statistics on a “this month against last month” comparison. This compares will be become the default for all views and reports until you change it.

This capability is very important because it allows you to track the performance of your site over time and compare the effectiveness of different activities too.

We often get asked what the rate levels are for the various statistics in Google Analytics . The amount of traffic you get and the routes that visitors use to get to your site are extremely dependent on how your site has been optimised, the rest of your eMarketing activity, the activity of competitors and how big the market is for what you do. My view is that Analytics is often best used to monitor changes rather than give answers about absolutes. If you make changes to a web page to optimise for a keyword or improve its usability

Visitorsanalytics visitors
The “Visitors” option looks very inviting because it holds out the promise of providing a big list of names of people who have come to your site. Although there are some very interesting reports here sadly you don’t get names and addresses. The next time we look at Analytics we’ll come back to “Visitors”, but for your initial trips to Analytics therefore try checking out the difference between the numbers of visits and the number of absolute unique visitors on the “Visitors Overview” page. You want repeat visitors of course but if you have just conducted a big campaign to attract new clients then a big gap between the numbers might suggest a problem.
map overlay
If you are operating nationally or internationally then check out the Map Overlay. You can click on areas of the map to get statistics about where visitors are located. If you click on the UK then a more detailed map will appear along with a set of stats underneath. This is interesting stuff but because of the way the internet works the information isn’t completely accurate. So don’t base your marketing plan on it.

Traffic Sources
Direct Traffic
This shows visits to the site where visitors have typed the URL directly into the web browser. On very new sites this might indicate that you are the only person using the site! For some clients a high proportion of direct traffic (say greater than 15% of the total) is indicative that they have managed to establish themselves as a brand or that offline marketing has worked very well (so that people have remembered the website address).

Referring Sites
This is where Analytics becomes really helpful, really quickly. Select the referring sites link and you see a report showing you a list of sites (including social media sites and directories) where visitors found a link to your site and clicked it. If you have paid for directory entries such as Yell or Applegate then you can immediately find out what traffic they have generated for you. We have had clients who have negotiated better terms for their directory entries by highlighting the difference between activity on the directory site itself and visits to their website.

referring sites

For the B2B Centre we have been able to monitor the effectiveness of our Social Media use because we can see how many people have clicked through from LinkedIn, Twitter and our blog.

The keywords report may be the single most important set of stats in Analytics for many users. Essentially this is a list of the words and phrases people have searched on and found your website with. It is very good for checking if your search engine optimisation efforts are working and it will also provide some ideas for further SEO.

analytics keywords

It can be useful to use the date range function to check the keywords over say 6 or 12 months (if you have had Analytics installed that long). This will give you more insight into the search term variations that people are using to find you. So for instance you might find location base variations like “kitchen cabinets Coventry”, “kitchen cabinets Warwickshire” or “kitchen cabinets West Midlands”. Taking a longer view also removes the bias that many people have when they look at the monthly view stats – 5 hits from a keyword in a month doesn’t appear to be significant but 60 over the year “seems” to be better.

Sometimes it is worth doing some research into a relevant keyword that has only generated a few website visits. With one client we did a search on one of these words and found that his website didn’t appear until page 3 of the Google search results. So visitors using this keyword had made a real effort to get to his website. It could be that by optimising for the keyword then not only would the hardy souls get to the site more quickly but other people would get there too because the page would be higher up the rankings and easier to get to.

The initial content dashboard is not particularly helpful so I tend to look at 3 of the more specific reports; Top Content, Top Landing Pages and Site Overlay.

Top Content
This view lists out the pages in your website in descending order by number of page views: fundamentally you can now see what your most popular website pages are. Your home page (which you might see listed as “/home”, “/index” or just”/”) is likely to be the most viewed page by a long way. The position of other pages in the list depends on the type of site (e.g. eCommerce or informational) and factors such as the numbers of pages and how long the site has been going.

Increasing the number of rows displayed on the view (by selecting the appropriate number in the “Show rows” drop down at the bottom of the page) can make the report easier to use. You can also use the Filter Page function at the bottom of the page to display pages containing (or excluding) particular words (e.g. articles).
contents rows
Most of the statistics displayed are self-explanatory. I usually scan the Average Time on the Page numbers to look for pages that have had a substantially amount of time spent on them (was the article that good?).

Top Landing Pages

top landing pages sorted by bounce rate

The Landing Pages report displays pages in descending order of entrances to the site. So these are the webpages that visitors reached first after clicking on a link in a search engine results page, a directory or social media site.

Bounce rate becomes particularly relevant because you can see which specific pages are performing badly in this respect (say 70% – 100%) and do something about it.

Remember that you change the order of the report by clicking on any of the column headings. This means that you can display the results in descending order of Bounce rate and see the worst performing pages on the top of the report.

Let’s try something a little more sophisticated now. Choose a page that you want to find more about and click on its name in the list. You will now get a dashboard view specifically about that page. There is lots of information to explore but for this time around click on the Analyze drop down and select “Entrance keywords”.

analytics landing pages

You will now see a report that shows all of the keywords that have been used to navigate to this page when it has been the first page reached by a visitor. This can sometimes help solve the high bounce rate issue because you may find that the keywords listed are not appropriate to the page. You can then look at the optimisation for the page to work out why it has attracted inappropriate traffic and make changes if necessary.

Site Overlay
Now prepare to be amazed.

When you click on the Site Overlay option a new window will open in your browser displaying what at first looks like the homepage of your website. After a few seconds you should see the page change and you will notice a series of boxes and numbers appearing wherever there are links (e.g. in the navigation menus and text links in the website copy). What is being displayed is the percentage of clicks that a particular set of links has had from the total clicks on links to other pages on your website (or other sites). So if you have several links to the Contact page then the click information is the total of all clicks to that page.

analytics site overlay

It can be a helpful tool in trying to organise the position of menu items, clickable graphics and text links to ensure that visitors can most easily navigate to place on the site that you want them to go to and which they want to find.

It is a good idea to remember to click the “Close” button on the top right of this view to avoid browsing problems

This was meant to be a quick introduction. Because there is so much information in Analytics it is quite difficult to draw the boundaries between need to know and interesting to know. Analytics is a reporting tool so once you have a bit of confidence in using it then just experiment. Google’s help pages are pretty good and a general search on the internet will through up answers to many problems.

Gareth Edwards, eMarketing Specialist – The National B2B Centre.

The National B2B Centre offers a wide range of digital marketing training courses.  Check out our Google Analytics training course today.