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Google Analytics is an incredibly powerful, data reporting tool to track and measure your business’ website traffic. The robust tool has been around since 2005, and has been adapted and improved year over year.
For many stakeholders at an organization, opening up Google Analytics brings with it a sense of fear and trepidation. With so much data available and so many reports to look at, it can be overwhelming to know where to start, and what metrics matter most.
In order to make it a bit easier, we’ve gone through the most popular (and our favorite) reports to look at in Google Analytics. We look at client data in Analytics on a daily basis, and these are the reports we go to.
- Understanding Google Analytics
- Basic Google Analytics Metrics to Look At
- Advanced Google Analytics Metrics to Set Up
- Bonus Features and Tips
- Wrapping Up
Understanding Google Analytics
Google Analytics, or as we’ll abbreviate GA sometimes, is a free web analytics tool provided by Google to help you track and analyze your website traffic. It is incredibly powerful and robust, allowing you to drill down on data through its built-in and customizable reports and dashboards.
We’re going to skip over set up and GA basics in this article, and get into how you can use the tool for business growth. Lets first address a key underpinning to understanding Analytics. If you don’t understand the difference between these key reporting metrics, then you’ll be at a loss for how to use GA effectively.
User vs Session vs Pageview
You’ll see GA use these three different terms frequently across the analytic reports, and it is important to understand the difference between users, sessions, and pageviews.
What is a User?
A user is best thought of as an individual person visiting your website. No matter how many times they come in a day, or how many pages they view, they are still one single user.
If that user visits your website, leaves your site, and then comes back, they are still only counted as one user.
What is a Session?
A session is a single visit to your site. Everything that specific user does on that visit is encompassed in that one session. So, if a user visits your website at 8am, and ends up reading 3 pages, that would be considered one session.
If that user came back later in the day, that would be considered a second session, and would still count as the same user.
What is a Pageview?
A pageview is every single page that is loaded by a user. So, in our example above, a user that views 3 pages in a session would be represented as 3 pageviews in GA.
Every single page that the user views is counted as an additional pageview, no matter how many times they come and go.
As you can see, the number of pageviews > sessions > users. So, out of those three metrics, which is the best one for you to use?
Which Metric is the Best?
Clearly, trying to determine whether measuring users vs sessions vs pageviews is a loaded question. There is a reason for each of these metrics, depending on your scenario. However, here are a few ways to analyze which metric is best:
- In a perfect world, we’d like to use Users for the majority of our analysis. At the end of the day, a customer is a User (not a Session or Pageview). The challenge with Users is that a single User can use multiple devices to access your website (and they frequently do), so it can really confuse the data.
- By and large, without any specific data arguing for another, we start with Sessions. For us at 201 Creative, we believe it is the “cleanest” data. Sessions give a more accurate measurement of user activity as it spans their multiple devices along with home and work computers.
- Pageviews are valuable for looking at key metrics like site engagement, bounce rate, and time on site. But, the metric generally lacks specificity for broader evaluations.
Basic Google Analytics Metrics to Look At
The Audience report gives you a broad amount of data that specifically looks at who your viewers are, what demographics they encompass, and other details about them. If you want to know more about who is visiting your website, the reports here are where you want to look.
1. Geo / Location
This report will show you what parts of the world and country your audience comes from. This is a critical piece of information.
If you’re a local business that doesn’t sell outside of your locale, then you probably don’t care very much about traffic that isn’t in your area.
The same is true for a national brand – international traffic doesn’t matter.
At our agency, we see this problem over and over again. A previous company or agency will tout great traffic results, but the business owner is left scratching their heads, wondering why it hasn’t led to increased sales and revenue.
This is often the culprit. Not all traffic is relevant to your business, and understanding what parts of the world your audience is in can uncover a lot of information for you.
2. Mobile / Overview
Most business owners look at their website when they are at their desk, which means they are usually looking at it on their desktop computer. They experience the website’s UI, UX, features, and speed all while on a big screen and fast internet connection.
However, looking at your website while on a mobile device is a much different experience. And, it’s the experience that matters most. Google has moved to a mobile-indexing methodology, which means they crawl the mobile version of your website.
In addition, most companies get 60-80% of their traffic from mobile devices. This GA report will allow you to see how much of your traffic comes from desktop vs mobile vs tablet devices.
If you drill in further, you can even see which mobile devices. All of this information can help fuel your focus on a great mobile experience for your website.
Google gives you data on the demographics of your users, including age and gender. This is valuable information, but especially so if you’re advertising.
Advertising platforms like Facebook and Google Ads allow you to target specific audiences. Narrowing your audience down helps to increase the effectiveness of the ad, and typically increases the conversion rate.
Using the Demographics report allows you to see what age and gender groups come to your site, which allows you to make better decisions for your advertising audiences.
You do have to enable this feature in order to allow Google to report the data to you.
Bonus: set up Conversions in Google Analytics, so that the Demographics report will show you what age and gender groups are your best Customers. If you don’t know how to do this, we can help you set it up.
4. User Flow
There are a few other reports that are interesting and fun to look at, although we don’t consider them quite as important for making business decisions.
User Flow is a really cool visual chart of the path your users take as they enter and flow throughout your website. It’s a lot of data crammed into one view, so it can be a bit tough to take in, but the visual impact is really fun to follow through.
There are a lot of other useful reports, along with Audience customizations, but these are our favorites.
The Acquisition report gives you detailed information on what led to visitors coming to your website. From the channels that they used to the keywords they typed, this section of GA provides a lot of valuable insights into how you’re being found online.
Believe it or not, the Overview tab in the Acquisition Insights section is really valuable. It gives you a fantastic overview of what traffic channels send users to your site and how their behavior compares.
For example, in the screenshot below, we can see that users come to the site predominantly from Organic Search, and then Social Media. The relative bounce rate is similar for both traffic channels, hovering between 85-88%.
This second site, though, is very different. Almost all of the traffic comes from Organic Search, and the bounce rate is significantly lower for this channel.
For a more detailed view of this report, you can also go to All Traffic / Channels.
2. All Traffic / Channels
As mentioned, this is just a more detailed drill down of the Overview. There are a few additional things you can glean from this report.
Pages per Session, separated by channel, is a good indicator of how engaged your traffic is from each channel. This can help you make decisions about where to focus your efforts, and how good the traffic from those efforts is.
You can also evaluate Average Session Duration. Traffic that doesn’t stay long isn’t as engaged, and isn’t typically as good for your business.
It isn’t uncommon for Social Media traffic to have a shorter session duration, but you still don’t want it to be dramatically lower than your other channels.
3. Search Console
Google Search Console is another valuable tool that you should be using to evaluate and grow your business. We’ve written a similar article on how to use it to evaluate your search traffic and grow your business.
This specific report allows you to see the connections between your Google Analytics and Google Search Console data.
You can view which pages users came to from search specifically, along with analyzing specific search terms and keywords that brought you traffic.
You have to connect your GA and GSC accounts together to have access to this report, but it is well worth the efforts. This is one of the single most important reports in all of Google Analytics.
Behavior reports are where you go to learn what visitors are doing once they arrive on your website. Time on page, bounce rate, pages visited per session – these are all valuable metrics to understand how a viewer navigates your website.
Site Content / All Pages
For many, this is the classic Analytics report to look at. This view shows the individual URL traffic, broken down on a page by page basis. You can sort by a variety of metrics, such as Pageviews, Unique Pageviews, Average Time on Page, and Bounce Rate (among many others).
This page is very valuable – it shows you where your traffic goes on your site. It also can highlight pages that have problems, such as low time on site or high bounce rate. You always want to compare these metrics to the averages for your site.
For example, as a digital marketing agency, we see into a lot of client’s analytics. There are some industry averages for time on site and bounce rate, but they vary dramatically from client to client and industry to industry. This report helps you compare these numbers in a relative manner, as it pertains to your site only.
There are some other interesting reports in the Behavior section, but most of the compelling data needs some implementation on your part to be valuable.
Advanced Google Analytics Metrics to Set Up
If you feel good with all of the reports that we’ve talked about so far, you might be ready for some more advanced analytics that Google offers up.
If you’re an eCommerce site, setting up Transactions is practically mandatory. This allows Google Analytics to track what pages lead to sales on your site, which is incredibly important as you make decisions about which pages hold the most value for your business.
GA is also able to track pages that lead to a Transactions, which is also valuable. While your product landing page will have a high conversion number, you can learn what top-of-the-funnel content might be contributing most to sales.
Part and parcel to setting up Transactions is to also assign a dollar amount to every type of transaction that can occur on your site. This allows Analytics to provide you with Revenue numbers, and Page Value.
According to Google themselves, “Page Value is the average value for a page that a user visited before landing on the goal page or completing an Ecommerce transaction (or both). This value is intended to give you an idea of which page in your site contributed more to your site’s revenue”.
Together, Transactions and Page Value give you an invaluable amount of information as to how your site contributes to sales and revenue for your business.
Goals in Google Analytics are set up like conversion tracking. In your marketing analysis, you will want to have quantifiable metrics in order to make business decisions based on how effective the website is performing. There are a few different ways to set up Goals.
The primary method to set up a goal is by a simple destination page loading, like a “thank you” page after a transaction has been completed.
The amount of time spent on the site in one session. For a support site, a shorter duration may mean that the visitor is able to find their information quickly.
Pages or Screens per Session
Gathering data for this metric can let you know how engaged your visitors are, and can be important for advertising.
Not only available as a Goal, interaction events are able to be tracked individually as well. If you do not establish Goals on your site but still want to keep track of Events, this is the way to do it.
This can be a specific CTA, a checkout button, loading a video, or other similar events. Tracking events that happen as milestones in a sales funnel can provide valuable insights into where the funnel may be limited.
Event tracking is extremely flexible, but can be a little complicated to set up manually. There are settings in Google Tag Manager that can help you choose which Events to track, and then automatically begins tracking them on a site-wide basis.
Bonus Features and Tips
Here are a few of our favorite tips for adding a little bit of extra customization to Google Analytics.
Segments and Filters
Segments and filters allow you to slice and dice your data inside of Google Analytics. Due to the incredible amount of data that GA has, using Filters and Segments can be a great way to get rid of extraneous data that you don’t want to look at.
One filter we use a lot at 201 Creative is the Organic Traffic filter. Once we set this filter, we can navigate through any of the reports, and the data shown will only be from organic search traffic.
Other popular segments are:
- Mobile Traffic
- Paid Traffic
- Multi-session Traffic
- Sessions with Conversions
One recent situation that Segments came in handy was for a client that was experiencing a sudden decrease in online conversions. Through the use of segmentation, we were able to determine that there were issues with mobile traffic specifically converting due to a broken web page, and we were able to recommend a quick fix.
Segments are best used to isolate a certain, specific grouping of traffic that you want to learn more about. Online behavior can vary dramatically across different types of traffic groups, and it’s important to spend time segmenting your data to ensure you understand the full picture.
If you like the idea of using filters to get a clearer picture of your data, you don’t have to stop there. You can create Custom Reports that make it really easy to see the exact data you want. In business, we would call these dashboards. In Google Analytics, it’s called Custom Reports.
Google Analytics is a powerful tool, and because of this it can overwhelm and confuse a lot of business owners. However, with even just a basic understanding of the reporting platform, you can learn key insights about how your website traffic acts. Armed with this knowledge, you can make the necessary decisions to continue growing your business.