+ Beginner’s Guide to Google Analytics
+ Google Analytics Best Practices
+ How to Understand User Behavior in Google Analytics
+ How to Create & Measure Goals in Google Analytics
+ How to Use Google Analytics to Audit Your Content Strategy
+ How to Use Google Analytics to Improve Your Content
+ Critical (But Overlooked) Functions in Google Analytics
+ How to Interpret User Stats to Improve SEO
+ Free Tools to Use to Enhance Google Analytics
+ Best Alternatives to Google Analytics
Google Analytics is any search marketer’s go-to tool of choice. It provides real-time and historical insights on your site’s performance, including a breakdown of traffic sources and user behavior. With the information provided by Google Analytics, it’s possible to learn from your campaign and make adjustments to improve your performance, but if you want to truly perfect your strategy, Google Analytics isn’t enough. There are serious gaps when it comes to keyword research, competition analysis, and visibility into factors that affect your ranking.
Google Analytics is the Swiss Army Knife of the online entrepreneur. It’s full of detailed insights and information you can use to analyze your online traffic and perfect your approach to earn the most new customers and the greatest amount of recurring revenue. But many business owners fail to use Google Analytics to its full potential, relying solely on inbound traffic figures and never venturing further into the platform.
Unfortunately, the descriptor of it being “user friendly” isn’t entirely accurate. To the seasoned Analytics user, it’s a platform that’s easy to navigate and interpret, but there are two main situations that prohibit its effective use:
This guide aims to make sense of Google Analytics from a beginner’s perspective.
Before you can do anything, you have to set up an account. To do so, you can use an existing Gmail account or set up an entirely new one. Either way, head over to Google Analytics itself, and complete the remaining steps of the Analytics portion of the account activation. I promise, this part is easy.
Next, you’ll need to use an Analytics tracking code to ensure that Google can “see” the traffic on your site. Head to “Admin” and on the left-hand side, select the drop-down menu and select “Create new account.” This will prompt you for a few fields of information, such as the name of your site, the URL, and your time zone.
Once complete, you can click “Get tracking ID,” and you’ll be presented with a short snippet of code you’ll need to paste on every page of your website. If you have an SEO plugin, this should be easy. If not, you may need to request assistance from your web developers.
The “Reporting” tab is where you’ll spend most of your time. You can get here from the home screen, by clicking on your website (if you have multiple websites to track, you’ll have to click on one at a time).
On the left-hand side, you’ll see a collapsed menu of different items, which we’ll be exploring one by one. Consider this your home base:
If you’re just getting started, you can ignore “dashboards” altogether. With this section, you can create customized interfaces to display only the most relevant data for your particular site, or multiple dashboards for multiple respective purposes.
Shortcuts, similar to dashboards, exist to make your life easier as you use Analytics more regularly. For now, ignore this section, but remember it’s here when you start making the same types of reports over and over again.
This section exists to alert you of various happenings on your website, broken down into daily, weekly, and monthly events. For example, you might receive an alert that your “pageviews” increased by 100 percent over the course of a week. You can also set up custom alerts for specific events on your site.
Real-Time offers, as you might imagine, a real-time snapshot of who is visiting your website. Among other data, you’ll see where they’re browsing, what pages they’re visiting, and whether or not they’re converting.
The Audience section is one of the most useful in the platform. Here, you’ll be able to see exactly what type of users visit your website. You’ll be able to analyze them based on demographics like age and gender, their geographic location, and even the types of devices they’ve used to access your site. By studying this information, you’ll get a better idea of who is using your site, as well as whether or not they were satisfied with the experience (by segmenting portions of your audience and viewing metrics like bounce rates).
The Acquisition section is the most important one for inbound marketers. Here, you’ll be able to see a breakdown of all your main sources of traffic, and how those sources compare against each other and evolve over time. Generally, you’ll want to pay attention to the big four sources: direct visits (which involve typing in your URL directly), organic visits (which are increased as you increase in search rank and visibility), social visits (which measure people visiting your site from a social media platform), and referral visits (which involve people clicking external links to get to your site). You’ll also be able to view detailed visit information based on these individual sources, such as average session duration and pages per session.
Your Behavior report is most useful for analyzing the effectiveness of your website overall. Here, you’ll be able to analyze your total pageviews, determining where your traffic usually lands, and what actions they take from there. The Behavior Flow chart, available in the submenu, is a great way to visualize the average path a user takes through your site. With this report, you’ll be able to determine which areas of your site are most and least effective.
Last but not least, you’ll be able to measure the conversions you get onsite. Obviously, the more conversions you can get, the better—so if you notice this number growing, you know you’re doing something right. Before you can dig deep into the metrics, however, you’ll have to set up some initial Goals. You can do this by selecting Admin, and then selecting Goals on the right-hand side. It’s a relatively straightforward process.
You aren’t limited only to what we covered in this guide, of course. There are many other features, customizations, and tricks to learn as you become more adept at using Google Analytics. This is just an introductory guide, to help you get started and make sense of your data. If you’re interested in more in-depth information, Google offers a fairly robust training guide.
The “Goals” section of Analytics is one of the most useful tools you’ll find. If set up properly, you’ll be able to track conversions throughout your site, and run an analysis to determine the overall value of your campaign, giving you a perfect gateway to uncover the ROI of your inbound efforts.
Setting up a goal is relatively easy. All you have to do is find the Admin section for your target site, click on “Goals,” and then “Create a Goal.” Google Analytics offers a step-by-step process that allows you to set up any goal you’d like.
For most users, you’ll be setting up a template goal. Some of the common goals you can choose from include “destination” goals, which are completed when a user reaches a specific page, or “event” goals, which are completed when a user takes a specific action, like playing a video. Once you’ve selected a type, you’ll be able to customize your goals and fill in the necessary information—like the URL for your destination goal.
Once you’ve got your initial goals set up, make sure to run a handful of tests to make sure they are functioning properly.
You’ll also have the opportunity to designate a value to the completion of each of your goals. Take advantage of this; it’s going to provide you with a major opportunity to objectively analyze your online marketing results later on.
For some goals, coming up with this value is easy. For example, if you’re selling an ebook for $5 and you set up a goal for the completion of a single order, the value of the goal would be $5. However, if you’re selling multiple items in varying groups, you’ll have to come up with the average value of a customer order and use that as the assigned value of a goal. The process is further complicated by non-monetary goals, such as those assigned to the completion of a contact form. Here, you’ll have to determine the ratio of inquiries to sales, and then the average sale to determine the average goal completion value.
This may take a few extra steps, but coming up with an accurate value is essential to determining the objective results of your campaign later down the road.
If a specific action on your website corresponds to revenue or the strong possibility for revenue, you should set it up as a goal. Only then can you be able to concisely and accurately project how much revenue your inbound marketing strategies are earning. Goals don’t take much time to set up, and once they’re set up correctly, you can run with them for as long as you need. Nobody has ever complained about having too much data available.
Still, if you have multiple transaction points and multiple points of contact, it may be overwhelming to try and set up a goal for each one of them. Start out with the goals that are the most critical for your business goals, and once those are complete, gradually flesh out the others.
Setting up a funnel is an optional part of the goal setup process, but I’ve found it extremely valuable for determining where your customers are coming from and why. With the funnel option, you’ll be able to outline the typical process your visitor goes through before completing a goal; for example, a customer may arrive at your homepage, travel to the blog section, and eventually land on the contact page, where they complete your “contact” goal.
Setting up a funnel is advantageous because once you have some data flowing, you can easily visualize your customer’s path. Analytics will map out the ideal customer flow you outlined, and give you data for each step of the process. You’ll be able to see what percentage of your customers move on to each step, which will allow you to pinpoint any holdups to your ultimate goal.
The most important function of goals is getting the opportunity to objectively measure your return on investment (ROI). Will goals in place for all your major transaction and conversion points, you can estimate exactly how much revenue your site has brought in over a given period of time. Determining how much you spent to get that level of traffic is usually the tricky part, since you’ll have incoming traffic from searches, referrals, direct entries, and social media. Still, if you can estimate how much you spend on marketing and compare it to how much you’re making through your goals, you’ll be able to determine the effectiveness of your current strategy.
Google Analytics can tell you almost anything about your site, user behavior included. To make things simple, I want to explore the use of Google Analytics in examining user behavior across three different, broad areas:
Before I dig any deeper, I want to clarify the intentions of this guide, some assumptions I’m making, and how to best use this guide for your own site.
I’m assuming a few things about your brand, which should be true regardless of any online marketing strategies you currently use:
I’ll be referring to these three principles throughout the article, and will be exploring them solely in the context of user behavior. Finding the right target audience, optimizing your traffic, maximizing your visitors, and selecting the right offers for users are all important topics for these principles, but they’ll be the subject of a future guide. For now, I’ll be focusing on the insights behavior can bring us.
Feel free to read straight through or skip to a section you want specific information about.
First, let’s take a look at how and why users are coming to your site.
The place we’re going to start is where we’ll spend most of our time for this article, so get comfy.
Head to “Behavior” in your dashboard and click on “Behavior Flow.” This should bring you to a massive, confusing looking chart that looks something like this:
It’s about to get a lot less confusing.
For now, we’re only examining how people are entering the site—we’ll get to the rest later—so take a look at the columns “landing page” and “starting page” here. Those terms may sound synonymous, but there’s a critical semantic distinction here. A landing page is the first URL a user clicks or enters, while a starting page is the first page a user arrives at. To illustrate the difference, consider a 301 redirect that takes a user from the URL they clicked on (a landing page) to a final destination URL (a starting page). You may want to examine both to see how and why your users are being redirected, but remember, our focus is on behavior, so we want to ask ourselves two questions:
*these questions are phrased as singular, referring to only one page, but feel free to look at several of your top-entrance pages for more thorough results.
Let’s examine these individually.
For many of you, this will be a home page or a landing page you’ve specifically created to accept new users. Either way, it’s the first page people are seeing, and this information should be enlightening to you.
This is the page where the majority of your users get their first impressions of your brand. In a moment, we’ll look at how those first impressions manifest into traceable user actions, but for now ask yourself the following questions:
This question is less relevant to the behavior of your users and more relevant to your acquisition of users; this page is popular because it’s a popular link on social media, or on a referral source, or in Google search results. This can tell you something about the intent of your users—especially if your most popular landing page is a specific blog page—but it speaks more to your audience targeting methods and effectiveness at online marketing in general.
If you’re interested in gaining more insight into why and how your users are entering in these specific ways, consider adding a modifier to your Behavior Flow chart. Click on the dropdown menu in the upper-left hand corner of the chart, and select a new variable to add to the left-hand side:
For illustrative purposes, select “Acquisition” and “Default Channel Grouping.” Here, you’ll see a breakdown of your major sources of traffic (Direct, Organic, Referral, and Social) and where those sources ultimately land on your site.
This may help you understand why certain entrance pages are more popular than others, but if you’re more interested in optimizing your initial audience, gaining more visitors, or otherwise modifying your incoming traffic, you’ll want to look at audience Acquisition rather than Behavior.
For now, you should have two potential action items:
Now, let’s move on to the guts of user behavior on your site.
This will be an easy transition since I already have you looking at the Behavior Flow chart in Analytics. Now, instead of looking exclusively at the entrance page, we’re going to be examining how and why your users engage with other parts of your site.
First, let’s break the chart down.
There are two things to look for here:
It’s also worth noting that you can modify or add different traffic segments to evaluate certain demographics with a closer inspection. To do this, click on “Choose segment from list” above your chart, and select from any one of the dozens of choices Google offers you.
For example, you could compare the behavior of “new users” against the behavior of “returning users” and gain key insights about the differences between those familiar with your brand and those new to it.
The Flow chart is handy and concise, but it isn’t the only place to find information about the behavior of your users. In fact, it pays to look elsewhere—check out the “Overview” section of the Behavior tab, and I’ll show you what I mean.
Here, you’ll find some key information about the general behavior on your site, including the average time a user spends on a page, the collective bounce rate of all your pages, and the most popular pages of your site overall. Click on “view full report” in the bottom right-hand corner of this chart, and you’ll be able to view metrics like these for each of your pages individually—for example, you’ll be able to calculate the average time a user spends reading a specific article on your blog or discover the bounce rate of your individual product pages.
As usual with Google Analytics, there are many ways to modify this information. For starters, you can use the audience segmentation trick mentioned in the preceding section to closely examine one portion of your overall audience.
This is the most important piece of this section of the guide. Now that you know how to read the chart and peripheral information, it’s time to draw the key revelations that will allow you to improve your site’s design, content, and functions.
With the core user behavior out of the way, let’s take a look at one final element of user behavior.
Any engagement with your brand is valuable, with some types being more valuable than others depending on your brand and your core strategy. “Engagement” here can mean just about anything—a download, a form submission, a purchase—and there are ways to track any of these engagements meaningfully in Analytics.
To start, there are two ways to track and understand engagements: Events and Goals. Events are the most flexible creation, applicable for almost any user action on your site. Goals are better for tracing specific user paths, such as measuring visitors who visit a specific page and then convert a designated way.
To start tracking Events, you need to go through a short set-up process. To avoid detracting too far from my main points, I won’t detail these steps here; they do require a bit of technical expertise, but you can find more information straight from Google on the process here.
Once created, you can find reporting for all your Events under the Behavior tab in Analytics. Here, you’ll be able to filter by specific Events, groups of Events, or by different segments of your audience (detailed in my section on “Segmenting Your Traffic” above).
Goals are a bit easier to create if you’re unfamiliar with the technical side of things. First, head to the Admin section (found in the upper-right), and you’ll see three columns. Click on Goals on the furthest right-hand column.
Here, Google will walk you through one of several different pre-made templates for Goal completion. Once created, you’ll be able to measure and monitor your Goals in the same location.
There are tons of insights to gain from Goals and Events regarding your conversion optimization—but that’s a topic for an entirely separate post. Here, let’s examine some of the behavioral insights we can gain by looking at actions leading up to Events and Goals:
Your biggest insights here should be the motivating factors for conversion—where are users when they convert? What are they doing? What are they seeing? Where have they been? Replicate these conditions elsewhere on your site, and you’ll double your potential converting traffic. Similarly, you’ll know what to stay away from in conversion opportunities that are rarely taken by your audience.
The secret to managing a successful marketing campaign is making iterative, measurable progress. The key word here is “measurable”—without insight into how your campaign is doing, it’s impossible to make any meaningful progress. For example, if you make a change, you need both a baseline and a new figure to determine whether the change was appropriate or useful.
The trouble is, you might not know what’s important to measure, or the right way to go about measuring it. You might have a nifty call-to-action on your website and a separate landing page for paid advertising traffic, but how are you measuring the results of your efforts in both areas?
Google Analytics offers a simple solution with its Goals system, giving you the ability to set up and track virtually any meaningful user action you’d like. Though the system can be intimidating to a newcomer, it’s actually relatively simple and can give you significant insight into the ins and outs of your campaign.
The name “Goals” makes it sound like you have a specific target in mind for achievement, but you don’t need a traditional goal in mind to create a Goal. Instead, a Goal is simply a measure of the number of times a user takes an indicated action on your site. Goals are mostly used to measure conversion rates, such as making a purchase on an e-commerce platform or filling out a form on a landing page, but can also refer to abstract or otherwise important user actions, such as going from one specific page to another specific page, or completing a level of a mobile game.
There are four main “types” of Goals that can be set up in Google Analytics. Each can be applied to a number of different situations. You may find yourself using one, several, or all of these Goal types for your site:
Use these four categories as baselines to understand the main user actions you want to track on your site.
In addition to choosing a Goal type above and assigning it to a specific user action, you can establish funnels and values, two additional variables, for your Goals. Funnels work by establishing an intended path for your user leading up to a specific Goal; for example, if your Goal is a destination page like a “thank you” page, you can establish a specific pattern of pages required for a user to visit before a “Goal” is considered complete. This is useful if you’re trying to track specific patterns of movement throughout your site.
Values function like they sound—they’re inherent values ascribed to each Goal. When it comes to purchasing products, this is an easy process; just assign the value of the product to the value of the Goal in purchasing it. For less precisely measurable instances, like filling out a form for a B2B business, you’ll have to get more creative.
The setup process is relatively straightforward if you know where to look. In Google Analytics, head to the Admin tab and click into the Goals area. You can click “New Goal” or import an older one for modification here. If you’re just getting started, it’s best to create a Goal from one of Google’s pre-existing templates; they’re there to make the process simpler. If you want to get tricky, you can also create a custom Goal. From there, you’ll have a chance to add funnels, values, and other variables.
Once created, you’ll be able to track your Goals within the confines of the Goal area. You can have up to 20 Goals at once, and create reporting for those Goals. Depending on the nature of your business and how aggressive you are in your marketing efforts, it’s generally a best practice to check on your Goals monthly. Monitor for any changes, and make adjustments to your campaign to gradually improve your results.
Knowing how to audit your content strategy appropriately is the most important part of the process. As long as you’re looking at the right information, you should be able to draw real, valuable conclusions, and make meaningful improvements to your strategies from there.
Fortunately, there’s a free tool you can use to delve into the statistics on your content marketing campaign, from how well your content is at attracting visitors to how well it leads to conversions—and chances are, you’re already using it.
Log into Google Analytics, and I’ll show you how to use it to audit your content strategy.
First, you can measure the SEO impact of your work by taking a look at the organic traffic your site has brought in, month over month. Organic traffic is a measure of the number of people who found your site after searching for something—the higher this number is, the more successful your SEO strategy has been. You can find it by heading to the Acquisition tab and looking at the Acquisition Overview, then drilling down to look at just organic traffic.
If you find that your organic traffic isn’t increasing month over month, there may be a problem with your SEO campaign. It could be that you aren’t posting frequently enough, that your topics aren’t related to your industry, or that your content isn’t long or detailed enough to get you the results you need. Of course, there could also be a problem with another facet of your SEO strategy, such as with your link building or social strategies.
For this report, we’ll stay in the realm of the Acquisition tab, except this time, we’ll be looking at social traffic instead of organic traffic. Your social traffic, as you might imagine, is the number of people who visited your site after clicking a link on a social media platform (such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn). The higher this number is, the better your social campaign is faring, and of course, your social campaign is fueled by your content.
Take a look at the details of your inbound social traffic. Are they coming strongly from one source but weakly from another? It may be time to learn from your more successful social profile and make changes to your less successful profiles. Are your numbers remaining stagnant? It may be time to change up what types of content you syndicate on your social channels.
This report of Analytics will let you know how effective your topics are at attracting new visitors to your site. Depending on the ways you syndicate or publish your content, there are two areas where you can gain this understanding.
The first is where we left off—the social traffic area of the Acquisition tab. Here, you’ll be able to see exactly which links attracted the most traffic to your site. Based on this information, you should be able to determine what types of topics and what type of headlines and lead-ins lead to the most traffic. You should also be able to see which topics fall flat, and adjust your upcoming editorial calendar accordingly.
The second area is for judging content you’ve circulated through means other than social media. Here, we’ll head to the Behavior tab and take an extended look at the pages most responsible for site entry. Toward the top of the list, you’ll find some of your most successful blog posts, which you can then use to adapt your strategy further.
It’s nice to know that your content is pulling people into your site, but you also have to learn whether your content is keeping them there. If your content is weak, or doesn’t give people what they’re looking for, they’re going to bounce. There are several ways to tell whether your content is keeping people on your site, including measuring the respective bounce rates of your different posts under the Behavior tab.
However, one of the more effective ways to determine this is by using the interactive Behavior Flow chart, which visualizes the average paths your users take throughout your site. If you notice a large percentage of visitors dropping off after encountering your blog, you may have a problem with sticky content.
Under Google Analytics, you can set up items called Goals, which help you measure specific instances of conversion on your site. You can set up a specific Goal for a specific conversion related to your blog and directly measure your content’s ultimate conversion rate, or you can tie the effectiveness of your content to a separate Goal. For example, if you set up a Goal to track conversions on your Contact page, you can then use the Behavior Flow chart to determine how many blog visitors ultimately make it to that Contact page. From there, you’ll be able to tell how good of a job your content is doing at converting visitors.
Google Analytics is much simpler to use than it looks on the surface. Once you get a feel for where to look for your content auditing purposes, set up an automatic report to generate at the end of each month for each dimension you use in your consideration. You can even have it emailed to you directly in a PDF format. That way, you’ll be automatically reminded to check in on your content’s progress, and you can keep making improvements and adjustments uninterrupted.
Most people realize Google Analytics is useful for tracking web traffic over time, but they don’t realize how much valuable data is available for other means, including improving your content marketing strategy. In fact, there are five distinct ways you can use Google Analytics—right out of the box—to refine your content over time:
Your first—and biggest clue—to the effectiveness of your content should be your patterns of growth over time. For this, head to the Acquisition section of the dashboard and take a look at your inbound streams of traffic. Direct traffic refers to users who enter your URL directly, so instead look to Organic traffic, Referral traffic, and Social traffic.
Organic traffic is a measure of how many people found your site through search engines—it’s a way of telling how much your content has led to increased domain authority and higher search ranks (though there are a combination of other factors at work here). Your Referral traffic, if you break it down to its individual sources, will tell you how effective your guest posts have been—look for high-traffic sources and growth over time. Social traffic works much the same way, telling you how many people have found your site on social media. Again, the strength of your content is the major indicator here. If you notice slow or stagnant growth in any of these areas, you’ll know where you need to focus your efforts to improve.
This is critical. The effectiveness of your content marketing campaign begins with choosing the right topics. You have to choose headlines and subjects that are personally relevant to your audience, useful, yet still unique and rare enough that they don’t attract much competition.
Stay in the Acquisition tab, and take a look at the landing URLs of your traffic—you can either look at all traffic here, or drill down to a category of sources. Arrange the columns by order of visits (this should be the default), and you should get a clear picture of which content topics are netting you the most traffic. Be sure to evaluate this figure at multiple points in time—you may find that a hugely popular topic from a year ago falls flat today, or vice versa. Either way, you’ll learn which topics are most and least effective in your campaign, and you’ll be able to adjust accordingly.
Head to the Behavior tab, and you’ll be able to see how your content affects the actions of your users. This is useful for determining your content’s ability to motivate readers to explore your site further (and eventually convert). Track the “average” path of an inbound user by evaluating the Behavior Flow chart; see what most readers do after visiting one of your articles. Do they head to another article? Do they visit your Contact page? These insights will tell you how effective you’ve been at drawing your readers in further. If you notice a lapse, or if the majority of your readers end up on a page you don’t have as a high priority, you’ll need to adjust your internal linking strategy.
Bounce rates aren’t the best way to learn about your traffic because people can bounce for almost any reason (and just because a user stays doesn’t mean he/she is meaningfully engaged with your content). However, high bounce rates can be an indication of weak points within your strategy. For example, if you notice your “how to” posts have a much higher bounce rate over time than your listicle-style posts, you know something in your listicle posts is doing a better job of keeping your audience engaged. Use these insights to compensate for any weaknesses you find and learn from your best material.
Finally, use the segmented traffic options in the Acquisition tab to find the most appropriate, effective distribution channels for your content—and this can mean Referral or Social sources. Take a look at your inbound traffic on a per-channel basis, and arrange those sources according to total figures. Your most valuable sources will be at the top (in both Referral and Social sections). Don’t limit your distribution to only these sources, but do favor them, and do learn from them—why are these sources bringing you more traffic? Why does your audience prefer them?
While the functionality of Google Analytics is practically boundless (and still growing), I want to take the time to introduce seven useful functions you might have overlooked thus far:
You’ve probably already checked out the “Behavior” tab, where you can see how users react to different pages on your site, including how long it takes for them to bounce and where they generally enter. But the Behavior Flow section takes it to a new level. You might be intimidated by the visual component of the graph here, but if you break it down, it’s nothing that can’t be understood. In fact, it greatly assists you in visualizing the path the average user takes on your site. You can easily see which entry pages are most popular, where users go from there, and where you’re losing the most users. Use it as your guide to sculpt this “ideal” user path.
When you run reports in Analytics, you probably take a look at the last month’s figures, or if you’re very committed, the last week’s. But have you looked at longer trends? Analytics can peer back as far as you’ve had the code on your site, likely giving you several years’ worth of information. Take a look at your traffic patterns between then and now—do you notice any seasonal spikes that could be taken advantage of? Did you have a dip or a substantial gain during a certain year? Have your bounce rates or conversions changed significantly?
You might not think about your users’ locations, especially if you’re a national brand, but this information can be very helpful in identifying and possibly revising your target audience. Head to the Audience tab, and look at the geographic location of your users. You might find some rogue visitors from other countries that represent a possibility to expand, or you can drill down further and see what state most of your users are coming from. You can use this information to further optimize your site for those audience segments, or appeal to them in your offerings.
Hopefully, you’re already conducting experiments in your online marketing strategy. They’re your best tools in learning more and doing better for your target audiences. However, you probably haven’t scoped out Google’s own Experiments section, which you can find under the Behavior tab. Here, you can set up basic experiments around metrics and parameters you define, offering up to 10 different variations of a single page (or target) to compare different segments of traffic against. If you’re interested in learning more or if you get stuck, Google has a great guide for this section.
If you haven’t tapped into Goals already, now’s the time to get started. It’s in your best interest to set up a goal for every significant user action on your site, whether that’s getting to a certain page from a certain page, or filling out a specific conversion form. The more data you collect on these target instances of user behavior, the more ammunition you’ll have to adjust your strategy and optimize it further. You can set up Goals in the Admin tab, then view them in the Conversions tab. The process is relatively straightforward as long as you already have specific goals in mind.
Do you fumble around in Google Analytics every month to create just the right report for your campaign? If so, you haven’t found Shortcuts yet. It’s one of the main tabs on the left-hand side, but it’s often missed by search marketers. Here, you’ll be able to store your most commonly used reports and metrics, and recall them for future iterations.
Found under the Audience tab, you might have overlooked the potential of learning your users’ browser and technology preferences. The Technology and Mobile menus can give you a breakdown of exactly how users are accessing your site, giving you critical insight to ensure your site’s proper functionality and possibly come up with new strategies catering to the majority of your users. For example, if you find the majority of your users are finding your site on Internet Explorer, it might be worth spending more time optimizing for Bing.
Understanding your audience is the key to creating a great user experience and building the reputation of your brand. A few decades ago, the only way to get more information about your customers was to conduct lengthy market research studies, involving in-depth surveys and qualitative analysis. While market research is still around, there is even deeper, more quantitative data available immediately to every website owner in the world. By using this data to better understand your site’s average user, you can perfect your user experience and improve your customer retention.
Today, I’ll take a look at six key metrics that illustrate a picture of your site’s average visitor:
Acquisition data is your key to discovering how people are finding your site. You can find this information in Google Analytics under the “Acquisition” tab—to start, check out the “Overview” section. Here, you can see a nifty pie chart that will segment your audience into the four main channels responsible for drawing traffic to your site: direct traffic, which constitutes visitors visiting your site from a typed-in URL or bookmark, organic traffic, which constitutes visitors who found your site through search, referral traffic, which constitutes visitors who found your site through external links and advertisements, and social traffic, which constitutes visitors who came to you through social media.
What to learn: Here, you’ll be able to get a relative gauge on how effective your different inbound campaigns have been. For example, if you notice your social campaign is generating 80 percent of your visitors, you can rest assured your social campaign is doing well, but your organic search campaign could use an extra boost. You can also learn the primary motivation of your average visitor: for example, you know that most direct visitors are already familiar with your brand, while organic visitors are looking for information on your site.
The bounce rate is a crucial measurement that lets you know how often someone leaves your site after viewing a specific page. For example, if you’re looking at your home page and it has a 60 percent bounce rate, that means 60 percent of your homepage visitors leave your site after viewing the page, while 40 percent delve deeper to learn more. You can view your bounce rate in several sections of Google Analytics, since it’s going to be different for each page and for each section of traffic.
What to learn: Obviously, you want all your bounce rates to be as low as possible, but comparing different bounce rates on your site can give you a good idea of which pages are the most effective, and which need some work. Check out your bounce rates under Behavior > Site Content > All Pages to see which of your pages specifically have the lowest bounce rate, and check them out under Acquisition > Channels to see how each segment of your inbound traffic bounces or stays.
Behavior flow is a new feature in Google Analytics that, truthfully, looks like a bit of a mess on first view. Don’t be intimidated, however. Behavior flow is an incredibly useful tool that can give you an accurate portrait of your average customer’s journey as he/she traverses your website from initial entry to eventual exit. The flow chart begins with a landing page, which is the first page your users come into contact with, and shows the most common next steps in each user’s interaction. At each step, you’ll be able to view information such as total number of sessions, and drop-off rates.
What to learn: Here is the perfect place to understand the navigability of your site. Most sites start with a captivating landing page and engaging internal content pages which all eventually lead to a conversion page, such as a contact or request-a-quote form. By looking at your behavior flow chart, you can determine what portions of that traffic direction are effective, and which ones need further work.
Your demographic information is perhaps the easiest to understand in this list, but it’s still important to get in the head of your user. Check out the Audience > Demographics > Overview section of your Google Analytics page, which will show you a report detailing the ages and genders of your average users. In this section, you can also learn the geographic location of your visitors, which can also help you get a solid image of your average site user.
What to learn: There are two ways this can go. First, if you do not have a clear understanding of who your target demographic is, you can use this information to form that knowledge. From there, you can adjust the design and writing of your site to appeal to its most popular demographics. Second, if you do have a firm idea of your target demographics, you can use this information to adjust your strategy so you maximize the percentage of site visitors who actually belong to that demographic.
Your engagement metrics will vary depending on the structure of your site, but they should at least include conversions and social signals. To track conversions, you’ll have to set up a goal in Google Analytics, which will track user information that leads to an eventual “goal completion” (e.g. filling out a contact form, clicking a specific button, etc.). On a regular basis, you can measure those engagements and get an idea of who is converting and why. Similarly, if you include social sharing options on many pages throughout your site (especially on individual blog posts), you’ll be able to gain key insights about what types of users are interested in your content, which content they’re interested, and how they’re interested in sharing it.
What to learn: With this behavioral information, you’ll be able to customize your site and your content to cater to the engagement preferences of your user base. These adjustments will lead to higher engagement rates and higher conversions.
Learning how your customers access your website is also important, especially with the rise of mobile traffic popularity. Go to Audience > Technology, and you’ll be able to see the browser preferences of your average site visitors. Check out the Mobile tab, and you’ll be able to see what percentage of your visitors are accessing your site via mobile.
What to learn: It’s always important to optimize your site for mobile, no matter what. But if you find that the majority of your site visitors are accessing your page using a mobile device, it’s critically important to make sure they have an ideal experience. Learning the browser information of your users is also important; for example, if you find that the majority of your users use Internet Explorer, you should ensure browser compatibility and optimize your site for Bing.
Once you have a solid understanding of your site’s average user, you can analyze the factors that significantly affect their experience. When you make adjustments to your site layout or your inbound strategy, you’ll be able to measure your new data and compare it, apples-to-apples, against your previous information. Gradually, you’ll refine a near-perfect platform for your target audience and grow your brand’s reputation.
Thankfully, there are plenty of free tools available to complement Google Analytics and give you all the information you need to succeed in your inbound marketing campaign. Here are 10 of our favorites:
SEO Book actually has several different free tools available on their website, including a keyword checker tool, a local rank measurer, and a competitive research tool. Here, you can also download several Firefox extensions to integrate your SEO monitoring with your natural web browsing experience. Examples are the basic SEO toolbar, which produces competitive and search data and displays them in search results, and the Rank Checker, which automatically updates your ranks in major search engines. This site is best used for research on your target keywords and competitors, but it’s especially convenient because it offers so much functionality.
Before you get deep into your SEO campaign, you need to think about your target keywords. It’s true that specific keyword optimization tactics are no longer as effective as they used to be, but it still pays to know your competition and look for low-hanging fruit whenever possible. Wordstream offers several free keyword tools that you can use to perform background research and prep your campaign for success. Their niche tool is especially useful for companies trying to uncover niche opportunities within a general field or topic. You can perform keyword discovery searches up to 30 times for free.
Open Site Explorer is a moz application that accurately calls itself the “search engine for links.” Type in your own URL and get a full list of all the inbound links currently pointing to your site. This is useful when you want to audit or reevaluate your current link profile, but it’s even more useful when you want to learn more about your competitors. Type a competitor’s URL into the search bar and gain valuable insights about their link building strategies. Learn from their mistakes and compare your own inbound link efforts to theirs on the “Compare Link Metrics” tab.
Remove’Em is a paid backlink removal tool, but the reports they generate are free to use. This tool is great for determining the current state of your anchor text. Remember, over-optimizing your anchor text for a given keyword can actually warrant a penalty from Google, so it pays to proactively scout for any discrepancies. Through this tool, you’ll be able to see how many external links a given domain has, including which anchor text supports those links and percentages of each segment of anchor text. With this information, you should be able to easily clean up your external links.
In case you didn’t know, a robots.txt file is a text file that should be in your home page. The purpose of this file is to inform web crawlers about which directories, files, and sections of the site they should not be allowed to see. This robots.txt generator by Yellowpipe Internet Services allows you to quickly and easily generate a robots.txt file that exactly fits your needs. All you have to do is download it once it’s generated, and then upload it to your site.
Much like the robots.txt generator, this tool is designed to quickly and easily create a complex data structure. Schema microdata is important because it feeds information to search engines in a very specialized, specific format. Basically, it makes it easier for search engines to pick up information on your site and populate that information in search results. This tool offers schema formatting for people, products, events, organizations, movies, books, and reviews, and there’s even a free plugin for WordPress. Simply input the information, and the tool will generate the HTML code you need to use onsite.
Speed matters to SEO. Sites that load faster get ranked higher than their slower counterparts, so it pays to keep tabs on your site’s loading speed. Use Pingdom’s website speed tool to regularly check in on your site loading speed. Google Analytics offers a similar functionality, but this tool goes into far greater detail, breaking down every file that a browser downloads and how long it takes to download. It can help you identify any bottlenecks or obstacles that are preventing your site from loading as fast as it should. Check it once a week or so.
In a modern content marketing and SEO campaign, you should worry more about your customer experience than your specific keyword rankings. However, it’s still valuable and rewarding to learn how you rank for which keywords. SERPs’s free keyword rank checker is the perfect tool for the job. You can check your domain’s rank for any given keyword, including a ZIP code to see your rank for a specific local search, on either Google or Yahoo!. This is especially valuable since Google Analytics doesn’t offer any specific information on keyword rankings.
If you’re interested in an easy, convenient way to get more SEO insights for your campaign, try integrating Moz’s SEO toolbar (for Chrome or Firefox). The toolbar will highlight links and keywords, and will analyze page overlay to give you more insight into how Google sees your page. Search engine results pages (SERPs) are also broken down and illustrated with detailed metrics on each result—and you can create customized searches to mimic a local search from anywhere in the world. You can even view social media metrics for some popular platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.
Simply Measured offers a suite of different free analytics apps for several social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The free tools here do have limits, such as the Twitter Follower Analysis app only working on the first 10,000 followers for a given account, but that should be plenty, especially for a search marketer just starting out. Simply post the URL to your company’s social media profile, and Simply Measured will generate a fully customized report analyzing your current user base, as well as how many people interacted with your brand. It goes far beyond the limitations of social media measurement within Google Analytics.
While these tools aren’t necessary for every search marketer, they do offer valuable information and capabilities that you would miss with just Google Analytics. Try them out—after all, you’ve got nothing to lose. It can be overwhelming to deal with such volumes of data, but the more raw information you have to work with the better. Over time, you can narrow down your toolset and hone in on the metrics and research tools that matter the most for your campaign.
In spite of all of the hype about Google Analytics performance capabilities, the platform that brought use AdWords does not provide the best data reporting for manipulation of traffic statistics in concert with external reporting. New entrants in website metrics reporting offer users better features and tools than Google.
Content engagement analytics from Chartbeat assist marketing professionals in controlling the quality of content. Real-time tracking of web assets in Chartbeat offers insights into audience-behavior online. Aggregate reporting on content categories informs users about who is reading what and why. Track content hits to analyze what if making audiences grow. Audience metrics in Chartbeat offer website owners a range of key metrics for monitoring visitor activity prior to, during and post clicking on a website.
Loyal followers of content can be tracked in Chartbeat to record proportional recirculation of visitors to the same article in more than one visit. Time of engagement is also availed in metric tracking of website traffic on Chartbeat. For optimum content-based acquisition and retention of visitors to a site, the quality angle of metric reporting on the analytics platform offers better than average reporting on referrer conversion as well.
Charbeat video analytics assist website owners in the integration of multi-media formats as part of website content. Play rate and length of audience viewing can be measured in comparison with other video collateral in an online repository.
Personalized dashboards assigned users on Chartbeat enable customization of charting and management of analytics features. The dashboard features offer users the option of narrowing content tracking to types of publication. Distinct aspects of written or visual material, as well as social media activity can be designated for content analysis.
The advanced analytics platform provides users full customer support with individual on-site training. Instructions for use are available in the Chartbeat Getting Started guide.
Price: $9.95 per month. Up to 5 domains or subdomains are available on a single subscription. Chartbase offers a 30 day free trial.
Real-time Clicky metrics in up-to-the-minute analytics reports require access to any Web browser or mobile device. The Clicky app full control of audience analytics is distinguishes the tool from Google Analytics. Google requires days to report on the same instances that Clicky analyzes in a second. The app tracks individual users from computer IP addresses, Internet service provider (ISP) or Web browser, as well as referrers.
Operating systems tracking of activity in Clicky is fairly invasive. Yet, the type of record that Clicky provides is still legal, so users have deeper insight than with other analytics tools. Clicky reporting includes actions taken during a visit, length of session, and data associated with login ID usernames and email addresses. Beware of picking up bitcoin transaction records. Clicky is more apt than one would expect.
Heat mapping provides a visual overview of website traffic intensity. Frequency of clicks is recorded in graphical illustration; showing detailed information about the location of audiences, pages clicked on, and referrals.
Alerts in Clicky notify users of specific events. Event analysis alerts users to performance of a website in relation to goals, campaigns, IP tags, new visitors, searches, referrers, and custom data coded according to user preference. The Clicky alert system forwards notices to the mobile app, or to personal email account, desktop pop-up, or Twitter.
The Clicky mobile app makes the platform more user-friendly than some of the other alternatives to Google Analytics. The app also generates mobile-centric hardware reporting on device and smartphone usage. Compatible with iOS devices not supporting Flash, Clicky is a strong contender against Google.
Price: Pro Plus is $9.99 per month. Standard Clicky is a free website interface, limited to a total of 3,000 page views per day.
KISSMetrics analytics target e-commerce vitals. Metric monitoring of customer immersion during visit to a website is key to understanding the factors contributing conversion. The KISSMetrics analytics platform generates the data required for small businesses to attain competitive advantage.
Trend analysis of historical data reported by KISSMetric in provides e-commerce website owners with the type of information they want to know about customer decision making. The entire historical record for a visit to a website is available to users. Google Analytics does not retain a comprehensive record of site visits and subsequent actions taken after.
Cross-portability in KISSMetrics traffic reporting enables users to profile visitors to establish a basis for creating alternate codes with the data output. The universal tracking capabilities of KISSMetrics makes it possible to monitor visitors into the future, regardless of which device they are using to interact, shop or communicate.
The optimal consumer segmentation features offered in KISSMetrics allows an e-Commerce enterprise to individuate among aggregate reporting statistics. Data stored on KISSMetrics cloud is available at any time. Regardless of last time of login, the analytics platform will track the same visitor across channels of engagement.
KISSMetrics is perfect for e-commerce retailers. Product viewing is tracked at each juncture in a search or browse. Sorting of data on product actions such as adding to a shopping cart or wish list is recorded in process.
Similarly, account registration actions are reported to have knowledge of how far the customer or would be customer progressed toward final point-of-sale. If a sale is abandoned midstream, KISSMetrics will capture those incremental steps leading up to the dropped purchase.
Those visitors converted to customers by completing POS on a retailer’s e-Commerce website, may be analyzed into the future for retention strategies. Knowledge of who, what, where, and why a customer purchased on an e-Commerce site provides important clues about consumer behavior, and the path to POS.
With KISSMetrics analytics data can be transformed into return on investment. Revenue analytics retain data on high-revenue customers for analysis of POS values and application to other operations such as marketing and sales strategies. KISSMetrics users have access to the referral revenue feature, reporting on each interaction. e-commerce website owners can track sources leading to sales income. Drivers to customer decision, and total revenue per referral conversion, makes KISSMetrics unbeatable in terms of accountability for sales.
Price: $150 per month. Subscription to KISSMetrics provides users up to 500,000 events or 50,000 visitors, monthly. KISSMetrics analytics accounts are a commitment of one year. Those wishing to test KISSMetrics asset creating analytics, may request a no obligation, 14 day trial free.
Google Analytics tools are the most robust of all website analytics tools on the Internet. Simple to deploy and easy to use, the number one website analytics platform offers volume features for marketing analysis. The Google Analytics platform generates reports about website front-page performance.
Google Analytics is practical, easily available, and intuitive for newcomers, but it’s not the only resource out there for improving your content—nor should it be your only reliance. Look to the behavior of your social media followers, the comment threads and user responses on your site, and any qualitative feedback you receive from your customers and readers. The more information you have at your disposal, the better you’ll be able to hone your content, both in terms of its inherent quality and in terms of its utility in your marketing strategy.
Once you get a feel for where to look for your content auditing purposes, set up an automatic report to generate at the end of each month for each dimension you use in your consideration. You can even have it emailed to you directly in a PDF format. That way, you’ll be automatically reminded to check in on your content’s progress, and you can keep making improvements and adjustments uninterrupted.