Google Analytics is a simple, yet powerful and absolutely crucial tool for everyone that has something to do with web these days – and that includes bloggers. Building your online community is way easier while you’re able to see how people actually behave on your site. GA may seem a bit overwhelming on first sight, but really, it’s not that hard to get a grasp of it – at least most of the basic / medium functionalities – and that’s pretty much all you need for a great start.
Remember – this is just a brief overview, Google Analytics is super powerful and complex system, so when you feel comfortable with it’s basic features you should totally dig in some more! Also, read through the GA instructions for each view, they are really helpful for first-timers.
First screen you’ll see after connecting your site with GA is Audience Overview, which gives you some basic overall statistics about your site. You can configure it the way you like, but in it’s basic form it allows you to get a quick peek about your users (where are they from, what device are they using, etc.).
One important thing about this view is actually the top chart that shows sessions (think of them as a “conversations” – user comes to site, “talks” with it by going through different subpages or articles, then leaves – all that is done within one session) in given unit of time. It’s useful for figuring out when users mostly come to your site, so in consequence – when is the optimal time or day of the week for you to post new stuff!
Other sections of Audience tab are pretty self explanatory (like Demographics, Geo stats, Technology etc.), but also give some useful insights about your visitors (i.e.: Got a lot of visitors from Germany? Maybe it would be useful to provide them with some of their native language content?).
Lastly I’d like to point out one great feature of Audience tab (which is also present in Behaviour tab, but let’s discuss it here) – Users Flow – it’s one of the newer additions and its AWESOME! What it does? It gives you a kind of “roadmap” of your users behaviour.
By default it shows users’ country as a first step, but this can be configured to show mostly anything. Then from left to right there are displayed consecutive pages user visited. You can hover over particular sites to get an information about the number of sessions, the through traffic (user went from this page / article to another) and drop-offs (user left the site). Why I think this is a great tool? It let’s you follow the user on his route through your website, watch where most of the users decide to leave the site – and you can make little tweaks in these places to try and keep them from leaving at this point.
One more tip – It’s useful to create a segment in the overview, that will show you the Bounce Rate (percent of users that only visit one page of your whole site, then leave – if it’s a high number it’s most likely you need more / better content to keep users interest).
It’s best to just go and fiddle with it a little bit, I can guarantee you’ll get a lot of important information about how and where you can improve your site.
Another important part of GA is Acquisition tab. Here you can get information where and how you acquire users. Overview is split into 4 basic channels:
1. Direct – Number of sessions that started by typing or pasting the address in a browser. It pretty much display how many sessions started because a user already knew the address of your site (for example – by having it bookmarked or recommended by a friend). These are mostly returning visitors.
2. Referral – Number of sessions that started on some other site. Let’s say some other blogger wrote something about your site and pasted a link to it. When that link is clicked, the session lands in “Referral” category. Useful when you want to figure out where in the internet people talk about your site, and where it might be good to join the discussion.
3. Organic Search – Number of sessions that started by users clicking a link to your site which is a result of a query in a search engine. Useful when you want to check out which keywords are most effective for your website. This is one of the crucial tools for running a successful SEO campaign.
4. Social – probably the most important nowadays (Some may say that if you don’t exist in social media, you don’t exist at all) – number of users that come from social services like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit etc. You mostly want this to be a HIGH percent of you users sessions starting point.
Now, how is all this useful? Let’s say you have a high number of Direct visits, but not many in Social category – great, there’s a room for improvement! Set up and maintain a Facebook page, Twitter profile and whatever else social service you want to use, and drag users to your website from there :) YOU WANT THAT TRAFFIC.
Same way – Organic Search category is lacking? Maybe it’s time to improve your sites SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) – drop in some well-thought keywords, write some meaningful and unique content – I guarantee this category numbers will raise.
I recommend to dive into each of these, you can get detailed information about all the sources that get users to your site, and ultimately – advertise your website better. Expand on sources that are doing well, rethink and rebuild stuff for sources that are doing poorly.
This section gives detailed information about what your users actually do during their sessions. Big part of that is the Users Flow that I have already discussed, but there’s also some additional interesting stuff. You can go through landing (first page user sees in a session) and exit (last page user visits before leaving) pages – and improve them both. You want the user to be amazed by the content on a landing page, and you want to arouse him on exit page – so that he doesn’t leave : )
If you’re using a search box on you site the Site Search section might also be handy – it show what content do your users search for during their sessions. You might want to expose the most searched content a bit more, so there’s an easier access to a crucial data user wants.
From a more technical standpoint, you can get information about the page speed, which says how long it takes to load and render parts of your site – and from my experience, there’s always room for improvement here. Users want your site to work fast, so you should put a lot of effort to meet their needs.
Conversions are a bit more advanced, but also provide some useful functionalities. I’m not gonna talk about E-commerce and other advanced stuff, but for a blogger – Goals subsection might be particularly useful. I’m gonna discuss it on an example.
Let’s say you have a subscribe page on your website, that allows users to subscribe for an in-house newsletter, and you have a “thank you” page (let’s call it it’s youwebsite.com/thankyou/), that is only accessible after subscribing and shows when user registers for that newsletter.
So, you want to set up a Goal that gathers data of the amount of visits to the thank you page. Now you can see how many users visited the subscribe page (let’s say 100) and how many of them got to the “thank you” page (let’s say 40). That means only 40% of users that visited the subscribe page have actually signed up for a newsletter – maybe you should encourage them a bit more?
It works the same way for anything – you can configure events (user clicked on some image, video or button, wrote something in a form, etc.), set up duration (user has been on your site for 3 minutes) or set pages per session goals (user visited at least 5 pages during his session). As you can see – it’s very useful, but some of these may require to adjust your websites’ code, so that’s a bit more advanced stuff and you might want to save it for later – but the possibilities are huge : )
And that would be all for now – just remember that’s all just a tip of the iceberg, you’ll most likely have to dig into all the functions yourself, but it’s really worth it. Successful website owner knows his users and wants to fulfil their needs them as well as he can – and GA gives you all the important data that’s needed to do just that. Use it wisely, and you’ll love what it brings.