We live in a world of digital data. We create it. We consume it. It’s everywhere. And it’s accumulating at an unprecedented pace. In fact, experts predict that we’ll be adding 50,000 gigabytes every single second by 2018.
That’s a whole lot of tweets, snaps, and posts.
But data goes beyond just social media, email, and YouTube videos. The successful businesses of tomorrow – and today for that matter – don’t just create and consume data. They use it to improve. For insight. To guide their decisions and goals.
Take Google Analytics, for example. It’s a fantastic product that provides a buffet of data about your website, your visitors, and your marketing. It’s the most widely used analytics solution on the internet (tens of millions and counting).
It’s so easy to collect data these days that everyone is doing it…from multinational corporations to the mom n’ pop store on the corner. But here’s the rub: having that data and using it efficiently are two very different things.
Analytics are only as good as your reaction to them. It’s what you do with that data deluge that separates the rock stars from the folks that plays bass in a garage band on Tuesday afternoon.
Setting up Google Analytics (with or without the enhanced ecommerce plugin) and then passively looking over the various overview reports while nodding and saying “Hmm, yes, I see” is worthless. Know that your bounce rate is 43%? Big whoop. What are you going to do about it?
You need to use it to get better, stronger, faster, and more able to deliver the experience your customers want. When you see X in the data, you need to respond with Y. You need to react to the data.
Or better yet, use the platform to answer your questions (i.e. be proactive rather than reactive). Orbit Media co-founder Andy Crestodina says Google Analytics is best used as a decision-support tool. He suggests a simple five-step process:
- Develop an idea or belief about your content and website
- Define a question that could define this belief
- Create a Google Analytics report to answer that question
- Take action based on the data
- Measure and manage the result
To help with both of those, here are ten suggested approaches to Google Analytics to get you started.
The Proactive Approach
Asking questions to either support or refute your ideas and beliefs is a surefire path to site success. Ask a question, then seek out the answer in the mountains of available data.
Approach #1 – What content/pages are resonating most with my audience?
All pages are not created equal, and despite your best efforts, sometimes your stuff will fall flat with your target. It’s in your best interest to know exactly which pages and what content is exceeding expectations, and which is lagging far behind.
Find out quickly under Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. Focus on those pages that visitors choose to view rather than those that they must view (like your homepage or search results page). Results are organized by most to fewest page views by default. Click on the comparison view to see individual pages compared against the site average for time on page, exit and bounce rate, entrances, and unique page views.
Click on “advanced” to filter your results and limit them to only blog posts, for example. When it comes to your data, specificity rules the day. Zero in on the metrics and pages that matter most to your questions, ideas, and concerns.
Once you identify the high performers, you’ve got insight into what your visitors want, enjoy, and like. Create more of that.
Once you identify the low performers, you can endeavor to improve or remove them. Excise the junk. Get rid of the filler. Beef up the stuff that you know can be of value. A high bounce rate – something in excess of 50% – typically indicates a lack of engagement.
Approach #2 – Is any platform underperforming when compared to the others?
We live in a mobile world, but that doesn’t mean no one is using a desktop anymore (51.3% and 48.7% respectively as of November 2016). And while Chrome may be the browser du jour (56.43% market share), the segment using Internet Explorer (20.84%) or Firefox (12.22%) is still sizeable.
Use Google Analytics to determine if you’re meeting the needs of everyone equally.
Head over to Audience > Technology > Browser & OS to see what browsers and operating systems your visitors are using. Check out the bounce rate and conversion rate (CVR) for each one compared to the site average (it’s listed at the top of the column). If there’s one with a noticeably lower CVR or higher bounce rate, then it may indicate incompatibility or CSS rendering issues that need to be addressed.
If half of your visitors are using IE but your site doesn’t load properly in that browser, you’re going to see a lot of bouncing traffic and missed conversions.
Ditto for devices. Look at Audience > Mobile > Overview. Check both bounce and CVR for desktop vs mobile vs tablet. Any anomalies? In 2017, if your site is not mobile-friendly, then you’re not friendly full-stop. People have no patience for a poor mobile experience. Problems? Fix them.
Use the comparison feature in either report to get a nifty side-by-side comparison for several key metrics like sessions, bounce, and conversions against the site average. Better? Worse?
You want to create a powerful and engaging experience for all visitors, regardless of browser, operating system, or device. But let the data guide you. Prioritise your efforts based on your audience.
Approach #3 – What terms are bringing in traffic, and what do they search for once on site?
It’s all about the keywords, right? Even in 2017, you need to be aware of the words and phrases that bring in the crowds.
Search rules the roost. Search engines. Search fields on your website. Search, search, search. It’s how people find you and find whatever it is they’re looking for once they come into your virtual lair.
To find the terms people are using to end up on your site, you need to enable data sharing between your Google Analytics and Search Console accounts. Go to Admin > Property > Property Settings and scroll down to Search Console Settings. If you see your website URL listed, you’re already up and running. If not, add your website to Search Console.
Once the connection is in place, you can use Acquisition > Search Console > Queries to see what search queries resulted in your website appearing in the SERPs. What words and phrases are bringing you impressions and clicks? Those are the ones you should be using in your targeting, paid ads, and SEO efforts.
But those aren’t the only words that matter, of course. Consider what people are searching for after they arrive at your little corner of cyberspace. To do that, you need to enable search tracking under Admin > View > View Settings > Site Search Tracking. Turn it on.
To find and enter the query parameter, conduct a quick search on your site and look at the resulting URL. Your query parameter is usually (although not always) the word or letter immediately after the “?”. Enter it in the field, and hit “Save”.
Once the data starts rolling in, you’ll be able to see what words, items, products, and more that visitors are looking for on your site under Behavior > Site Search. The Overview report gives a wonderful snapshot: terms, categories, number of sessions with a search, number of exits after a search (people aren’t finding what they’re looking for!), and time spent on site after conducting a search.
Use the Pages report to identify those spots with unusually high searches. It could indicate insufficient information, poor navigation, or that it’s falling short in some other way. Shore it up.
Use the terms and categories to see what’s most popular, what products/services that people are looking for but you don’t yet offer, and the words and phrases you should be targeting in your copy and descriptions.
Approach #4 – Which landing page is delivering the goods?
Your various landing pages have a tough job. They’re the first impression. The entry point. They have to seal the deal and convert visitors to leads and/or customers. Do you know how well they’re doing that?
If you identify your top landing pages, you can optimize and improve them over time. Hypothesize. A/B test. Prioritize.
To find them, look no further than Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages. Easy. Organized from highest to lowest sessions, you can instantly compare conversions, bounce rate, time on page, and so on against the average. Find your best – and worst – performing pages. Lean on the alphas, and tweak the runts with better headlines (try a few templates or analyzers for ideas), design, copy, visuals, and calls-to-action. Find any common mistakes being made, and work to improve them till they reach a respectable conversion rate (which is about 5-10%).
A poor performing page has no place on your website. Remove or revamp it.
Approach #5 – How are visitors engaging with individual pages?
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could see precisely how visitors were interacting with your individual pages?
You just need the Page Analytics browser extension.
With it, you can get insights galore about each page on your site, including bounce and exit rate, pageviews, time on page, number of visitors in real-time, and most importantly, in-page click analysis (a basic heat map showing what links users did and did not click).
Data like that is invaluable for improving the UX and increasing conversions. And that’s what it’s all about.
The Reactive Approach
Asking questions and seeking answers is good, but don’t ignore what the data is suggesting about things you haven’t even begun to examine or consider. Once set up, Google Analytics is going to deliver a steady stream of data to your digital doorstep. It’s your job to react to what it’s telling you.
Approach #6 – The Behavior Flow
Everyone loves a good flow chart. And the Behavior Flow report in Google Analytics provides a great visual of the path that visitors are taking through your website.
Why is that important? Because it provides answers to questions you may not have asked yet. Because it highlights the leaks, bottlenecks, and areas that need immediate attention. Because it identifies problem areas, popular areas, and pages to invest more design and improvement efforts, helping you eliminate weak spots and assess the effectiveness of any changes you’ve made to pages and content.
Located at Behavior > Behavior Flow, the report shows how visitors move from page to page (including their entry or referral point of origin), the different paths taken to the same ultimate end, where they leave you, and more.
Follow the paths:
- Unexpected pages? Misleading copy, confusion, visitors not sure what to do, how to do it or what they want. Simplify your navigation. Improve your copy. Strengthen the selling points and benefits.
- Frequent u-turns? Confusion in the navigation or unsure of their own intentions. Make it crystal clear and easy for them. Sell the benefits.
- Mass exodus? Something on the page is turning them off. They’re not getting what they need. Amp it up.
Look at their behavior from arrival to exit. Follow its lead. What is it telling you? How can you make their journey (i.e. the conversion) easier, faster, and safer? Do that.
Approach #7 – Event Tracking
It may be a little tricky to set up, but event tracking allows you to gather intel about behavior on your site that would otherwise remain off the radar because it doesn’t take visitors to a new page. Actions such as watching a video, giving a rating, clicking a button, leaving a comment, or downloading a file – in short, nearly everything people do while exploring your website – won’t appear in your data without it.
Use an event tracking code generator to make it that much easier, or you can get someone more comfortable with code to do it for you. Regardless, just get it done.
Once you do, your options are increased tenfold. Track which posts are garnering the most comments, how often visitors are leaving ratings and on which pages, how often people are submitting your contact form, which of your painstakingly created videos are receiving the most attention (including how many watch the whole thing, whether watching the video increases conversions, and more), and how many times your new infographic (or new whatever) is downloaded each week.
That kind of data can guide your marketing strategy, your business decisions, your content plan, and essentially everything else to do with your website and goals.
React to what it reveals:
- Popular video that nearly everyone watches to completion? Promote it. Share it.
- Blog post on Subject X got 3x as many comments as any other one? Write more about that.
- Newsletter sign-up on Page A getting twice as many subscriptions as Page B? Send all your traffic there. Use it as the landing page for a PPC ad.
Approach #8 – Channels
You already know this one, but it bears repeating: you need to pay attention to the channels that are bringing in traffic.
Online, it’s all about the numbers. Conversions ultimately matter more, but without sufficient traffic, there’s no one to convert in the first place.
Turn to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels. You’ll see everything broken down by direct, organic search, social, email, affiliates, referral, display, and paid search.
Check bounce and conversion rates for each one. Is any one channel underperforming? Why do you think that is? Any overachieving? Perhaps lean on that more going forward, giving it a greater allocation of your time and budget.
Any channels missing that should be there? Double-check links and your other accounts.
Under referrals, click on each one to discover the exact page used to enter your site. Reach out to the sites linking to you. Build that relationship. Craft more of what they seem to like and share with their readers.
It’s so easy to just “check” channels and move on. But don’t. Dig deep. Interpret.
And yes, react.
Approach #9 – Exit Pages
Just as important as knowing where your visitors are coming from and entering to is to track and react to the exit pages on your site. From where are they leaving you?
Google Analytics has you covered there, too. Behavior > Site Content > Exit Pages.
Any unexpected ones? Any unusually high? Consider improving CTAs and/or using an exit intent pop-up with a great incentive to stick around.
Examine the content on your pages with higher than average exit rates. Is there something frightening people away? Up your trust indicators like social counts, testimonials, reviews, security seals, guarantees, and more.
Identify where they’re getting out, and politely close (and lock) the door.
Approach #10 – The Funnel Visualization
The funnel Visualization found at Conversions > Goals > Funnel Visualisation shows you quickly and conveniently how many visitors completed each page in your funnel, which pages are bleeding out (anything higher than a 40% dropoff needs to be improved with trust indicators, simplified processes, reduced distractions, greater persuasion, and so on), and how effective your funnel is as a whole.
It only works once you’ve properly set up goals under Admin > View > Goals and turned on the Funnel feature (and entered in the corresponding funnel pages). So do that. Right now.
Reacting – and reacting quickly – to the data collected here is crucial to your business success. If your funnel is leaking, or bottlenecking, or failing in any way, you need to fix it yesterday. This is one report you should be turning to on a regular basis.
Create a shortcut or add it to a custom dashboard. Make it dead-simple to remember and access the information. Track, measure, and manage.
That’s the beauty of Google Analytics: it can be something completely different to everyone. Build your own. Mix and match the four main categories of analytics data:
- Audience – who is your audience, and what are their interests?
- Acquisition – what channels, sources, and terms are bringing in the traffic?
- Behavior – what exactly is your audience doing on your site? How are they engaging, interacting, and using it?
- Conversions – are you meeting, exceeding, or falling short of the goals you’ve set for your business?
Those are the main ingredients. Start experimenting and crafting your own recipe.
What matters most to you might not matter at all to someone else. But with the powerful personalization options, the Google Analytics Solution Gallery for custom reports and more (check out these 12 awesome custom reports available for importing), and the ability to refine your workflow as you go, it can be exactly what you need it to be.
There’s a lot of data to sift through. Some is more important than others, so it’s up to you to determine the reports and metrics that matter to you and your business.
Then, react to that data. Or seek it out with proactive questions that need answers. It doesn’t matter…so long as you do something. Aim for a generous mix of both and you’re golden.
How do you use Google Analytics? Are you more proactive or reactive in your approach to it? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
About the Author: Aaron Agius, CEO of worldwide digital agency Louder Online is, according to Forbes, among the world’s leading digital marketers. Working with clients such as Salesforce, Coca-Cola, IBM, Intel, and scores of stellar brands, Aaron is a Growth Marketer – a fusion between search, content, social, and PR. Find him on Twitter, LinkedIn, or on the Louder Online blog.