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Five top tips for Google Analytics beginners

Sam Sheppard
Sam
Sam is one of CandidSky's SEO Executives. He has a keen interest in digital marketing as a whole, with a particular enthusiasm for organic search.

December 5, 2016

7 minute read

Google Analytics is a powerful website performance analysis tool for webmasters.

So powerful, in fact, that it provides approximately 80 unique reports as standard, with the potential to create hundreds more custom reports.

But all that data can be overwhelming if you don’t spend much time getting to grips with it. That’s why we’ve put together five top tips for understanding your Google Analytics account better…

1. Don’t focus on your total sessions

If you’re a local business that can only provide a service or deliver to a limited area, or you only have physical brick and mortar stores in a particular area (e.g. the North West) then pay less attention to your total number of sessions. Instead, place more emphasis on the number of sessions coming from people in the local area using the Location report.

After all, what good is it if you’re receiving tonnes of traffic from London but have no way of providing a service to these people. It’s more important to measure (and improve) the number of users in your local service delivery area who are finding and interacting with your business online.

Pro tip: if you don’t already, then it’s worth checking out your Google My Business account for the data Google provides on how users have interacted with your knowledge graph, including the number of calls and driving direction requests.

2. Always consider context

Despite being described fantastically well by Avinash Kaushik as a “sexy metric to measure the number of people who came to your website, saw it, puked, and left”¹, bounce rate alone is not the be all and end all.

Bounce rates in GA’s Landing Pages report are great at pointing out which pages on your website require some attention, but there is a misconception that high bounce rates are inherently bad. Not at all. In fact, a high bounce rate can indicate that a user came to your site, got exactly what they wanted straight away and left. This means you’ve satisfied the user’s original intent, kudos!

This is why it’s important to always consider context when interpreting the data from Google Analytics. GA is great at providing all sorts of quantitative data, but it’s up to you to provide the explanation for why the data is like that. So next time you go into the Landing Pages report, don’t immediately start to worry if your top landing pages are getting high bounce rates. Consider instead what questions a user landing on this page may have, and whether that question is being answered straight away. Herein lies the context, and it’s vital to separating pages which are under performing, and ones which provide all the information a user needs without having to navigate the rest of the site.

3. There are two ways to calculate ‘conversion rate’

At its core, conversion rate is a really simple, useful and actionable metric which shows how well a website is persuading users to complete a target objective. Though be aware that conversion rates in Google Analytics are calculated based on the total number of sessions by default:

(Total Conversions/Total Sessions) × 100 = Conversion Rate (%)

It’s important to note that every user can have multiple sessions, which means the above equation is fine to use if you’re an e-commerce platform that could reasonably expect a user to make a purchase every time they visit the site, e.g. clothing retailers or supermarkets.

However, let’s say you sell beds. Buying the perfect bed requires a lot of research, so a user may browse your site numerous times before they settle on a bed they like and decide to purchase, creating multiple sessions in the process. In this instance, it doesn’t make sense to then calculate your conversion rate based on the total number of sessions. You’ll get a much more accurate reading of how well your site is converting by using the total number of unique users instead (referred to as ‘New Users’ in GA).

(Total Conversions/Total New Users) × 100 = Conversion Rate (%)

GA doesn’t provide the option to change how its metrics are calculated, so unfortunately anyone wanting to work out Conversion Rate using the second equation will have to do it manually. But, if this is the best fit for your business then it’s certainly worth doing.

4. Segment by device

The number of Google searches performed on mobile devices surpassed the number on desktop some time ago now². Furthermore, Google’s Gary Illyes recently announced that a mobile-only index is coming, and will likely be launched within months³. So if you aren’t already optimising your site for mobile users then now really is the time to start. And an important part of any optimisation process is the measurement of existing behaviour.

So how do you analyse the behaviour of mobile users on your website? Start by segmenting them. Fortunately, Google Analytics comes ready-loaded with an advanced segment for mobile traffic. Apply the segment, then spend time running through each report in detail. Often, you’ll find mobile users interact with your site completely different to desktop users, and this will help you identify where improvements can be made.

Perhaps the data shows that mobile users don’t convert as well as desktop users, so are you sure that contact form is working properly on mobile? Maybe they don’t spend much time on a page where you’d expect otherwise, is that video content loading correctly? You get the point.

Final thought on this one – advanced segments are the most powerful part of Google Analytics. We’ve only focused on how they can be used for mobile optimisation here, but don’t let that stop you from using other segments to really dig into user behaviour and website performance.

5. Keep it simple

Each report and metric in Google Analytics serves some purpose. There’s no doubt that some are more important and provide more insight than others, but nonetheless I’ve yet to come across a completely useless piece of data provided by the tool.

With this in mind, it’s a good idea to try and cut through this jungle of data to find the most important bits for you and your business, which really depends on your aims and objectives. The best advice I can give you is that for whichever data or metrics you choose to focus on, make sure they’re simple to understand and, most importantly, actionable – Ben Yoskovitv4 makes a great point that if a metric isn’t actionable, then it won’t change the way you behave, so move on and measure something else.

Final thought

Getting comfortable with Google Analytics should be a key part of any marketer’s role. It doesn’t matter if you’re the CMO, head of department, or an office assistant, being able to analyse and interpret website data is a massively useful skill. How do you justify all that spend on an SEO or PPC campaign to the board? Who are your audience, does that match up with who you thought your audience were? Where do you start with your mobile marketing optimisation? These are just a small sample of the kinds of questions a marketer needs Google Analytics in order to answer.

If you haven’t spent much time with GA in the past, we hope our tips give you a few pointers to start with. Ultimately though, there’s no better substitute for diving into the data head first and seeing what you find.

Good luck!

References

1Web Analytics 2.0 – The art of online accountability & science of customer centricity’, Avinash Kaushik, 2009.
Building for the next moment’, Jerry Dischler, Google Adwords Blog, May 2015.
Within months, Google to divide its index, giving mobile users better & fresher content’, Barry Schwartz, Search Engine Land, October 2016.
Measuring what matters: How to pick a good metric’, Ben Yoskovitz, OnStartups.com, March 2013.

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