Google Analytics is the most powerful free reporting platform for anyone with a website. Whether you run a small blog, a lead generation site, or an online superstore, the data from Analytics should drive or be used to support all of your initiatives.

Personally, it represents everything I love about online marketing; the fact that every interaction someone makes with your website, every button they click and every page they visit can be tracked, analysed, and acted upon. With this data behind you marketing is no longer guesswork; all your plans can be strategically executed and measured. I know, geeky right?

We all know what Analytics is. We all know what it does. But do we know how to use it properly? One thing I’ve heard a lot is “Yes, I know how to use it, but there’s just so much data in there I don’t know what to look at!” so, I’d like to introduce a couple of things you should be doing to measure and improve your search engine optimisation.

I’m going to skip straight past the basic metrics like traffic sources, search engine delivered traffic, and bounce rates, and provide some examples of how you can find more valuable data that will allow you to make informed decisions and create some actions.

Setting Goals

Goal setting is one of the most powerful weapons in the analytics arsenal. On the surface you’d think it would be pretty straightforward – you set a goal, you measure the number of times it occurs and yes, you get a conversion rate out of it, but this isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. What goals allow you to do is incorporate this information into the rest of your analytics data to produce some truly enlightening information. If you haven’t set up goals for your website, do it now! Here’s how to do it.

Let’s say you’re selling something online. Naturally, your main goal is going to be transactional, so a good start is to set your /checkout/success page as a goal.

Probably the most enlightening function here is tƒhe Reverse Goal Path report. Analytics will track individuals who completed the goal you’ve set (in this case completing a checkout) and will show you exactly where each of these people came from, several levels deep. It also tells us the number of times this particular path led to a conversion. This is great for finding trends as to which of your pages is a key part of your sales funnel. Here is an example:

Google Analytics Reverse Goal Path

I might use this information to identify pages that appear in the conversion funnel regularly. I might review that post and add an extra call to action to try and capture more customers, or I might write another blog on the topic because it’s clear that it’s something of interest to my customers which is leading to conversions. You can act on it however you choose, but what’s important is that you’re identifying a new opportunity for your site.

From an SEO perspective setting goals is an imperative, not just because it allows you to analyse how people are using the site, but because it provides us with a metric that should underpin many of the SEO decisions you make; goal conversion rate by keyword. Rather than trying to explain how to do it in this post, here’s A great article from Search Engine Watch which explains how.

Getting to #1 in Google for keyword is great, and lets admit it, everyone enjoys that warm fuzzy feeling from getting to the top, but what good is it to you if you’re not getting any meaningful conversions out of it? You might be able to get 1000 more people to your site by targeting a high traffic keyword, but it’s better to focus on what converts, not what brings in the most visitors. It may be that the 100 searches-per-month keyword you overlooked when you were carrying out keyword research is ten times more likely to convert.

I’m not saying don’t go for the big keywords, I’m not saying to target the low volume ones; what I want to convey is that you need to measure the rate at which the keywords you’re targeting are converting in order to choose the best ones to focus your efforts on, and this is what Analytics can help you to do.

Understanding your landing pages

Marketing is important, whether it’s through search engines, social media or other advertising, but it’s not nearly as important as the content on your site. Marketing gets people there, but it’s down to your website to convert these prospects into buyers. You need make sure searchers are landing in the right place.

Which pages/keywords are bringing in the most traffic?

This one is straightforward. Head down to the ‘content’ section and select ‘Landing Pages’ This will show you the most popular landing pages over a given period of time. This will help you identify pages who might benefit from better calls-to-action or improved content. By adding a secondary dimension, ‘Keywords’, you can identify not only the best performing landing pages, but also the keywords which people used to find them. Remember, a keyword represents a target audience; it tells us exactly what that person was looking for, so you can use this data to produce content perfectly tailored for that audience.

It will also help you to identify which keyword/pages are bringing in the most traffic from search engines. This data is extremely valuable when working out where to build links to. Look for low-performing pages with high value keywords – these are the ones you need to work on the most to bring them up to speed. In addition to this it can help you build a map of the pages on your site delivering traffic, and the keywords associated with them. Does this match your plans? If it doesn’t you need to review the pages in question and tweak your on-page optimisation to ensure that you’re sending the right people to the right places.

Is your blog working hard enough for you?

Blogging. It’s pretty big at the moment. Many do it because they love it, most do it because they’ve been told they should – if you’re in the second group, data from analytics will explain why you should, what kind of impact it’s having now, and what you should focus your efforts on. If you run an E-commerce website, optimising your blogging is as important as working on your product pages; it’s your opportunity to target a vast amount of keywords, and also an area in which you can target keywords that you don’t necessarily have a landing page for…..yet.

By looking at the reverse goal path I’ve already mentioned, you can see how often these blog articles appear in your list of conversions. Hey presto, now you can see: which blog articles are driving traffic and which blog articles are driving conversions

This can provide you with great direction as to what to write about. If you have an article that pulling searchers in and also leading to conversions, maybe you should expand on it, maybe you should make it into a three part series so that you can write more keyword rich articles on this topic. The choice is yours, but again analytics has provided you with the data to identify and opportunity and then capitalize on it.

This is by no means the be all and end all of using this tool. The functionality of Google Analytics is in constant development and will be the foreseeable future. The range of information you can extract is enormous and it’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed by it, so before you dive in wide-eyed and try to interpret it all, decide exactly what you want to find out, then go and get it.

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