Analytics – How To Transform Your Website

When clients come to us asking questions on how to grow their digital presence or business, our answer is almost always analytics. The next sentence we utter is a question. “Would it be helpful if we give you an overview of  what analytics means in this context?”

Why is that follow up question important? It’s important because in the business of analytics we focus on asking questions before taking action. Not just any questions, but the right questions. We coach our clients to the importance of understanding their customer voices before tossing a new product or service onto their website, and it’s important we do the same for them.

What does all of this have to do with Google Analytics, which stores massive amounts of data for almost every website on the internet? It’s not about the data itself, it’s about understanding the data. In order to understand the data, we must approach it with intentionality. An example would be, “We are trying to increase the number of unique individuals landing on our highest profit item. What can we learn from the data that shows us the percentage of unique visitors not reaching page x?”

Before diving in, let’s take a step back and bring some clarity around what Google Analytics is. Briefly, it is one part of a powerful set of tools Google has created to store every quantifiable piece of information about your website. As part of a larger suite, called Google Marketing Platform, Google Analytics (GA) is the king of data storage. Interestingly, although it is often used as a reporting tool, it actually comes in a distant second to another suite tool called Google Data Studio.

Often times GA is referred to as data collection, but it is less effective at collection than the 3rd tool in the suite, called Google Tag Manager. We will spend the majority of the time in this post focusing on GA, because understanding this foundational storage is key to success in the other areas of the Google Marketing Platform. GA is where all the detailed answers are stored to the questions you have about your customers. In addition, it does have built in reports and can be used to quickly find useful information about your visitors.

For some of the best blog posts and in depths training around Google Marketing Platform, we recommend checking out CXL Institute. In our experience, they have the most comprehensive approach to date in the market to turn anyone into not only an expert, but just a little bit of a geek. Engaging teaching styles with sound resource references, especially when it comes to the science of marketing and analytics, are highly important.

In the meantime, we’ll take you through a blog post size of some GA basics that you may find helpful for your own site!

At a high level, GA is organized into Metrics and Dimensions. Metrics are the numbers, such as percentages and counts, while Dimensions are the labels that define what the metrics are. There are multiple pre-built reports broken into different main categories like Audience, Behavior, Conversion, and many others.

Beneath each of these main categories, are deeper dives into data displayed within these concepts. For example, Behavior contains everything the customers are doing once they reach the site. You can quickly determine how long they remain on the landing page, where they go from the landing page, or whether they leave your site immediately (called “Bouncing”)

Each of these main categories of data contains up to 3 different types of reports.

  1. Overview Reports – a “Data Summary” view of what Google thinks the most important information you will want to see is.
  2. Table Reports – This is really where the meat of the information is, as it allows you to see much more detailed correlating data to each dimension
  3.  Flow Reports –  These are extremely useful visual reports that contain information about where the users went after landing on any specific page.

Depending on the type of report, but this is especially true of overview and table reports, there are powerful analytical features. The first and arguably the foundational piece that makes all the rest of the features and data useful, is the date filter. This gives you the ability to custom select date ranges and even make comparisons period over period. You can further control your view format to display trending and data tables by day, week, and even month.

For added fun, the tool even allows to compare one metric against another on the graph. A great example is understanding the difference between page views and unique page views. If you have 15,000 views in a day, it doesn’t mean you had 15,000 potential customers. If each user looked at 25 pages on your website, it’s nice to have the actual number of unique views as a quick reference rather than doing the math yourself. With the comparison feature, you can quickly get a visual so that the data results are actionable.

Another very useful feature is segmentation, which allows you to focus on different trends in the data. For example, the Google default for site content around pages will show you number of page views for all users, but you can add a segment that focuses only on bounced sessions for those pages. The trend graph will then overlay your new segment that helps you make a quick idea of how many of the page views resulted in a bounce.

In addition to the trend graph, a table is listed below showing the actual numbers of both number of page views for the selected dates, by individual page, but also the number of bounces and what that percentage is. From there, you can drill down to better understand the why. Understanding the why gets you to the “how to fix it” stage. The saying goes that “curiosity killed the cat”, but when it comes to analytics, curiosity actually catches the mouse.

The last feature that is common across table reports that we will mention here is the ability to create multiple dimensions. There are times when being able to see quantifiable data that is related to more than one dimension can come in handy. A quick example is that if we are looking at Pages, under the Behavior->Site Content Category of reports, the table report defaults to page title as the dimension.

While page title is helpful for having a familiar reference point to which page, it is not helpful in terms of knowing what the URL is. By adding a secondary dimension of “Page”, you can now see both the page title and the url.

Another use case would be to not only have the page title, but the source the users are landing on the page from. This is especially helpful if you are segmenting page views out by demographics such as age. In this use case, you could be wanting to see where the primary sources of traffic are coming from for users from age 18-24.

Let’s wrap this up with a quick rundown on the most useful reports in GA, with the promise to break each one down in their own post at a future date.

  1. Realtime Reports – This report category contains all the information related to who is on the site at the time of viewing it.
  2. Audience Reports – Focuses on everything you would ever want to know about who is visiting your website.
  3. Acquisition Reports – Contains a plethora of information around how the traffic is arriving on your website
  4. Behavior Reports – A library of information around just about every trackable move (and there are a lot of them) users make.
  5. Conversions Reports – Provides tremendous clarity around when users follow through on Call To Actions
  6. Ecommerce Reports – When it comes to Ecommerce, improving this data is where all the other reports lead to.

While the Google Marketing Platform tools can be used, there are a number of 3rd party providers that use the stored data in Google Analytics to provide helpful information in a more visual way. These are especially helpful for website owners or marketing teams who may not have the skill set or access to the actual code. These tools, usually in the form of plugins can install the GA tracking code onto the website for you.

Whether using the full power of Google Marketing Platform, or taking a simpler 3rd party route, having a basic understanding of your web traffic is important. Setting quantifiable goals keeps your digital presence intentional, and that translates into success. As the economist, Ronald Coase aptly put it, “If you torture the data long enough, it will confess.”