Using Google Analytics Effectively

We recently received a question from a reader asking if we had any advice on how to use Google Analytics effectively. We do! Google Analytics is a very powerful tool for determining how effectively your web site is both reaching, and engaging, your target audience. Each month we analyze our own web traffic, as well as the traffic of our clients. We’ve seen some common trends and have gained some interesting insights through this analysis.

One caveat: our work is focused exclusively on service marketing–we don’t work with any clients that are primarily selling products online. So, our goals generally deal with building thought leadership and generating interest and referrals. That said, some of the things we’ve found to be useful in our niche:

  • Keep it simple. You can quickly get dragged “down the rabbit hole” of data with Google Analytics, and other data analysis tools. There’s lots of great stuff there and you can view, review and analyze it to death. But time is precious so don’t get caught up in this trap. Identify what is most important for you to know, then prioritize and focus on those things.
  • Your bounce rate is a good way to determine engagement–or lack thereof. If visitors are coming to your site, and quickly leaving, they’re not finding what they had hoped to find. Recommendations vary in terms of the optimum bounce rate–we’ve heard anything from 35-50%; the important thing to know, though, is that lower is better. Watch your bounce rate over time to determine whether you’re doing a better job of keeping people engaged.
  • Pay attention to new vs. returning visitors. This can tell you a couple of things:
    • A high percentage of new visitors means that you’re being effective at reaching new audiences.
    • A high percentage of new visitors may also suggest that you don’t have to worry too much about continually updating content.
    • On the other hand, a high number of new visitors (combined with a high bounce rate) means that you may not be delivering the content your visitors are looking for.
    • Watch for any change in bounce rate for your returning visitors and be alert to any decline. These returning visitors represent a high value audience to you; you want to keep them coming back for more!
  • Review traffic “sources” — this tells you how people are coming to your site. For instance, are they entering your URL and coming to your site directly? Are they using various search terms to get to your page? Are they coming through links (referrals) from other sites? There is a lot of really rich information here. Some of the interesting things that we’ve discovered as we’ve analyzed results for our own sites as well as client sites:
    • Those coming to your site may already know about you, meaning that “organic search” is really not driving traffic to your site. For instance, if you find that most of your visits came directly through your URL or through variations of your, or your business, name, you’re not generating search traffic. That may not matter! With our sites, for instance, our goal is simply to have a place to direct those we have interacted with in other ways. We don’t expect to be “found” by those unfamiliar with us or our services. The same is true for some of our clients. If that’s the case for you, it’s okay if search terms are simply variations of your name. If not…
    • Your site is not coming up through organic search meaning that you’re “invisible” to potential customers/clients. That’s a problem.
    • You can monitor traffic from social media sites. If your referral results show you traffic from, for instance, that’s Twitter. LinkedIn and Facebook aren’t so cryptic; you’ll spot those referrals right away (if your social media activities are generating them).
    • You can monitor the impact of media coverage or news release distribution. With one client, for instance, we discovered that we were able to generate far more traffic to the site through Twitter and LinkedIn than through a paid news release distributed online.
  • Monitor how people interact with your site. Where do they enter? Where do they go next? And next? And next? At what point do they leave your site? If you’re selling a product/service on your site, or looking for a specific action of some sort, monitor the path that people take to that end point and where you may be losing them along the way. The beauty of online communications is that you can quickly and easily make adjustments and then monitor results to see if/how they’ve changed.

This is just the tip, the very tippy tip, of the iceberg when it comes to using Google Analytics to monitor your web site and determine where you are achieving success and where you may have opportunities for improvement. But, as a starting point, these are some good initial areas to explore.

Recommended Reading:

The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement

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