Data is awesome. And it’s even more awesome when you make it mean something. As 2014 kicks off, we wanted to give you an overview of how you can make Google Analytics work for you. Sometimes even the basics can give you a valuable perspective on your site’s users and their behavior. Ultimately, you want your site to help you achieve your business goals and reviewing the data is the first step.

What is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics (GA) is a free service offered by Google that tracks — among other things — detailed statistics about site traffic, traffic sources, and conversions on your website. The latest add-on is the ability to track demographic information, like gender, age, and interests.

Google recently made an announcement that they will be automatically upgrading all current analytics users from Classic Analytics to Universal Analytics (UA). While it’s impossible to know exactly what product changes will emerge with this evolution from Classic to UA, the general purpose will remain intact: it will measure traffic and activity on your website (and maybe beyond!). 

Who should care about Analytics? Everyone.

Website analytics need to be a priority so decision makers know what’s happening on your site and how it’s benefiting (or not benefiting!) your organizational goals. While GA’s user interface is getting easier to navigate, it still can be overwhelming if you don’t know what it means. It’s like being plopped down in New York City having never been there before – you kind of want to see everything, but don’t really know where to start. Consider this a tour of GA. To continue the NYC metaphor, we’ll show you the GA equivalent of the Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and how to use the subway.

Before we get to the data, it’s super important to know what you want to track. Take a look at your business objectives. If you’re our client and we’ve done a project with you in the last couple of years, dig up that Strategy Brief. If you’re not a client, dig up any documents that outline what you want to achieve with your website and/or what success looks like to your company. What are the goals and strategies? What metric (i.e. measureable/trackable thing) can you attach to those goals? To really impress your boss, show her a report of how the website is actually moving the business forward because of x, y, and z.

Get to Know your Data

But I can still hear you telling me: “That sounds like it takes a lot of time. What are some common reports I can look at right now?” Okay, I’ll tell you. These questions and the corresponding reports will give you a really good idea of where you sit.

How are users getting to my site? 

Report path: Acquisition > Overview



This report will show you which channels (i.e. sources) are bringing the most traffic to your site, and then which of those sources are also leading to the highest engagement. If you have goals set up, this will also show you which source is leading to the most conversions. If you don’t have goals set up, read on and we’ll give you a link to learn more.

How engaged are my users?

Report path: Audience > Behavior > Frequency & Recency



You know that ever-elusive “engagement” metric? This report can give you one view of engagement. More specifically, it tells you how many times the same person has come back to your site and how often they do so. An alternate engagement metric is the “Length of Visit” metric shown on the Audience Overview page. Presumably the longer people stay on your site, the more engaged they are with content.

Where are users entering my site?

Report path: Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages



Your home page is not the only entrance into your site. The Landing Page report will show you all entrances to your site. Additionally, take a look at bounce rate (the percentage of visits that land and exit the site from one page visit). Presumably, you want visitors to browse different parts of your site. If the bounce rate is higher than 70%, take a look and figure out why people are leaving right away: is there no clear “call to action”? Or is the call to action directing them to an external page? Identify the problem and test a solution.

What content are users searching for? 

Report path: Behavior > Site Search > Search Terms



It’s critical to know what people can’t find on your website and if user searches are successfully leading users to the information they want. If lots of people are searching for something that’s not in navigation, maybe add it to navigation! Or create a blog post about it. Ultimately, searches demonstrate that people want to find it on your site and your job is to make it easier to find.

Some Tips for Configuration and Maintenance

There are many ways to setup your Google Analytics. And like your website, analytics are never done – maintaining the tool and reviewing the data against your business goals are ongoing tasks. Below are a few pro tips to keep your data as clean and usable as possible.

Configuration Tips
  • Make sure you have at least two Views (formerly known as Profiles) set up:
    • Unfiltered / raw – this will show all traffic
    • Master view – to exclude IP addresses from agency partners and your internal staff
  • Track site search. As I mentioned above, site search terms can tell you a lot about your content, and this data can guide user-driven site updates.
  • Set up goals to track conversions. You can learn more about goals on the Google Analytics support page.
Maintenance tips 
  • Annotate. Make a note when you have an event, send out a newsletter, or anything that you think may affect website traffic patterns. (Your analyst will love you.)
  • Set up a dashboard. If you don’t know where to start, start with the reports indicated in this post. It’ll give you (and your boss) a high-level overview of what’s happening in five minutes or less.
  • Set up alerts. If you want to know when/if traffic increases by 200% (for example), you can do that! Set up an alert to be emailed to you. 

Google doesn’t track when or how they change their algorithms so you may see numbers not lining up exactly. Don’t fret about this. Focus on the trend, and not the actual numbers. Actually, do yourself a favor and repeat this mantra as you look at data: “the trend is my friend.” 

Don’t have the time to do this yourself? Or want our help in navigating GA? We are here for you. Give us a call to make sure your website is configured to help you meet and measure your 2014 goals.