Google Analytics: an overview
Today I would like to give a general overview on what is nowadays the most widely used website measurement tool: Google Analytics.
Described on the official site, Google Analytics is a website statistics service, which “not only lets you measure sales and conversions, but also gives you fresh insights into how visitors use your site, how they arrived on your site, and how you can keep them coming back”.
It is an easy-to-use service, free in its basic version (with a Premium version available for a fee) specifically designed to be accessible also to non-technical people, as it is built on an intuitive reporting platform, where users can decide what data they want to view and customize reports.
Here I won’t go into much detail regarding the different sections and features available, but an accessible beginner’s guide to Google Analytics can be found at blogtips.com. The official help center site has also a step-by-step guide to sign up and get started and a video tutorial on Google Analytics interface is available here. A more exhaustive list of online resources on the topic is available at Kissmetrics.com.
In this post I’d rather try and touch a few points regarding how to approach this powerful tool.
The amount of data made available in Google Analytics is so rich that there is the concrete risk of getting a bit lost down a rabbit hole of possibilities.
Therefore, it is important to access this tool with a clear mind on what data is needed and for what purpose.
Another important aspect to keep in mind – not only in relation to Google Analytics, but also with regard to marketing measurement in general – is that it’s all about comparative data.
Most metrics really make sense only in a comparative context.
Google Analytics allows you to compare data in different timeframes. Typical uses are week-on-week, month-on-month or year-on-year comparisons.
Along with checking your own performance overtime, you can also compare your performance with the industry average.
From a marketer’s perspective, the content section is important to understand how your users interacted with your site and have insights on how to improve your content based on your users’ behavior. For instance, landing pages with high bounce rates may need to be redesigned.
Traffic sources are obviously another section of dramatic importance for marketing evaluation. Along with information on the traffic itself (impressions, unique visitors…) it is important to look closely at keywords to assess brand awareness. What terms are users using to search for our brand? Are there common typos? Are there keywords you hadn’t thought of and which could make sense to target with advertising?
Also, traffic sources can give important feedback on the performance of your marketing initiatives and of the different channels you have used: how much traffic is coming from AdWords as opposed to Google Search (and in general from “paid” advertising as opposed to SEO)? How much traffic is coming from social networks and which one is performing best? If you have launched a specific PR initiative – organized an event or created specific new content – how is that reflected in your traffic data, can you spot correspondent spikes?
Good insight can be taken also in relation to customer service. For instance, what are the fluctuations in traffic to your FAQ page?
One of the most important and powerful features of Google Analytics is the possibility to assess how your site fulfills your business objectives through goal conversions.
A goal conversion is registered once a visitor completes a desired action on your site, such as an online purchase, a registration or a download.
Another important related feature is funnels, which are a way to specify the different steps you expect traffic to go through to reach your set destination goal.
Funnels allow you to track where visitors enter and exit the path to your goal. They are very important to spot potential problems: for instance if many visitors leave an online purchase procedure on a specific page, that page may have some problems, perhaps in terms of usability.
Google Analytics provides enormously useful data from a design and usability perspective: information such as geographical location, browser usage, screen resolution, operating systems – and so on – is vital to understand how to tailor your content around your audience.
If a significant portion of your visitors is using an iPhone or iPad, you may want to make sure your site is compatible with Apple devices.
In conclusion, as I’ve mentioned, Google Analytics can be a labyrinth of data if not approached with clarity of intent and focused objectives. What is important to remember is that it’s not about the data; it’s about the insights.