In a lot of ways, Google Analytics is like the eyes and ears of your website. The popular free tool automatically collects helpful data for you, so you can better understand, serve and build your online audience -- and your customers.
Having a website but not knowing how people use it is like talking without listening. Whether you're selling products, driving customers to offline stores or building your brand, Google Analytics takes the guesswork out of measuring how well you're achieving your website goals.
We spoke with Daniel Waisberg, anayltics advocate at Google, who provided some useful tips about how to use the popular tool. Here are 10 essential questions to ask when using Google Analytics to track and improve your company's website:
1. Why is it important to gauge my website metrics in the first place?
Knowing precisely what your website visitors -- who are often current and potential customers -- like and dislike about your site can help you reach your overall business goals.
"Once you understand your customers' preferences and tastes, you are in a much better position to create a better experience for them," says Waisberg, who is author of Google Analytics Integrations: Centralizing Digital Marketing (Daniel Waisberg, 2012). "And a better website experience will inevitably lead to a happier customer."
2. How can I connect Google Analytics to my website?
If you're not already using Google Analytics, getting started is relatively easy. First, visit the Google Analytics website. Next, click on "Create an Account" and follow the basic account configuration steps.
You'll then be supplied with a snippet of Google Analytics HTML to insert into the source code for your website. This code is essentially how Google Analytics taps into and captures your website's usage statistics. If you don't have immediate access to the back end of your website to insert the tracking code, you should ask your website administrator to do it for you.
3. What are Google Analytics 'Goals' and why should I use them?
After installing Google Analytics' tracking code, your next step is to identify what key website visitor actions you want to monitor. Google Analytics refers to these as Goals, which you should use to measure which types of content trend well with visitors and which don't.
There are four basic types of Goals:
- Destination. A specific location within your website.
- Duration. How long individual website visits last.
- Page/Screens Per Visit. Which pages and screens visitors view during a single visit.
- Events. Actions visitors take during a visit, including ad clicks, social media shares and video plays.
4. How can I find out how people discover my website and keep them coming back?
Google Analytics' Keywords report shows you which search engine keyword search terms deliver traffic to your site, and just how effective your search engine marketing (SEM) efforts are.
Pay special attention to Google Analytics' Referrals reporting. Referrals represent visits to your website from other websites that link directly to yours.
You can use referral and keyword data to improve your site's search engine rankings and to increase your awareness of who is linking to you when, where and why. Understanding what draws people to your website can help you give them more of what they want, which should increase engagement and encourage repeat and longer visits.
5. Can I track my Google Adsense campaigns with Google Analytics?
Yes, Google Analytics does measure the success of your Google Adsense. If your objective is to generate revenue through AdSense initiatives, Waisberg recommends using Google Analytics' Pages report. It provides a detailed view of which website page performed best in terms of generating AdSense revenue and more.
"If you find that posts about celebrities generate more revenue than posts about soccer, you might consider writing more about celebrities," Waisberg says.
6. Can I gauge the success of my Google AdWords initiatives?
You can also leverage Google Analytics to find out which of your Google AdWords campaigns work and don't work, and why.
To find out, create an advanced Google Analytics Pages report segment that includes only AdWords visits that did not finish any conversion. Once you do that you can check the Landing Page report to look for those pages that have the highest bounce rates, Waisberg says. Culprits for bounces might include poor website content copywriting or design and underperforming browsers and devices.
7. How can I track and improve e-commerce sales?
You can use Google Analytics' handy but somewhat technically advanced Goal Funnel feature to analyze the overall success of your e-commerce efforts -- right down to individual shopping cart transactions, if you like.
Waisberg recommends taking advantage of the Goal Funnel option to find out where in the online shopping process your customers abandon their purchases. Knowing when and where shoppers get cold feet and back out of a buy could help you fine tune your online shopping experience and, ideally, increase your sale completion rate.
8. How can I see which browsers and devices people view my website on?
In Google Analytics' Audience section, you can view a complete list of all of the web browsers, operating systems and devices your visitors use to access your website.
If a significant number of people are viewing your website on smartphones and tablets, for example, perhaps it's time to consider developing a mobile app or optimizing your site for mobile to better serve them.
9. How can I know what is sending my website visitors away?
Google Analytics' Exit Pages feature shows you the individual pages within your website that users are on when they navigate away from your site.
If your main homepage URL is the top exit page on the list, chances are you're losing visitors right there on the first page they see. If that's the case, perhaps it's time to redesign your main landing page for optimal engagement. Or, if the page users exit on the most is buried deep within your site and isn't particularly useful, consider deleting the page altogether.
10. How can I share key Google Analytics data with my clients, colleagues and stakeholders?
You'll likely want to, or might even have to share all the beneficial user data Google Analytics gathers with people who have a vested interest in your site. Luckily there are several ways to do this, even automatically, if you wish.
To email a report, simply look for the email button just above the Google Analytics chart you'd like to share. Next, you'll be prompted to choose contacts to email it to and which file formats to send the data as (exe., .pdf. .csv, etc.). You can also allocate how often to send the information (once, daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly) and pick which days of the week to send reports.