It’s easy to sign up for a Google Analytics account, add the tracking code to your website and wait for the hits to come in. But, hit counts aren’t the whole story on how effective your website is or what trends your users are following. And, sometimes the vast array of Google Analytics options can be a bit intimidating. Here are 5 things to focus on.
1. What is the Function of Your Site?
Before you can dive into Google Analytics, looking for metrics to tell you if your site is effective or not, you first need to decide what is the function of your site. Are you looking to….
- Direct users to a certain page on your site, such as a portfolio, blog post or contact page
If your goal is to get users to a certain page, you now know to check your analytics for visits to certain URLs, incoming links to those URLs and average time spent on those specific pages.
- Direct users to outgoing links
If your goal is to point users to outgoing links (ex. a blog post about “10 great website examples”), you now know to check the frequency of certain outgoing links as well as bounce rate for that page.
- Generate revenue from ads
If your goal is to generate revenue from ads on your site, you now know to check for visits to pages that contain ads, clicks to those ads (especially Google AdWords), page bounce rate and any campaigns you may have set up.
- All or none of the above
If your site is a mix of the above functions…or none of them at all…you can still get great information by using the following tips to gauge the metrics of your site in Google Analytics.
OK. Now, let’s look at some examples…
2. New/Returning Visitors
One of the most telling statistics of your site is the new/returning visitors relationship.
This is helpful in that it not only tells how many visits your site is getting, but how many of them are new visitors, returning visitors, and how many pages on your site that they browse to in a single visit.
In the example above (click screenshot for larger image), the site is generating over 40% traffic from returning visitors. If you have a blog site or are trying to generate revenue from ads, returning visitors is a wonderful thing. It means that your content is memorable or useful to your users.
However, it is also a call to action to ensure that your content is updated and timely. Keep an eye on the relationship between new/returning visitors. If those percentages start to widen, you are losing your audience.
Moreover, returning visitors may not be the best thing for your site. We’ll see how in a second.
3. Pages Per Visit, Time on Site and Bounce Rate
Time on Site shows the average amount of time that any user spends on your site before “bouncing” or leaving. This statistic can go either way. If you are a blogger, an average Time on Site of just over 1 minute can be a bad thing. It likely means that your users are disinterested in your content or distracted by an outbound link or ad. These users may not return to your site in the future. But, look on the bright side, you may have received a payment if they clicked-through to an ad.
If you are a business or offer a service, a short Time on Site may not be such a bad thing. If they are called to act on your site, whether to contact you through email/phone, or connect with you on Facebook/Twitter, a short Time on Site value may mean that your users are quickly deciding to find out more about your business. With the short attention span of today’s user, that may be not so bad a statistic after all.
Pages Per Visit and Bounce Rate are also good illustrations of the effectiveness of your content, but can be misleading. If the average page per visit is low (1.76 pages on the above example), your users are either disinterested in your content or know exactly where they are looking. Further research into pages by new/returning users would help solve that question.
Bounce Rate will usually coincide closely with Pages Per Visit. Bounce Rate illustrates the percentage of users who leave your site after a single page visit. If your Bounce Rate is high, your Pages Per Visit will be low. However, as mentioned above, these statistics can be misleading based on the function of your site and intent of your audience.
4. Traffic Sources/Referring Sites
Traffic Sources and Referring Sites can be great metrics to the effectiveness of your site.
A Referring Site is one that links to your site from theirs. As you see in the screenshot above, many of the Referring Sites (under Top Traffic Sources) are search engines, as is typically the case. You can drill down, though, and see if any other sites are linking to your site, to what pages and from where. This is telling as referrals are a great way to spread your content and help your site rank higher in search engines.
There is no greater promoter of your site’s content than another site or user. If users are not being referred to your site, you either do not have interesting/timely content or you are not promoting your site well.
The Direct referring site means that a user has bookmarked a link to your site, typed it in their browser or received a link in an e-mail. These users can be a mix of new and returning visitors.
Campaigns are a great way to track the effectiveness of online advertising, e-mail newsletters, social media marketing, etc…
Campaigns allow you to specify certain modifiers to append/add to a link’s URL in order to track very specific statistics.
You can add modifiers to any URL for…
- Source (Facebook, Monthly newsletter, Other website)
- Medium (E-mail, Ad, Online)
- Campaign (September newsletter, Specific blog post, Holiday ad)
This is where Campaigns are helpful. Now, you can not only track visits to a certain page and from where, but why they are visiting your site.
For example, let’s say your business is offering a special on your site’s home page for the holidays, and you are doing an online ad campaign to promote it. These campaign modifiers will help you to identify those who are visiting your site by clicking these specific online ads, distinguishing between users visiting your site randomly or through a non-campaign related link. This helps you see how many visits you are generating from your ads, what sites are generating the most traffic to your site and any other analytics you may want to check. This way, you have a better idea if your ad campaign has been a success and if your ad money was well spent.
Any Other Suggestions?
These are just a few ways to help measure the effectiveness of your site using analytics. Do you have other great tips? Share them here.