Understanding Google Analytics A Basic Overview

Writing content and promoting your ideas is a major part of content marketing and business blogging, however the aim is to get visitors to your site and to begin to understand who your audience is.

image Google analytics

“Pie Chart And 3d Characters Representing Statistics Report” by Stuart Miles (freedigitalphotos.net)

Google analytics is an ideal platform to help you do this, and it is free to use.

The main drawback is that because it is easy for software to interfere with the data it is not accepted by Google as part of the ranking process. So don’t panic about things such as bounce rate and other factors.

The other drawback is that it is quite a complicated system to understand at first and so this article will show you where to start and which parts to ignore (for now).

This particular guide is aimed at bloggers and new internet marketing writers and so I’m going to use a low traffic website as the example, because the numbers are low they won’t distract or intimidate anyone and should be easier to follow.

Audience Overview

Perhaps the first dashboard to look at is the audience overview, as the name states this shows how many visitors you received. It looks like the screenshot below.

The first three headings below the graph are;

  • sessions – will be higher or the same as users since some users may have visited your site more than once
  • users – different individuals using the site
  • pageviews – usually higher because users will often access more than one page

The graph itself shows different metrics, here I have selected sessions per day. If I hover any point such as here March 25 then I can see how many sessions occurred on that particular day.

This is useful if you ran a social media campaign or another specific event occurred, and you want to see what the outcome was.

screenshot google analytics audience

The next set of figures refer to activity on the page whilst it is being viewed, they are average figures taken across all the sessions;

  • pages per session – because this is an average taken across all users for the data range it is a strange number 1.59
  • avg session duration – the time here 1 minute 10 seconds.
  • bounce rate – this is more complicated and is calculated by Google. It is a measurement of how many people only viewed one page on your site (i.e. the page they arrived at and didn’t read anything else). Lots of things can affect this reading including badly installed software that fails to send the correct data.

In addition to the graph there is a pie chart on the screen which shows the percentage of new versus returning visitors. This is a good indication of whether people find your site relevant and are willing to come back, the aim therefore is to try and get a balance between the two figures.

Devices Used

Under the Audience category there is also the option to see what kind of device is being used to access your site. This is particular important to make sure that mobile users are having a good experience and to see if a particular device is worth targeting in terms of website design.

screenshot devices used Google analytics

Here you can see the breakdown for desktop, mobile and tablet. Most of the users here are desktop (71%).

The bounce rate though is higher for mobile users (88%) than for desktop (78%) which could be something to keep an eye on especially if that gap continues to rise.

Acquisition

The next heading on the left hand side panel on the Analytics dashboard is Acquisition. This analyses where the audience came from and how they arrived at your site.

For new sites much of the acquisition will be direct or unknown sources however on this particular website which has been in operation for about a year, the organic search is actually higher than the direct traffic.

screenshot acquisition sources of traffic

Direct traffic is actually unknown sources

Direct traffic is slightly confusing because although Google officially claims that it is when a searcher types your url directly into the search bar, there are also other ways in which it will be logged as direct, such as;

  • bookmarked pages
  • clicking on links in emails
  • clicking on url shorteners
  • clicking on links in pdfs or other documents

It is usually when you send a direct link to a specific page on your site, which also means that many social media referrals could be arriving as direct traffic as well. The main advantage of audience acquisition is to measure the growth in your organic search results.

Under the referral heading (in red) there can be problems with bots (robotic computer software) landing on your site and clicking out again. This distorts the figures and can give very false traffic readings. This site was particularly prone to such behaviour and as a result I have some placed quite stringent filters on google analytics. It is a topic for another post but it is something to watch for.

Behavior

This heading is the main one that I used in the beginning, under behavior there is a sub heading called overview. Here you can see which pages are being viewed and you can check these against social media promotions.

screenshot behavior overview in Google analytics

If you click the view full report link at the very bottom this will enable you to see visits for all your pages and posts.

These figures are all for the same time period of 30 days. However you can change the date ranges and look at longer or shorter periods depending on what information you are seeking to compare.

User Flow

The final category that I will include in this article is perhaps a little more complicated than the others and can be found in the Audience heading.

This is a user flow chart showing where people arrived from, which page they entered your website from and where they went after that.

It is displayed as a flow diagram as shown below.

screenshot user flow

Here you can see the country on the left hand side but this can be changed to social media source or acquisition type or other options.

The main column in green is the landing or arriving page where your visitors started their journey. This chart shows a fairly high drop off rate with most visitors visiting a specific page only. Of the 135 sessions only 12 went onto a second page and from this group 6 went onto visit a third page.

By analysing the pattern I can see that most people who did visit a third page actually went back to the home page first and then off to another post. I can perhaps look at the website design again and see if there are ways in which people could move directly to their next page.

Summary Google Analytics

In this article I have introduced you to Google analytics and to some of the basic functions that are available. In particular we have looked at the following three headings in the dashboard.

  1. Audience
  2. Acquisition
  3. Behavior
  4. User Flow

Once you are familiar with these headings and feel confident about using the data and understanding fully what it represents, then (and possibly only then) should you consider adding in other analytics measurements.

The purpose of looking at the data is to enable you to plan your content and promotion, so that you are responding to the needs of your audience. It is not about collecting data for the sake of it, or getting worried when things are different from other people’s results.

Finally…

Hopefully I have broken down some of the barriers to Google analytics. As you can see from the figures here you don’t need many pages on the site and large amounts of traffic to already see patterns of behaviour and areas of website design that could be improved.

If you are already using Google Analytics and would like more information on specific areas please feel free to leave a comment below and I can hopefully include it in another article in the near future.

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