The Beginner’s Guide to Building an Online Presence Part 6: Google Analytics
In the previous posts of this series, we’ve covered everything from how to build a website to how to get started with email marketing. Assuming you’ve followed these guides and have established an online presence for your small business, you may be wondering if there’s a way to measure the impact of your efforts. How can you find out whether the strategies you’ve devised are producing their intended benefits?
The answer is Google Analytics.
Google Analytics is a powerful free application designed for tracking traffic patterns on your website. It determines where people are coming from when they visit your pages and integrates with other Google programs like AdSense and AdWords, making it the go-to solution for measuring the ROI of all your marketing activities. All you need is a Google account to get started with answering questions like:
- How many people visit my website?
- Where do my visitors live?
- How many visitors have I converted into leads or customers?
- Where did my converting visitors come from (traffic sources) and which pages did they visit while on my website?
- Which pages on my website are the most popular?
Before we begin, let’s review some key terms you’ll come across when interacting with Google Analytics:
- Session: the period of time a visitor is actively engaged with your website within a date range.
- Pages/Session: the number of pages viewed during a session, including repeated views of a single page.
- Pageviews: the total number of pages viewed, including repeated views of a single page.
- Bounce rate: the percentage of single-page visits (which indicate that a person left your site from the entrance page without engaging with the page).
- Click through rate (CTR): the ratio of users who click on a specific link to the number of total users who view a page, email, or advertisement.
- Goals: are used to measure how often users take or complete specific actions on your website.
- Conversions: the number of times goals have been completed on your website.
- Campaigns: allow you to add special parameters to any URL from your website to collect more detailed information about referral traffic.
Step 1: Install Google Analytics
For this guide, we will be providing an overview of Google Analytics and what key features your small business should use in order to benefit most from its data. To get started, you’ll need to install Google Analytics on your website. The particulars of the installation process will vary slightly based on the platform you use (content management system, website builder, e-commerce software, etc.), the theme you use, and the plugins you use. No matter your setup, easy installation instructions can be found by doing a simple web search for your platform + how to install Google Analytics. For a general overview of the process, we recommend checking out this useful step-by-step tutorial.
After completing the basic setup for Google Analytics, you will be provided with a tracking code that will need to be installed on every page of your website and eCommerce store.
Step 2: Learn to Read Reports
Google Analytics offers dozens of reports which can be customized in various ways to enhance your experience. However, there are a few standard reports that can benefit nearly any website. These can be found under the Audience, Acquisition, Behavior and Conversions sections in the left sidebar of the Google Analytics Reporting page. They offer in-depth insights on your visitors (aka users), traffic sources, content, and goal completions.
- Audience Overview – offers information about the type of people visiting your website. Among other things, you’ll discover how many people are visiting your page, how many of these people are new visitors or returning visitors, and how long they spend viewing your content (session duration and bounce rate).
- Traffic Channels – breaks down where your traffic comes from by channel (direct, referral, organic search, paid search, social, etc.). Use this report to assess which channels are the most effective at driving people to your site. For instance, if your search engine traffic is lacking, you might consider making some search engine optimization (SEO) adjustments and seeing if traffic increases as a result.
- Landing Pages – tells you where visitors are entering your site. If a particular URL gets a lot of traffic, this tells you that the topic is popular and you may want to offer more content related to it. The Landing Pages report is also a great tool for tracking ad campaigns, to see how many visitors click on the link when a unique landing page is promoted.
- Keywords – shows which keyword terms were searched before visiting your site. Refer to this report to identify the best words and phrases to use in future marketing campaigns. The keywords report shows the average time a visitor stays on a particular page. If a visitor quickly leaves one of your pages, you probably want to consider an update to your content.
- Conversions – allows you to track the completion of activities on your site that are essential to the success of your business. While website traffic is important, it doesn’t mean much if it doesn’t produce any customers. Refer to this report in order to make sure that your marketing activities are generating revenue. If you want to keep tabs on specific conversions—such as number of free trial signups—the best way to do so involves setting goals for each activity you wish to track.
Step 3: Get Started With Goals
You can create up to 20 goals on your website. When creating goals, make sure they are ones that are critical to determining how your business is doing. Common goals for most businesses revolve around lead form submissions, email list sign ups, and purchase completions, but your goals may vary depending on the purpose of your website.
To figure out what you should be tracking, identify the single most critical element of your site. Are you looking for purchases? How about newsletter signups? Start by focusing on one goal. Everything else can wait until later.
There are 4 ways to track the essential metrics of your site using Goals. For a visual walk-through of the Goals set-up process, check out this video.
- URL Destination Goals:
Keep track of when people visit specific URLs. This is ideal for tracking internal pages like thank you pages, confirmation pages, and content download pages. When visitors have reached these pages, you’ll know that they have completed an important action on your site.
- Visit Duration (Time) Goals:
Keep track of every time a person spends a certain amount of time on your site. If you have a site where visit duration is critical (like customer support sites) or want to know how long people are spending reading your content (like blog posts), look for trends in how this metric changes month over month.
- Pages/Visit Goals:
Keep track of the number of pages each visitor sees on your site before they leave. You are given an option to choose the number of page views that set off a goal during a visit. The choices are “greater than,” “equal to,” or “less than.” Pick “greater than” if you’re measuring engagement and “less than” if you want to measure the effectiveness of your customer support site.
- Event Goals:
Any element on your website pages that visitors interact with can be tracked with events. These include:
- Clicks on external links
- Time spent watching videos
- Clicks on social media buttons
Step 4: Create Custom Campaign URLs
While Goals tell the story of how visitors interact with your site, they don’t communicate what journey people took to get there. Campaign tracking fills in where Goals leave off by helping you to understand what social media, online advertising, and email marketing links drove the most traffic to your site.
Google Analytics will track any URL that you can edit. By adding campaign parameters to your URLs, you can identify which marketing campaigns are the most effective at bringing people to your pages. Custom campaign URLs can be placed anywhere—in email blasts, banners ads, or Facebook posts—and used to provide more detailed data about whether or not a campaign is paying off (literally). Custom campaign URLs are particularly important for email because if you don’t use them, traffic will be vaguely classified as ‘Direct’.
It’s easy to get started with Campaign Tracking. All you have to do is start building campaign URLs via Google’s URL Builder tool.
Custom campaign URLS use these little things called ‘UTM variables’, which are basically parameters that you add to the end of your links in email campaigns to tell Google Analytics where a person is coming from. They’re really not as complicated as they look. Here’s the breakdown:
- utm_source - The domain where you are placing the link. For email marketing, it can be the source of the email list or type of email (ex. Lead List, Welcome email)
- utm_medium - The medium used for marketing (ex. email, banner ad, referral)
- utm_term - Identifies the keyword used to trigger the ad. For email marketing, can be used to identify individual links (ex. Offer1)
- utm_content - Used to differentiate ads or links that point to the same URL (ex. logolink, textlink)
- utm_campaign - Campaign name (ex. eBlastMarch)
So this is what a link would look like with and without UTM variables:
Step 5: Set Up Segments
Now that you are able to better track where your website traffic is coming from, you can create your own filters (known as Segments) in order to separate traffic by certain criteria. For example, you can determine how much traffic came from the US vs Europe. Segments allow you to identify trends in traffic and individually analyze your visitors by traffic source.
The nice part about Segments is that you don't have to create them from scratch. You can start by using pre-defined Custom Reports, Dashboards, and Segments from the Google Solutions Gallery. However, if you wish to define your own segments, you can easily set parameters according to:
- Demographics: Segments users by demographic data, such as age, gender, language, affinity, and location.
- Technology: Segments visits by operating system, browser, screen resolution, device, and mobile.
- Behavior: Segments users by how often they visit and conduct transactions (number of visits, days since last visit, and visit duration).
- Date of First Session: Segments users by the date and time they first visited.
- Traffic Sources: Segments users by referral, using campaign, medium, source, and keyword fields — such as the ones you would add as UTM parameter tags on your URLs.
Step 6: Activate Alerts
Last but not least, with Google Analytics you can create custom email and SMS alerts to be notified when any important changes occur on your site. Getting this kind of real-time information gives you the ability to quickly respond to events and make sure your visitors and customers are kept happy. Alerts can be set for all traffic or traffic segments and they are commonly used to inform business owners of potential problems on their websites.
For example, this alert was set to indicate a decline in traffic from Google. It was created by selecting an alert name (Traffic Drop), a time period (Day), the source of traffic (any source that Contains google), and a condition for when the alert should be triggered (website visits decreasing by a certain percentage).
You can also use alerts to track positive developments, such as sudden spikes in traffic or conversions during content marketing campaigns, or high sales days on your eCommerce store.
Step 7: Celebrate!
Congratulations! You’re no longer a newbie at navigating Google Analytics and you’ve made it to the end of our series on Creating an Online Presence for your small business. If you need a refresher on any of the topics we’ve covered, click on the links below:
- Part 1: Building a Website
- Part 2: Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Part 3: eCommerce
- Part 4: Social Media Strategy
- Part 5: Email Marketing
And as always, feel free to share what you’ve learned with us on Twitter @FreedomVoice.