Google Analytics Primer

Google Analytics
Google Analytics is a cool way to get insights on your existing Web site traffic, and optimize your marketing campaigns to target new traffic.  Best of all…  it’s free. There is little point investing in a digital marketing strategy if you do not measure your results.  Google Analytics is of the go to platform digital measurement for small to medium businesses.

Why Google Analytics?

Your analytics data has a wealth of information.  Over time the data will allow you to optimize your digital marketing campaign to help you attract more leads for the money you invest in internet marketing.  Some areas of focus:
  • Bounce rate – are there certain pages that seem to keep visitors on your site vs other pages where visitors tend to leave the site?  Perhaps there are pages you need to rewrite as they tend to be a common exit point.  Bounce rate is an important factor in your organic Google search rankings.
  • Seasonality – are there certain times of year that attract more visitors?  If so, you can decide whether to ramp up your marketing during those times or scale back to smooth your demand.
  • Events and conversions – performance of your call to actions (buttons, links, forms, etc.)
  • Attribution – How do visitors find you?  Through paid ads, social media, or organic search?  Are your digital marketing campaigns paying off?
  • Segmentation – what is the background / demographics of your site visitors?  With this information, you can better target your digital advertising dollars.
  • Performance – how well are your digital marketing campaigns performing?  Which ones work and which ones don’t?  By comparing your visitor traffic to your sales data you can determine whether your Web site is bringing the right kind of traffic, and converting your leads to opportunities.
Digital marketing is great because you get quick and measurable data.  This allows you to constantly test campaigns and make rapid changes, without syncing a fortune into fixed costs (such as traditional billboard advertising).  For instance, I am about to kick off a Facebook campaign for an organization I am working with.  I created one image and they provided another.  We are going to run both images – with the same target audience – for two weeks, and see which one performs better.

UTM Data

All digital marketing professionals are familiar with “UTM” data, although many don’t know what it stands for.  UTM data is some of the most basic information you will find in Google Analytics, at least if you setup your marketing campaigns properly.  Google purchased the UTM technology in 2005 from a San Diego- based company called Urchin and eventually rolled the Urchin Tracking Module into Google Analytics.  UTM data conveys five elements of a digital marketing campaign:
  • Source: where your site visitor came from
  • Medium: indicated whether you paid to acquire them or did they find your Web site organically (also referred to as ‘attribution’)… in other words, who gets credit for the visitor come to your site
  • Campaign: indicates the digital marketing campaign that resulted in a visitor (only in the case of paid marketing campaigns, known as “pay per click,” “cost per click,” or “cpc.”
  • Term: the search term that resulted in the visitor finding your site (Google now only provides this for paid marketing campaigns)
  • Content: identifies the type of ad that was clicked when a user came to your site (e.g. a text link, image, etc.)
The cool part is you can collect this data and feed it to your Google Analytics reports even if you acquired the Web site visitors from social media sources like Facebook.

Assumptions

For the sake of this article, I assume you already have a Google Analytics account setup on your domain.

Getting Started

When you log into your Google Analytics account you may be prompted to choose your Web site, if you have more than one domain in your account.  Choose the domain you are interested in.

The Menu

Once you choose your domain, you will see a menu on the upper left similar to this: Google Analytics Menu Google Analytics is broken up into sections within the menu.  For this introductory article, I will only cover a few sections to help you get your feet wet.

Customization Section

The options under this menu allow you to create custom dashboards, storing your favorite analyses.  We are going to ignore this option for today.

Realtime Reports Section

This section provides information on visitors who are currently on your site.  If you run a site without much traffic, you may not see much data in this section unless someone is actively on your site.  Google touts this as the section to review when you have an active and temporal marketing campaign.  For instance, perhaps you published a Tweet mere seconds ago and you want to watch the impact of the Tweet on your Web site’s traffic. I will explain a few of the realtime reports subsections since these categories recur in other areas of Google Analytics.
Realtime Reports -> Traffic Sources Subsection
Traffic sources tries to tell you how users currently on your site ended up on your site.  Did they find you ‘organically’ or through a paid advertising campaign? If you are not familiar with the word “organic” you will here it a hundred times an hour when you talk to a digital marketer.  Organic visitors came to your site from a link that you did not pay for.  This is different from “direct traffic” in which visitors typed your Web site address directly into their Web browser.  These traffic sources are the best as it means people are finding you from word of mouth or for free (e.g. you didn’t have to pay Google to place an ad).  SEO (search engine optimization) is all about earning as much organic traffic as possible.
Realtime Reports -> Content Subsection
Content tells you what pages people are actively viewing.
Realtime Reports -> Events Subsection
An event is a user interaction on your Web site.  It could represent a button click, a form fill, a download, or a video play, for instance.  Events require more advanced setup.  Some events will be conversions (see next section) and others will help you build a progressive profile of your potential customer.
Realtime Reports -> Conversions Subsection
Conversions are similar to events but represent the next step in your marketing funnel.  To understand conversations it’s important to understand ‘goals.’  A goal is something you want a user to do on your Web site.  Often this would be a call to action, likely completing a form.  A conversation means the Web site visitor is ready to go to the next step in your marketing journey.  Conversions require more advanced setup.

Audience Section

The audience section gives you background of the people visiting your site.  This includes what are commonly called “demographics.”  Pay attention to visitors’ interests, which can help you decide how to best target your paid digital marketing campaigns. The subsections are relatively self-explanatory. Remember that in Google Analytics the data is aggregated by default (if you implement custom variables you can theoretically identify individual visitors).  Unless you have very few visitors, this means the demographic data is not tied to a single individual.  This is important if you are subject to data privacy regulations.

Acquisition Section

This is where much of the UTM goodness lives, especially in the “All Traffic” subsection.

Behavior Section

The behavior section seems complex but it is actually extremely important for SEO (search engine optimization).  Among the factors Google takes into account when ranking your Web site are speed and your bounce rate,” which is the percent of time users visit just one page on your site without interacting with your site.  Google ranks your site higher when your bounce rate is lower, indicating that your content is engaging.
Behavior -> Behavior Flow Subsection
This is the most fun area… you will see a diagram depicting the most common ways users proceed through your Web site.  The behavior flow provides a good visual representation of which pages keep users engaged.  You might then decide to further promote these areas of your site.
Behavior -> Site Content Subsection
The subsections here provide your bounce rate.  If your bounce rate is high for a given page then you need to refine the content of that page.

More Information

For a much deeper dive into Google Analytics, refer to this book.

Caveat

Google alone will not help you understand the ‘quality’ of your leads.  For instance, I might see your ad and come to your Web site.  But if you are selling geriatric supplies and I am a teenager, you likely wasted your money advertising to me.  To get a full picture of your digital marketing performance you need to track your leads through your entire sales cycle.  This entails other systems and data and the need for data integration and BI (business intelligence) tool. Also, be careful making decisions with too little data.  The data is most helpful looking at long-term trends and when you have a fairly large number of visitors.  For a refresher on “statistical significant” refer to this Harvard Business Review article.

Note on Privacy and Ad Blockers

It is estimated that about 25% of users have some sort of ad blocker in their Web browser*.  These may (somewhat) reduce the amount of meaningful data you collect(*). Depending on the size of your company, your target audience, and where your  customers reside, you may also be impacted by increasingly stringent privacy laws.  If your target audience resides in Europe, you should be familiar with GDPR.  If your target audience resides in California, you should be familiar with CCPA, especially if you earn over $25,000,000 a year from California residents.