Google Analytics – Fundamental Audience Metrics That Can Help You to Build a Better Website

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Many website owners have heard about Google’s Analytics, and many are using it right now. But few know the full features and benefits that this tool holds. For those who are unfamiliar with Google Analytics, it is an entirely free tool that allows a website owner to monitor the traffic that their website receives and provides detailed metrics based on those visits. For the un-initiated, this might seem like a fairly mundane tool. For many folks, it’s used on a very basic level to so see how many visitors they have received over a given period of time. And even still, many folks don’t use this tool at all.

The goal of this article is to highlight some of the more powerful (yet still simple) features and why you should be using Analytics to do more than just keep count of the number of visitors. Especially since it’s free to setup and use. We’re going to focus on the “Audience” section for this article as it can provide some of the most actionable data with the smallest learning curve.

Getting Analytics set up is a fairly straightforward task. Although, it might require the help of a web designer/developer for the initial setup (to help install the tracking codes on your web pages, these must be in place to see where your visitors come/go from). Once the initial setup is complete, most metrics can be reviewed by even the most non-technical folks. See “Related materials” at the end of the article for help getting Analytics set up.

Shortly after the tracking codes are in place, Analytics will begin to compile data. This will allow you to start viewing traffic to the site and some of the more advanced metrics that are gathered. On a basic level, the “Audience” portion of Analytics offers a wide variety of metrics that you can easily use to improve your website. What sort of data is gathered and how can you use this knowledge to your advantage? Let’s take a look.

Audience – Overview

The “Overview” dashboard view offers quick, easy to digest data that many use on a daily basis to keep an eye on how their website is doing. While this information is powerful in itself, a little knowledge will allow you to dig even further into the data behind it.

Let’s start with traffic/visits. While the overall number of visitors seems like a great metric to monitor a site’s health by, it can be a little misleading. Most businesses should be more worried about the QUALITY of their traffic, not the QUANTITY. For example, take a brick-and-mortar business like a gift shop, having 200 visits a day isn’t very impressive if none of these customers are purchasing anything. It’s safe to assume that many business owners would rather deal with less traffic but sell the same amount of goods. Using some of the more advanced metrics available, you can fine tune your website and marketing efforts to increase the quality of your traffic. Let’s take a look at some of the more important areas within “Audience”:

  • Bounce rate – this is one of the first numbers you should begin to watch more closely. It is a fast and easy metric to monitor how your site is doing once you have the traffic there. The definition of Bounce Rate is: “the percentage of visitors to a particular website who navigate away from the site after viewing only one page”. This is a very telling metric because if your bounce rate is high and you can’t grab their attention on the first page they see, you’ve lost that sales opportunity. High bounce rates can signify content on pages that is irrelevant, too vague, or just not interesting enough to compel the user to dig further into the site. Improving, optimizing and frequently updating your site’s content can help to lower your bounce rate.
  • Behavior – this set of metrics also provides powerful insight into how your users view and interact with your site, but on a more granular level. There are a few important sub-categories related:
    • New vs. Returning visits – while some business models will want large numbers of “New” users, many businesses would prefer to build a dependable user base of “Returning” visitors. As you start to use Analytics to improve your site (improving content for instance), you should see an increase in returning users. This means that users now have a reason/desire to return to your site, this is always a good thing.
    • Frequency & Recency – much like the above metric, this data is great to get a feel for your audience, more specifically, how often they visit and how long since their last visit.
    • Engagement – this metric expands upon this customer data even further to offer insight into how long the user is viewing pages and how many pages they view when they visit. Once again, another great metric to help you fine-tune your content to keep the user on your site longer and have them digging deeper into the site to learn even more. The longer they stay, the greater the chance that they will buy or use your service.
  • Mobile – the use of mobile phones and tablets to view the web and purchase goods has exploded over the past few years and is on track to keep growing exponentially. If your website isn’t optimized for mobile viewing, you could be losing customers at an alarming rate. This metric will allow you to review your mobile traffic on a granular level and see if and where changes should be made. Analytics goes as far as breaking mobile devices down by model (ie. iPhone, iPad), allowing you to tailor your website and content to properly suit these devices. With mobile web traffic increasing every day, this metric holds more power than most folks can realize.
  • GEO – Language/Location – this metric holds some great information that can help you get a bit more “local” with your clientele. If you are doing any sort of regional marketing or just want to appeal to customers in a new geographic area/language, this is an important tool. Its power lies in the fact that you can quickly view where your visitors are geographically on a map (from global down to the state level). You can also apply a huge variety of metrics to these users so you can see how they use your site (bounce rate, engagement, etc.). This is a great tool to use when you’re thinking expansion. “Is it time for us to start selling internationally, or offer a French website for our service?” Using this metric, you can see what kind of user base you already have and many times, find missed opportunities or possible areas of expansion.

Conclusion

While this article’s main goal was to help introduce beginning Analytics users to the “Audience” data, there plenty of other very important metrics in Analytics that can be used to bolster marketing efforts, search engine optimization, site speed and more. Want to see where your visitors are coming from? Check out the “Acquisition” area and you can dig into your traffic sources (social media, direct, organic web searches, referrals, etc.). As with the geographic data discussed above, this knowledge can help you optimize your marketing efforts as well as other important search engine optimization concerns such as building backlinks or tweaking keywords to be more specific.

While this article barely scratched the surface of what Analytics can do, I would hope that it shows the possibilities of what can be done having this data at your fingertips.

Related Materials

For further reading, I would suggest the following resources:
Here is some official documentation from Google on getting started: http://www.google.com/analytics/learn/setupchecklist.html

Official Google Analytics Blog: http://analytics.blogspot.com/

While a bit advanced, this is still a great resource for online marketing and Analytics info: http://www.kaushik.net/avinash/

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