Google Analytics Tutorial: Analysing your Websites Traffic

In the first 4 tutorials on Search Engine Optimization, I have focused very heavily on explaining how SEO works and the importance of picking the right keywords for your website. I have also explained how to apply these keywords to your pages to give you the best SERP results over time. Now we reach the really interesting part - analysing your website traffic.

Note: A lot of people ask how long it takes to start getting search engine traffic to your website when you launch a brand new website. There is no set answer to this question. I have had some sites take just a few weeks and others 2-3 months. The simple rule is be patient and in time you will get traffic, but it's unlikely to happen quickly at first. As a general rule, the bigger and more developed a website gets the quicker your pages are displayed in Google.

People ask, why is Google the biggest search engine? And what separated Google from any of the other search engines before it became the search engine to use? Other than being a very effective way of finding what you are looking for on the Internet, Google has distinguished itself from other search engine companies right from the start by doing certain things differently to its competitors. Google built a great search engine, yes. But their genius was the advertising options and the analytical tools they have given to businesses and website owners around the world to use in conjunction with their search engine. They produced a multi functional product which has more than one user base within the same market and this diversification is the key to their success.

In this tutorial we will be looking at the first of two such tools Google makes available to Web masters (or website owners) to help them understand who is visiting their website and how they are getting there - let's take a look at how to use Google Analytics.

There are currently 2 versions of Google Analytics, Google Analytics and Google Analytics Premium. As GA Premium is for websites with more than 10 million, but less than a billion hits per month, and on the assumption you are reading this tutorial as you are a relative beginner to SEO, I am going to focus only on the standard version for this tutorial. Also just to note, the Premium version is a charged version of the software whereas the standard version is totally free.

At this point, I would just like to mention one thing. At the beginning of the SEO tutorials you may have noticed that I said I would teach you how to get to the top of all the major search engines, yet I seem to have only focused on Google and their tools. The reason is because for my entire career thus far, I have used nothing but Google's tools and the strategies outlined in my tutorials. Yet despite this, I have managed to get tens of thousands of click thru's from search engines other than Google.

Why? Well, because if you understand what you are doing with Google then 99.9% of the time the other search engines follow the same logic in their algorithms. It's as simple as that. I spend absolutely no time optimizing any site I own to any search engine other than Google. And yet I still get great coverage from all the major search engines. So unless that fact changes, my SEO strategy won't either.

So what does Google Analytics do?

Google Analytics Demo Graph

If you take a look at the image above, what does it tell you? If you understand the graph you are looking at, it shows you regular traffic to a website, but also identifies the websites traffic is somewhat cyclical (regular highs and lows). But it doesn't really give you any useful information other than regularity of visitors. My reason for pointing out this unlabelled graph is because by not using Google Analytics you are blindly hoping people are visiting your site without understanding why they are visiting, what they are doing and where they are leaving. Some website owners never ever look at their statistics when really there is absolutely no reason not to. If you owned a shop in real life and no one ever came into it, you would be concerned. Yet hundreds of people own websites and don't understand (or aren't aware) of the amount of useful marketing information they can ascertain just by using Google Analytics.

The standard version of Google Analytics is totally free of charge and very simple to use. All you need to do is sign up for a GMail account (Google Email Accounts) then join Google Analytics - which you can do by clicking here. It really is as simple as then copying and pasting a snippet of code that Google give you into the top of all your web pages before the closing </body> tag in your HTML and then that's it. Once you have done this, your Google account screen will change to a green tick and then your information is tracking and you can begin to harvest all that great information which will enable you to better understand SEO and more importantly create a better website experience for your users.


Understanding the Google Analytics Interface - The Basics

You can monitor as many websites as you own using Google Analytics, but as most people will only have one website I am going to keep things simple at first and explain the basics of Google Analytics - although I will at a later date go into a lot more depth on how to use Google Analytics effectively. Below is a screenshot of what you will see when you enter your account. You will notice I have selected a date historic to this website being launched so you can see it as a blank canvas.

Google Analytics Site Screen

So first let's look at the box I have highlighted as '1' on the left hand side. This contains all your primary navigation. Now as this is a basic tutorial to get you started with Analytics I am not going to go into the sort of depth you would require if you are running a website with a large traffic throughput, but I will be covering all areas in enough detail so that you know what you are looking at when you are using it. Like I talked about in some of the previous tutorials, the more you use something like Google Analytics the more you get used to what you do and don't need to look at for your particular website.

There are 5 main sections on the left hand side menu pictured above. These are Visitors, Advertising, Traffic Sources, Content and Conversions. You will notice that I have not highlighted 'conversions' as this is something which is fairly advanced and needs a tutorial of its own to explain when and why you would use it. Also, I will not be discussing the 'Advertising' option in this tutorial, as what this does is combines data from your Adwords account with your Analytics to display your conversions all on one page. (And this is Advertising, or Non organic SEO so again requires separate analysis).

So what we are left with at this stage is Visitors, Traffic sources and Content. These are the three key areas to primarily understand when using Google Analytics for the first time.


Visitors (Now changed to Audience)

Firstly, we will look at visitors. Now of course to analyse any data you need visitors to your website, which you will have hopefully generated by following the SEO tutorials I have outlined. By clicking on the visitors button you are given sub categories to further analyse your data. As the exact terminology of the Analytics buttons and features are frequently changed, I am going to explain what you should be looking for rather than go through the menu on a point by point basis.

Anyone that visits your website is tracked under the visitors section of Google Analytics and a lot of information is stored in this section to help you understand where you visitors are coming, how long they are staying and how many pages they are looking at. The main summary of this data can be seen in the area highlighted '2' of the above image. The terminology used might not be something you are familiar with, so let's quickly run through what's on the screen.

1) Visits - This is literally the number of times anyone goes onto your website. If you went on your own website 10 separate times in one day and no-one else visited the site this would display as 10 visitors.

2) Unique Visitors - This is one of the key figures I look at when I am considering advertising on another person's website and it's critical you understand what it means. Now as I explained in Point 1, if I visited my own website 10 separate times in one day it would be 10 visits, but I am only ONE unique visitor. The unique visitor figure therefore represents the REAL number of people visiting your site. For that reason, the Unique visitor figure will always be lower or the same as the Visits figure. There is however one tiny flaw though, in that if you visited your site from one PC but used 3 different browsers (i.e. Chrome, Internet Explorer and Firefox) then it would show up as 3 unique visitors. This is due to different cookies in the different browsers, but is really only a tiny data imperfection and it's unlikely many of your visitors will use different browsers so it shouldn't impact the validty of your figures.

3) Pageviews - This is simply the number of pages viewed by the visitors on your site (the total).

4) Pages/Visit - This is the average number of pages viewed by your website visitors.

5) Avg Time on site - The average amount of time a user spends on your website.

6) Bounce rate - This is something that's very important. The bounce rate is effectively calculated by analysing a customer's movement between pages. So if someone goes onto one page of your website and then shuts their browser or leaves your website this is classified as 100% bounce rate (100% is the worst bounce rate, 0% is the best). It's not an entirely accurate science at the moment though, as that one page may have been an extensive article which the visitor reads and then it answered their question - so they leave. This means that your website did exactly what the visitor was looking for, but it was still classed as bounce and with the worst rate of 100%, because they only visited one page. I am sure in the future, Google will be able to look at the difference between users that click straight on and straight off a website vs those that spend a lot longer but only on the single page. The unwritten industry average (and a good target from experience) is between 30 and 40%. But on some sites that have a good regular bounce rate, you may still see highs of 100% and lows of say 20% when looking at the data for a single day. If you are experiencing long term high bounce rates then there is clearly something on your site which is poorly designed, there may be too much advertising, or is not exactly as relevant as perhaps your SEO implies it is.

What's important with all the information I have spoken about above is you can then drill down this information to look at a single visitor and see exactly where they came from geographically, what pages they visited and how long they spent on your site. You can also see what browser and operating system they were using, whether they were on a mobile or not and if they found you via social media. It's this level of data interrogation that you will find better and better the longer you use and understand Google Analytics.

The relevance of Google Analytics is firstly and foremost to see how many visitors you are getting to your website. But then you also want to look at visitor habits to try and make your website better. For example you can always take this data one step further depending on the level of thought you want to put into it - this is where marketing knowledge and experience comes more into play, but here are a couple of examples:

1) You look at your geographical visitors and identify that you are getting a lot of customers from a particular region but none from another. You investigate this further using the SEO tactics explained in my previous tutorials and identify that in this particular region they use a different terminology to the region you already are getting traffic from. You can then adapt your SEO to target this regions keywords and you can then improve the number of visitors to your website. (E.g. In the UK, the word for a house might be house, but in another country it could be 'crib' or 'pad' - understanding these details enables you to target your SEO more effectively for different markets).

2) You notice that you have written an article which is getting a lot of search engine traffic but an extremely high bounce rate. Further analysis of your keywords shows that you were pulling in customers who were looking for something totally different to what they actually found on your site. You adjust your SEO and the bounce rate decreases. (Of course so does your traffic, but you don't want visitors who do not find what you are offering relevant - traffic isn't good if you are getting the wrong type of visitors).

All of these are hypothetical situations, but each demonstrates an example of how Google Analytics can identify a way in which you can make your website better for the user and therefore increase the overall quality of your website by proactive troubleshooting.


Traffic Sources

What you can see from the 'Traffic Sources' section is who is finding your website, how they are finding it and whether they are coming from a search engine, another website or directly to your site. There are three main ways Google categorizes traffic to your website and these are:

1) Direct - The user has either typed your exact web address into their toolbar or has you under their favourites.

2) Referrals - This is categorized as any traffic coming from a website other than your own, unless it is a search engine. Therefore any other website which has a link to your website on it and someone clicks on it will come through classed as referral traffic. If you have any banners, directories or paid for advertising on any non-search engine sites then this is the best place to see how they are performing.

3) Search - This can sometimes be a bit misleading if you don't understand how it works. For most websites, the search traffic is simply the traffic which has come from someone using a search engine to find your site. But if you are also using Google's Custom Search Engine on your website as a search tool for your visitors, and it loads the search results in a separate screen, then any search done via this is technically classified as a traffic source. This is important, because if all your website visitors suddenly start searching your website for a particular keyword, it might make it look like you have suddenly had a massive influx of traffic from this keyword, where in reality it's your website visitors looking for something on your site. You can however filter out what people are genuinely searching for (in a real search engine i.e. Google or Bing) when you start looking at the Web Master Tools data in the next tutorial.

The key with the search data is that you can see a lot of keywords on how people are finding you, which if you think about it, helps you identify the opposite of this and shows what keywords people aren't finding your site for.

By being able to see which keywords visitors aren't finding you under in the search results, you can then refocus your SEO and optimise your pages to incorporate the other keywords that are important to your website, and in turn maximise the potential traffic flow. However, there is one slight catch, in that from early November 2011, Google no longer display the keywords that people have searched for to get to your site if they are logged into their Google account. For more information on this, see the article 'Keywords not Provided' by SearchEngineland.


Content

The content section of Analytics site is one that you should spend a bit of time familiarising yourself with. Here you can see in great detail how a visitor is navigating through your site and what your top pages are, both in terms of landing pages (the first page someone hits when they visit your site) and exit pages (the last page someone sees before they leave). There have also recently been some additions to this page to show other features that Google offer as well as site speed, which now shows you if you have any troublesome pages with too much information on that are taking too long to load. Again, what you do with this data will vary massively depending on your site design and layout, but here are a couple of what ifs that can be solved using this section:

1) You notice from your Analytics data that you are getting a lot of people leaving your website on a particular page. You look at the design of this page and notice it is not as well laid out as other pages, has no navigation to other pages or has no incentive for the user to visit another section of the website. You adjust the design and the 'Exit' figure decreases for this page.

2) You notice that one particular page on your website is much more popular than anything else. Using this information you create several other similar relevant articles and boost the traffic to your website by savvy SEO.

Of course, these are just examples, but the main point I am trying to illustrate is that Google Analytics is a problem solving tool as much as it is a data analysis tool. The amount of time you put into Google Analytics is totally dependent upon what you want to get out of your website, but over time I shall be looking at some case studies in advanced Google Analytics usage, so visit regularly for updates.


Update: A new version of Analytics has been released in November 2011 - Get my low down on it here


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