For those who are all creative and content-oriented, the word “analytics” likely evokes a visceral reaction, much like doing long-form taxes. And if you have a website, you are all-in on the design and content, but get a little weak-kneed when your developer has told you that Google Analytics have been installed to help you measure your success.
Honestly, Google doesn’t help their cause much either, and opening the dashboard to the number and graph vomit on the page may seem overwhelming for most bohemians. However, learning to embrace the data to help shape your creativity to translate into customers is a necessary evil, and really not all that evil once you get to understand the terms. There are dozens of Google Analytics terms, but we’ll stick to those that everyone should start with.
Google Glossary at a glance
- Visitors – literally who has arrived on your website
- Visitor session – how long a visitor stays on your website. The longer they’re on your site, the more relevant the site is to search engines. Also called “time on site.”
- Unique (new) visitors – just like it says, who visited your site that wasn’t a return visitor. Obviously the higher this number is, the broader your audience is. If you have just a handful of visitors who return over and over throughout the month, it won’t budge this number past their first visit.
- Traffic – total visits to the site, unique and repeat. There are also types of traffic numbers that will tell you if the visitor typed in your specific URL (direct traffic) or just used a search engine to find you (organic traffic). If you were bold enough to work with a marketer to use Adwords, the paid traffic number will also tell you how well that worked for you.
- Pageviews – how many pages were viewed (you should have far more page views than visits if you’re doing things right)
- Hits – despite the excitement that this term implies, it’s basically the measure of a request to the web server for a file. So a person can visit a page (that’s one), see an image that they want to click on to enlarge (that’s two), and view a brief video embedded on the page (three). It may or may not indicate how interesting or popular a page is, but the longer a visitor remains on your website, the better for you.
- Bounce rate – this might be the “anti-hit” stat. If someone goes to a page and never returns, it’s a bounce. If your bounce rate is high, it’s time to examine what has people looking, then fleeing. If you want them to visit and return, re-examine how compelling your content is.
- Top landing pages – just as bounce rate numbers will point to pages that need work, this stat will tell you which you’ve done a great job with.
- Landing page – not everyone arrives at the front door (your home page). If your site is done well, each page will rank well based on the content and the problem you’re solving on it. And really people search based on a problem or question they need resolved. How people first arrive at your site will tell you how useful and helpful pages on it are to searchers.
Cracking open the dashboard
To the beginner, there is an overwhelming amount of information on the Google Analytics dashboard. Eventually, you may use it all, but today we’ll just point you to the best places to get your feet wet.
When you arrive at your dashboard (analytics.google.com) you may start on the Home tab, which gives you four basic metrics: the number of sessions, average duration of each session, bounce rate and the goal conversion rate. (The last term is measured when you have set a goal for a visitor to perform some action on your site, like clicking a specific link. You’ll get that savvy, but we’ll save that for a later discussion.)
Let’s move on to the Reporting tab, which reveals more menu options to the left. Where you will get the most out of your first exploration into analytics will be the Audience and Behavior menus.
Who’s been on your site?
Before you even got a website, you had an idea of who your customers could be: your target market. The Audience menu gives you information on where your users are coming from, what devices they are using to view your site, and when you employ the use of AdWords, can even give you demographics and interests. If the results you see in this area match with who you want to reach, you’re on the right track. If they are a surprise, then you either need to rethink your expectations and reimagine how you can continue to build on it, or you need to retool your content (that thing you excel at) to engage the audience you really want to attract.
How did your visitors get there?
It’s a wonky name, but the Acquisition menu is more simply a metric of how your visitors found you. Which search engines they used, if the traffic was organic or paid and, if you used an AdWords campaign, even more detail on their journey that led them to you, and how it measures up with the goals you set for a campaign.
Your visitors do things on your site that tell a lot about your effectiveness and reach. In particular, the Behavior menu under Site Content will give you information on which pages are the most popular for visitors, which pages are landing pages, and which are the last viewed before a visitor leaves.
Site Search is also telling because it lets you know where people initiate a search, what they are searching for and the terms they are using to find it. Because you’re good with words, this is a useful tool to make sure your pages contain those terms to make the user experience easy. It can also point to missing information that you may want to add so their search isn’t fruitless.
Making it your own
As you wade into the data, you can hand select what you want to see by building your own dashboard. For each metric that you find the most helpful and easy to understand, there is an “Add to Dashboard” option just above the center panel. That way you see only the information that you want to use.
This may be all you want to know, and that’s fair. Your creative side isn’t built for poring over analytical data. The time can be better spent working on improving your content, and hiring an expert who gets all tingly looking at numbers and graphs for you to interpret the data, and make suggestions on content to improve your SEO. Between
the two of you, your web strategy becomes of one sound mind rather than half-brained.