How to Use Google Analytics to Answer Site Questions

So you’re about to launch a new web site and you’re wondering: “How many people will visit my site?” or “Where will they come from?” Google Analytics provide the answers to these—and many other—questions.

Published: 3.15.2011

Every time we launch a new web site, we make sure to set up and configure Google Analytics before launching the site. We do this right from the start—Google does the rest, collecting a ton of data about your site’s traffic. We do this because weand our clientscan use Google Analytics to track site traffic and to answer important questions about the site’s visitors and activity. These answers help us make informed site design and content decisions to create more effective sites and increase site ROI.

But first, what is Google Analytics? As you likely already know, it is Google’s web-analytics and visitor-statisticssometimes referred to as page statisticssoftware package. Originally created to support its Adwords and Adsense programs, Google offers it for free to all sites that generate less than 5 million page views per month.

Google Analytics is an incredible tracking and analytics tool. The interface for viewing reports is fast, easy-to-use and flexible. The reports track a very wide variety of metrics. Each report includes high-level charts and graphs that look great. And each report can be drilled-down to very granular levels so that you can slice and dice the data any way that you like.

To new users, the robustness and depth of Google Analytics can be overwhelming. To help ease that feeling, I have outlined a few questions that site owners frequently ask and where the answerQuestion: Which pages do my visitors visit the most?

The Top Content report allows you to see the traffic details for all pages on your site. So, you can see the most-visited pages as well as the least-visited pages. By default, Google Analytics will show only the 10 most frequently visited pages, but you can expand the list by increasing the “Show rows” option to 100 or 250.s to these questions are found within Google Analytics.

Question: Which pages do my visitors visit the most?
The Top Content report allows you to see the traffic details for all pages on your site. So, you can see the most-visited pages as well as the least-visited pages. By default, Google Analytics will show only the 10 most frequently visited pages, but you can expand the list by increasing the “Show rows” option to 100 or 250.


Google Analytics Top Content Report
The Top Content report

You can view these details for any time frame—a day, a month, or a year. This applies to all of Google’s reports. The date range can be easily adjusted by selecting the start and end date.

Google Analytics Date Range Selector
Adjusting the Date Range for a report

For each page, you can also answer the following related questions:

  • How many times was the page visited?
  • How many visitors came to the page?
  • How much time does each visitor spend on the page?
  • What percentage of visitors entered my site on the page and left the site without visiting another page (This is known as the “bounce rate.)
  • What percentage of visitors exited my site on the page?

You can review these metrics to determine if your site’s performance is in line with expectations or if site adjustments should be made. For example, if you have a very high bounce rate on a page that is getting visited often, the page may be confusing to visitors or the site content may not be relevant to search engine visitors.

Question: How long do people stay on my site?
The Visitors Overview report allows you to see the average time spent on site by all visitors. You can drill down on this average to see the value broken down individually by hour, day, week or month. This is helpful in determining if site changes affected visitors’ engagement on the site. And, as already mentioned, you can also view the time spent on each page from the Top Content report.

Google Analytics Visitors Overview Report
The Visitors Overview report

Question: How do visitors find my site?
The Traffic Sources report breaks down your total site traffic into three separate groups: Search Engines, Referring Sites and Direct Traffic.

Search Engine visitors accessed your site by clicking a link from a search engine. You can further drill-down to evaluate your site’s presence on each individual search engine (Google, Bing, Yahoo!, AOL, etc.) including what keywords were used to find you site.

Referring Sites visitors accessed your site by clicking a link from another site, but not a search engine. This allows you to see which popular sites are linking to your site and how effective these links are.

Direct Traffic visitors accessed your site by typing your site’s URL and visiting your site directly, not clicking a site to access your site.

Google Analytics Traffic Sources Report
The Traffic Sources report

Question: Where are my visitors located?
The Visitors Map Overlay report gives you a visual representation of your visitors’ geographical location. The report begins by showing a world map, with a traffic breakdown by country. You can drill down on each country to view details by state and ultimately by city. This is a great way to analyze where your visitors are located, especially if you have a service that targets a specific geographical region.

Google Analytics Visitors Map Overlay Report

Question: How many mobile visitors are accessing my site?
Most web site owners see their site only from their desktop, but more and more people are using mobile devices to browse the Internet. You can keep track of your mobile audience by using the Visitors Mobile Devices report. This report will tell you which percentage of your site’s total traffic comes from mobile devices and also breaks down the mobile audience by each device. So, you can see how many visitors are using their iPhone, Android or BlackBerry to browse your site. You might just be surprised. On several large sites that we manage, we have seen mobile traffic double from February 2010 to February 2011.

Google Analytics Visitors Mobile Devices Report
The Visitors Mobile Devices report

Question: What is my site’s ROI?
Most web sites have a specific end goal, whether it is a sale, a registration, an application, or accessing a specific page. Google Analytics allows you to define specific goals so that you can track your site’s goal performance. When defining these goals, you can assign a value to the goal (for example, average purchase is $100 so the goal value is $100). Every successful transaction is considered a ‘conversion’.

Using the Goals Overview and Funnel Visualization reports, you can evaluate how many goal conversions you had, what percentage of your visitors converted, and you can drill down to see specifically where your non-converted visitors abandoned the site. These reports allow you to quickly see if you have bottlenecks that can be improved to increase conversion rate and ROI.

Google Analytics Sample Funnel Visualization Report
Sample Funnel Visualization report

Of course, these questions are just the tip of the iceberg. With Google Analytics, we can find out just about everything about site activity – all the way down to visitor languages, keyword analysis and even browser, operating system and screen resolution capability. With Google Analytics – and our own experience and expertise – we’re armed with the data and information needed to make the right decisions when managing our websites.

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