How to start using Google Analytics


I was recently invited to help a group of local business owners understand how to start making sense of Google Analytics - a service that’s free for everyone. They all had websites that promoted holiday accommodation and some were already using Analytics, but they weren’t really sure what it was telling them other than the number of people visiting their website.

If you’ve ever looked at Google Analytics you’ll know that it’s packed with data. What people find difficult is converting that data into useful information. The aim of this article is to help you start making business decisions based on the information that you see.

I will look at how to:

  • Activate Google Analytics
  • See how many people are visiting your website
  • Discover the routes people are using to find your website
  • See which pages they are visiting on your website.

Google Analytics can become very complex very quickly, because there is so much data and not all the terminology is easy to understand. In this article I’m sharing my approach to looking at the information presented to me, while trying to keep it relatively simple and easy to understand.

How to switch on Google Analytics

To sign up for Google Analytics, click here and follow the instructions. The process includes adding a piece of code to your website, giving Google permission to capture analytics data and share it with you.

You should be able to add the code yourself, depending on how your website is built and managed. If you can’t do it, your website developer will be able to.

Once the code is in place, Google will begin collecting the data that’s presented in Analytics. To see this, you’ll need to log into Google Analytics.

How many people are visiting your website?

Analytics has a menu of options of the left side of the screen, with all the data displayed on the right as a series of tables and graphs. For a new user, these can be quite overwhelming.

Look out for the menu item on the left that says ‘Audience’. Click this and choose ‘Overview’. You’re now seeing a summary of information about visits to your website over the last month. The main graph shows visits per day. By changing the dates (top right) you can select a different period of time.

What’s good to look for here are trends and spikes. If you’ve been working to grow visitor numbers, the trend will, hopefully, be upwards. Spikes, where visitor numbers shoot up (or down) on a particular day, suggest that something happened to make a serious difference to visitor numbers.

Try to identify what caused those spikes, because it can help you understand what may bring more people to your site. For example, I had a spike in traffic to my site in the week before I wrote this. As we go through this article, I’ll explain what I learned from that spike. For me it was a major event because traffic to my website jumped by over 1,000%!

What screen are people using to look at your site?

Another option under ‘Audience’ is ‘Mobile’. Select this and then ‘Overview’. The table displayed shows you what percentage of your site visitors looked at your site on a mobile, a desktop or a tablet.

Over half of the people visiting my website come from a mobile, meaning they’re looking at it on a smartphone. This tells me that I need to be sure that my website looks good when viewed on a mobile phone.

When did you last look at how your website appeared on a smartphone? If, like me, you tend to work on a desktop or laptop computer, it’s easy to forget that the majority of the people browsing the web now do so from a phone.

If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, it’s time you got that fixed. Google offers a useful tool that checks whether your site is, in its opinion, mobile-friendly - click here to access it.

How are people finding your website?

Going down from ‘Audience’, look at ‘Acquisition’ and again, ‘Overview’. This helps you understand how people find your website. The pie chart and table both indicate routes bringing people to you, and these are:

  • Social - social media, such as Twitter, Facebook etc. Click on this for more detail.
  • Organic search - this is when someone types something into Google and they choose one of the links presented by the search engine.
  • Direct - people who have come directly to the website, by typing in the link or from a bookmark they use. Direct can also include visitors from other sources.
  • Referral - these are visitors who have come via another website, which referred them on to yours.

This information is useful because it tells you how the majority of people come to your website and gives you some figures for benchmarking. Let’s say that you decide to start making better use of social media to bring people to your site. A way to measure this would be to look at how the proportion of visitors coming via social changes over time.

Going back to the example of my recent website traffic spike - I used the date options on Google Analytics to look at the acquisition sources over the last few days, compared with over the last month. The figures showed that the Social percentage jumped up and, in particular, Twitter. So the spike in my visitor numbers seemed to be generated from Twitter.

What are people doing when they’re on your website?

We’re now looking at ‘Behaviour’ and ‘Overview’, because this tells us what people are viewing on your website.

A table of data will show you the top ten pages people are looking at, and what you see may surprise you. From this, you should be able to assess what is of most interest to the people visiting your website.

Now think about what it is that you want people to do after they’ve landed on your site and consider the design of your web page. Are you making it really easy for them to take that action? Don’t forget that many, possibly the majority, will be looking at the page on a smartphone. Be warned - you may decide to redesign your page as a result of this!

In the example from my website, where traffic spiked by over 1,000%, I immediately saw that lots of website visitors had landed on a page where I had reviewed a specific social media product.

Then I remembered that a couple of days ago the company whose product I reviewed had tweeted a link to my article. Checking back, I discovered that they have hundreds of thousands of followers. Clearly a small percentage of these followers (which was still a large number) had clicked through to my website.

Armed with this knowledge, I took another look at how that article appeared on my smartphone and, more importantly, how easy I was making it for them to do what I wanted them to do, which was to sign up for my mailing list.

I was shocked to realise that despite the efforts I had put into the design of the site, it was unlikely that they’d seen a call to action to sign up to my mailing list. So my next action was to fix that immediately - I added a call to action to the end of each article. Time will tell whether that will make a difference.


Google Analytics - summary and bounce rate

In this article I have described how you can:  

  • Turn on  Google Analytics
  • See how many people are visiting your website
  • Discover the routes these people are taking to arrive at your website
  • See which pages on your website they are visiting

Finally, I’ll cover one more important number: bounce rate. You may have spotted this number, which appears in various places. You can see it under Audience>Overview and Behaviour>Overview.

Bounce rate tells you the percentage of people who, having arrived at your website, take a look at just one page and then leave again. If you have a bounce rate of 80%, this means eight out of ten website visitors take a look at just one page and then leave.

What’s a good bounce rate? This depends on what you want your website to do for you. If you’re just sharing information, a high bounce rate may be okay. But if you want people to click through your site to find a ‘buy now’ button or to sign up to your mailing list, a high bounce rate suggests that your strategies for keeping people on your site aren’t working too well.

If you have any questions about using Google Analytics, please get in touch through email, Twitter or Facebook.

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