It goes without saying that any business that has its own website should definitely be making use of some kind of Analytical software to be able to monitor and review the performance of the site, and the behaviour of the site visitors or your customers.
One such tool is Google Analytics, which is completely free to install and use. The majority of websites (and apps) on the internet today use Google Analytics to monitor their website performance (according to research its the most widely used website statistics service) and there is no reason why your site shouldn’t be using the same.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at some of the most important reports that you should be checking on a regular basis within Google Analytics. At first glance, the site can appear quite intimidating to the less experienced user, but by understanding these reports you should be well on your way to becoming an experienced Analytics user.
Essential Google Analytics Report #1: Acquisition
The Acquisition report is quite elementary stuff – yet it contains a great overview of the breakdown of visitors to your site. Visits are grouped together by their source, and the channels within Analytics include (by default) Organic, Social, Direct and Referrals. Typically you will see Organic traffic accounting for most of your traffic (40% or more normally), followed by Social, Referral, Email and Direct.
Organic Search shows the number of people that are arriving on your website from search engines through your organic search positions, so that includes visits from Google, Bing, and any other major search engines. Social is quite self-explanatory – any visits from social media are tracked here.
Referrals are where other websites are providing you with visitors (hence the name Referral) and a site with a healthy number of links should get a good percentage of referral traffic. Email is where visits have occurred from links within emails, likely from a newsletter that contains the necessary tracking parameters. Finally, the Direct channel is where a user has directly typed your website address into their internet browser or is where Google can’t determine the exact source of the visitor. If you have problems with your Google analytics tracking (perhaps you’ve not installed it on every page of your site) then you’ll likely see a high percentage of Direct visits as a result (15% or more).
How to access: From within the Reporting view of Google Analytics for the View associated to your website, select the Acquisition tab (left-side menu) followed by All Traffic then Channels. Ensure you’ve selected a wide date range (top-right of the screen) to view a statistically broad range of data.
Essential Google Analytics Report #2: Search Queries
Although this isn’t technically a part of Google Analytics, if set up correctly, the Search Queries report is directly accessible within Google Analytics and so, for that reason, I’ve decided to include it here. Search Queries shows the exact Organic search queries used by people to find your website in Google, and this data comes via Google Search Console.
To get this report setup you need to a) have Google search console setup for your domain name, and b) have the search console connected to your Analytics profile.
Analytics did until a few years ago (LINK) show all of the keyword data used to find your website, but sadly, they started to restrict this data due to privacy concerns. However, you can still show some data (much of it is still restricted, and the data you have is limited to the past 90 days) but it still provides an invaluable window into your organic search data. With this report, you can see the search queries entered by a user, which lead to your website being displayed in Google’s search results, and for which queries lead to a visit, which search phrases are providing the most impressions (or clicks), and so on. Very important data if you care about your website’s search engine rankings at all!
How to set up: First, make sure that you have set up all the necessary Properties for your website URLs at Google Search Console. Then within Analytics click on Admin, then Property Settings. Scroll to the bottom and select the Search Console button – then follow the onscreen instructions to choose the Property to link it to within Search Console.
How to access: Within the Reporting tab of Analytics, open up Acquisition then Search Console before selecting Queries.
Essential Google Analytics Report #3: Landing Pages
By opening up this report in Google Analytics, you will be able to see the exact pages people are arriving on when visiting your website. It’s likely that your homepage will make up the bulk of your landing page visits, as that will probably have the strongest organic rankings, but from this report you may be able to find opportunities for improving your SEO of particular pages, or find pages that are surprising you with their popularity – in which case you should ensure the page has a good, clear Call To Action (CTA) in order to capitalise on those visits.
How to access: From the Reports view scroll down to the Behavior tab and choose Site Content followed by Landing Pages.
Essential Google Analytics Report #4: 404 Page Errors
This is one of my personal favourites (sad, I know!) and if run on a regular basis, you should be able to keep on top of any major navigation errors on your site. A 404-page error is the name of the error message given in a browser when you visit a page that doesn’t exist. They’re a common occurrence for sites that are being re-launched, and if you have too many of these errors, not only are you providing a terrible user experience but you’re also risking the wrath of Google and co, hampering your own SEO performance.
This isn’t, technically, a defined report within Analytics, but this is more of a favoured way of customising the Behaviour / Content report.
To check for page errors in Analytics, first, you need to know how your website deals with them. Open up your website and go to a page that doesn’t exist (e.g., www.website.com/thisisnotapagethatexists).
Right-click on the page, select View Source, find the tag and copy the title tag. It will likely be something like “Page Not Found”.
Open up Analytics, then Behaviour, Pages, and choose the Title option. Paste in your title here (in this case, just type “Page not found”). Open the date range to a few months at least, and then check the report. You should see a list of any times where page errors occurred – and hopefully, this isn’t a very common occurrence on your site (a couple shouldn’t be an issue, but if it amounts to more than 5% of site traffic, there is likely an issue somewhere).
Essential Google Analytics Report #5: E-Commerce Report
Now, this one won’t apply to everyone, but if you have a business that sells anything through your website, then you absolutely must be tracking your e-commerce data. You will want to know exactly how much revenue is being generated through your site, which products are selling, who’s buying them, how the buyers are arriving to the website, and so on. Google Analytics, when set up to track e-commerce data, can provide a staggering amount of information without which your business really is operating in the dark.
Setting up e-commerce tracking varies according to the e-commerce solution you have set up on your site (for example, WooCommerce if you’re using WordPress, or perhaps Magento), but if you’re using one of the bigger payment systems, then you should find some quite straightforward installation instructions online. Get this setup, enable it within Analytics (see screenshot below) and you’ll find a wealth of useful information on your customers’ behaviour.
Essential Google Analytics Report #6: Goals Overview
If, for some reason, you can’t get the e-commerce tracking set up on your site (perhaps, you don’t sell any physical products, but instead you sell a service of some kind), then Goals are a must for you. Within Analytics, you can set up and track Goals for a huge variety of purposes. Want to track anytime someone contacts you through your website? Set up a goal. How about being able to track anytime someone clicks a button to watch a video on your site? Set up a goal! Goals can be used for tracking social media likes and shares, newsletter sign ups, and a variety of other behavioural information.
Within Analytics, you can set up and track Goals for a huge variety of purposes. Want to track any time someone contacts you through your website? Set up a goal. How about being able to track any time someone clicks a button to watch a video on your site? Set up a goal! Goals can be used for tracking social media likes and shares, newsletter sign ups, and a variety of other behavioural information.
To set up a goal you just need to go to Admin > Goals and follow their instructions.
Once set up, in a few weeks time you should run your Goal Overview report to see how successful you’ve been – and to tailor your website and re-test accordingly.
So, there you have it – 6 essential reports for you to be monitoring within Google Analytics on a regular basis. The great thing about Analytics is that we’ve only just touched upon the possibilities here – you may want to look at scheduling these reports to run on an automatic basis, arriving reliably in your inbox every month. Or you may want to set up alerts so that when certain key KPI’s drop, or rise, by a certain level.
Are there any other important results that I’ve missed here? Feel free to suggest your preferred way of using Google Analytics by leaving a comment below!
This post is a contribution from Matt Tutt. Want to contribute to PeoplePerHour blog? Get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org!
Matt specialises in PPC, SEO and Google Analytics and is a CERT 5 qualified seller on PeoplePerHour. As well as knowing his way around Google Analytics, Matt Tutt is also a certified Google Partner and loves helping businesses with their PPC Marketing in Google AdWords. If you’d like help with your PPC ads, then take a look at his PPH profile.