4 Tips for Better Data Analysis With Google Analytics
Using the following four tips for Google Analytics, users of this market-leading web analytics software should be able to track website traffic much more accurately – an important step towards identifying opportunities for optimization and improvement.
The majority of website owners use web analytics software, and for most mainstream users, two free web analytics packages dominate the market: Google Analytics and Piwik.
However, rushing into the installation of your chosen free web analytics solution without a clear understanding of its analytical functions risks incorrect data interpretation based on a poor monitoring performance.
Using the following four tips for Google Analytics, users of this market-leading package should be able to track website traffic much more accurately – an important step towards identifying opportunities for optimization and improvement.
These four tips (+ the Bottom Line) will make Google Analytics users smarter:
1. Track more than just page views – Google Analytics Events
2. Make user interactions visible – more Analytics Events
3. Define objectives and measure performance – Goal & E-commerce tracking
4. Maintain contact with site visitors – Google Remarketing
5. The Bottom Line: adjust Google Analytics first, then install!
Web analysis using Google Analytics
Many companies devote little time to web analytics, so installing Google Analytics can be almost an afterthought. Lack of knowledge about how this web analytics package functions can result in inaccurate traffic data, which in turn hampers any meaningful interpretation of the behavior of site visitors.
Though never simple, the interpretation of visitor behavior is grounded in an understanding of basic information. In Google Analytics, this takes the form of three core data values:
- average session duration
- bounce rate
Within Google Analytics, the term "user" simply refers to the number of people who have been identified as site visitors. Here, an Analytics standard installation only recognizes devices – so one person accessing the website via three devices (smartphone, tablet, desktop) will register as three different "users".
"Average session duration" is interpreted as the time interval between the beginning and end of a site-visit. Here, the Google Analytics default installation will measure just the time interval between the first and last page view. So the time a visitor spends on the last page will always be ignored.
Analytics users tend to regard the "bounce rate" value as a negative indication. When someone visits a website’s home page but accesses no other pages before leaving the site, it’s very easy to assume the visitor was dissatisfied. However, in those cases where the visitor can quickly find all the information he needs on the home page, this could be a gross misinterpretation.
Therefore, it is important to know how Analytics collects and presents data. Only then we can decide: Is this really enough, or do we need more detail?
Tip 1: Track more than just page views – Google Analytics Events
By default, Google Analytics simply monitors page views, and this is the reason for a variety of data-interpretation errors.
Every time someone visits a website page, a small fragment of Analytics coding (which must be embedded in the website source code) reports this back to the Analytics system as a page view. A rapid succession of page views are combined to form a session, which is then counted as a site visit. If a website user has previously visited the site using the same device, Analytics recognizes him as "returning visitor". As a result, Analytics will then report and display two sessions from one user.
This very simple method of calculating website traffic ignores numerous other forms of visitor interaction. In reality, a session consists of more than just the page views – there are also PDF downloads; clicks on email addresses, phone numbers, and links to external websites; and the completion of online forms.
All of these events remain hidden in the reports provided by the standard version of Google Analytics – unless the site owner opts to make these reports "visible". Google Analytics provides a tool to assess such site activities (Google Analytics Events) which should be used to gain a more complete picture of visitor behavior on a website.
Tip 2: Make user interactions visible – more Analytics Events
The use of Google Analytics Events can also provide a much more accurate measurement of the "average session duration". As described above, Google determines the duration of a session by measuring only the time difference between system interactions reported to the system. Once Google Analytics is set to measure more than just page views, it creates a far more accurate picture of the time a visitor spends on the website.
A fascinating interaction with a website is a visitor’s slowly scrolling down a page while reading; especially with blog articles or detailed product descriptions. The website owner will be able to see how each visitor interacts with the text – and whether they read right through to the finish. This detection of scrolling behavior provides some very useful insights on how visitors react to website posts.
With a few extra tweaks, it is also possible to monitor which passages of website text your visitors copy. Later, this article will explain how to access this type of data.
Tip 3: Define objectives and measure performance – Goal & E-commerce tracking
Every website has its own particular goal. Online publications such as newspapers, eMagazines, blogs and forums want to reach out to a large number of visitors who will read numerous articles – while also consuming site advertising – and then return later to do the same again. Service providers will attract prospective customers to their website by offering detailed information, and then ask visitors to leave their contact information in order to receive a quote. And online stores will want to persuade buyers to purchase products with an online payment before dispatching purchased goods for home delivery.
Google Analytics Goals offers online publications and service providers the opportunity to measure defined goals. A minimum length of stay or a certain number of pages per session can be specified as a goal as well as other objectives such as submitting a contact form or clicking on an e-mail address.
A value in dollars can also be assigned to each of these target actions. Ask your accountant for help to establish an average revenue figure for each type of site interaction. Once this value is linked to the appropriate Analytics goal, almost every Google Analytics report can include not only behavioral data but also quantify the economic implications of visitor interactions.
Google Analytics has a separate tool for online shop operators: E-commerce tracking. This additional monitoring application displays revenues broken down into three categories: tax, shipping, quantity. Statistics are extracted once transactions have been successfully completed and offer both product- and sales-oriented feedback in addition to monitoring visitor behavior.
Tip 4: Maintain contact with site visitors – Google Remarketing
Activation of Google Analytics Display features gives us the chance to use the retargeting-of-users function. Retargeting means reaching out again to those who have already visited your website; with the specific aim of encouraging a further visit back to your own site.
Google has created its own term for the concept of retargeting: Remarketing. Once activated, this function allows Analytics to be used to "define" the characteristics of a specific group of all website users, who will be approached (remarketed) again. Here are two examples:
- A hotel booking site creates a remarketing list of all users who have booked a hotel room in Majorca via the website. This group will then be offered car-hire deals in connection with their stay in Majorca.
- A New York delicatessen selling French delicacies creates two remarketing lists. List 1 includes all website visitors from New York, who are then invited to come and shop in this local New York retail store. List 2 consists of all website visitors living in the rest of the U.S., whose attention is drawn to the company’s online delicatessen store.
Defining your remarketing audience should always be approached intelligently. Once a definition has been completed, Google Analytics brings all website visitors with the required group features together in one remarketing list. To create remarketing lists: Click the Google Analytics "Admin" tab, then in the "Property" column click "Audience Definitions", and then click "Audiences".
Afterwards, remarketing lists can be easily imported into the company's own Google AdWords account to support responsive ads and banner advertising.
Notice that this retargeting function is also available on other platforms. Once the strategic principles have been grasped, you can then tackle the retargeting of site users also on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Conclusion: Google Analytics – adjust first and then install
A company website is understood to be its “online retail store”. With that concept in mind, it’s essential to carefully review what is being presented. Is everything in place? Can customers find the information, products and services they need? Are all offers clear to the customer, and is purchasing a straightforward process?
Google Analytics can answer all of these questions, and using its reports will help to make your “online retail store” a little more customer friendly with every passing day.
However, this information will only be helpful if the Google Analytics data you collect is accurate. Installing the Analytics package must therefore be undertaken with a clear plan in mind.
The standard Analytics coding which the software provides for integration into your website’s source code is not suitable for this purpose. It must therefore be adapted and expanded using one of the following two methods:
1. All modifications and enhancements can be implemented step-by-step using the extensive Google Analytics Help function. However, you will also need a competent HTML programmer or a keen IT professional on hand.
2. Companies with in-house IT expertise, or web-agency support, should implement Google Analytics with all these optimizations and adjustments via Google Tag Manager (GTM). This free tag management tool lets you launch and update website tags like Google Analytics without needing to edit your website code directly.
Without good web analytics, long-term online success will either be impossible or become just a matter of chance. Therefore, a tussle with Google Analytics (or something similar) is well worth the effort. Good luck!
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About the author:
Sven Deutschländer is CEO of dskom GmbH in Berlin, Germany. He founded the online-marketing agency “SEO Profi Berlin”. Together with his team, he primarily delivers professional advice, coaching, seminars and workshops on many online-marketing topics to small and medium enterprises, as well as start-ups. His “SEO Profi Academy” goes one step further and provides a comprehensive training in online-marketing.