***This article is intended as a crash course in Analytics, looking at the basics—plus a little extra—to get you up and running with the system. We’ll pinpoint the metrics you need to monitor to test and prove your content marketing activity, and we’ll also give you top tips on generating the reports that matter to managers.
For a more in-depth training session, we advise you to take the Google Analytics Academy courses.***
“I never guess. It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Google Analytics (GA) is the software of choice for marketers who want to measure activity on their websites and prove the ROI of their marketing activity. Of the top 10,000 websites, 70% use Google Analytics to drive their marketing strategy, safe in the knowledge their decisions are data-driven.
That’s fine, Mr Future Content; I keep reading how important it is but have no bloody idea where to begin. Then you’re in the right place, dear reader.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Setting up shop
If you already have an active Google account, use it to sign in with Google Analytics. Click the link, click Sign In, select Google Analytics.
Otherwise, you will have to register a new account. Once you’ve filled in your details on the analytics, you’ll be provided with a unique tracking ID [UA-somenumbers] and your tracking code. Copy and paste this into a working document. You’ll need it later.
Adding the tracking code
The process for installing your tracking code will depend on the platform your website was built with. First, identify your platform, then get pasting your code in the relevant box. If you have access to an IT bod/web developer, it’s best to consult them to complete this step correctly.
Your screen should look something like this:
After a short time (2 hours or so), you should begin to see data being delivered to your Analytics dashboard. If not, you’ve almost certainly entered the tracking code wrongly. Don’t fret; Google Support usually has the answer.
Next: a couple of essential “to dos” to make your analytics relevant and reliable. For these, head to the Reports page on your Analytics account.
Start clicking through the options on your Analytics dashboard and you may begin to feel overawed by the sheer amount of data available. For now, focus on the navigation menu on the left-hand side of your dashboard. Ignore the top four options for a sec (we’ll get onto those shortly) and skip to the bottom four. This is what they are and how they can help:
Any business should have a target audience for their content. The audience tab allows you to ascertain whether your focused marketing efforts are working. And it's surprisingly accurate too. Understanding the demographic of your website traffic in detail, from age and gender to location and language allows you to work out if your site is attracting visitors that match your buyer personas.
Key audience reports
- Overview - This is the first screen you land on when you log in to the reports section of GA, and with good reason. The overview shows you the number of sessions on your site, and key metrics like overall bounce rate and average session duration.
- Geo>Location - If you operate internationally, this will show you precisely where your traffic comes from.
This feature will help you identify where visitors are coming from; whether that’s PPC campaigns, social media, organic traffic, referrals or direct. With this information you can work out which of your marketing activities are generating the most ROI, and the adjustments you need to make to maximise your budget.
Key acquisition reports
- All traffic>Channels - Have you just invested in a social media agency? Keep an eye on the social channel for increases in channel. A content agency, meanwhile, should ramp up your organic traffic. Easy.
How are people are interacting with your site? The info is all here. You can find the most popular pages on your website, the most popular landing pages (i.e. the pages that acted as the entry point to your site), and the exit pages (the last pages a user visits before leaving your site).
Key behaviour reports
- Site content>All pages - Shows you all the hits for all the pages on the site. The homepage is invariably the highest performing of all, but it’s handy to see where other activity is happening.
- Site content>Landing pages - Landing pages show you solely where visitors arrive to your site. This is great for monitoring the efficacy of your content.
NB: Depending on your URL structure, both of these reports can be filtered to give you an idea of how well your blog (/blog) or case studies (/casestudies or /case-study) are performing. In the search bar (see pic below) simply search for those terms and compare the results for different content.
Many view Conversions as the heart of GA data. There’s a guide on setting goals below. Once completed, you’ll be able to monitor performance of your lead magnets - content like ebooks, newsletter sign-ups and contact forms.
Key conversions reports
- Goals>Overview - Shows you which goals you’ve set up and their conversion rates. Simple.
So what about those other tabs then? Well, unless you run a high-flying e-commerce store, you can pretty much ignore the Real Time tab. And Google is replacing the Intelligence Events so forget that, too. Which leaves two:
Every report has 4 buttons just below its name. Click on the ‘shortcuts’ button and hey presto, it lands in this tab. Handy for quick access.
If you want to pull all of your individual reports together into one place, dashboards are great ways to do so. Head to dashboards>new dashboard and you’re presented with this screen.
Here, you can either create a dashboard from scratch ('Create Dashboard'), in which case you’ll be asked to add widgets, relating to the dashboards and metrics you want to see.
Orrrrr....you can import one from the dashboard gallery (Import from Gallery'). This is full of pre-prepared dashboards by Google and a variety of other data bods who love this stuff. Here's what that screen looks like.
To the left are filters which bring up dashboards relating to specific categories: Branding, for instance, or Lead Generation.
Creating your own dashboard gives you greater flexibility, of course. But these templates give you quick, easy access to professional-looking reports.
In our mind, there are better ways to report than these dashboards, ones which provide not just data, but context to the stats, too. We'll run through a few of those later.
More important at this stage, however, is making sure the data you’re analysing is as clean as it possibly can be.
The right data
Knowing your way around the dashboard and data is one thing, but it’s crucial to get the data as accurate as possible, and to make sure you’re monitoring the correct things to ascertain the value of the work you’re doing.
Cleaning data and stopping the bots
To make informed marketing decisions with your GA data, you have to be able to trust that the numbers generated are clean and reliable. The three main pests that will skew your data are:
- Internal traffic – If all your traffic is generated by you and your colleagues, it won’t give you a true depiction of how your website is performing.
- Ghosts – Aptly named because these web bots never actually access your site. Ghosts send data directly to GA through a Measurement Protocol.
- Crawlers – As the name suggest, crawlers act like legitimate visitors, trawling your website and leaving false traffic in their fake wake.
Getting rid of each of the above is a big job, and one which you might want to hire a developer or SEO bod for. If you’re a glutton for punishment, though (or you just like learning stuff) there’s a fantastic in-depth guide right here.
Great blog content will increase the traffic to your site, but the value to a business is in the steps that follow, when visitors pay to engage with your brand.
With Google Analytics, you want to find actionable data that proves to your boss that you’re a marketing genius, and that the content you’re producing for the website is bringing in leads. Honestly, that’s all they care about. Setting up the relevant goals will go some way to justifying your online marketing activity.
Some people class an email address as a lead. While we would argue that an email is the start of the lead process, it’s a decent place to start when proving value.
So, produce a downloadable piece of content, put that behind a form that asks for names and an email address. That form (or the thank you screen, if you develop one) should be set up as a goal. The contact form should be set us a goal, as should your newsletter sign-up box.
We could go deeper into how to set these up but Google’s easy steps say it equally well.
Now you’ve got a steady stream of clean traffic coming through, and you’re monitoring the right pages and the right data, the final thing you need is contextual analysis. You need to be able to compare traffic on a month-by-month basis, draw up a quick and easy report, and glean insight from the numbers in front of you.
Setting date ranges
Probably best we show you this one:
Clicking the date tab in the top right will bring up a calendar. Selecting your date range is obvious, but below that is a small tick box, compare to. Click that box, select previous period from the drop down and you’ll get you current stats mapped on the graph in blue, and those from the previous period in orange.
Here, GA provides handy, colour-coded arrows to show what’s improved, and what hasn’t.
Of course, you don’t have to compare this month with last month, or this quarter with the previous. You can compare this month with the date from the previous month, giving more context to the trend on the site. You can do this with the custom period option on the drop-down menu.
Trawling through reams of data heavy reports can be a drag, but there are a few programs designed to ease the pain, and make a big bunch of numbers look nice.
US-based Narrative Science has developed Quill Engage, an AI program which takes your analytics data and makes it easy to read. It’s free if you only have one account, and you will receive daily and monthly insights.
It’s not without its faults, the reports are pretty set in their ways, at least in the free version. If you want to change the metrics Quill reports on, you’ll need to upgrade. But, it’s a fantastic place to start.
Wordsmith by Automated insights is a similar tool, scraping the data and making it much more accessible. It not only creates written reports to simplify the data, it produces reasonably nice looking visual reports too.
While all these reports go some way to providing structure and clarity which you may not otherwise get, what they lack is insight and context. That’s why the next section is perhaos the most important.
So, your traffic to the site has decreased this quarter, panic stations right? Well, what about if the number of people who contacted the business has gone up and newsletter subscribers have increased? This could mean that your site or content is doing a better job of reaching the right people.
Perhaps the traffic to a specific blog post has quadrupled in number of session. This could mean your blog has suddenly become popular, or maybe the keywords in the headline are hitting a trending topic. If you have one piece which consistently performs above and beyond the rest, re-read it and make sure it’s as good as it can be. Is there a way of improving the post and becoming the resource for that specific topic?
Have you just taken on a social media manager but noticed a serious drop in social traffic? It’s time to dig into their activity and find out what’s really going on.
The point here is that GA only offers statistics. What you do with them is up to you, and that’s the art behind the science: understanding how content, website traffic and lead generation all fit together and, most importantly, what you can change to improve the metrics that matter.
Good to go...
It takes patience to use Google Analytics to test campaigns and marketing strategies but, in return, you’ll learn what resonates with your audience and ultimately how to attract more customers and convert more leads. Get to it!
Featured image - By TJBlackwell [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons