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Google Analytics basics for small businesses: why you should use it, and how to get started

Google Analytics is amazing. It can also be overwhelming. Particularly for small businesses who don’t have the time to trawl through it, or don’t know what they’re looking at. So, why bother?

In this post, I’ve tried to summarise why it’s worth the hassle, and how you can get going. I’ve also included some places to go to find out more.

Why small businesses should use Google Analytics.

It can provide greater insight into your customers

By looking at your website data, you can figure out where your website visitors are based, geographically, which language they use*, and which device and browser they’re using. You can look at how many of them are new visitors to your site, and how many have visited before. If certain features are enabled, you can also look at their age, gender, and interests.

All of this is important because it can help you confirm or disprove qualitative hypotheses with quantitative data. For instance, if you believe that a large number of US-based people visit your site, you can check to see whether this is actually the case.

Alternatively, findings from Google Analytics could lead you to adjust your website, or even your business strategy. If you find that you have a large number of French speakers, perhaps with a high bounce rate, you may want to consider whether it’s worthwhile having your website translated into French. Or you may consider creating an advertising campaign and landing page specifically for this customer segment.

*actually, which language their browsers are set to.

Understand the effectiveness of different parts of your website

Google Analytics can help you understand which pages people enter and exit your website from. You can look at the most popular pages, and which pages have the highest bounce rate or exit rate (see the glossary at the bottom of the post for definitions).

You might find that one of your pages has a much higher exit or bounce rate than the others. Considering the reason or reasons behind this, you might then decide to rework the content on that page, or to create a clearer call to action.

Discover how people are reaching your website

How are people arriving at your site? What percentage of users have searched something to find you, or come through a link from social media or another website? Your traffic sources, and source and medium, can tell you this. If you set up Analytics’ Search Console, you can also see which search terms people used to see your site, and how many of those people clicked through to your site.

You can also add annotations to your Analytics. This is like adding a little note, normally about something important that happened on a particular day – for instance, maybe you launched a new section of your website, had an outage, or launched an offline advertising campaign. This means that when you look at your statistics, rather than being confused by unexplained blips in traffic or behaviour, the annotation can provide additional context.

What can you do with this information? Well, if you have very little organic traffic, you might want to consider what you can do to optimise your website. Or, if you see that a large proportion of your website users arrive from a particular social media channel, you might want to prioritise your work there. Similarly, if users coming from one source have a significantly higher bounce rate than others, maybe look at the links they’re clicking, and whether these are appropriately labelled. Businesses often trip up by not clearly indicating where a link will take someone.

5 tips to get going with Google Analytics

1. Don’t forget to adjust the date period

Wherever you are in Analytics (apart from ‘Real-time’), the date selection in the top right corner will apply. By default, the last week will. Don’t forget to adjust this to make sure you see statistics for the date range you’re interested in.

You can also compare periods, for instance, the past month with the month before, or August 2019 with August 2018.

2. Use a dashboard

Dashboards provide oversight into the website stats you’re interested in.

You can also set up snapshots of the dashboard to be emailed to you and/or your colleagues on a regular basis. I find a weekly email of my dashboard is handy to give me a little insight into my website performance, and to act as a reminder to login and check my analytics in more detail.

To create one, go to ‘Customisation > Dashboard’ – then select ‘Create’. You can either use a ‘starter’ one or import one from the gallery. The gallery includes dashboards the public has created for specific purposes.

Once you’ve created a dashboard, you can then edit it as you see fit. To send an email of the dashboard, select the ‘email’ button, as shown in the following screenshot. Once you’ve created a dashboard, you can then edit it as you see fit. To send an email of the dashboard, select the ‘email’ button, as shown in the following screenshot.

Google Analytics screenshot showing how to email a dashboard

3. Familiarise yourself with relevant sections

Think about what you want Google Analytics to tell you, and get familiar with those sections. For instance, if you’re really interested in which of your website pages are performing well, then you’ll find this in ‘Behaviour > Site Content’. If you want to find out more about how people reach your site, then you’ll need the ‘Acquisition’ section, and may find the sub-section ‘All Traffic > Source/Medium’ helpful.

4. Use reports

You can create a report of virtually anything in Google Analytics. Like dashboards, reports give you an overview of certain information. However, reports give you a much more granular look at this data.

Once you’re displaying some statistics you’re interested in, select one of the buttons in the top right of your screen (see screenshot).

Analytics screenshot showing how to save or share a report

‘Save’ will allow you to save this report so you can find it again in the future. (Once you save it, it can be found in the ‘customisation’ section).

‘Export’ is pretty self-explanatory.

As with dashboards, it’s with ‘Share’ that you can email the report to people, on a regular basis if you like. When you receive the email, you can click on a link within the report to be taken to that specific section of Google Analytics* – useful if you want to see more information, or change the date range for instance.

*provided the viewer has Google Analytics access

5. Google your questions

Google Analytics is widely used, and there is a wealth of information available, either produced by Google or by the general public, to help answer any questions.

Next steps with Google Analytics

Set up goals

Goals are useful for tracking website performance or conversions. Obvious types of goals include subscribing to a newsletter or completing a purchase. But there are all sorts. You can also create goals for visitors who visit more than x pages, or spend more than x minutes, on your site.

Once you’ve set up your goals, you can use this to compare and contrast with other data. For instance, you can see which traffic source leads to the highest number of goal completions, or on which page/s goal completions occur.

Use segments

Segments are a selection of your website visitors. By default, you’ll be viewing ‘all users.’ But you can create a range of different segments. The screenshot shows you where to click. You can select a template segment, one someone else has already created, or create your own.

Analytics screenshot showing how to add a segment

Screenshot showing the different segments in analytics

Once you’ve created or selected a segment, you can then view just that segment wherever you are in analytics. Alternatively, you can compare different segments.

For example, here I’ve created a segment to show users based in France, compared against all users.

Screenshot of analytics showing a segment of French users contrasted with all users

Complete a training course

A huge number of providers offer training in Analytics, and there are lots to choose from. But Google also offers resources and training for free. Through the Analytics Academy, you can follow online courses. There are also ‘mini-courses’ on YouTube, a blog…the list goes on. Once you’re up to speed and want to prove your knowledge, you can take the Google Analytics Individual Qualification.


A brief glossary

Within Analytics, if you don’t understand a term, or if like me, you forget all the time, you can click on the handy question mark icon for a definition. Below I’ve included a few of these definitions, with a few details from me.

Bounce rate

Google's definition: 'The percentage of single-page sessions in which there was no interaction with the page. A bounced session has a duration of 0 seconds.' More details about bounce rate and what it means.

In other words, a ‘bounce’ occurs when someone comes to a page on your site, and doesn’t click anything on that page, or navigate away from that page. A bounce rate, therefore, is the percentage of visits to your site in which this happened. Generally, a high bounce rate is considered a bad thing. But this is not always the case. If your website is basically a one-page site, then this might be unsurprising.

Exit percentage (%Exit)

Google’s defintion: ‘%Exit is (number of exits) / (number of pageviews) for the page or set of pages. It indicates how often users exit from that page or set of pages when they view the page(s).’ That is, this statistic shows you the percentage of times people visiting your site leave your site from this page (or set of pages).

There are certain pages or types of pages where a higher exit rate is to be expected. For instance, if you have an ecommerce site, you might expect this to be high for payment details pages. Or, if you are a copywriter and list your rates on your site, it would not be surprising if your rates page had a high exit rate. Bear in mind, this is not necessarily a bad thing. It could be that visitors have gained all the information they need, and might subsequently call or email you. Or maybe they realise you’re outside of their budget – better that they know now and move on.

Organic traffic

Organic traffic is the holy grail to digital marketers. It refers to the visitors which come to your site by clicking on a result from a search engine query. For instance, they’ve typed something into Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, Yandex, or another search engine. Your website has appeared in the search results, and they have clicked on that link.

Note that organic traffic does not include clicks on adverts that appear in these search results, this is counted separately.

Organic traffic is valuable because it means that, in theory, a user has reached your site at the precise point in time when they are looking for you, your company, or your service. It is also free.*

*As opposed to PPC, or pay-per-click advertising, although you may choose to hire someone to optimise your site which will of course have a cost.

SEO, Search engine optimisation (optimization)

Search engine optimisation/optimization (SEO) is the process of ensuring your website appears higher up the list of search results for relevant search queries.

SEO is multi-faceted and ever-changing as search engine giants such as Google constantly update their algorithms. But, in essence, it involves: keyword research, optimising your site content, ensuring metadata, and tags are configured properly, and using relevant and effective inbound and outbound links.

There is a lot of information and resources online about SEO, and this is something you can do yourself. Alternatively, get help from someone experienced in this sort of work.

This is something I can help with – see details of my services, or contact me so we organise a chat.

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