How can I analyse web performance using Google analytics?

I have Google Analytics installed on my website but don’t really know how to use it, what are the main things I should be looking at?

Rob Weatherhead writes:

The world of website analytics can be very confusing if you don’t know where to look for the most important information. Analytics packages provide with a whole heap of data and information about how people find your website and what they do when they are there but it can be a daunting task when you first start looking at Google analytics. Here are 5 basic statistics you should be looking at and monitoring over time:

Traffic sources

This section shows you how people are finding your website. It will split your traffic into the main ways in which people find their way to your web content and display it in a pie chart. You can then drill down into each section to see further detail on where people are coming from.

It groups the sources into key categories such as search engines, direct traffic (people typing in your domain name) and referring sites (people finding your site linked to on another website or directory).  With this information you can understand which areas are working for you and so you should do more work with, and those which aren’t working for you so you may need to look at your strategy.

Bounce rate

Bounce rate is roughly defined as the percentage of times a page is visited and then immediately exited without more content being viewed. It means that somebody found you site, and for some reason, exited it straight away back to wherever they came from. This is useful information as it can indicate problems with a particular page or even your whole website.

Any pages with a bounce rate higher than the other pages of the site should be investigated and maybe even involved in some testing to ascertain what is putting the visitors off and making them hit the back button. Obviously some of this is linked to how people are finding your website, if you are by chance ranking well in the search engines for an unrelated term then these visitors are going to exit your website quickly, so it is just a case of working out why you would be ranking for an unrelated term. 

Top referring keywords

Linked directly to your search engine marketing, both paid and natural, this section shows the keywords which are driving the most visitors to your website. This is important as it allows you to assess:

  • Whether these keywords are the most relevant keywords which are likely to drive sales
  • If you are maximising the opportunities in these particular areas (could you be doing more?)
  • Are there any areas you really need to do more work?

Average page views

Depending on the objective of your website the number of pages viewed by a visitor can be perceived in different ways. Obviously if you are an informational website selling advertising by the pageview, then the more pageviews per visitor the better. But if you are a lead based website looking to drive enquiries you want to get the enquiry through as quickly as possible whilst maintaining quality therefore you want a lesser number.

At its most basic level a greater number of pages viewed indicates a higher level of relevancy and engagement with your visitors so you should be looking to increase this figure over time where possible. Obviously, as mentioned above, this needs to be balanced against generated business and return but on the whole, the more page views the better.

Average time on site

In most cases directly linked to the number of pages, the average time spent on site is another measure for how useful your website content is. If a user is spending more time on your website then logic suggests that you have something interesting to tell them. So long as this isn’t linked to users not being able to find what they are looking for, then you will want this figure to increase over time, again by improving you web layout, content and usability.

Once you have understood the basics of Google Analytics there is more, much, much more you can get from this fabulous tool. The next obvious step is to set up goals and conversion metrics in your account which help you understand where your business is coming from and feed that information back into your online marketing campaigns. There are always more advanced metrics you can get from Google Analytics and more refinement you can do but if you begin with these basics it will give you a good starting point in the world of web analytics.

Rob Weatherhead is operations director for BT SearchSmart offering small business SEO and PPC.

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