Counting clicks ... a beginner's guide to mastering Google Analytics

The freemium tool can provide a wealth of insight into how visitors interact with your website, but many entrepreneurs are not making the most of it.

Many entrepreneurs who spend the time and money to set up a website are not tracking how visitors engage with it. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

How do people find your website? How long do they stay? What is the user experience like on different devices? If you can’t answer these three questions with confidence, it’s time to start using an analytics tool or get to know the one you do use a little better.

Understanding SEO People will arrive on your website from a range of sources, including search engines, social media and other webpages. If your visitor numbers are low, you need to improve your search engine optimisation (SEO). For the uninitiated, this is the process of optimising your site so that it ranks well in search engines.

Google, the UK’s dominate search engine, is notoriously tight-lipped about its criteria for ranking sites, but it’s believed there are at least 200 criteria considered. These include user experience (how well users are able to navigate your site and how long they stay), back links (sites that link to your site), signals from social media and how regularly content is updated.

Choosing a tool There are a number of tools available to analyse your web traffic. Some of these are entirely free and others have advanced features that are paid for – so-called freemium models. Google Analytics (GA) is a freemium tool and one of the most popular. The free version is usually sufficient for small businesses, but it’s easy to overlook some of its many features.

Traffic breakdown To sign up for Google Analytics account you must first have a Google email account. Once you’ve signed in, click access Google Analytics. You need to enter your information, including your website’s URL. You will then be asked to select data sharing options and to accept the tracking ID.

The tracking ID, which sends data to GA from a website, needs to be copied and pasted into your web pages, within the website code, for analytics to run.

By default, the GA dashboard gives an overview of data derived from a website. This includes how visitors have used your website over the past seven days. To the left of the main page is a menu with five main headings:

Real time – information about users currently using the site Audience – a range of metrics about users including demographics and interests Acquisition – data about how users arrived at a website Behaviour – insights into how users navigate a site Conversions – only relevant if goals have been set up

Acquisition and behaviour

Arguably the most useful features in GA are under the acquisition and behaviour tabs.

Acquisition shows you how your site acquired visitors and breaks down both organic traffic (traffic that comes to your site via unpaid search engine entries or social network posts), paid keywords (such as AdWords campaigns, where users pay for their website to appear in Google search results) and organic keywords (words used to generate free traffic on search engines).

Behaviour, on the other hand, shows you in detail how users navigate your site. This includes how many exit your site after viewing just one page (bounce rate), how long they spend on your site (average time on page), and how many pages they view(page sessions, tracked before 30 minutes of inactivity), as well as goal conversions (your goal might be getting a visitor to buy something for your website, for example, and a goal conversion would be them completing the purchase).

Find your site’s weaknesses Under the behaviour tab is a section called behaviour flow. This shows the path visitors normally take from when they visit your site to when they exit. It can help you diagnose potential problems – you might find a lot of visitors are exiting on the same page, for example. As a result, you could shorten the page, add a call to action (such as sign up or buy now), or include more images. You can also track which pages are the most popular and which are the most effective in securing conversions (whether that’s sales, sign ups or providing contact details).

Check site speed You want your site to load as quickly as possible – a slower site means a bad user experience and higher bounce rate. Site speed also contributes to search engine rankings. You can check your average site speed via the behaviour tab. There is also a function that offers suggestions for how you can improve speed, and another that shows how speed differs between browsers eg Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari. Ideally, you should aim for page load times of less than two seconds.

Find out what visitors are searching for If you’ve got a search box on your site, set up site search using the tips here. This will give you access to information such as how many times the search box has been used, what terms people searched for and how many page views were generated through searches.

Device segmentation As of May 2015, mobile searches have surpassed desktop searches. Your website should already be optimised for mobile but you can check if it is using Google’s mobile-friendly test tool. Just enter your URL and the test will show screenshots of how your site looks on mobile and highlight usability issues like small font sizes.

GA can also tell you how many people are viewing, or trying to view, your site in mobile: find reports in your GA dashboard, click on audience and then mobile. This will generate a table showing a breakdown of the devices people are using to browse your site.


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