Google Analytics is a tricky beast. With all of the different tabs and menus, it’s easy to get bogged down and overwhelmed and just give up trying to understand it altogether — but you shouldn’t give up! The analytics Google provides about your site and your audience is far too valuable to ignore, and you could even lose customers and revenue.
So, what’s the trick? How can you master Google Analytics without losing your mind? We agree with Noah Parsons: “The key to avoid drowning in the sea of numbers is to start small,” he writes. “Pick a metric that matters to you and your business and track that one metric and try to improve it.”
We don’t want to bore you with a dry how-to list, or give you a lecture about the all the ins-and-outs of Google Analytics and how to set up each individual step. There are more than enough of really great how-to articles scattered across the web (such as Kristi Hines’ exhaustive “Getting Started” article over at Social Media Examiner).
Instead, we’re going to share with you what we think are the top four metrics you should keep an eye on as we move into 2015 and beyond.
1. Audience Overview
This is where the magic happens. This is your home base. If you were to only look at one metric out of all of Google Analytics, this would be the one. Why? Because you can see who your visitors are, where they are coming from, if they are interacting with your site, and how your engagement is growing over time. It’s one of the best — and easiest — resources you could possibly use on Google Analytics, and it’s one you definitely need track moving forward, as all of the other metrics (and the rest of this list) stem from the audience overview.
2. Acquisition Data
In Google Analytics, if you click on “Acquisition” in the left hand bar and then “Channels,” you will be granted access to a digital marketer’s goldmine — aka, detailed information about where your traffic is coming from (direct, organic, social, etc.). This is especially handy if you’re in the middle of a social media or PPC campaign, or if you’ve written a series of guest blog posts on other sites, because you can see which channel is proving to be the most effective and alter your marketing strategies accordingly. This will not only save you time if a campaign isn’t working, but it can keep you from wasting your hard-earned money.
3. Behavior Overview
For another treasure trove of data, click on “Behavior” in the left hand bar, then “Overview.” This overview lets you know which pages on your site are getting the most traffic (and which aren’t). Here you will find all sorts of information — such as page views, bounce rates, and time on page — which can be instrumental in creating new (or improving old) content. But be careful not to lose the forest to the trees! These metrics are definitely helpful when assessing the effectiveness of your content, but they can sometimes be deceiving. For instance, a high bounce rate doesn’t mean your content is horrible; it means that your audience might not know where to go once they hit your page. To paraphrase Adria Saracino, Head of Content Strategy at Distilled, if you have a clear and strong call to action on your page, your bounce rates should go down.
4. Goals and Conversions
As a digital marketer, what do you really want to measure at the end of the day? Do people do what you want? Do they look at more than one page? Do they fill out a form? Any action you want people to take is called a conversion. The only way to measure these conversions is to set up specific goals in Google Analytics. The goal can be anything you want, making this section of Google Analytics one of the more customizable resources. Do you have a white paper and want to keep track of how many people are downloading it? Set it up as a new goal and Google will start calculating the conversion rate so you can see whether people are actually downloading your content or just clicking away. Again, anything can be a goal, so the sky’s the limit when it comes to measuring the success of your site.
BONUS TIP: Look for the “magic hat.”
This isn’t really a metric to track, but if you ever get stuck in Google Analytics, just look for the little black hat icon in the upper right corner of each section. It will give you detailed information from Google about what you’re looking at and how it relates to your site. It’s a quick and easy source of information that you should take advantage of whenever you start to feel unsure or overwhelmed.
Moving forward with Google Analytics
If you’re just getting into Google Analytics, we hope this post has been helpful as you figure out what metrics you’re going to track in 2015 — and if you’re an Analytics pro, we still hope this post has been helpful!
And, if you think we’ve missed anything (or if you have any questions), please let us know in the comments section. You can also contact us directly or give us a call at 214-550-4310.