The thing I love about bloggers is their willingness to share insights and actually how knowledgeable they are on really tricky subjects. We’ve had some really great guest posts recently including Charlotte who covered how to utilise social as a blogger and also Hayley from Tea Party Beauty who did a great job explaining Webmaster Tools. This time Lynne from Cocktails and Daydreams has been talking about her favourite subject, Google Analytics.
I am a self-confessed Google Analytics geek.
I’ve been using it pretty much every day for the past 8 years as part of my job in online marketing; I’ve taken the Google Analytics IQ exam, and I even run analytics workshops for clients. In my blogging life I’m also quite obsessed and love nothing more than perusing my GA account to check out my stats. In fact I’m currently sitting writing this on a Friday night, having just moved all my blog Google Analytics tracking onto Google Tag Manager and set up event tracking for external link clicks. Wild!
Google Analytics is a great (and FREE!) tool but it can be quite overwhelming as there’s so many reports to look at you might not know where to start. Hopefully this post will give you some pointers though on how to make the most of your account, and highlight some cool bits of info that you might not be aware of.
- Top Traffic Sources (Acquisition> All Traffic > Source/Medium)
This is the first report I always check – it basically answers the question “how did people find my website?”. This is where you’ll see the sources of traffic – for blogs this will generally include things like feedburner (RSS feeds), t.co (Twitter), Facebook etc. You’ll also see visits from search engines here, which is tracked as “organic”, meaning unpaid search traffic (e.g. google / organic).
Increasingly, you’ll see odd / spam referrers in here like best-seo-offer.com which are “ghost referrers” – i.e. they aren’t real visitors, just auto spam robots. This is happening to pretty much every website out there so isn’t anything to worry about – it’s annoying, but not harmful.
If you see a website appear in your top traffic sources report and you’re not sure where they featured a link to your blog you can find the exact page the visits came from by using the Referrals report (Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals). By clicking the particular referrer in the list it will take you to a new report showing the exact URL path they came from. The little box/arrow icon next to each path will open that page in a new tab for you so you can have a look (although use this with caution – if you haven’t heard of the website before it could be spam/dodgy, so always do a quick sense check on Google first).
Here’s a tip for how you can better track visits coming from your social media channels:
When someone clicks a link to your website from a mobile app, Google Analytics can’t track the source properly so reports this as direct / none by default. Technically “direct” should mean that the person used no source – so they typed the URL into their browser or used a bookmark, but due to this app problem it means that (for blogs especially) a lot of direct is actually untracked traffic from social media apps like Twitter. If you use the Google URL Builder to add campaign tags to any links you post on social media then this will get rid of the problem. For example, the highlighted part of the link below will make sure that visits are tracked as twitter / social. This means you can get a much better idea of how your different channels are working for you.
The Real-Time reporting section does exactly what it says on the tin – it shows you how many people are on your website RIGHT NOW. This is one for the obsessive stats watchers amongst you (definitely not me……no sirree…!). It’s particularly interesting if you’ve just uploaded a new post or posted a link on Twitter or Facebook, you can come onto Google Analytics, sit back and watch the traffic.
- Location (Audience > Geo > Location)
This report tells you where in the world your website visitors come from. By default this is on a country level but you can drill down as far as City if you like (bear in mind though that this is based on IP address, so might not be 100% accurate). This could be useful for helping you decide what time of day to schedule your posts & promotions – for example if you’re a UK blogger and you find that you’ve got a decent level of traffic coming from the USA then you might want to schedule some tweets in the middle of the night to target your American readers.
- Clicks on External Links (Behavior > Events > Top Events)
We’re going slightly more advanced now, with some manual effort required to enable the tracking for this report. It’s definitely worth it though, as I personally think this is one of the most interesting reports that Google Analytics has to offer. By using event tracking you can see which external links people are clicking on your blog, so that includes links to your social media profiles or
“follow” buttons for Bloglovin / Google.
To enable this tracking you need to edit the html code behind the links themselves, whether that’s in a Blogger/Wordpress widget, or just in the body of your blog post. You need to give each link a category (e.g. link), action (e.g. click), and label (e.g. Twitter). These can be named whatever you want, but it’s best to keep them meaningful and consistent.
<a href=”http://www.example.com” onClick=”_gaq.push([‘_trackEvent’, ‘Link’, ‘Click’, ‘Twitter’]);”>
You’ll find more information on setting up event tracking here – https://developers.google.com/analytics/devguides/collection/gajs/eventTrackerGuide.
- Top Devices (Audience > Mobile > Devices)
Ever wondered what mobile and tablet devices people are using to access your website? Well wonder no more – Google Analytics will not only tell you the exact models sending you visits, they will also show you a picture of that device if you aren’t sure what it looks like (by clicking the camera icon next to each device in the list). Not sure why that’s useful, but it’s there if you want it!
You can bookmark your favourite / most used reports by using the Shortcuts service. There will be a shortcut link in the top left of most reports, just click the button and give your shortcut/bookmark a name and then voila – it will appear in the Shortcuts sidebar for next time.
The shortcut will remember the exact view you saved, apart from the date – so if you’ve added in a secondary dimension to the table, or expanded the number of rows from the default 10 etc, then the Shortcut will always take you to that customized version.
- Age / Gender (Audience > Demographics > Age / Gender)
If you’re using the latest version of Google Analytics tracking (called Universal Analytics) then you’ll have access to a new section of reports called Demographics. Here you can find out more information about who your visitors are, so pretty interesting if you’re curious about the age of your readers, or what the male / female split looks like.
- Interests (Audience > Interests > Affinity Categories / In-Market Segments)
Similar to the new demographics reports, another report suite which becomes available when using the latest tracking is Interests. Here Google categorises your visitors based on the type of websites they normally visit (Affinity Categories) and the types of things they are searching for on Google (In-Market Segments) – sounds creepy eh?!
The names they use for these categories are a bit weird so let’s not dwell on that (Beauty Mavens? Travel Buffs? Technophiles? Urgh Google, come on now), but it is pretty interesting to see what types of interests your visitors have. This could help you with planning out blog content ideas, e.g. if you know you’ve got a lot of “Cooking Enthusiasts” visiting your blog then you might want to start writing more food posts.
- Most Viewed Pages (Behavior > Site Content > All Pages)
A pretty basic but important one this – it simply shows you a list of the pages / posts on your website and orders them by page views. If you have a Youtube channel which is also set up under the same Google login as your analytics account then your channel stats should also appear here (the page name will be something like /user/your-username or /channel/your-channel-id). Bloggers bear in mind that unless you use the “read more” option with your posts then as people can read your full posts whilst still remaining on your homepage, this won’t give you an accurate representation of how many views each individual post has had.
10. Top Search Queries (Acquisition > Search Engine Optimisation > Queries)
A few years ago you used to be able to use the Keywords report in Google Analytics to find out what people typed into Google when they clicked onto your website. It was a really interesting report and probably the number 1 thing that anyone looked at whenever they set up an analytics account. In a bid to make their users feel more secure though, a couple of years ago Google started to mask this keyword data so now if you look at a Keywords report you’ll find that 90% of search visits are tracked as “not provided”.
You can however still get an idea of the keywords people are using to find your site by signing up to the Google Search Console (previously called Google Webmaster Tools) and linking this with your Google Analytics account. Once you’ve set this up you’ll start to see data appear in the Search Engine Optimisation section, the most interesting being the Queries report. As with the old keywords report, this will show you the phrases used to find your website.
You’ll find the weirdest / funniest keywords near the bottom of the list, the ones with just 1 click (or even 0 clicks, as it also shows you keywords your website appears in Google for, even if no one clicked your result). Some examples from my blog in the last few months are “drunk jenga tiles” and “how many syns in a jager bomb?” (too many probably).
I hope you found this list of 10 useful Google Analytics reports interesting! My top tip would just be to have a play around with it, browse through the reports and see what you find, and if you want to learn more then the Google Analytics Academy has tons of training materials you can use.
Wasn’t Lynne great? Hope you’ve learnt something here, we certainly have. If you want further reading about Google Analytics then Lynne did a real neat bloggers guide to GA this time last year that you should definitely check out. If you’d like to guest post for us on ANY subject then please do let us know either via Twitter or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.