Whether your website is sales focused or is used strictly for more informational purposes, you need to understand how effective your site is at accomplishing its main goal. There are certainly a lot of tools that you can use to do this, but a great starting point is Google Analytics.
Let’s take a look at some of the top reports in Google Analytics to understand how well a website is fulfilling its goals.
Top Level Performance Indicators
The most useful reports in Google Analytics are the ones that require a bit of customization on your end.
If you have taken the time to set up goals within Google Analytics, the Conversions section will help you understand how often users are taking the actions that you want them to on the website. Google Analytics’ goals are highly customizable, so you can record all types of actions in the space.
I find that most companies can get away with some of the simpler goals set ups. For instance, just understanding how many times someone completed a form request is a big help.
One of the big things to pay attention to with goals is not only how many people completed the goal but also looking to understand more about the people who did.
For instance, are people on mobile devices completing the form more often? Did people from Facebook complete the form?
These are the kinds of things that you can look for if your goals are set up.
Google Analytics doesn’t automatically set up goals for you, so you’ll have to take some steps in order to get this established for your analytics set up if you haven’t already.
Check out Google’s support documentation along with the video below to get started.
Analytics restricts you to a relatively small amount of goals per view. This can get kind of annoying if you regularly want to switch what you are tracking.
Events provide a nice middle ground between Google Analytics’ regularly provided stats and your main goals. Events provide custom tracking that you can set up for your site to be able to track a wider array of user interactions.
I have used events to track things like the number of outbound clicks on particular resources I wanted to highlight.
I’ve also used events to track the number of times people click on the link in the footer as opposed to the link in the navigation. While Analytics will tell you how many times somebody went to a particular page, events give you finer control in your understanding of user behavior.
Thankfully, events have become much simpler to set up without the help of the developer. Google Tag Manager is a robust system that will allow you to go wild with tracking practically every type of interaction.
I definitely recommend that you keep things simple as you’re getting started.
Tag Manager is beyond the scope of what we will cover in this particular post, but I have found it immensely helpful for people that aren’t developers or don’t have access to developers and for people that work in large companies or for large websites where development releases are highly structured and require several layers of approval before anything goes live. Tag Manager allows you to be nimble when it is becoming increasingly important to be able to do so.
Lower Level Performance Indicators
The default reports that Google provides are still important (and even more so if you don’t have goals or events set up yet), but you need to combine more of these reports to understand the true health of your website.
Overall Site Traffic and Users
I never expect any one report to give me the entire story of how users are interacting with the website.
The things to look for in your traffic include the following:
- Trends up or down over the course of weeks or months
- New vs. returning users
- How often readers leave before visiting more than one page (called your bounce rate)
Right now, we’re just getting some sort of sense of how often people view your site and to what extent.
I am not looking to solve anything using this one area of reporting, but it does help me understand what report to look at next.
For instance, if I see strong amounts of traffic coming to the website but low amounts of traffic actually completing the goals we have set up, then I can start looking for what devices people are using or what sources are sending the traffic to our site in order to optimize the experience for those audiences.
Let’s take a look at the device report and the sources report to understand more.
Based on a variety of websites that I have interacted with professionally, I see the breakdown between mobile and desktop usage vary drastically. It simply isn’t the case that all websites are now getting a majority of mobile traffic.
Some sites contain information that is very easily consumable on a mobile device while websites for some companies contain information that is only useful if you have the time to sit down and consume it with more analysis in mind.
Think about a website that contains complicated machinery parts information and allows you to compare the parts. That’s not something that is easily viewable on an iPhone.
Your Audience’s Experience
You need to understand how your website is being viewed. Once you understand, you need to take a look at your website from that device.
If people are using desktops more often, you need to make sure that you’re focusing on the desktop experience. Of course your website should be compatible for any device, but focus on continuing to improve the experience that your audience uses most.
One of the big issues I see when it comes to understanding why people are or are not converting (completing the goal that you had set) is reviewing the audience journeying through the website on the device that people are using most often.
In Analytics (in the browser), go to the sidebar navigation and select Audience. Scroll down to Mobile, and take a look at Overview.
You can understand a quick overview of desktop versus tablet versus mobile with this report.
You can get really geeky with the exact specifications of the mobile devices in the Device report (the option just under Overview on the side nav).
If you are attempting to get your audience to your website from a variety of platforms, then it becomes increasingly important to understand which sources for your traffic are most important.
Please keep in mind that the traffic numbers on their own are not the true indicator of how important that audiences. You need to know how often they convert.
If you are getting a ton of traffic from Google display ads but they are never taking any important actions, then you need to evaluate the importance of that audience.
You may decide that this traffic is worthwhile because it gets people familiar with your site and your brand, and it also helps get that audience into a remarketing program that you have.
Those are the kinds of decisions that you could make if you’re keeping track.
Let’s jump in. In Analytics’ side navigation, go to Acquisition and select Overview. This shows you the top channels for the ways your site gets traffic.
The default “channels” that Google Analytics uses to report includes
- Organic Search
- Paid Search
- Other Advertising
- (unavailable) or (other)
You likely will not see all of these channel names in your report. Don’t worry about trying to get them all. Just focus on which sources are bringing you the best traffic.
If you look under Behavior and then under Site Content, you’ll find a report called Landing Pages.
When planning web content, many people believe that the homepage will be the starting point of your audience’s journey. Depending on your website, you could have a very small number that actually start the journey at your homepage.
You may still have a number of people that get to the homepage eventually, but I’ve seen many sites where a blog post was the top performing piece of content.
In some cases you may have upwards of 50% of your traffic coming to a single page on your site. Take a look at that top performing piece of content and ask yourself whether you are giving people the opportunity to take the action that is most important to them and to your company.
If you have enough traffic, you’ll want to relentlessly test on this page to keep figuring out how to improve the experience for your audience.
If you are not getting a ton of traffic but the number of people coming to the page is still steady, then you should still look for ways to improve your calls to action.
I wrote about the Navigation Summary report in a past article, and the report can be a good indicator to understand how successful you are at getting people from that initial landing page to the next piece of content that’s most relevant.
The Whole Story
Again, I cannot stress enough how important it is that you do not make major decisions based on any single report that you find in Analytics.
There is a wealth of information that can tell you a full story. Be sure that you’re putting all of the insights together that you are learning from all of your reports.
One last caveat: when you make changes, ensure that you are giving yourself enough time to understand the impact.
I have quickly claimed victory after making changes to the website only to see those changes have an unexpected effect later on. Be patient, and document well.
I definitely skipped over a bunch of other reports that may be useful in particular circumstances. Are there other reports not mentioned here that you find critical? Let me know in the comments.