If you don’t fully understand Google Analytics – GA – you’re not alone. We get a lot of people saying they don’t even go there because it’s so difficult to understand. The particular Google Analytics qualification you can take is pretty complicated.

But unless you know where you stand right now as far as site performance and visibility goes, you will never find out whether your digital marketing efforts have made an impact one way or another. So what are the absolute GA essentials you need to grasp, the metrics you can’t do business without?

Filtering yourself and your employees out

If you visit your website several times a day and so do your employees, there’s a good chance it’ll  affect the accuracy of the data in GA. Luckily you can remove internal visits by filtering out your public IP address via admin > all filters.

Knowing what people want

If you’ve added a Google search box to your site GA lets you grab data on every search query, which tells you exactly what your visitors want… which means you can make the most of it. It’s also a good way to establish a good SEO direction.

Understanding where people come from

It might not matter where your visitors come from. But if you’re a British business and 80% of them live in China, there’s obviously something wrong. Or something right – you might end up proving that you sell better to the Chinese than to European customers, and market your wares accordingly.

Looking at the people’s average visit length

If someone lands on a web page and bounces right off again, it’s likely they didn’t find what they wanted. The longer people spend on your website, the better they appreciate your content. If people stay, on average, more than a minute, you’re doing OK. If they hang around for less than a minute there’s something wrong. As long as you know there’s an issue, you can test ways to improve visitor engagement.

Finding out how different groups of people behave

Using the segments function you can compare a wealth of data including direct visits from the search results versus visits generated by social media or desktop users versus mobile. This helps you optimise your site for every important group.

Examining how performance changes over time

How are you performing since you redesigned your site or improved your e-commerce interface? GA lets you compare all sorts of data over time to help you spot patterns and know where improvements can be made.

Figuring out why people leave your site

Your bounce rate is the percentage of people who leave your site from the same page they arrived. They might do it because they found what they wanted, because they didn’t, or because they had problems with the user experience. Google Analytics also tells you which pages visitors most often leave from, AKA exit pages, which gives you an exit rate. Once you know which your exit pages are, you can take action to optimise vital user journeys like registration and online purchases, so more people finish the process.

Know what content people like best

GA lets you see the number of times every visitor has visited your website, the average number of days between visits, and the type of content they engage with most often. Taken together they provide significant clues about what kind of content your visitors like best.

Monitoring sales conversion

There are all sorts of fresh goals to set. Goals let you watch how often various actions are performed, for example, newsletter subscriptions. Build a simple web page thanking new subscribers, make it into a goal in GA, and you can see it happening.

Finally – Knowing what is statistically relevant

Statistical relevance is enormously important when you’re examining data. If two people visit your site in one day and one of them bounces away in the first second, does that mean your bounce rate is sky high? No, because 1 out of 2 is not statistically relevant. If 100 people visit and half of them bounce away instantly, you can trust the data a bit more. Once you start examining large numbers, say 1000 or more visitors, the insights you glean are a lot more likely to represent real patterns, not just coincidences.

Lost in space with Google Analytics?

You can’t improve something you don’t measure. Guesswork just isn’t good enough when you’re running a business. If you haven’t done it yet, spend a few hours playing around inside Google Analytics.

You might also want to tackle some of the excellent free GA beginners courses that people have created. Google’s own explanations are usually far from plain and often expressed poorly.