A beginners guide to Google Analytics

The website performance basics – 8 absolutely essential stats

Last week we took a look under the hood of social media marketing, wondering why so many social marketers don’t bother exploring the numbers to identify whether or not their efforts are bearing measurable fruit. This week we’re taking a look at eight basic facts you need to know about your website performance and the statistics you just can’t do without.

Knowledge is power. If you aren’t monitoring these, it’s about time you started. Find out what you need to know, set up a suite of benchmarks, and you’ll soon be able to see the impact of your marketing efforts, understand what works best and identify what could stand improvement. Grab a spreadsheet and off you go…

How many visitors do you get a month?

You want to know whether your marketing and social campaigns are driving more people to your website. You can’t tell unless you know how many people are currently visiting the site. Visitor numbers on their own don’t mean much. But, when you compare visitor numbers over time they tell you a lot about the impact your marketing efforts are making – or not – on your audience.

Which pages do they land on?

Knowing the pages people land on most gives you a clear indication of which of them are the most visible in the natural search results. It’s also handy for optimising pages so they work as well as possible.

Imagine you run a bricks and mortar shop with two street entrances. Your main entrance gets 100 visitors a day and your side entrance, with a different window display, gets 200. This indicates that the window display in your side entrance is more attractive to your target audience, something you can take advantage of. It also indicates that your main entrance could do with some work to make it perform to the max. The same goes for site pages.

How many pages do they tend to visit?

It’s common sense. The more pages people visit while they’re on your site, the more useful, relevant and interesting they must be finding it. If people are clicking away from your website after just one or two pages, they probably haven’t found what they want.

Once you know there’s an issue, you can figure out why. Is it because your AdWords campaigns are focusing on the wrong keywords, for example? If so, you’re wasting your AdWords budget and need to do some work to fix things. Is it because your natural search visibility doesn’t align with the content on your pages? If so, you might want to make new pages or improve the existing ones.

Where do your visitors come from?

You need to know which channels are sending the most and fewest people your way. As a result, you can ditch those that just don’t work for you, or make amends so they work better. How many visitors come your way as a result of your natural search visibility? How many find you by following links, whether the links are in social media posts, websites or blog posts? Which adverts are sending the most people to your site?

What is your bounce rate?

If a statistically relevant proportion of people leave your website without doing anything, without buying or exploring further or engaging with you in any way, you need to know about it so you can figure out why and improve things.
A bounce rate of 25-40% is excellent. 40–55% is about average, the norm. 55-70% is higher than average, but not necessarily terrible depending on the site, and anything over 70% is pretty poor. When you also know which pages they’re leaving from, you can make informed inroads into making those pages perform better.

How long are they on your site for?

Do most people leave quickly, or do they hang around to explore your site? The length of someone’s stay can clearly indicate engagement, something else you can work on and improve once you know it isn’t up to scratch.

Who links to your website?

If your website is sheer brilliance, wholly relevant to your target audience, beautiful to look at, updated regularly, you should eventually start to gather backlinks from people who think you’re great. It’s good to know who they are. As a result, you can approach similar websites and ask for links – something called outreach – and spot gaps in your link profile to fill.

Knowing who links to you also helps with Google’s disavow service. On this service, you can apply to the search engine and ask them to ignore any links you may have acquired from ‘bad’ neighbourhoods. This can and does happen in highly competitive sectors thanks to ‘negative SEO’

How do you rank in Google for your core search terms?

You sell yellow widgets. Google thinks your pages are excellent because lots of people visit them and stay there for ages. As a result, you have great natural visibility for all sorts of key terms. You need to know the extent of your natural visibility so you can spot gaps in your keyword coverage. Then, fill them with targeted fresh content and become even more visible for even more key terms.

A word about statistical relevance

Plenty of people fall foul of statistical relevance. If ten out of ten people stay on your site for more than five minutes, it’s fairly meaningless to draw conclusions. If a thousand out of a thousand do it you can safely assume the numbers are meaningful.

Don’t dig deeper until you’ve nailed the basics

Heatmaps and scrollmaps are really exciting. While it’s tempting to dive right into the fun stuff, without the information above it’s very difficult to know how your website is performing.

Where can you find all this wonderful insight? Google Analytics delivers what you need to know, so make it your first stop at the start of every week and take things from there. When you note your marketing campaigns in Google annotation, you’ll be able to see what effect your campaigns have.