WEB & TECH / MAR. 19, 2014
version 6, draft 6

Beyond the Search Engine Part 2: Google Analytics

This is the second installment that looks at all Google has to offer beyond its ubiquitous search engine and Gmail. Part 1 introduced Google Alerts and the many ways it can be used to find content and build relationships. Today, we will examine Google Analytics, which may be a bit more well known, but most people admit to being at least a little intimidated by it. The good news is that Analytics is easy to grasp. The better news is that the information it provides - for free, no less - can really help your business or company.

As is often the case, there is a lot going on under the hood. Analytics provides very detailed analysis of the traffic coming to your website, and going through it all would take a lot longer than one article. Google itself offers excellent tutorials and certification options if you want to become an expert. If you’re looking to understand the basics, read on…

What Exactly is Analytics?

Analytics is a free service offered by Google that measures traffic and conversion stats for a given website. You can see how many people are visiting your website every day, compare traffic over a specified time span, learn where your traffic is coming from, what they do once they land on your website, and how long they stick around.

Why Bother?

At its simplest, Analytics shows you how many unique visitors are stopping by each day. Whether you’re writing a blog for yourself, or your company, or managing a business website, you need to know that people are actually seeing what you post. That people are actually getting the message that you’re sending out into the world. Analytics provides that information.

Furthermore, it breaks that traffic data down into country and city, language, and browser details. And that’s important.

How to Use the Data to Your Advantage

Let’s say you have an accounting company that specializes in online tax returns. You check your Analytics report and see that 62% of your total traffic is coming from Canada. You want to provide useful tax information to your readers, so you’d do well to include a few blog posts specifically related to Canadians. Or you have a cooking blog and notice that 47% of your traffic is coming from China, and most of that from the city of Shanghai. You might want to include a few Shanghai cuisine recipes in your next update.

Or perhaps you see that 87% of your traffic is visiting your site on a mobile platform (smartphone or tablet). You need to make absolutely certain that your entire website is mobile responsive (that it looks and works well on mobile devices). If it isn’t, you may eventually lose that 87%. That’s a huge hit.

Tailor your website to the people that are visiting it, and you’ll have a very, very loyal following.

Audience Overview

Down the left-hand side, you’ll find the available options. The easiest one to understand and quickly utilize is Audience - Overview. Here, you find the basic data on your traffic, including the raw number of unique visitors. The basic data includes:

  • Total Visitors

  • Unique Visitors (does not count repeat visitors)

  • Pageviews

  • Pages/Visit (how many different pages on your website are visitors viewing before leaving)

  • Avg. Visit Duration (how long do your visitors stick around?)

  • Bounce Rate (percentage of visitors that leave almost immediately. Google says the average is 40%, so anything less than that is decent).

Further down the page, you’ll find the traffic data broken down into the following categories. Just click on one and the data appears to the right.

  • Demographics - Language, Country/Territory, and City

  • System - Browser (IE, Firefox, Chrome, etc.), Operating System (Windows, Macintosh, Linux, etc.), and Service Provider

  • Mobile - Operating System (iOS, Android, Blackberry), Service Provider, and Screen Resolution

Again, the idea is to see exactly who is visiting your website, where they are located, how they are visiting (which browser or device), how long they stay, what they do, and so forth. Once you know that, you make sure your website a) provides useful information for your actual readership, and b) works for them (their browser, operating system, and device). No matter how good your website is, no matter how wonderful the information/service you provide, it’s all meaningless if no one can access it.

A Word on Acquisition

Further down the left-hand side of options, you’ll see Acquisition. Here you can find data on what is driving people to your website. How they are finding you.

Under Overview, you’ll be given data on where they are coming from - direct, social (media), referral, (other), or organic search (searching for a keyword on Google that you targetted in a blog post or article).

Under Keywords, you can see specifically what words people are searching for that ultimately bring them to your website. It gives you a list of words or phrases that people are entering into Google for which your website is returned in the search results. Unfortunately, Google is systematically hiding more and more of these, but it is still possible to see some of the keywords driving traffic to your site. For now. Use it while you can...if, for example, many people are arriving at your website after searching for “best accounting software” (a topic that you covered on your accounting site), you’d be wise to write another post on or related to that topic. People are ending up on your website for that term already, so give them more of what they want. 

How to Get Analytics Up and Running

It’s free and (relatively) easy to set up. You’ll need a Google account (of course). Go to the Analytics website and create a new account. Just follow the onscreen instructions and enter all the required information. When prompted, enter your website/blog address (URL), give it a name (whatever you’d like), and your country and time zone.

When it’s all said and done, the only thing left to do is get your unique tracking code. You can find that by clicking on the ADMIN button on the top menu bar, and then clicking on TRACKING CODE in the middle Property column. It is this tracking code you will need to import to your website in one of three ways. You need to copy the entire code, including the <script> tag at the beginning and end.

METHOD #1 – PLUGIN

This is the fastest way to import your tracking code. There are a number of very easy plugins available for WordPress that will do the heavy lifting for you. Install the plugin, and follow the instructions. Done.

Two reliable options are Insert Headers and Footers, and Google Analytics for WordPress.

METHOD #2 - PREMIUM THEME SETTINGS

Some people go out of their way to use as few plugins as possible (mainly for speed reasons…too many plugins can slow your website). If you’re using a premium (i.e. not free) WordPress theme, it might have a built-in field for the tracking code. I use the Genesis framework by Studiopress, and I was able to simply copy and paste my tracking code in the built-in field for Analytics under the theme settings.

While it is possible you might find a free theme with built-in Analytics support, it’s probably unlikely.

METHOD #3 - DIRECT PASTE

This one requires a bit of tinkering and messing around with your theme’s files. If you’re not comfortable doing that, do yourself a favour and go the plugin route. You’ll thank me (a nice email or comment would make my day!).

The Direct Paste method requires you to copy the entire tracking code and paste in your theme’s header.php, immediately after the <body> tag. Again, if that all seems like a foreign language, use a plugin.

You can find the header.php by selecting APPEARANCE, and then EDITOR, on your WordPress dashboard.

It may take up to 24 hours for the data to appear on your Google Analytics page, so be patient. It will arrive eventually (providing you followed these instructions), and when it does, you’ll have more useable data than you can shake a stick at (you know what? Go ahead and shake a stick at it anyway...you’ve earned it).

Analytics need not scare you. It sounds frightening, but the reality is very user-friendly if you’re looking for basic stats and figures. Use it wisely to create custom-made and accessible content for the people landing on your website. 

 

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