Where do you look when you want to figure out how your blog is performing? And what about when you’re looking for ways to improve? Most writers I know don’t think about Google Analytics as more than a glorified hit counter. But it’s arguably one of the best sources of information to guide your success online.
Google Analytics doesn’t just track the number of “hits” coming to your website. It gathers information about those visits, the visitors, and their behavior.
You can learn where people are finding you (search, social media channels, referrals from other websites, etc). You can even learn what these people are like, demographically speaking. And you can analyze your best performing content, and leverage those findings to boost everything else.
But, I get it. You’re a writer. That’s a creative process, not an analytical one.
With that understanding, I don’t want to get too technical and lose you in this. So if you work with me, I think you’ll see that there’s some stuff in here that can feed your creativity. Ideally, the data you find in Google Analytics can be a catalyst for discovering some of your best work yet!
How To Set Up Google Analytics
The first thing you need is a Google Analytics account. If you have a Google account, then you should login and start setting things up right away. If not, then you’ll need to create one upon your first login. Then follow these steps:
- Click Admin
- In the Account column, click on the + Create Account button
- Under Account details, enter an Account name (your domain name or whatever you call your blog), then click Next
- Under What do you want to measure?, select Web, then click Next
- Under Property setup, enter your Website Name, Website URL, Industry Category, and Time Zone, then click Create
Once you’ve completed these steps, you get the tracking code that needs to be installed on your website. This code is what helps Google Analytics track visitor behavior while they are on your site. And don’t worry, it’s not tracking any personal information. It’s only monitoring the actions they take on your site.
The next big step is to get this code installed on your website. There are several ways you can do this. Here are just a few:
- Manual: You can copy/paste the code from this screen and paste it into a setting in your theme (if it has it) for inserting additional Header Code. Not every theme has an option like this. But if it does, this is a simple way to add the code to your site.
- Insert Headers and Footers (plugin): If your theme doesn’t have a field where you can add header code, this plugin gives you that option. Simply install it, and then copy/paste your Google Analytics code into the Header field in the plugin settings.
- Other Plugins: There are dozens of other options for plugins that connect your website with your Google Analytics property. Here are a few of the more popular ones:
Which option you use is really up to your personal preference. Some of the plugins will bring basic analytics information into your website’s Dashboard, and some have premium features too. But every option here will connect your website for gathering information, and that information will be available on the Google Analytics website.
Understanding Basic Terms in Google Analytics
Most of the creatives I know get lost in Google Analytics, simply because they don’t understand what they are looking at. And that starts with understanding the terms we see in the data. So let’s take a quick look at some of the most important terms you’ll encounter.
Users are just that. Individual people who visit your website. New Users represent the number of people who have not been to your website previously. It also means that the difference between those numbers is how many repeat visitors you’re getting.
Sessions are a count of how many visits there were on your site. It could include new and repeat users.
Pageviews is the total number of pages visited. If I (a single user) visit your site once (a single session), and read five blog posts, then that’s five total pageviews. Building on this, Pages/Session represents the average number of pages navigated on your site when someone comes to visit. A low Pages/Session ratio (closer to “1”) means that people are not engaging much with your content.
Avg. Session Duration represents the average amount of time people spend on your site. Just like Pages/Session, the lower this number is, the less engaged people are when they visit. Ideally, you want people to spend more time on your site, so exploring ways to increase this is worth the effort.
Bounce Rate refers to the percentage of visitors who visit a single page/post and then leave (bounce). Higher numbers here indicate lower quality as it relates to engagement. Your goal should be for visitors to visit more than one page. Does your page design support this?
In the Acquisition reports, you’ll see terms referring to where visitors come from. Direct refers to people who type in the website address into the browser (or similar action). Organic Search refers to traffic coming from search engines via regular (non-ad) search results. Referral shows traffic coming from links on other websites. Social breaks down traffic coming from social media channels.
3 Ways To Get The Most Out Of Google Analytics
As you become more familiar with these terms, there are some cool ways you can leverage the data to help you improve your blog. With the reports we’re looking at, it’s worth mentioning that you can change the date range for the data by changing the date setting in the top-right corner of the page. Sometimes I like to pull reports showing as much as the last six months of data so that I get a bigger base of behavior trends. And if you’re feeling adventurous, you can compare to a previous period.
1) Understand Your Best Traffic Sources
Go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels, and evaluate where your traffic is coming from. And don’t just look at which are getting the highest volume, but which are getting the best quality of traffic too. So if Organic Search is getting you less traffic than Social, but the visitors appear to be better quality (lower bounce rate, higher pages/session, and avg. session duration), then that would indicate that you should focus more effort on improving your SEO.
Also, with any of these channels, you can click on the link in the list to drill down deeper. For example, clicking on Social will show you which social media platforms people are coming from (and how they are performing). In the same way, evaluate the quality of traffic coming from each channel. If something is not producing any traffic for you, and any that is coming is low quality, then stop wasting your time on it!
The idea here is to identify where you should be focusing your efforts for the best results.
2) Find Your Best Performing Pages/Posts
Go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages, and you’ll see a list of pages ranked by total page views. Especially if you look at this over a longer period of time, you’ll see which content on your site is performing the best historically. Again with this information, don’t look just at the number of page views, but also look at the quality of the traffic coming to those posts.
Do you have posts that are getting lots of visits, but also have a really high bounce rate (or really low time on page)? Then you may want to review what that post looks like and make some revisions designed to keep people around longer and/or encourage them to visit other pages. If a post is getting higher traffic, then it’s doing a good job of getting people on to your site. You’ll just want to do a better job of keeping them once they are there.
In fact, make a list of your top ten performing blog posts, and spend some time optimizing them. Then maybe relaunch them, sharing again on social media and/or to your email list. The idea here is to not let your best content go to waste. Keep using it to drive more traffic and engagement.
3) Learn About Your Users’ Behavior
Go to Audience > Mobile > Overview, and you’ll see what percentage of your traffic is visiting your site on various device types. While the trend is definitely towards mobile, that’s not always the case for everyone. As I write this, I’m looking at data for a website that is getting over 83% of its traffic via desktop computers. So very little is coming via mobile. But for others, that may be flipped towards mobile or tablets.
It’s also important to point out again that you shouldn’t look just at how much traffic is coming on each device, but look at the quality of the traffic too. If you have a high volume of mobile traffic, but the quality stats are really bad, then you’ll need to fix that experience.
The key here is to know your visitors. If 80% of your visitors are coming to you on a mobile (phone) device, then you’ll definitely want to make sure your website is designed primarily from a mobile perspective. So things like a sidebar on your blog may be irrelevant, or even invisible. How are you dealing with that?
Google Analytics can be a powerful tool to help you improve your blog. While most people use it merely to see how many visitors they get when they publish a new blog post, its real power lies in understanding the data it gives you. Especially when you know how to use that data to build a great strategy for website growth.
Sure, this means you’ll need to get a little strategic. And I encourage you to not get paralyzed by overwhelming yourself with the data. However, it’ll be worth your time to dig in and allow the information to guide you. Who knows, you may find it freeing by being able to release some efforts that simply aren’t producing any fruit for you.
What questions do you have? And if you’ve been using Google Analytics, what ways have you used the data to help you improve your blog?To get the most out of your Google Analytics, understand your best traffic sources. To get the most out of your Google Analytics, find your best performing pages and posts. To get the most out of your Google Analytics, learn about your users' behavior.
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