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Dang, I wish everyone had Google Analytics installed on their websites; it lets you see how people are using your site - for free. I install it on every site we build. Clients get reports. I’m filled with joy by sharing all this amazing data and you know what they say to me? “That’s pretty Monica, but I have no clue what any of it means.” So that, my friends, is what I’m unearthing today - how to tell what people are doing on your site using Google Analytics.

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Monica Maye Pitts
Monica Maye Pitts Chief Creative Officer

How to tell what people are doing on your website

Dang, I wish everyone had Google Analytics installed on their websites; it lets you see how people are using your site – for free.

I install it on every site we build. Clients get reports. I’m filled with joy by sharing all this amazing data and you know what they say to me?

“That’s pretty Monica, but I have no clue what any of it means.”

So that, my friends, is what I’m unearthing today – how to tell what people are doing on your site using Google Analytics.

What’s Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is a free program offered by Google that tracks visitor behavior on your site. You place a line of code into your website on every page of the site and Google Analytics uses it to report things fancy things like:

  • What pages people go to 
  • How long they stay
  • How they go to your site (was it via social media, email, search, etc.)
  • Where your visitors are physically located 
  • If they’re using a desktop or mobile device to view the site 
  • And way, way more.

What would you want to know all this stuff?

Because data is awesome.  And using data to make marketing decisions is waaaay more fun than just doing it blind. But aside from that, knowing how people act on your site will help you learn things like:

  • If your marketing emails, blog and social media are working
  • If your pages have the right names
  • If your site stinks on mobile
  • What to get rid of and what to keep when you build a new site

Here’s how you tell if you have Google Analytics Installed.

If you don’t know if you have Google Analytics installed you can
check without any help from a web developer. You’ve got this.

My favorite tool for this activity is called WAPPALYZER. It’s a Chrome
browser extension that tells you a wealth of information. Whether or
not you have analytics installed is included in the treasure chest.

Once it’s installed you can click on the lovely purple icon at the top of
your browser and – walla. You’ll know.

Don’t have Google Analytics? Here’s a little trick.

Google Search the proper name of your company. In the search results, you should see the name of your company or your organization. And underneath it, generally, Google will pull out a few pages that it thinks that people are interested in.

Sometimes it shows the pages below your listing in two columns (A), and sometimes it’s in just a line under your listing (B).

(A)
(B)

For most websites, the links underneath your main site link on Google search results are the pages that get the most traffic on your site. It’s not super clear which page gets more visits or how much traffic they get but I mean, it’s better than nothing right?

NOTE: This trick will NOT work if you have a highly trafficked blog on your site. I’ve never seen blog posts show up under your main site link in search results.  You’ll need tracking to see which blog posts are popular.

Now that you’ve verified you have Google Analytics, let’s get to business.

Short vocab lesson for you. Let’s define “sessions”.

Google analytics calls the people (or devices because really it doesn’t count people it counts the number of times a site was accessed by a specific device) sessions. I call the people who visit your site “visitors”. I mean, I call them people too but, you get my drift. Site visits are another word for sessions. 

I do a few things right away before analyzing data. 

The first thing I look at is I look at my date range.

If your website doesn’t have a ton of visitors on it, then you’re going to have to look at a broader date range. You could look at it for a quarter, you could look at it for a whole year, it all depends on how many visitors you have going to your website. You just need a large enough sample of visitors that you can analyze their behavior.

Second thing I consider is location.

You want to review traffic from qualified site visitors. And if you don’t serve people in India but half of your site traffic is from there – you’re making decisions using a crappy set of data. Which may lead to crappy decisions. 

NOTE all tutorials in this article are made for Universal Analytics. Most websites built before 2021 use Universal Analytics. In Oct. 202o Google announced it’s moving to a different platform to track web visitor behavior in one spot for both apps and websites called Google Analytics 4. The terms I explain and what they mean can be used to learn how people are using your website on both analytics platforms. But how you get to that data will be different in Google Analytics 4. 

To find this information click on Audience then Geo and last Location.

Visitors from outside your area don’t usually behave as favorably on your website as people inside your service area. Because they realize that you can’t actually solve their problem for them, you don’t provide services in their area. 

If you serve a national audience inside the USA then you can just click on United States. But, if you’re are a statewide provider, then you can look at data for your state. 

Here’s a pro tip. If you really just want to view all the data I mention later in this article for a specific area you’ll need to segment your data. And you can do it. It’s easy.  

  1. Click +Add Segment
  2. Click +New Segment
  3. On the very first page at the bottom select the location you want to filter for. You can use the drop downs to add specific conditions for your area. (Hint – Region = State)
  4. Name your segment (I like to name it “[LOCATION] Traffic” or something to that effect) and click the blue Save button.
  5. Now all the data in your analytics reports are just showing visitor behavior from your chosen location.
  6. If you don’t like it and want to go back to normal just click the down arrow next to your segment and then click Remove.

Now let’s dig into the data.

You’ll find the general Sessions, Users and Returning Visitors data by clicking on Audience then Overview on the left column of Google Analytics. 

Review sessions and users. 

Just to review, sessions are the number of times your website was shown. Users are the number of unique devices that viewed your website. 

What does this data tell you?

This data tells you how often people see your website. I like to see a fairly consistent amount of visitors coming to a website month after month. 

Your traffic may fluctuate for a number of reasons. If you’re spending money on ads, or promoting an event, sending lots of emails or running radio ads – all these marketing activities cause fluctuation. 

Takeaways

  • If you’re doing lots of marketing you should have regular web traffic
  • If you just started a new type of marketing you should see a jump in web traffic
  • Traffic may be seasonal, that’s OK, no need to freak out, but good to know

Check returning visitors. 

If you are publishing regular content to your website, updating events, job posts, or publishing a blog, then you should have some returning visitors, especially if you’re doing social media and promoting it via email. 

What does this data tell you?

It tells you how deep your relationship is with the people that you’re serving. I just explained marketing can impact this data but it is also VERY different for different types of organizations. 

For example:

  • If you’re an association, you should have lots of returning visitors because your association members are generally served through your website. 
  • If you are a nonprofit, and you have people using your website to find information about your services, register for events, or to book appointments then you should have a fair amount of returning visitors. 
  • If you’re a business that emails out invoices that send people to your website to pay online, you should have quite a few returning visitors each month.
  • If you are a company that has somebody just go to their website and make a purchasing decision, never to return again then your return visitors would be far lower. 

Takeaways

  • If your goal is to deepen relationships with your audience and you are using your website to do so you should keep an eye on the “returning visitors metric”.
  • This metric fluctuates based on how often you send people to your site during the course of your business tracations and marketing activities.
  • If return visitors are low and you’re actively trying to drive traffic to your site, you need to take another look at your marketing – it’s not working right.

How to tell what people are looking at.

You’ll find this information by clicking on Behavior then Site Content then All Pages in the left column of Google Analytics.The first metric we’re looking at in this report is Page Views. A page view is just what it sounds like, each time a page is displayed it’s counted as a page view.

The first thing I do is a gut check – does it seem right? 

Do the pages on your list match up with the ones Google displayed under your search result when you Google your name. Based on your marketing efforts and your instincts do these seem like the pages you think people would want to go to in your site?

On a normal non-blogging website the homepage will have the most views. Your most popular services and your contact page should be up there too. If these pages aren’t well visited, it’s time to do some digging. Sometimes the problem is really simple – you don’t have a link to the page on any other page of your site (oh yeah people do that) and other times it’s a user interface problem that requires a bit more thinking. And I really want to bunny trail into how to tell if that’s working BUT…for the sake of your attention span I shall trudge on.

While looking at this report look at the following data:

Average time on the page. 

If they are spending under a minute on the page, then it’s either a very brief page, or it doesn’t maybe give them enough content to stick around. 

If you have a ton of sessions you probably have a ton of pageviews that feels really good. But if people only stick around for 10 seconds and leave, that doesn’t feel so good.

To determine if the average time spend on each page is askew, ask yourself:

What is on the page? 

What are you asking people to do on the page? 

How much time would it take to do that thing? 

If it doesn’t match up with the amount of time that it shows that your average time on page, then that page is likely not working for you. 

Low time on page can be a reflection of any number of things.

  • Maybe the name of a page doesn’t accurately reflect the contents of the page. People think they’re going to get other information than what you’re giving them. 
  • Or maybe your page is poorly formatted or even broken. (Please go out and look at your pages and make sure they’re not broken.) 
  • Or maybe the page is loading super slow and people aren’t sticking around long enough to read the content. 

Entrances

You can also look at the entrances. This tells you when people come into the website on a certain page. The pages with the highest entrance rate usually matches up with the extra links provided below your main listing in Google search results.

Bounce Rate

Bounce rate measures when people come in and leave from the same page without going to any other pages. If a page has a really high bounce rate, it might be because you don’t have a clear path directing visitors to the next step. 

The main pages of your site should have a bounce rate that’s lower than blog pages. Under 80% for sure. Below 60% is ideal. But some pages may naturally have a higher bounce rate than others. This is not a metric to freakout over, it’s a metric to use to help you understand how people are using your site and assist you in your troubleshooting process to make using your site better.

% Exit

% Exit is the opposite of Entrances. It tells you the percent of people who leave your site from a particular page. 

%Exit may be higher on pages with email forms, your contact page, and your homepage. Thank you pages also have %Exit. For example, if you have a contact page with an email form that upon submit takes people to a special thank you page I would expect that thank you page to have a really high exit rate, because people are likely to to leave from that page – they got what they wanted from you right? 

What brought visitors to your site?

Start on the Acquisition Overview report.

The most basic report to tell you what brought people to your site is the Acquisition Overview report. To get there click on Acquisition then click on Overview on the left. It gives you nice graphs and charts of what’s going on. So it’s a good starting spot.

Get more granular on the Channels report.

I also like to get far more granular in the Channels report, to get there click Acquisition then click All Traffic and finally click Channels.

This report tells you how each segment of traffic is behaving on your site. It breaks them down into organic search visitors, referral visitors direct email, social and paid search. You’ll use the same metrics you use to look at your individual pages to see if visitors from each source are behaving favorably, based on the determinants that we talked about earlier. 

This report will tell you if your marketing is working or not.

You can click on each channel to dig deeper into your marketing activities. If you click on social media for example it will tell you what social networks brought traffic to your site. And if you click on email it will tell you each campaign that brought traffic to your site (if you have Google Analytics tracking enabled for your email marketing emails – and you totally should, it’s worth the teeny hassle of setting it up.

Because, for example if I send out 1000s of emails a month, and only 10 people get to my site via email, then that means that something’s not right. That means that my emails aren’t really working. And I probably need to go over and look at my email data and figure out what’s going on there. 

Last but not least – look at your mobile traffic.

If your website is a good mobile site, then the behavior on the mobile version of your website should be relatively similar to the behavior on the desktop version of your website. 

You can get there by clicking on Audience then Mobile and finally Overview. You can look at the Devices report to see exactly which type of phone, tablet etc people are using but for general purposes the Overview report will tell you what you need to know without being ridiculously overwhelming. 

If, for example, it has radically different data for bounce rate pages per session, or average session duration, then I would pick up my phone and look at my website on my phone and ask myself, “what’s going on here?” 

Did it take forever to load or is it just hideous? If you serve the general public your mobile site is as important as your desktop site. According to Pew Research Center:

15% of American adults are “smartphone-only” internet users – meaning they own a smartphone, but do not have traditional home broadband service.

Reliance on smartphones for online access is especially common among younger adults, lower-income Americans and those with a high school education or less.

28% of adults age 18-29 rely on their smartphones for online access.

If your site is really performing dismally on mobile or you’re just curious you can create a segment to just view mobile traffic like you did for location!  Isn’t that just stupid cool?!?

Now you’re ready to review!!!

Two more opportunities to learn more about digging into data. 

In case you’ve loved this geek out session and want to know more about reviewing your website data, you can listen to Episode 16 on our podcast, Marketing with Purpose and it’s corresponding blog post: Digging into Data Part 1 – Reviewing Website Data

If you are planning a website right now, and you want to know what pages you need, and what to put on those pages. I have a guide for you, well three guides actually.

The Perfect Nonprofit Website Checklist

Blueprint for Construction Websites

Plan a Winning Website E-Book

I probably give you way too much information for free in those guides – I’m pretty sure my business consultant would kick my butt, but I did it anyway. Because regardless of who builds your site (though I’d love the opportunity to build it of course), you should have the right stuff on it.

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