Data is objective. It’s pure facts. No personal opinions, biases, or judgments. You don’t necessarily need to be driven by data alone, but it can influence you. It’s there to shed light on what’s going on, and help you make more informed decisions. Monitoring the visitor data can help you identify how to improve and further grow your site.
Google Analytics is the free app of choice
It’s a quick process to register your site. The only thing you need to do for tracking to start is to add a piece of code. Google Analytics plugin is the easy way to place this code on your WordPress site.
Google Analytics is an advanced app and novices can get lost in all the data it provides. It’s not so easy to find the signal in the noise. This article will help you explore Google Analytics and get familiar with it. Let’s take a look at the main sections and identify some of the most useful metrics to keep an eye on.
Audience: A deeper look into who your visitors are
The “Audience” section is as straightforward as the name suggests. It gives you full details into who your audience is. Overview is a gateway to exploring this section. You get the complete overview at a glance:
- Visitors you’ve had in the period (Users),
- How many were new to your site (New Sessions),
- Number of pages they viewed in total (Pageviews),
- Time they’ve spent on your site (Average Session Duration),
- How many visited only one page and left (Bounce Rate)
You can then dig deeper to learn even more:
- Demographics (age, gender),
- Geographics (location, language),
- Mobile shows you devices used (mobile, tablet, or desktop),
- Technology shows you operative systems, browsers, and screen resolutions
- Interests of your visitors, all segmented into categories such as “Movie lovers”, “News junkies” and “Travel buffs”
- Behavior tells you the percentage of new visitors vs. returning visitors
- Benchmarking allows you to compare your site’s performance against similar pages
So how can you use all this data? It can influence many design decisions. How does your design look on browsers and screen resolutions that most of your visitors use? Use one of the cross browser testing tools to find out. Are majority of your visitors using smartphones? Better get a mobile responsive design.
Content decisions can be determined by this data too. Should you introduce content in a new language? Should you publish more content on some topics that you’ve neglected but that your visitors have shown interest in? Or should you write in the style that might be more appropriate to the age and gender of your audience?
Acquisition: All about how your visitors discover you
Acquisition is all about where and how your visitors find your content.
- Do they find you in search engines? (Organic Search)
- How about the different social media platform? (Social)
- Do any other sites drive traffic to you? (Referral)
- Is anyone clicking on the newsletters you’re sending? (Email)
- Do visitors just type in your URL or click on a bookmark? (Direct)
You can also compare “the quality” of traffic from the different sources. Do Facebook or Twitter visitors spend longer time on your site?
It’s no longer easy to find the keyword phrases people use to find your content in search engines. Searches are now encrypted, so they show as “not provided”. What you can do is discover what articles drive the most traffic from search engines. Explore “Organic Search” and in “Secondary dimension” select “Landing page” under “Behavior”.
Connect your Analytics with Search Console. There’s a “Search Queries” report available. It shows keyword phrases your site ranks for, the average position, and the number of clicks. See this guide on getting started with Google Search Console.
All this data answers a lot of questions about the efficiency of your marketing activities. Are you spending a lot of your time on a platform that brings no visitors? Have you neglected a source that shows a lot of potential? Was that guest post or that interview you did worth the time?
This can help guide you to spend more time on activities that make the difference and ignore those that don’t.
The ghost referral spam
A thing may puzzle you when checking the stats for pages that refer visitors. You may notice sites sending traffic, but if you visit them, you see that they don’t link to you.
“Ghost referral” is a spammy technique from people targeting site owners. This fake traffic is their hope that you’ll notice them, visit their site, and buy their products.
Some domains that are known for using this are buttons-for-websites.com, social-buttons.com, darodar.com, and semalt.com. You may discover some others too.
One way to recognize a spam referral is the 00:00:00 average session duration.
Ignore these scams. Don’t buy their products. You can also exclude them from your reports:
- Click “Admin” in the top menu
- Pick your account and on the left-hand side click “All filters” and then “New filter”
- In “Add filter to view” fill in the spam site name in the “Filter name” field
- Under “Filter type” press on “Custom”
- In “Filter field” select “Referral” and in “Filter pattern” put in the URL of the spam site without http
- Select which site to “Apply filter to views”
- Click “Save”
These sites will now no longer show in your referral reports. And Google will get better at automatically filtering these scams out too.
Behavior: All about the performance of your content
Behavior section focuses on your site itself. How quickly does it load and how your visitors consume your content. It’s an amazing feeling to have real people from all over the world enjoy content that you have created.
- Discover the number of times visitors entered your site through a particular article (Entrances),
- See which of your articles are the most engaging (Avg. Time On Page),
- Identify which posts have the highest number of visitors leaving your site from (Exit)
- See how fast your web host is (Avg. Domain Lookup Time and Avg. Server Response Rate),
- See how fast your site loads (Avg. Page Load Time)
- See how many visitors use your search field (Sessions with search),
- And what they are searching for (Search term)
- View a heat map that shows you what visitors are clicking on (In-Page Analytics)
- Explore what paths visitors take when on your site (Behavior Flow and Navigation Summary)
So what can you learn from this section? A lot. First of all, make sure your site is accessible and quick to load. If you’re not happy with your loading time, take a look at this advice on how to speed up WordPress.
Then take a deep dive into your content. Analyze how your visitors interact with your site and your content. What type of posts do people enjoy the most? What do they visit the most, what do they spend the most time on, what has the least amount of bounces. What can you learn so that you can make your not so appealing posts more exciting? Figure out what can be improved and attack those problems. Execution is everything.
Also take note of what your visitors are searching for in the search field. Is an important post difficult to find and maybe deserves a better placement on your home page or your sidebar? Do the search for a topic that you haven’t covered well enough (or haven’t covered at all). Create some content about it.
You can even do “experiments” in this section. These are A/B tests where you publish more than one variation of a specific page and see which of the alternatives delivers the best results. This is useful for testing the design and performance of a landing page.
Turning to the adjusted bounce rate
One metric that helps you measure the value your content creates to your audience is the bounce rate. It represents the percentage of visitors who enter your site but leave without visiting any other page on your site. If the bounce rate is high, the chance is that your content is not engaging or that you’re not attracting a targeted audience.
An issue with the default bounce rate is that it doesn’t take into account those people who visit an article, find it interesting, spend time on it, but leave because they are happy and got what they came for.
Google allows you to change this. By adding an extra line of code in your Google Analytics, you can alter the definition of bounce rate. Exclude people who have spent a certain amount of time on your page before leaving. This is the adjusted bounce rate.
I set it at 60 seconds. A minute is enough time for a person to spend on a page and show that the content was interesting and engaging. Insert this code between the ga(‘send’, ‘pageview’); and the finishing line of your universal code:
Change the 60000 number to include the specific number of milliseconds. 60000 is for 60 seconds. Now you have a more real view of what pages are engaging. Pages that have a high bounce rate after this change need to be looked at for you to figure out how you can make them better and more enjoyable.
Conversions section is all about the return on investment on your activities. This is especially relevant if you are selling something or you have other lead generating activities.
I’d recommend you set up ecommerce tracking by using this guide. This helps you track product sales, purchases, and other commercial metrics.
Do create goals by using this guide. Goals help you track different activities such as subscriptions to a mailing list, or clicks on external links.
Time for you to take action
Create a custom dashboard with all the metrics that matter to you. This way everything you care about will be in one place and will save you a lot of time. Here’s a list of all the dashboards that were set up by other users. You can also install the Google Analytics mobile app. It features an assistant that draws insights from your data and presents you trends you need to know.
Note that stats can fluctuate a lot on a daily basis. It all depends on new posts published, someone influential sharing your content, syndication of your content on a popular publication, and so much more. Don’t be overly concerned about these day-to-day ups and downs but look at it in the longer term.
Compare a metric across longer time periods as that is a better indicator of real progress. You can export your data, and schedule it be sent automatically via email on a regular basis. A yearly review is useful for this type of big picture analysis.
And a word of warning before you dive in. Remember that just checking the stats all the time will not help your site grow. It can get addictive to visit the Real-Time section of Google Analytics where you see what people are doing on your site right at this moment.
But spending hours on that is not a very productive use of your time. Review the analytics and discover what they teach you about content and visitors. Then it’s time to take action and work on improving the trends.