Learn how to "read" the most critical pieces of data Google Analytics gathers on your site, and use them to take action.
Services like Google Analytics allow you to delve into a lot of information about your audience. Just as with the monstrous Great Old Ones of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, though, a simple glimpse into the vastness of all available data (over 500 Dimensions and Metrics) is enough to drive a person mad.
Unlike the inescapable horrors in the works of Lovecraft, however, you can make sense out of the chaos if you approach it methodically. You can understand what your audience wants.
You can take actions that will bring measurable results. And if they don't, repeat and reiterate, taking into account insights gained in the process. This might sound as daunting as a trip to Dunwich, but that's why we've put together these tips to help you make sense of it all:
1. Check Your Tech
Your technology must perform well since it can render your site inaccessible to a large chunk of your intended audience. A site designed only for desktop monitors will be almost unusable on a small mobile screen. If you’re using a lot of images, plugins, and other “nice to have” extras, it’s worth remembering that they impose a toll on your site’s performance.
Mobile traffic has dramatically increased, overtaking desktop traffic, and will soon be the primary way people consume content.
Google has acknowledged that most people nowadays browse the web through their smartphones, tuning their ranking algorithms to reward websites that are "mobile first." Since, theoretically, most of your visitors will be on a mobile device, you should make sure your site offers a stellar mobile experience.
To check your site’s mobile performance, pay a visit to the Mobile tab, in the Audience section of Analytics. Check out the Overview to gain some insights into how your site performs on mobile devices.
We should note, though, that by “mobile performance,” Google doesn’t (only) mean your site’s speed. By a “site’s mobile performance” Google is also referring to how your site’s design works on mobile devices.
Is it easily accessible? Is the design “fluid” and “responsive,” changing to present its content in an optimal way for all possible screen sizes and resolutions? A menu designed with a mouse and keyboard combination in mind could very well be entirely unusable on a small screen on which we use our thumbs.
In other words, if your site’s design was created primarily for the desktop, maybe it’s time you started thinking about a redesign. That is if you want to rank higher in Google Search results.
If your site is slow, your visitors won’t wait for it to load. And unfortunately, today even a 3 second load time is considered “slow”.
The Importance of Being Speedy
Google considers your site's speed as one of the most critical factors in their (updated) ranking algorithms. They are justified in doing so by real-world data since 64% of smartphone users expect web pages to load under four seconds.
With Google Analytics you can pinpoint where your site is slowest.
A mere one-second delay:
- Reduces page views by 11%
- Decreases customer satisfaction by 16%
- Eats away 7% of your conversion rate
To get a general look at your site's speed, select Behavior > Site Speed > Overview. Page Timings, the next option, offers insights on how individual pages perform.
2. Know Your Audience
By understanding your audience, you'll be able to create tailor-made content for them. Google Analytics helpfully groups everything related to your visitors under the aptly named Audience menu. From there, you can learn more about your site’s visitors, helping you customize your content for them or expand it to reel in a broader audience.
You can learn more about your audience's language, location, and the tech they use to access your site at the general Overview page. Why run local promotions on your site if most of your visitors come from a wholly different state—or even country?
If you create your content with over 35 year old males in mind, but Audience Demographics in Google Analytics show your visitors are actually under 25 and female, it’s time you updated your approach.
Audience > Demographics offers a quick glimpse into your audience's age and gender. This information can help you shift your content towards your better performing demographics.
If over 50% of your audience is in the 25-34 range, maybe scratch that post about smart hearing aids and rethink your target audience. You can get even more detailed data by visiting the Age and Gender menu entries that follow.
The Interests reports are probably the most interesting reports. Start at the main Overview report to see what types of content your visitors like, from technology to cooking. It's worth keeping in mind, but you shouldn't try forcing inappropriate content into your site, attempting to cater to everyone.
Being able to recognize the pages with the lowest bounce rates in your site will help you plan a better long-term strategy and create better performing content.
Continue to Affinity Categories to see a more detailed drill-down that also shows bounce rates. If a specific type of content has a minimal bounce rate, you just found a group of people who like what they see on your site. You should "like them back" by tweaking your content and campaigns for them.
3. Analyze Your Content
People will come to your site because of its content. They will leave for the same reason. Google Analytics can help you see what content works and what doesn't, allowing you to plan the type of content you should publish in the future.
Find what’s performing better and try to replicate those successes, while minimizing or eliminating anything that doesn’t work and ends up pushing your visitors away.
As a bonus, you can check what your visitors want to see on your site, basically providing you with a ready-to-use list of hot topics.
There is a way to know exactly what your visitors want from your site. Just look at how they use its search functionality!
Analytics' Site Search will help you understand the type of content your visitors expect to find on your site. If it doesn't exist, it will provide you with a helpful list of topics you should think about covering.
A peek at the Organic Search report of Google Analytics will show you the search terms people used to find your site. You can treat them as keywords and tweak your SEO to include them.
The Acquisition > Overview > Organic Search report will show you the search keywords that led people to your site. Based on those, you can build a list of topics you should target in the future.
For example, if your main content deals with computers, you might find that a significant chunk of your visitors are interested in an area you could easily tap into: gadgets.
You may find that it’s a good idea to add an “eco-friendly” sub-category to your cookware e-shop, promoting recyclable and reusable items. Or that adding some sporting gear reviews on your site about football will go over well with your audience.
High Traffic - Low Conversions
Some of your site's pages may perform exceptionally well as far as views go but also have a very high bounce rate. Find and tweak them to reduce the problem and boost conversions.
Select Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages to find your best performers. Then, click the "Comparisons" button (fourth after the search field). Select "Bounce Rate" from the second pull-down menu on the new report.
As you'll see, traffic is only half the picture: a lot of your most popular pages will also have a very high bounce rate. It would be best if you concentrate your efforts on engaging content that leads to conversions, not more insubstantial page views.
4. Act on Your Data
Perusing Google Analytics will give you a clearer picture of your audience and your content. You can take advantage of this newfound knowledge to expand your reach and increase your conversions. After finding what your content should be, it’s time to also take into account additional parameters that play a role in its success - like the time of publication.
Don’t post when nobody’s around to see what you posted. Find the optimal content posting times with a quick glance at the “When Do Your Users Visit” panel on the Google Analytics home page.
On the Homepage of Google Analytics, notice the "When do your users visit?" panel. There you can see a heatmap that shows the optimal time frames to publish your content. Why post something when there's no one around to see it?
As we mentioned earlier, you should also shift your content more towards the topics that are proven by cold, hard data to work and convert. Then, expand on your existing content based on the keywords people use, either to find your site or through its search.
Set Some Goals
Setting up Goals in Google Analytics will help you see if you approach your actual goals or drift further away from them. Has a post you estimated would have thousands of views achieved that goal? Are your visitors registering on your site, or are they bouncing away after one or two page views?
For help on how to set up your first goals, take a look into Google Analytics' help page on the matter.
The Tip of the Iceberg
What we just covered is only the beginning of your journey to optimize your content. You should reassess your approach to SEO based on the data you acquire. Consider this an area in constant flux: people and trends change.
By always keeping an eye on Google Analytics, you'll be able to steer your site towards success. To avoid the trappings of high performing but low converting campaigns, make sure to check out more suggestions on how to create better content.
We would love to hear more about how you use Analytics to improve your content—leave us a comment with your tips or suggestions.