Google Analytics is a powerful reporting tool that gives you metrics on website performance. It gives you reports on the number of users who access your site, conversions to customers, search engine traffic, page views and even SEO properties such as site speed and search engine impressions. This article explains some basic concepts of the Analytics dashboard and how these reports tie in with your website success.
Google Analytics is a powerful tool used to track user behaviors and search engine traffic sent to your site. Combined with other SEO sources, you can use Analytics for a number of reports to identify strengths and weaknesses in your SEO marketing campaigns. Analytics links with Google Webmaster Tools to provide in-depth analysis that helps drive decisions for future marketing efforts.
You first need to place the Analytics tracking code into your site. This article assumes that you have an Analytics account and you’ve placed the tracking code in your site’s HTML.
Google Analytics Dashboard at a Glance
When you first open Analytics, you’re presented with a dashboard containing basic information about the overall performance of your site. The first report is the number of sessions for your site. A session is a connection between a visitor and the web server. One user can have multiple sessions, so you can’t equate sessions with the number of actual users who viewed your site. However, you can get a general idea of how many visitors came to your site from session numbers.
Google Analytics uses sessions to track activity on your site. When you view other information such as pageviews and conversions, these metrics are taken from the user’s session information. A session lasts from 30 minutes (the default) to four hours. The length of time for a session is set in the Analtyics preferences for your account. If you run an ecommerce store, your users might take an hour or two to browse your store. In this case, you would increase your session length to four hours to accommodate for the amount of time it takes for a user to browse products and then check out.
The true value for users is in the “Users” graph. The users count is a combination of new and returning users. Most website owners track website success by the number of unique new visitors who access the site, but returning visitors are a bigger accomplishment than new ones. Returning visitors were interested in your content and returned directly to your site. You also have a statistically higher chance of selling products to a returning user than a brand new visitor who found your site from a search engine query.
The graph with the global map gives you a snapshot of visitor locations. Darker colors mean a majority of visitors come from that particular country. For instance, most US English sites are ranked higher in the US for US-related queries. If your site is gaining more visitors from countries outside of your target, you could have a problem with your SEO. This problem could occur when you’ve hired a backlink builder who spammed your link on non-US sites.
The revenue and goals graph is a custom graph you set up to indicate user engagement. For instance, you place the Analytics code on an order “thank you” page on an ecommerce site. This page is generally used after a user completes payment for products or services. You then set Analytics to add the user’s sale to custom revenue and goals reports. When a user checks out and pays for products, Google Analytics picks up this conversion and indicates that you’ve made a sale in the related graphs. The result is that you have a powerful tracking tool that tells you if you’re making your sales goals each month.
There are several ways you can use Analytics for SEO. First, click “Search Engine Optimization” in the “Acquisition” section. This section links directly with your Webmaster Tools account to show you a number of important metrics.
The first metric is the number of impressions. An impression is when your website link shows up when a user performs a search engine query. An impression doesn’t tell you where you rank in search results. Your site could rank on the first page or the hundredth page. Most website owners use third-party tools to determine rank. However, what it does tell you is that your site is included for a specific search phrase.
The next metric is clicks. Clicks happen when a user clicks your page link in search engine results. It’s normal to have a very low click rate compared to impressions. The rate at which a user clicks your link versus the number of impressions is called the click-through rate or CTR. You can improve your CTR by creating much better titles for your pages. Look at the search result pages and you’ll notice that titles are what stand out in Google. A good title entices users to click your link over your competitor’s. When users click your link over another higher ranked site, Google takes note that your site was more enticing and will eventually rank you higher. Avoid keyword stuffing or creating titles just for search engines. In some cases, Google will generate its own title for your site. If your title is too spammy or keyword stuffed, Google uses sentences from your content or meta description tag instead of the title you set in the HTML title tag. The issue is frustrating for site owners, but the takeaway lesson is not to keyword stuff titles. Keyword stuffing does more harm than good.
While Google doesn’t tell you the exact position for your pages in search results, it does give you an average position. The average is compared to the aggregate number of queries and results for your impressions. The average is usually lower than your highest ranking pages, but most webmasters worry that the average is the actual position throughout all pages. The only way you can know your exact position is to use third-party tools. Ranking is dynamic and has several factors associated with it including your location, personalized results and search history. You can’t get an accurate account of your rank by searching on your own computer.
Analytics gives you a number of landing pages associated with your site. These pages are the ones that users open when they find your site in search results. Compare the number of sessions and users for each landing page with the impression and clicks listed in the SEO section. With landing page numbers, you can identify which pages are ranking and the keyword phrases that each page is ranking for. For instance, if the majority of your impressions and clicks comes from “red widgets” and you have a landing page that has a high return from search engine queries, you know that the landing page is probably ranking for “red widgets.” It’s especially clear if the page is optimized for red widgets and it’s also receiving a large portion of search engine traffic.
Google no longer gives you search terms for search engine traffic, so you need to estimate using some common sense and multiple Analytics reports. When you know what pages rank, you can add content to your site related to the subject. Add these content pages as related links to currently ranking pages and you engage readers to read more. Engaged readers have a higher chance of buying products or even clicking an ad if you rely on ad revenue.
Just remember that it takes time to gather enough data to properly analyze reports. Give Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools at least a month to gather data and give you statistics. Once you follow Analytics reports closely, you can use them to identify strengths and weaknesses in SEO campaigns for content, ads and social media.