Google Analytics for Marketers (& Designers, Too!)

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If you actively maintain a website, whether it’s your own or your company’s, I’m guessing you’ve at least heard of Google Analytics. Just in case, Google Analytics is a free service provided by those tech geniuses that measures website traffic stats. It may sound complicated (and full of math – scary!) but Google Analytics was designed with digital marketers in mind (and you designing folks). Unlike a lot of free tools out there that generate filler and unimportant data, Google Analytics can be really useful if you’re looking to measure performance, or launch a keyword campaign to boost your SEO. There are a few things in particular you’ll want to understand (and pay attention to); use this guide to teach you or refresh your knowledge.

Visits vs. Visitors

One of the first things you’ll see when you access your site’s Google Analytics is the number of visits it’s had in the last month (the default period of time, which you can adjust by specifying dates on the calendar). It’s important that you know the difference between visits and visitors, because this could be a key factor in your site’s success or failure. Visits simply show how many times the website was pulled up on someone’s device. Visitors, on the other hand, refers to how many people pull up the website on their devices. Let’s say only one person pulls up your website in a month, but that person does so five times. Google Analytics would report that you had one visitor, and five visits. See the difference?

Why it matters: If you have a lot of visits but only from a few visitors, you might not have that broad reach you’re seeking. Likewise, if you have about the same amount of visits as you do visitors, people might not be coming back. We’ll talk more about this when we hit “bounce rate” so stay tuned!

Traffic Sources

Google Analytics gives you a nifty little pie chart that shows how people are reaching your site. There are three categories (though the extremely elusive “Other” category does infrequently show, but it’s usually so small it’s insignificant): direct traffic, referring sites, and search engines. Direct traffic refers to the number of people who type in your URL and then view your site. Referring sites are places that have your site as a link (if you tweet your URL, Twitter will show up as a referring site, for example). Search engines is exactly how it sounds: people are typing in some sort of keyword (or searching you directly) and then clicking onto your site.

Why it matters: Running a blog and seeding entry URLs mostly through social media? You’ll want to pay attention to how many of those are referring sites (and what percentage of traffic they attract) to gauge success. Targeting keywords as part of an SEO campaign? If search engines aren’t a big sliver of that pie, you might want to go back to the Adwords Keyword tool, and redo some research. Is most of your traffic coming directly? Either everybody knows your domain, or nobody knows your domain and the only reason they’ve viewed your site is because they know you personally.

Tip: If you’re running a local campaign (in Philadelphia, for example) paying attention to the map is also important. If you’re targeting PA but your visitors are mostly from CA, it’s back to the drawing boards for you.

The Bounce Rate

You’re probably wondering what a bounce rate even is, right? Basically, it’s the measurement of visitors who view your site and then leave it (or “bounce”) as opposed to checking out other pages. Google Analytics represents this as a percent, so if you have a bounce rate of 45%, that’s the amount of visitors who simply “peace out” before browsing deeper.

Why it matters: It all depends on what your website is, and who you want to attract. If you’re a restaurant whose address is clearly visible from the homepage and you have a high bounce rate, perhaps people are visiting your website just for that piece of information. If business is still booming, you may not need to worry. However, if you’re a small business with a blog and you have a high bounce rate, it’s probable that your visitors don’t even know it exists (or that you haven’t given them a reason to care about it). Use a little qualitative analysis along with the numbers you see to diagnose what the problem is – if there is one.

Designers – This One’s For You!

Finally, your section has arrived! I didn’t forget about you, don’t worry. Hidden in the Visitors section of Google Analytics are several things of interest to you:

  1. Browsers: You can see who the key players are so you know which browsers to test as you’re designing. Likewise, if you’re getting a lot of bug reports and most people are using IE, you might be able to zero in on the problem.
  2. OS: Sometimes, things look different on a Mac than they do on a Windows-based machine. Google Analytics reports what systems people are browsing from to help you work around this.
  3. Screen resolution: Finally, you can see what size the majority of visitors are able to see things in! Now, you can create a design that looks pretty on a 1024 x 768, but still makes sense on a 1280 x 800 screen.
  4. Mobile: Google Analytics also shows what mobile devices people are navigating from. Have lots of iPad traffic, but also lots of Flash elements? It might be time to rethink your design based on how people are seeing it.

So, what have we learned? Google Analytics isn’t just for techies and search engine disciples – it’s really useful for the digital marketing and designing crowd. As with anything, the numbers Google spits out require a little thought and analysis to bring them to life. However, they do serve as useful guides when it comes to researching your success, or identifying a place to start. Now that you’re armed and ready, get out there and investigate your site!

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