Demystifying Google Analytics

Creepy path in foggy woods

If we try to imagine the world without search engines, we quickly realize how dependent we are on them. Search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing have increasingly become an integral part of our daily lives.

A poll conducted by CNN showed that people viewed Google more favorably than tech giant Apple. A common response people give when asked a question is “just Google it” since it can generate an answer within seconds. When we need directions, many of us turn to Google maps to show us the fastest route and where to avoid bad traffic. It should come as no surprise that when business owners want insight into what drives traffic to their websites, they turn to Google Analytics.All business owners are vying for traffic to their website. It would be difficult for online marketers to develop or fine-tune an online advertising strategy without being able to analyze user data. Google Analytics is a solution to the question of how visitors interact with a website and on what level they engage. It can help you have a deeper understanding of how to improve a user’s experience. The goal of an online marketer is to convert the percentage of visitors into customers. The way to do that is to understand what source the traffic is coming from and develop a marketing plan with the analyzed data.

Learning the Traffic Sources

Analytics breaks the sources, also known as channels, down into four categories. The data collected will show you where your visitors originated from. This information can be found in the overview heading under the Acquisition section.

Sample output of Google Analtics overview

  1. Organic Search:  Any traffic that visits your website from using Google’s default search engine list is what Analytics considers to be organic. This means that a user either typed a phrase or used certain keywords in the search bar and clicked on what would be considered a natural result. It also includes paid links that are listed after a search has been done.
  2. Direct or None:  Visitors that arrive to your website without an identifiable source are direct traffic. Here is a list of some ways that Google Analytics will not know where the user originated from:
    1. User types in a URL
    2. User visits a website by clicking on a bookmark
    3. User clicks on a link in a mobile app
    4. User clicks on a link from a secured site that goes to an unsecured website
    5. User clicks on a URL shortener
  3. Referral:  A user who visits your site via a referral link from another website would be considered referral traffic. For example, if a blog has a link to your site and a user clicks on that link, it would be considered referred traffic.  
  4. Social:  This feature in Analytics helps track what traffic comes to your site from clicking on a link via social media. While it can give you an overall picture of how well your marketing campaign is working or not, it has its limits. If a URL shortener is used, like or tinyurl in Facebook or Twitter, it will not show up in your social data report.

Bounce Rate and How to Improve it

Bounce rate refers to the percentage of traffic that came to your site and left without interacting with it, also known as single page sessions. Some reasons a user may “bounce” are:

  1. The material wasn’t relevant to the user
  2. The user found the information he needed on the landing page
  3. The website had usability or aesthetic issues

To compare the bounce rate of each source to the site average navigate to the Channels sub-heading under All Traffic. Switch to the comparison view by clicking on the comparison icon. Comparing which traffic sources have higher bounce rates and which ones have a lower percentage can reveal which marketing strategies are working and which ones need revision.  

In the example below the organic traffic source created the most sessions but did not have the lowest bounce rate. Social traffic created the least number of sessions but it had the lowest bounce rate.

Sample output of google analytics traffic types

This means that the users from social and organic traffic engaged with the website and created the most conversions. From a marketing perspective, if you paid for advertising on referral sites and it is generating a high bounce rate, then you need to make sure that your ad is clear, concise, and contains the information that you paid for. In paid search advertising or Cost-Per-Click it is also helpful to check what keywords are being used. You may need to change keywords to better reflect your website content. If bounce rates continue to be high despite adjustments, consider re-designing the landing pages of your website.

Average Session Duration

Analyzing bounce rate offers only part of the story. Analytics will break down the percentage of time a user stays engaged on your website. In the same comparison chart, click on average session duration compared to the site average. You can see which traffic source is giving you the highest level of engagement. To keep this in context, let’s break it down further. Choose a channel by clicking on it. From there you can switch your Primary Dimension to keyword, source or landing page.

Keyword types in Google Analytics

Focusing on sources, you can see from the example below that organic searches from AOL performed better than average for session duration, but it also had relatively low sessions at only 15. Google sent the most visitors to the site, but engagement level was low in comparison.

Traffic sources in Google Analytics

If you switch the Primary Dimension to Keyword, it will focus on what search words resulted in a longer level of engagement.

Google Keyword searches in Analytics

By reviewing the keywords you can see how Google is interpreting the content on your site. It also allows you to be more accurate with marketing efforts, by determining which keywords are getting you the desired results.

Viewing Conversion Goals by Traffic Source

A conversion goal is the measurement of an action completed by a user on a website. These goals can be whatever you assign them to be, but some common goals are:

  1. A user completes a purchase
  2. E-mail marketing subscriptions
  3. A link or button click
  4. Submitting a form
  5. Clicks to social accounts
  6. Watching a video

In the data below, with goal 1 setup as registration, the traffic source with the highest conversion percentage is Social.

Chart with traffice sources

By digging a bit deeper into Social the data shows that Facebook is providing the most registrations compared to the site average. Seeing what traffic sources are providing you with the best conversion results can help improve your analytics strategy.

The Potential of Information

You will gain a better understanding of how your business is performing by having a well rounded campaign. Implementing Google Analytics provides not only a big picture of your overall marketing strategy, it also allows you to delve into what sources are giving you an edge. The data analytics provides can help you make the changes that you need to enhance your business.