There’s a lot going on underneath the hood in Google Analytics, much of it invaluable. A cursory look at what Analytics reveals will give you plenty of information to help improve your website, but if you go to the trouble of digging down, you’ll find even more there than you realised at first.
This may be because you never thought to look, or because some of it is hidden away in odd places. Whatever the reason, here’s just some of the information you didn’t know was at your fingertips all along.
We know how easy Google Analytics makes it to figure out our ecommerce store’s conversion rates, and even our costs per conversion. But what about those who aren’t building an ecommerce store, who measure success in other ways? If only Google Analytics could recognise that signing up for a newsletter counts as a conversion, or register the monetary value of an email enquiry.
Good news! Google Analytics can do just that.
Go to your Admin tab, and on the far-right column you’ll see an option called ‘Goals’. Click on it, and from there you’ll be able to set up goals that are triggered by how visitors use your site. You can create goals based on people visiting a specific URL, or how long they’re on the website or how many pages they view.
Perhaps the most useful is the URL option. Set up a confirmation page for when users sign up to a newsletter or use a contact form to make an enquiry (like /thanks.html) and set that as a destination goal. Google Analytics will now count people who land on that page as successful conversions.
Even better, you can assign a value to your goals, so if you consider a newsletter sign-up or enquiry to be worth money, you can track their value through Google Analytics, and therefore your return on investment.
To see the reports on your goals, go back to the Reporting tab, and you’ll find ‘Goals’ as a subheading under ‘Conversions’.
There are two similar but separate features in Google Analytics that allow you to track your conversion funnel, both of which have a unique purpose. Under the ‘Goals’ subheading of ‘Conversions’, you can find a way to track ‘Funnel Visualisation’ and ‘Goal Flow’.
The former, Funnel Visualisation, measures how many people pass through the conversion funnel you specify as a goal. For example, you might expect people to enter the site on your ‘Landing Page’, before heading to a ‘Tell Me More’ page, going on to the ‘Contact page’ and finally landing on the ‘Thank You’ confirmation page. Set this as your goal. You can define this funnel as part of the goal when setting it up, and Google Analytics will report on how many people go through these steps on the way to conversion. This is a great way to measure the performance of an expected funnel based on how many people enter and how many convert.
‘Goal Flow’ has a slightly different use, showing the actual use of your site before conversion. Unlike ‘Funnel Visualisation’, you don’t need to define anything for ‘Goal Flow’ other than the goal itself. After that, Google Analytics will show you the path people use to convert, including where they deviate from the funnel. This is excellent for measuring how your site is actually used, but also conveys information that may be unnecessary if your focus is the funnel.
Best practice would be to use both and compare them to make sure that your expectations match those of your users, but using either will give you valuable information on how people use your site to convert.
As with ‘Goal Flow’, ‘Behaviour Flow’ is a great way to see how visitors are using your website. You can see where they’re likely to come in, the pages they visit along the way and where they drop off.
Although it can be a little intimidating at first, the ‘Behaviour Flow’ graph (under the ‘Behaviour’ subheading of ‘Reporting’) is a great visual indicator of how your site is being used. Explore it for a while and you’ll soon be able to read it at a glance.
Most useful is seeing the most common places that visitors to your site leave, and the most common paths through the site, as well as how deep people get into the site. ‘Behaviour Flow’ allows you to track everyone, not just conversions, so you can focus on making your site a better user experience overall.
Do you have a search function enabled on your website? Do you want to see what people are searching for and, more importantly, how often and when? Google Analytics can give you plenty of data about how people use your site search, and it’s useful to measure against other factors as well.
In Reporting, under the ‘Behaviour’ subheading, you’ll find an area dedicated to information about ‘Site Search’. You can learn how many visitors to the site use site search compared with how many don’t, and measure aspects of both. Are visitors who use site search more likely to convert? What’s their average session duration? Are they more valuable than visitors who don’t bother using the search function?
You can also bring up a list of search terms that breaks down which search terms are used, by how many people and the resulting behaviour. If your site is seeing a lot of searches, this is incredibly valuable data from both a conversion rate and SEO perspective. Now you know what people are looking for, whether or not they can find it on your site, and how they behave as a result.
In a world where people might be viewing your site on a mobile phone, tablet, phablet, laptop, TV or traditional desktop PC, it’s vital to make sure that your site is flexible in its design. If you know which devices people are using to browse your site you have an even better chance of making the right calls.
Under the ‘Audience’ subheading of ‘Reporting’, you’ll find an area labelled ‘Mobile’. In the ‘Mobile’ Overview you’ll get a breakdown of the different devices used to browse your site. Google Analytics breaks down devices used into the three main categories of Desktop, Tablet and Mobile, which is generally enough to know how your site is being viewed.
If you find that people are using a mix of devices, you’ll know that responsive design is an immediate must-have. If most of your visitors are on desktop, it’s probably a less immediate concern, and you can focus more usability around the mouse-and-keyboard, larger screen style. If the majority of your users are on mobile and tablet, you’ll need a cleaner, easier to navigate site on smaller screens, and so on. Responsive design will always be important, but Google Analytics lets you know just how important any single aspect is.
Of course, from this screen you can also discover how people on different devices are using your site, so if you have an exceptionally high bounce rate on mobile devices compared to desktop, you’ll know something’s wrong. If people are navigating the site differently based on the device they use, that’s also useful information.
There’s much more to Analytics than just these five options, so don’t be afraid to explore. There’s a wealth of information at your fingertips; you just need to find it. Happy hunting!