Over the years, I’ve grown quite fond of the program Google Analytics. It’s a nifty little tool that allows you to track the performance of your website. You can find out tons of statistical information about the effectiveness of your site in real time.
I first learned about Google Analtyics (GA) about two years ago when I worked as a Marketing Analyst for an advertising company. I guess back then I was kind of a data geek and completely fascinated by the insights you can find by analyzing numbers. As an analyst, I used GA for a number of tasks: to monitor traffic to a particular site, to determine the level of audience engagement on the site, as well analyze the performance of a particular brand’s website as a result of a promotion or ad campaign. Now, it has become sort of an every day tool I use as part of my photography business. With GA, I can see the traffic levels coming to my site on a monthly or even yearly basis. The data can provide me with information about my visitors like the percentage of people coming to my site from California verses NY. I can see how people are finding my site. Oh and it gets better. GA shows me the average time people are spending on my site and how many pages they are viewing during each visit. This information is priceless to me because I can use it to see how my site is performing on a regular basis. Now don’t be alarmed, GA doesn’t provide the identities of people coming to your site, it’s strictly just a numbers thing. While there is no limit to the facts you can learn about your site, there are six main components in GA that can give you all the information you need to make an informed decision on how to maximize your web presence. They are:
- Traffic Sources
- Time Spent on Site
- Average Pages Viewed
- Bounce Rate
- Top Content
I’ll use my blog site as an example to explain what each of these terms mean.
So first you have Visits. Visits mean exactly what it states, the total number of people that visit your site in any given period. Pretty easy right? I love that GA is so user-friendly. For example, looking at arihunterphotoblog.com for the year, I see that I had over 6600 visits. But if I wanted to take it a step further, looking at the graph I see that on October 25th was the highest spike in traffic for the year. That leads me to want to know more. What was the main factor that drove such a high amount of traffic to my blog on that particular day? Looking back I see that it was Erica & Chris’ engagement session. That’s pretty good information to know. Just from this piece of data, I’m able to see what type of content resonated the most with my readers.
Now when looking at Traffic Sources, this is probably my most favorite thing to look at on GA. Traffic sources tells how visitors are getting to your site; the source of traffic in other words. Traffic Sources is broken down into three categories: Direct Traffic, Referring Traffic, and Search Traffic.
- Direct Traffic are those visitors that type in your website address or url directly into the address field. This can be a huge factor because if most of your traffic is being driven to your site by directly keying in your website address, that can signify that your visitors are very familiar with your name and presence online.
- Referring Traffic is very helpful in showing you where your traffic is coming from. It is categorized in terms of what domain is referring traffic to your site. For example, I promote my blog posts on Facebook and Twitter mainly, as most of you do. When looking at referring traffic stats, obviously I see that Facebook is the top referrer of traffic to my blog. It’s interesting to look at because you can see where your main audience is coming from. This information is good to know when marketing and advertising your site. Also you can see if someone is linking you in their webpage. For example, a photographer I had worked with previously had graciously linked me on their website and it helped drive traffic to my site. I wouldn’t have known that without looking at the data.
Do you see where I’m going with this? Google Analytics is an extremely invaluable tool for assessing website performance.
- And lastly with regard to traffic sources is Search Traffic. As you may have guessed, this component allows you to see how many people are coming to your site based on using search terms. If a person ends up visiting your site by typing in the words “wedding photographer”, this gives you an idea how your site is ranking in terms of search. If you are into “search engine optimization”, you can really capitalize on this. Search Engine Optimization strategies is a very involved topic so I’ll leave that discussion out of this post for now.
I know this has been a lot of information to digest so far but we’re almost at the end so hang in there. Working with numbers and data can be borderline coma-inducing but it can actually be very fun when the data you’re analyzing has to do with you and ultimately your business.
So let’s move onto Time Spent on Site. Basically, what this number is, is the average number of minutes or even hours that your visitors are spending on your site. What’s considered high and what’s considered a low number really depends on what industry you’re in. But for the purposes of photographers, according to GA benchmarks the average time people spend in on sites related to photography services is 0:45. This number can show you how interested your visitors are with the content of your site.
The same thing can be said for the next component, Average Pages viewed. This number tells you the average number of pages or sections of your site that people are going to. It is usually represented by a decimal number like 2.50. This says that each visitor is viewing about two and a half pages on your website. Pretty neat huh?
Up next we have, Bounce Rate. Oooohh this can be such a mean number. The bounce rate is defined as someone who arrives at your website and then immediately either clicks the “back” button or “X” to leave your site. Obviously you want to keep this number as low as possible. You don’t want people coming to your site and quickly leaving. You want them to visit your site, stay a while, and make themselves comfortable.
And last but not least we have good ‘ol Top Content. There are several ways to use this section of GA but it’s main purpose is to show how many pageviews your content is receiving. In other words, how many eyeballs are seeing your “blog posts”, the “about me” page, or anything else on your site. It is helpful to know what area of your site is receiving the most attention. For example, oddly enough my “about me” page came in as one of the top viewed sections of my blog.
And there you have it, Google Analytics in a nutshell. There was a lot of information to get through but the best way to learn the program is to just dive in and start tinkering around to see what you find. You’ll see what a powerful tool it is to have for your website and how easy it is to use. If you’re interested in setting GA up for your website, here is a great tutorial that will show you how to install it step by step.