In late 2005, Google released a free tool that can be installed on a website and tracks all the web traffic to and from the site. This tool, Google Analytics (GA), has been a mainstay for developers, marketers, and site owners since.
GA offers us an interesting view of what is going on with a website, but we need to be careful when looking at large amounts of data. It can tell us much about our site, but it can also show things that might not reflect real user behavior. Here are some tips to help you navigate the sometimes-complicated world of Google Analytics.
Look beyond a single data point
Looking at what happens on one day or one week does not necessarily reflect what is a typical experience on your site. Instead, look at larger chunk of data to help see what daily or weekly traffic looks like in aggregate.
Compare over similar time periods
Some businesses or websites are seasonal, so comparing the traffic of a fitness equipment website’s traffic in January to that of December is not a fair comparison. Instead, try to use a year-over-year comparisons if enough data exists, or just accept the data for what it is, a seasonal peak or valley. Don’t get too excited or upset if the month afterwards, the comparisons look very different.
More than people visit your website
One hundred or a thousand visitors in a day might look great, but remember that not all traffic is from an actual human. Web spiders and search engines crawl and index the entire web on a daily basis. In addition, there is malicious software and servers out there that could show up as legitimate traffic. Don’t believe that your visit count is always what the analytics report shows Instead, try to filter out traffic from locations that do not make sense for your website. If you have a non-profit that promotes animal welfare in the Midwest, it is not likely you will have visitors from Ukraine or South Korea.
Bounce rates are dramatically different based on your website design
A bounce rate determines how many people land on your page, but leave from the same page they entered on. It is natural to want this rate lower and lower, and have people spend more time on your website. But, if your visitor has landed on the page that had the exact information they were looking for, this might be a successful visit and still count as a bounce. Instead, setup goals in analytics to track certain behavior, like filling out forms, or visiting certain pages. This way, if someone gets to the content, or call-to-action as you intend, it will report a conversion and not a generic bounce.
With these tips, you can begin to see who uses your site, how they use it, and what you can do to help them get the most from your website.