Google Analytics For Beginners: How to Read Reports in 2019

/ real-life wins
Vrinda Singh

Your digital content is your passport to success. For many of the legions of prospects out there just waiting to convert, it will provide them with their first experience of your brand.

You tailor your content with their needs in mind. You ensure that it is SEO-friendly and reaches their eyes, has UX that encourages them to spend longer on your website and the content itself provides value for them. It helps them to solve a problem that they’re likely to encounter or provides them with information and offers that are meaningful to them.

A lot of thought goes into your content… But how do you know that it’s having the desired effect on readers and their behaviour?

Google Analytics is an invaluable tool for tracking the progress of your content and campaigns. However, to the neophyte, its interface can seem intimidating.

Here we’ll demystify Google Analytics and help you to get the maximum insight out of its sophisticated reporting tools and use that information to put yourself in the driver’s seat. Let’s start with the basics…

Setting up Google Analytics

Your first port of call will be to set up a Google Analytics account. The good news is that if you already have a Google, Gmail or Google Drive account you can setup Google Analytics with this account. Or, if you prefer, you can set up a new one for your business.

Your Google Analytics account is yours and yours alone. Although you may choose to share limited access with employees or business partners, the application has a system of hierarchies that helps you to determine who gets to access what. Create a name for your account and input the URL of the website you would like to monitor.

Setting up your new account is a breeze.

You’ll also need to input your industry category and the timezone in which you’d like your reporting. Once you’ve input that data you’ll receive a Tracking ID and some Terms & Conditions to read and agree to. You’ll need to add your tracking ID to the code of every page you want to track. After you’ve done that you’re ready to rock and roll!

Setting up goals

Goals are arguably the most useful aspect of Google Analytics. Setting up custom goals for your business allows you to track specific user interactions on your site.

This can include clicks, downloads or form submissions. Whenever a user completes an action that has been marked as a “goal” by you, it’s recorded as a conversion in your dashboard.

To create a goal, simply click on the ‘Admin’ button on the bottom left hand corner of the page.

From here, select the ‘Goals’ menu and click on ‘+ New Goal’ to get started.Set the parameters for your goal based on what you’re trying to track:

As you can see, there are 4 types of goals available for you to choose from:

  • Destination: When you want a pageview to be counted as a conversion.
  • Duration: When you want a certain amount of time spent on a page to be counted as a conversion.
  • Pages/Screens per session: When you want a certain number of pages viewed within a single session to be counted as a conversion.
  • Event: When you want a certain event to be counted as a conversion, such as a button click or download.

Here’s more on goal tracking in case this is a still a grey area for you.

An important note about goal tracking

via GIPHY

While setting up goals seems relatively straightforward, there are some slightly annoying aspects of conversion tracking that Google Analytics should not be used for alone. For example, if you’re hoping to track the conversions on an online form - whether you run an online store or are simply wanting to track the submissions on an online contact, application or lead capture form, Google Analytics might not be the best option available.

For one, you would have to create a dedicated goal for each separate form, as well as an accompanying thank you page to redirect your form respondents to, which could get very tedious.

Paperform can be used to create any type of form under the sun in as little as 3 minutes.

A faster way to do this would be to create a form using one of the many form building tools available on the internet. The benefit of doing this is that form builders are tailor-made to solve such issues.

Since this is the Paperform blog, let’s consider Paperform as an example. With Paperform, once you create a form to embed to your website, you can then connect the form to Google Analytics. Paperform will then send through data to your Google Analytics account and automatically track the following actions:

  • When a form is successfully completed and submitted. This can be especially useful when you’re running an online store as it will help you track exactly how many orders have been sent through.
  • When a user starts filling out a form. This is a great example of something that’s harder to track with Google Analytics alone. With a form-building tool, this can be automatically tracked in your dashboard. There are multiple uses for this, including the fact that you can easily target users based on their level of interaction with your form. If a user started your form, completed it partially and then left, you’ll still be able to collect this data with Paperform and reach out to them directly if you wish.
  • When a user reaches the checkout stage. Again, extremely useful if you run an online store. You can also easily target these users with abandoned shopping cart emails to turn high-intent customers into converting customers.

Here’s more on how a form submission tool could really help you extract smarter insights through Google Analytics.

Getting to know the dashboard

Some of the cool things you can track with Google Analytics.

Your dashboard gives you a comprehensive overview of your website/ page’s performance within parameters established by you. By default it is set to a 30-day window, although you can change this to a 12 month period if you want a more macro perspective or even a 24 hour window if, for example, you want to see how many hits were generated from a recent PPC campaign.

The Reports menu on the left-hand side of the dashboard gives you access to more detailed reporting. Let’s take a look at the areas covered and the insights which can be gleaned from them…

Audience

An overview of the Audience dashboard.

Your audience overview gives you comprehensive insights into who’s accessing your website. Click on it and you’ll see charts that represent the following data;

  • Total sessions – Your reach. The amount of visits you’re getting. An increase will show in green while a drop will show in red.
  • Total users – How many individual users are accessing your website.
  • Page views –  How many page views per visit. Are users jumping off after spending time on one page or do they move around your site architecture.
  • Average pages per session –  How many pages do readers view on average?
  • Average session duration – Lower times don’t necessarily mean poor performance. It can merely speak to your website’s efficient UX and UI. Moreover, long session durations don’t mean users are engaging with your content. They could just be getting a sandwich. You can also get plugins that measure scroll depth for long form content.
  • Bounce rate – High bounce rates can point to problems in your back end. Long page load times are a common reason for high bounce rate. Anything above the average of 50%, may be cause for concern..
  • New vs returning –  An increase in new traffic usually means your social or content campaigns are working.
  • Geo – Find out where in the world users access your website from.

Here's more for unpacking the Audience report.

Acquisition

An overview of the Acquisition dashboard.

It’s always important to know where your users are coming from. This can tell if your co-branding venture is paying off, whether the influencers or bloggers you’ve aligned with are linking back to you or whether your social campaigns are effective.
The acquisition reports show whether users came to you through;

  • Direct Hits- They typed your URL into their search bar and came to you directly. This means they possibly saw it on a billboard or a business card or somewhere in *shudder* meatspace. Or they have bookmarked your page for future reference. Both are good signs.
  • Organic- They found you by clicking a link on a SERP related to keywords associated with your business.
  • Referral- A click from a link on a blog post or another website is a referral and usually means that your blogger outreach, influencer marketing or link building activities are working.
  • Social- Users came to your website by following a link on social media.

Here's more on the acquisition reports in case you want to dive deeper.

Behaviour

An overview of the Landing Pages report in Behaviour.

Behaviour reports provide an insight into how users behave on your website. It’s a great way to determine what content is working and what isn’t. Here you can see your top performing pages, best performing landing pages and most common exit pages (where users jump off). Keep in mind that exit pages are completely unrelated to bounce rate.

You can’t expect users to stay on your website forever but it’s important to ensure they’re jumping off where you want them to jump off. By checking out the “user flow” report, you can gain insight into how users navigate through your website and this can inform changes you make to your UX strategy.

Device

You can even determine whether users access your site most commonly through a desktop computer, mobile phone or tablet. This can provide insights into what kind of content best suits their consumption. Long form written content is not necessarily the best way to go if 85% of your users access your site through a smartphone.

In conclusion

While Google Analytics can be a little bewildering to beginners, it is an extremely comprehensive, flexible (and completely free) tool that affords you valuable insight into the performance of your website and its constituent pages.

Take the time to get to know it and you’ll always be in the driver’s seat!

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