In my last post, I took a look at a few of the SEO tools that are out there for evaluating your website (or potential partner sites.) And they were all incredibly valuable tools. But perhaps even more valuable is one tracking tool that absolutely every digital marketer should become adept at using: Google Analytics.
What makes Google Analytics so vital for SEOs and other digital marketers? The sheer amount of meaningful data it provides. With a quick glance you can learn about the performance of various traffic segments, measure goal completions, and identify trends among visitors to your site. And did I mention it’s all free? It really is a powerful tool and one that anyone with an online business should be utilizing to its full potential.
Understanding the Basics
If you’re brand new to using Google Analytics for SEO, the first thing you’ll notice is how much information it presents! Upon logging in you’ll be greeted by an overview of actions that your audience is performing. This will include basic stats like total sessions, individual users, pageviews, pages per session, average session duration, bounce rate, and percentage of new sessions/visitors.
You’ll also notice several different categories in the left sidebar, including (at the time of this writing) Dashboards, Shortcuts, Intelligence Events, Real-Time, Audience, Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversions. Each of these categories has its own submenu filled with unique options for breaking down various types of actions, demographics, popular pages, etc. You could easily spend hours on end sorting through all of the data, but here are a few things you need to know in order to get the most out of Google Analytics to improve your digital marketing.
Almost all of my deep digs into Google Analytics being with a quick overview of the performance of my site’s various channels. You can find this report under Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels. From here you’ll be able to see how Organic stacks up against other traffic channels, namely Direct, Email, Referral, Display, Social, and Paid Search. You’ll get an idea of what percent of your site traffic comes through each channel, and how each of them performs in terms of bounce rate, page metrics, and e-commerce conversions.
If you click through to the “Organic Search” report, you’ll get a detailed look at which keywords brought the most visitors to the site (spoiler alert: “not provided” will be the big winner…) and how those users performed once on the site. Take time to sort by % of new sessions/users, bounce rate, and transactions/revenue. This will paint a clear picture of which keywords are really providing the most value and which keywords are leading to broken or inefficient funnels (for example, if a keyword has an especially high bounce rate, there is a good chance the page is a poor match for what real-life users are actually looking for.)
One thing you ought to know is that much of your “organic” traffic will actually be branded searches. For all intents and purposes, these searches should be direct traffic (and would, if many users were not too lazy to actually type in your exact business URL.) Many times, SEOs rely on these branded searches to bolster their organic numbers even though this traffic is often a result of offline, social, or paid branding.
Once you’ve gotten a lay of the land from the Organic Channel report, the “Queries” report will give you a deeper look into the trends that surround each keyword. This report can be found under Acquisition > Search Engine Optimization > Queries, and consists of five columns: Query (i.e. keyword,) Impressions, Clicks, Rank, and Click-Through Rate (CTR). As a warning, Google needs about 48 hours to compile this report, so you won’t be able to view any of the stats for the most recent two days.
My favorite part of this report is that it gives you an accurate understanding of which terms you’re getting the opportunity to convert for (impressions,) which terms you’re actually converting for (clicks/CTR,) and where you’re ranking for those terms. To give you a better idea of just how helpful this report can be, I’ll offer up a few recent examples.
The other day I was researching a client whose rankings were holding solid – and in many cases improving – but whose organic traffic numbers had dipped from the previous month. As I dug into the Queries report, I discovered that impressions for a few key terms were actually up during the ongoing month, but that clicks and CTR were down. It turned out that we were competing against our own paid ads for those terms, and the paid ads were attracting a good share of the traffic that had previously belonged to organic alone. This didn’t present a problem since we also manage PPC for the client, but had we been competing with ads from other companies, this would have been a signal to improve our calls to action (titles and meta descriptions) in order to improve CTR.
On another recent occasion I was digging into a new client’s analytics for whom we’d only recently begun making onsite optimizations. Unfortunately there didn’t appear to be any major improvements in organic traffic, at least for the new keywords we were targeting. A quick dig through the Queries report revealed that we were indeed receiving impressions for the targeted term, but were not yet ranking in a position to receive many of the clicks for that term. This was extremely encouraging and filled in an important gap in the information we’d found in the Channels report.
Many businesses – especially brick and mortars – rely on geographical targeting to achieve the highest possible ROI for their advertising dollar. You can find information on the location of your visitors in a few different places within Google Analytics. The first is the Location report, which you can find under Audience > Geo > Location. This report provides a quick view at where exactly your visitors are coming from, all the way down to various areas within a city. You can then filter these results by any number of other factors, including browser, source, medium, and landing page (which is about as close as you’ll get to determining the organic keywords they used to find the site.)
Geolocation can also be factored in as a secondary metric in several other reports. Just click “secondary dimension” and then look for Users > Country/Region/Metro/City in the dropdown.
Tracking Your Goals
Another powerful tool that Google Analytics provides is the ability to define and track marketing and sales goals that are being completed on the site. This can give you a snapshot into how well your overarching marketing objectives are performing as well as a more accurate understanding of what users are really doing on your site. Goal tracking in Google Analytics can also tell you in real time how much revenue your website has brought in and through which channels! It’s pretty impressive.
For the moment, Google offers 4 default categories for goal tracking: Revenue, Acquisition, Inquiry, and Engagement. Each of these categories provides a handful of default templates for specific types of goal completions (like purchases, account creations, free trial requests, etc.) To set up tracking for specific goals, you’ll be asked to define a destination URL, a visit duration, a page/per session target, or an event. Most of these are fairly straightforward to set up, with events being the possible exception. You can find a great step-by-step for setting up goals here or an in-depth post on defining events here.
So what makes goal tracking so important for digital marketing and SEO? I learned firsthand a few months ago just how crucial they really are. Back in May, I was reaching the end of a contract with a big client. They were concerned that they were not receiving adequate business value for the money they were paying (which could have either been because we weren’t communicating that value well enough or because they were not in touch with their own revenue numbers.) Because we had properly set up revenue tracking, we were able to determine that in the previous six months alone, we had directly contributed to over $250,000 in revenue above what we were bringing in for them previously. Continuing to invest in SEO became a no-brainer for them, all thanks to the goal tracking we had access to in Google Analytics.
Bonus Tip: Connect to Google Search Console
In addition to the steps mentioned above, if you really want to get the most data possible (and you should,) it’s best to also connect your websites with Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools.) Search Console perfectly complements the usage data you’ll receive in Google Analytics with search analytics (i.e. which search phrases your site appeared for, how you ranked, and how often you were the clicked result) and information on how well your site is being indexed by Google. If Analytics is the dashboard of your car – showing your speed, gas mileage, trip meter, etc. – then Search Console gives you an in-depth look under the hood.
Search Console will reveal potential issues to your site that could have a major impact on ranking and on user experience. I couldn’t possibly talk about the benefits of Google Analytics without also mentioning the huge impact Google Search Console can have on the health and performance of your site.
Obviously the things I’ve covered above are just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re serious about getting more in-depth knowledge about Google Analytics and how to get the most out of your online marketing efforts, take the time to dig deeper and learn for yourself just what you can accomplish with Google’s powerful tracking dashboard. And for the experts out there, leave a comment below to let me know what I missed!