Your Google Analytics cheat sheet

Is GA delivering all the insights you dream of? It will now.

A premiership striker, artfully curling the ball past the keeper’s grasping hands and into the net. A pianist, effortlessly turning keystrokes into chords, melodies and memories. And you, plucking patterns and insights out of data like Sherlock Holmes exploring his mind palace.

No? If you don’t quite have that level of mastery of the tools of your trade, here’s your eight-step guide to conquering Google Analytics – and making it work for you.


Get clear on each goal


Why are you collecting this data? Clue: it’s not to give you the satisfaction of watching a line on a chart go nicely upwards. The numbers are there to help you make positive business decisions and check that your marketing activities are driving you in the right direction. So, to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the mountain of metrics available, start by getting clear on what you want to know and why. 

Each marketing campaign should have a clear objective. Do you want to increase sign ups, sales of a particular product or enquiries? Whatever your answer, you need to know exactly what you’re aiming for. Be specific.

Knowing your outcome will help you focus on the metrics that matter right now.


Don’t default


Google Analytics makes a lot of assumptions on your behalf. Some of them will be right for your business – and some will be about as much use as a rational argument on Twitter. There’s a world of difference between the data you need from a B2B site, where your goal might be five leads a month, and an e-commerce business, where you’re looking for lots of sales.

So don’t expect the default settings to suit you. Depending on your business, you might decide it’s important to know how people arrived on your site: were they referred from elsewhere or did they type in your URL? Or perhaps the relevant info for you is their demographic, their geographical location, what device they’re using, or which browser they’re on. 

While you’re fiddling with the settings, remember it’s good practice to exclude your own IP or any others regularly used, to make sure your data isn’t skewed.


Conversions – and beyond


In Google Analytic-speak, a conversion is anything you mark as being important. It could include the obvious (buying something, filling in a contact form, or signing up for a newsletter), or something a bit more esoteric (visiting a certain page or watching a video).

We call these macro conversions and micro conversions. The obvious, macro ones are your ultimate goal but it’s not enough to measure these on their own. You need to know what your users did along the way. And that’s where micro conversions come into their own.

And for B2B organisations, with fewer data points – and less data overall – measuring the micro is invaluable. 

Micro conversions help you to spot patterns – for example, if you notice that people who watch a particular video are five times more likely to sign up, you’ll be able to adjust your campaigns to make sure you’re getting that video in front of lots of eyes.

So list all your different conversions and make sure you’re measuring them.


Add these tools


Both inside and outside Google Analytics, there’s a vanful of other tools that can help give you the full picture. Here’s our pick of the ones you need:

Google Search Console – to monitor and troubleshoot how you’re doing in Google’s search results

Tag Manager – this helps you measure extra elements not available in Google Analytics itself, such as people clicking a button

Custom Reports – once you know what you’re looking for, set up custom reports that beaver away in the background and get sent to you automatically

Google Data Studio – shows analytics in real time. Useful for presentations and sharing with stakeholders who might be less data-savvy than you.


Get to grips with cookies


People often shy away from cookies but you need a basic working knowledge, to understand what Google Analytics isn’t showing you. For example, if someone is browsing on an Apple device, or using certain browsers, their data won’t show up. You’ll still get a good indication of what’s going on – but you’ll be clear that the numbers aren’t the full picture.

Make sure you’re not worrying about data protection so much that you’re leading people to decline cookies. Your goal should be to make users feel so safe and happy that they allow them. 

Remember, you only need to pop up the cookie question once per session – and have a good look at the wording on your cookie warning. If it sounds friendly and non-threatening, verbally and visually nudging people towards a yes, you’re much more likely to get a click on that ‘allow’ button. Dire warnings that sound like you’re going to come and squat in their guest room for the rest of time will lead them straight to ‘do not allow’, leaving you with a lot less data to play with.


Get your attribution right


Attribution tells you where your traffic is coming from – and it’s a potential pitfall.

Although you can set up your attribution metrics in lots of ways, many people have it set up as ‘last click’ – and that’s going to lead you up the garden path.

Remember, a single user might come to you in various ways. Picture the scene: you’ve sent out a lovely email to your mailing list. Your subject line is so compelling that your recipient clicks, reads and is impressed. But she wanders off to make the tea. Or feed the dog. Or go skydiving. Sitting down later in the evening, she remembers your irresistible offer. She taps your name into Google, hits your site and spends her month’s salary on your widget. Hey presto! Google gets the attribution but that last click wouldn’t have happened without your brilliant email.

So although last-click attribution gives you some information, it might lead you to ignore all the other clicks – from your email marketing or PPC campaign perhaps – that led your customer to buy. 

Have a poke around in Google Analytics’ attribution section and see what works best for you – you can weight different attributions, according to what’s right for you. 


Create flow


Engagement metrics are no vanity measure. Examining how long people were on your site, how they arrived, where they went, how long they stayed and why they left are all vital if you want to fix any weak spots, or develop landing pages and internal links.

One of the most common dead end culprits is a blog. Great for winning the click through in the first place – but if there’s a lack of a compelling call to action, your visitor has nowhere to go next. If your campaign is pushing a particular product or service, creating a landing page is invaluable. No-one wants to pitch up on your home page and have to negotiate your navigation to find what they’re looking for. Make it easy for them and create a clear, simple journey.


Sense check your bounce


Your bounce rate is calculated when someone visits a single page on your website, doesn’t do anything (such as fill in a form or buy something) and pings off again. 

The average bounce rate is around 45% – 55%. If it’s significantly lower than that, don’t get complacent – there might be something wrong with your analytics that you need to fix. And if it’s significantly higher, there could be three negative reasons:

  • you’re attracting the wrong people
  • visitors aren’t seeing what they thought they’d see
  • you’re not asking them to do anything.

But remember, not all bounces are bad. If they came on wanting something simple – your physical address, for example – and they or they find it easily, that will count as a bounce, even though it’s not a negative interaction.

If your bounce rate is sky high, have another look at your campaigns, to make sure they’re properly targeted – and invest in landing pages to make life easy for your visitors.

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