Google Analytics is the perfect tool for marketers and webmasters because not only does it help you understand how your customers are using your website, it also has the power to stitch together the whole customer journey, before and after their website visit. Here are the basics to getting across the process:
1. Understand the landscape
Google Analytics is rarely the sole piece of tracking you’ll want on a website these days. Today you can also expect to be adding Facebook pixel, LinkedIn pixel and other custom tracking and A/B testing tags.
Rather than placing each of these tracking codes on each page, we recommend using Google Tag Manager (GTM), another free Google tool, which acts like a bucket which holds all your codes in one piece of code. GTM also provides a central interface where you can manage all of your tracking codes in one place.
If you’re not using some tag management tool, you’re setting yourself up for inefficient workflows, delays, inconsistencies, errors and shooting yourself in the foot in terms of collecting the type of data that would actually be relevant to your business.
2. Assess your setup
Anyone can install Google Analytics, but there is a big difference between the default insights, and what is available if you customise and set up its extra features. By default and without any customisation, Google Analytics will tell you basic stats like:
- How the user came to the website (although there are a number of channels like email that will probably not be recorded as such without further customisation so that data will be lost)
- User location (approximate), device, browser
- What pages were visited and in what order
- Repeat visits (if user didn’t clear cookies/change browsers)
- Time on each page (except the last page of their visit)
The easiest way to check if someone has attempted to customise your setup in the past is to check the Goals Overview under the Conversions tab and see if any Goals have been set up. If your website is ecommerce, you can also check to see if there is any data feeding into the ecommerce reports. Both of these activities require custom setup and if you see anything in here, we’d recommend not deleting this profile and ‘starting fresh’ because there are likely some valuable insights in there.
3. Activate the power of a custom setup*
Google Analytics’ additional features include the ability to:
- Group and label website content e.g. product pages, support/sales pages
- Group and label inbound marketing channels e.g. emails, ads, social, seo
- Track and name interactive website actions like form completions and downloads
- Track and compare the ROI ($) of different marketing initiatives
- Track offline conversions back to their original marketing channel
- Track repeat customers across multiple devices
- Compare on-site behaviour of customers across your own categories (eg. membership level)
In our experience the business value of a Google Analytics account that’s been customised to your needs is hundreds, even thousands of times greater than the value of placing the default tracking code.
*You will probably need to refer this part to an expert, but if you can provide them with an overview of your key target audiences and the main actions you want them to take, they will be able to apply those parameters to your setup.
4. Clean up your marketing data by adjusting your marketing campaigns
In your standard acquisition reports you will see either a default or customised list of inbound marketing sources, e.g. Organic, Google, Direct. The channel we get asked about the most is Direct. This means Google Analytics was not able to determine how a user came to the website. People could have entered the whole URL (web address) into their browser, used bookmarks, browsers auto-completing previously visited websites in the URL bar, people clicking on links from your EDMs etc. Since so many different types of traffic get bundled together under ‘Direct’ it is very hard to draw any insights.
As a marketer, one of the best things you can do is try to minimise the size of the Direct slice by making sure inbound links to your website are tagged with UTM parameters. The most common example is email campaigns which feature links to your website. These aren’t usually flagged as ‘Email’ traffic automatically, but by tagging the links you will be able to join the email journey from the inbox to your website goal so you can improve the success of your email campaigns. Similarly, if you use a non-Google marketing channel (eg. Facebook Ads) to send traffic to your website, you will want to make sure the ads are appending UTM parameters so they show up in your reports as the appropriate channel (paid not organic) and campaign.
5. Get linking
Google Analytics can link up and import insights from a range of different tools that can help build a fuller picture of your customer behaviour and website performance. Primary connections we recommend include:
- Google Ads
- Google Search Console
- Google Merchant Centre (if you have an ecommerce store)
- Cost data import (upload advertising costs from other platforms so you can compare ROI and performance side-by-side)
- Google Data Studio
- Your offline CRM, if your conversions happen offline
6. Bring insights to the surface
Google Analytics features a range of custom reports and dashboards, but in our experience, importing those insights into a more visual template, like a Google Data Studio dashboard for example, makes the insights a lot more accessible (and interesting to stakeholders!). Linking a Google Data Studio to your analytics reports can also save you lots of time reporting each month as the dashboards auto-update as you require, leaving you with more time for analysis and strategy. Again, you might need an expert for this initial setup, but Google Data Studio have a range of free example templates to help you get inspired.
7. Get to more advanced analysis
Once you are aware of the basic insights you will probably want to drill down into more detail. For example a basic dashboard might show what is/isn’t working but not necessarily why, which would often require more specific questions. The list of potential advanced questions is endless but here are a few examples – just to give a taste:
- Is this lead form not being completed because people aren’t getting to the page, or are they getting to the page but not scrolling down to the form, or are they scrolling to the form but not choosing to complete it?
- How many users who completed an action did so after clicking on my promotional popup, how many landed on the action page directly and how many navigated to the page using my website menu?
- Can my lower mobile conversion rate be attributed to a different traffic profile compared to desktop (eg. different landing pages or marketing channels) or is it similar enough that the device is making the difference?
- What % of conversions were completed for sessions where average page load was under 3 seconds? Did any sessions whose average page load was over 3 seconds convert?
- What pages of my website are people browsing after they complete a lead form and what can this tell me about how to improve the process?
For these, you may need to get someone on the technical marketing side to query Google Analytics. However just knowing that these questions can be asked and answered is a huge step in refining your marketing efforts.