This post has been a loooooong time coming. I think I originally said I was going to do a Google Analytics Guide back in like December? But for one reason or another (*laziness*) I hadn't got round to it and then tonight I noticed that the #fbl twitter chat was about SEO and it gave me that little kick up the bum I needed to finally sit down and write this.
My day job is in online marketing - technically I've worked in "SEO" for about 7 years now - and I use Google Analytics on a daily basis. I work in account management which is the client facing side of marketing, and part of my role involves analysing data for my clients and putting together reports - which is where Google Analytics (GA) comes in. At work GA is one of my main areas of expertise so I feel like I've got enough knowledge to warrant writing a "how to guide" for bloggers. I've also done a little bit of training with my blogger pals over the last couple of months (spending our evenings looking at statistics - how cool are we?!) and they seemed to find it really useful so hopefully this guide will benefit some of you too.
Google Analytics : A Bloggers Guide
This will be the first in a series of posts designed to give bloggers a better understanding of how to use Google Analytics. The structure of these posts will be:
#1 will cover the setup, common tracking issues, how to navigate through reports, and a definition of the main metrics
#2 will cover the most useful reports and how to bookmark / schedule these for regular monitoring
#3 will cover the more advanced aspects like custom reports & dashboards, as well as conversion tracking (e.g. how to see how many clicks your social media buttons get).
I plan on posting these fortnightly but you know, don't hold me to that…..you're best to follow me on Twitter or follow my blog on Bloglovin to hear when parts #2 and #3 go live.
#1 Basics & Setup : How to Setup a Google Analytics Account
Setting up a GA account is really simple. Firstly you need a Google account (if you use Blogger as your blogging platform or Gmail for emails then you already have one), then you need to visit google.com/analytics, click Create an Account in the top right corner, and then Sign Up. Fill in your website details in the form (don't worry too much about the category selection, really doesn't matter what you pick) and then click Get Tracking ID.
You'll now be taken into the Admin section of Google Analytics where your tracking code is visible. This code needs to be added to your blog in order for results to start being tracked. If you use Blogger then you don't actually need to faff about with any of the code, you just need to take note of the number that starts UA- and go into your Blogger settings.
In Blogger you go to Settings > Other and then scroll right down to the bottom where it says Google Analytics ID. Here you add the full UA number, save, and that's it. Alternatively if you want to do it the more traditional way then you can copy and paste from GA and go to Template > Edit HTML and add just before the </head>.
If you use Wordpress I'm not 100% sure if they have a simple method like Blogger does for adding your UA number, so I suspect you might have to use the HTML route and add the copy and pasted code before the closing </head>.
#1 Basics & Setup : Common Tracking Issues
Once you've setup your account and added the code to your blog you should see data start to appear within 24 hrs. If you still haven't seen anything in a few days then it may be due to one of these common issues:
1) Errors in the HTML code - if you've added the script into your blogs HTML (rather than the Blogger settings method) and you aren't seeing any states then potentially there could be some small errors in the code. Sometimes additional spaces can appear in a piece of code if it has been pasted into a word doc or an email, so to clean this up paste into notepad first before copying and pasting into your HTML.
2) More than one version of the code in use - if you accidentally add the GA code to your HTML more than once then this normally causes the code to stop working. You can double check that you haven't entered this twice by searching (ctr + f) in the HTML for UA- to make sure it's only in there once.
3) Entering the code in the wrong place - again, this is only really if you've gone down the HTML route, but another common reason why GA doesn't work is that you have pasted the code in the wrong place. Make sure it sits just before the closing </head> tag.
#1 Basics & Setup : Introducing GA Reports
Assuming the code is all set up and has started tracking data, you'll want to have a look around the different reports to start analysing the data. The reports are all located under the Reporting tab, with them grouped into sections in the left hand menu.
Dashboards, Shortcuts & Intelligence Events - custom reports which I'll cover in part #3
Real-Time - live reporting, i.e. info about people who are on your blog right now
Audience - the "who" - reports about the users who have visited your blog (what country are they from, have they visited your blog before, are they using a desktop computer or a mobile/tablet?)
Acquisition - the "how" - reports about the methods visitors used to access your blog (how many people came via search engines, twitter, Facebook etc, how are your advertising campaigns performing,?)
Behaviour - the "what" - reports about how people are interacting with your blog (which pages are being viewed most often, which pages are your main entrance and exit points?)
Conversions - I'll cover this in more detail in part #3, but this section shows how many conversions/goals have been completed on your website. You need to specify these goals in the settings (e.g. enquiry form completions, commerce transactions etc) and to be honest for your average blog you probably won't use this at all.
The best piece of advice to give you would be to just have a look through each of these sections and play about with the different reports to get a feel for it. You can't break anything as the reporting section doesn't contain any settings (i.e. it's literally just data, so there's no way to delete anything or accidentally stop the code working etc) so you can browse away safe in the knowledge that you're not going to cause any damage.
Remember to keep an eye out for part #2 as here I will go through these sections and pick out the individual reports that I think are most relevant and interesting for blogs.
#1 Basics & Setup : Dates, Graphs & Tables
One thing you'll notice whilst browsing the reports is that everything generally follows the same format. Almost all reports have a graph at the top, a date range on the right, and a table at the bottom (the tables also generally have the same columns too).
You can change the date range of the report you are viewing by clicking the drop down and either manually selecting a start/end date or choosing a pre-selected range from the drop down like "last month". If you want to compare a date range to a previous time then tick the box and choose the comparative range.
Please note that once you set up a GA account you can only see data from that point forward - i.e. you can't see data from previous months as the tracking only begins once you add it to your blog.
You can change the data points on the graph by switching between day/week/month on the right hand side. This is useful if you're looking at a really long date range (like a year), as by default each point on the graph is a day which looks really messy.
|viewing by day|
|viewing by month|
You can also change what metric is being displayed on the graph via the drop down on the left. Please note though that you can only graph metrics that are included in the table underneath, i.e. if you're looking at a report under Acquisition which deals with sessions (see definitions below), then you can't graph by page views.
The type of data being displayed in column 1 is called the "primary dimension", you can change this on most reports by using the links above the table. The options here differ depending on which report you're on, so it won't always look the same.
You can add a "secondary dimension", i.e. a second column, by clicking the drop down. In the example below I've added a country dimension to the traffic source table. I know it's sad but I love that it adds wee flags next to the country names!
If you want to narrow down the data in the table then you can use the search function. Click advanced if you need to look for something a bit more complicated, e.g. in the table below I wanted to show sources that included .blogspot (i.e. visits from other blogs), so I just needed to type .blogspot in the search box and hit enter.
The table then updates to show sources that match this search (the graph above also updates).
Say however I wanted to show visits from .blogspot websites AND wordpress websites, in this case I'd need to use the advanced search. By using the "matching RegExp" option you can specify a query string, using the pipe symbol | to denote "or". So in this case I've said I want it to find .blogspot "or" wordpress by typing .blogspot|wordpress.
You can go one step more complicated by adding in other rules here, e.g. in the first example below I've said I want to see visits from organic search (see definitions below) where the bounce rate is less than 80%, and in the second example I've re-added the country secondary dimension to the table and said I want to see Facebook visits from the UK only.
#1 Basics & Setup : Metric Definitions
I've tried to give fairly simple definitions of some of the most commonly used metrics and phrases used in GA. If you click the question mark button next to column headings on any table in GA though it will give you an explanation of what this means.
Users - also known as "visitors". As it sounds, a user is a person who has been on your website. The expiration date of the user cookie is 2 years, so for example, imagine I am the only person who has access to your blog (poor you). If I visited your blog once a month for a year then in GA your user total would be 1.
Sessions - also known as "visits". When a user visits your website a "session" is registered. These sessions last for 30 minutes, so sticking with the same example where I'm your only follower and I visit your blog once a month for a year then your GA sessions total would be 12.
Pageviews - exactly as it sounds, a page view is recorded every time someone looks at a different page on your blog.
Bounce Rate - the % of sessions where the user viewed just 1 page and then left the website (i.e. "bounced"). A page will have a 100% bounce rate if every person who viewed that page left your blog without visiting any other pages. Blogs generally will have quite high bounce rates as people tend to come on to read a post and then leave.
Medium - traffic sources are categorised into "mediums". The main mediums/type of traffic are listed below:
- organic - someone clicking a link in a search engine that is *not* a paid ad
- cpc - someone clicking a paid ad on a search engine
- referral - someone clicking a link on a website, e.g. Facebook, or another blog
- none - if GA cannot determine a source (e.g. if you just type the URL in your browser or use a bookmark) then it is categorised as "direct/none"
Source - as it sounds, this is the exact source or website which sent the user to your blog. Some popular source/mediums are noted below:
- google / organic - a click from a non-paid search result in Google
- facebook / referral - a click from Facebook
- t.co / referral - this is the URL shortening service used by Twitter, so it's a click from Twitter
- google / cpc - a click from a paid ad in Google, unless you're actively running advertising on Google then you won't see this in your GA account
Hopefully this hasn't been too complicated or technical - I was hoping it would give you the basic overview that you need to get started, with the next couple of posts going into more detail so you can properly make the most of the reports on offer.
Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments and I'll do my best to help you. Also keep an eye out for part #2 in a couple of weeks where I'll go through the most useful reports in each section and show you how to save these for easy access so you can monitor your blog stats on a regular basis.
We can all be GA geeks together! ;)