It’s easy to fall in love with Google Analytics and it’s to see why this free and intuitive application has caused so many online tracking provides sleepless nights. Google Analytics is easy to use and unlike many other packages you aren’t drowned in a sea of meaningless bar graphs and pie charts.

Just paste a piece of code onto each page of your website and Google starts following visitor behaviour immediately. Statistics are both detailed and accurate, so it’s hardly surprising that Google Analytics is such a hit with webmasters. Google Analytics won’t be suitable for every website’s needs, but for most sites it’s highly recommended.

It’s worth noting that Google Analytics has been designed with one eye on Pay Per Click campaigns, which means that much of the data isn’t directly relevant to SEO. However, there’s more than enough to keep most optimisers busy:

Introducing the Google Analytics dashboard

The Google Analytics user interface is instinctive to use and it won’t take long for you to find your way around. The ‘dashboard’ is customizable and makes it easy to collate and share information.

The most prominent dashboard feature is a simple line graph which traces the number of daily visitors to your site. It acts as a useful shortcut to keep track on performance and should be the starting point of every webmaster’s day. In fact, the dashboard is so straightforward that you can easily keep track of your site before you’ve properly woken-up with a morning coffee.

Peaks and troughs in the graph provide a visual snapshot of how your site is responding to external events, such as: sales promotions, PR campaigns and industry news. Plus there are ‘quick’ statistics for: the number visits, the number of page views, the average time spent on site, the average number of pages viewed per visit, the bounce rate, and the percentage of new visits.

By now the optimiser in you should be getting excited, but that’s just half of the picture. Google Analytics also provides a breakdown of how visitors have arrived at your site, what content they are most interested in, and a map to illustrate where your traffic is geographically located.

If you need to dig deeper into any of the ‘speedy’ analytics on the dashboard, just click on the appropriate link:

Finding traffic sources in Google Analytics

The ‘traffic sources’ section of Google Analytics is all about how visitors arrive at your website, and it’s pure SEO dynamite.

Perhaps of most use to optimisers is the breakdown of which keywords searchers are using to find your site. Initially you’re just given the ‘top ten’ but you can expand the list to the ‘top one hundred’ terms. Pages which aren’t ranking well, but still pull-in traffic indicate poor quality competition which can be capitalised on. And if you scroll down the list you’ll find one or two keywords which you may not have optimised for but are still ranking, indicating ‘content gaps’ which can again be capitalised on with some judicial linking.

You’ll also get an analysis of how frequently pages are displayed in the search results balanced against any action taken by potential users. You can then use this data to build up a picture of which pages searchers find more appealing, and question why other pages are underperforming. It may be that the keyword focus needs readjusting or it may be that you need to do some homework on your meta descriptions.

‘Traffic sources’ also quickly answers the perennial SEO favourite of where on the web your visitors come from. Google Analytics breaks down overall traffic into: direct visitors, visitors referred from other sites and visitors who arrived via a search engine.

Knowing who has typed your URL ‘directly’ into their browser’s address bar can help to gauge such shadowy metrics as ‘brand strength’ and ‘customer loyalty’. Knowing who is referring traffic to your website can help to foster stronger online partnerships. Knowing which search engine is delivering the most traffic can help to focus your SEO campaign.

Setting up goals in Google Analytics

The ‘goals’ section of Google Analytics is all about how visitors behave once they have arrived at your website. Google lets you define ‘goals’ in order to help establish whether your website is really delivering.

A ‘goal’ can be anything that you want to track, but typically include successful ‘calls to action’. For example: you can set Google Analytics to record every time that a visitor makes a purchase (by tagging the ‘confirmation’ email) or every time that a new arrival registers their details (by tagging the ‘Thank You’ page).

Once you have established your goals it’s easy to monitor conversion rates, but better still you can define a ‘funnel path’. Put simply a ‘funnel path’ is the route you want visitors to take as they travel through your website. By identifying where visitors drop-out of your website you can then tighten the buying cycle and markedly improve conversion rates.

And while goals, funnels and conversions might sound complicated in print, don’t worry Google provides plenty of free help over at the Analytic Academy, which is packed with easy to use (and understand) videos, demos and tutorials

Checking out visitors in Google Analytics

The ‘visitors’ section of Google Analytics is all about who is using your website. And if you can find out more about the people who are already visiting your site, you can get a clearer picture of where to set your target.

Visitors can be filtered by language and location, which is of palpable benefit for anyone running a multilingual search engine optimisation campaign. Plus there’s data on which browsers or operating systems visitors are using.

However, of much more general interest are ‘visitor trends’ which throws light on how frequently users return to your website. And if your visitors aren’t returning regularly, then you had better ask yourself why.

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