google analytics

I’d like to think I’m pretty web savvy.

I know my fair share of HTML code, and have a lot of experience measuring the performance of websites. But when I was asked if I’d like to attend some Google Analytics 101 training I jumped at the offer—even before I knew breakfast and lunch were going to be free.

To be honest, I am kind of a nerd and really enjoy looking through analytics and putting all the data together to tell a story. While it’s great to say “pageviews are up 15% over last month” or “the bounce rate for site A decreased over the past 2 months” many will yawn at these numbers and others will scratch their heads.

And perhaps more importantly, it is great fodder to get your boss/client/advertiser excited about the work you’re doing because they are seeing (and understanding) results.

For example: “ saw a 15% increase in visits from April to May” or “People who searched ‘best hotdogs’ in Google landed on our homepage and subsequently visited 2 more pages on our site proving they are finding our content relevant. Our efforts in improving content and SEO have led to a 15% increase in page views over the last month”?

I don’t know about you, but to me the second one better uses data to highlight some important insights.

So, the first step to telling this story is knowing what to look for in Google Analytics. While I’m sure many of you know the basic user interface from many GA how-to’s and guides for getting started, day 1 of my 2 day analytics training threw some interesting curve balls.

Here are 5 things you probably didn’t know (or thought you knew) about Google Analytics.

1. The true definition of a visit

Seems simple enough, right? A visit is the distinct number of sessions someone interacts with your site. However, there’s actually one more part to this definition—if the person is inactive for more than 30 minutes their visit is over. So for example, say you go out to lunch and leave open and you’re gone for 30 minutes, that visit is over, but if you come back and click on another page that becomes a whole new visit.

A good analogy from today was: “think of this like the number of times people enter the front door of a store.” They can come in and realize they forgot their purse, go out and get it. Hey, that second time entering the store is a new visit.

2. A unique visitor may not be what you think it is

Unique visitors are all about cookies—that is a particular computer or browser. So these visitors really aren’t about the number of people visiting the site, but the number of unique cookies recognized. Many don’t clear their cookies for 2 years or so, therefore, these users are only counted once over a specified time period, even if they visit your site multiple times.

A good saying to follow is, “unique visitors are only as accurate as the cookies.” What this means is that if a person from views a site from the office then the same site from home or even from say Internet explorer and then Chrome, they’re counted twice.

3. Tracking traffic is not always straightforward

Many companies and organizations have newsletters that are sent out via email. However, it’s kind of hard to measure the success of these campaigns depending on where the email ends up.

For example, if user clicks on the newsletter URL through Outlook that will count as direct traffic. Yet, if the email goes to a person’s Gmail account, it will be counted as referral traffic. So how do you to get around this? Well there’s a nifty tool called Google Analytics URL Builder which will generate a URL for you that is easily trackable in analytics.

Just follow the 3 steps and shorten your link as need in, for example, and email away. So if there was a newsletter called Hotdog Weekly I would enter the URL in step 1 and then have a consistent source and medium for every issue, for example, source= newsletter and medium= email. It’s all case sensitive so e-mail and Email will create different URLs and not bring all of the data to one place in your analytics.


4. Comparing relative success is relatively easy

Google Analytics allows you to compare metrics for traffic sources, pages, etc. to the site’s average. In the screen grab below, it shows how this feature gives you the ability to see how visits from different traffic mediums compare to pages/visit. The line down the center represents the average and in general, those pages in the green are preforming well and those in red are, well, doing poorly. But not to fret this can help you tell your story and figure out how to improve content on your site and where to put your focus. This grab shows that while referral traffic sent over 2,705 visits in the last month visitors aren’t going much farther then where the URL they clicked sent them. And while organic search sends less over 65%, visitors are viewing more pages upon visiting.


5. Social media is measurable

So GA recently added a feature under the traffic sources tab that breaks down social visits from all social networks. So instead of digging in your referral traffic, you can now see all social engagement in one section. There’s even a nice line graph comparsion of all visits and visits via social referral. One other cool feature with the social traffic sources is those sources that are social data hub partners (e.g. reddit, Google+, and Diigo), you can click on a tab called “Activity Stream” and see all conversations including links to your site in a speficied time period. I would recommend doing some exploring with this newer GA feature.

Overall, I would say day 1 of Google Analytics training was successful. I definitely learned some new tricks of the trade for analzying the success of my data and how to better tell my site’s story. Hope to learn even more in day 2.