Today I’ll explore three core parts of Google Analytics: Audience, Acquisition, Behavior.
If you are setting up GA on your website, start with yesterday’s post: Google Analytics Part 1.
Remember, this broad overview will cover GA only in large brush strokes. I hope to introduce you to the basic concepts in web traffic analytics. After understanding these four areas, you will want to move on to learn more about building Customized Reports, Conversions for e-commerce websites, different views for different stakeholders, and the newer beta features like Attribution as well.
Always Remember the Date Picker (Filter)
The first thing to keep in mind in these three areas of GA is the date selector. Remember that the date selector will always default to showing you the last 7 days through yesterday (that is, eight days ago through yesterday) whenever you open GA.
However, if you make a change to the selector, then switch tabs, you will be taken to the new tab but your date selection will persist. That is, the date you selected will be used to show you the data in the tab you switched into.
This date picker applies to all of these areas we’ll cover today: Audience, Acquisition, Behavior, and more of what you will see in GA too, so always keep the date picker in mind when switching between parts of GA.
The date picker gets a little used to. When you first disclose it, keep in mind you are picking both a starting date and ending date. What is confusing is that there’s two little boxes to the right (see below). Be sure to make sure either starting date or ending date is selected (blue), like so:
What’s confusing about this date picker is that it’s easy to confuse yourself between whether you are picking the starting date or the ending date, especially if want to change only the ending date.
You then choose a date on the calendar on the left. (After you pick the starting date, the date picker will switch to let you pick ending date.) Click Apply to apply the new date range to whatever you are currently looking at. The date selector is global to (almost) all of the views in GA (with the Home and Realtime tab as exceptions).
In the Audience section, GA is concerned with showing you who the visitors are. Here we see users, pageviews, and sessions, as well as pages per session (“pages / session”), the bounce rate, and demographics. The demographics include geographic region (GA will geolocate people by their IP address), their browser & operating system, service provider if they are mobile or desktop users and the language that is set in their browser.
All of this information is gleaned “magically” from the user’s web browser and IP address. What happens under the hood is that GA collects all of this in the user’s browser and then sends it back anonymously to GA. The anonymously part is important because GA is a tool that has an opinionated take on tracking identifiable data: don’t do it. (At the very least, don’t do it in GA.)
The acquisition tab is concerned with where the people came from:
Let’s review the fundamental terminology in traffic analysis.
Organic Search — People searched on searchn engines and then found your site through an organic search result.
Direct — People typed your URL into their web browser.
Referral — People clicked a link from another website that was not a social network and then and came via that website to your website.
Social — People clicked links or were directed from a social network (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc)
At first, these are the only ones you will see. Over time, if you start advertising, you will also see Display and Paid Search. Display refers to people who came from a display ad on the internet— i.e., a banner, sidebar, or paid placement. And finally Paid Search refers to an ad that you paid to the search engine to display alongside a search. (These are marked in all search engines as “Advertisement.” Sometimes they appear on the side of the search results and sometimes they appear deceptively within the search results. Either way, the merchant— you— is paying the search engine for that placement. )
Here we see a fictitious view of web traffic for a site with thousands of visitors.
Take a closer look at the pie chart that breaks this down. Remember, the data is always displayed to you using the date selection you indicate.
Here we see that during the date selected, this site had 35.7% of its traffic from Paid search advertising, 225 from organic, and so on. As you can see, you can hover over any of these in the pie chart to reveal the details of its numbers.
The Acquisition section is also where you’re going to connect your Google AdWords account if you advertise on Google. The Acquision area also has views into Social traffic and Search traffic, both essential for understanding where you leads are coming from.
On the Behavior tab GA is concerned with behavioral things they can track about your visitors; sessions per user, session duration, and flow.
The powerful Behavior Flow view shows you a chart of people first, second, third, and so on, pages. That is, where do most people start? From there, where do they go next?
Take a look at this fancy multi-dimensional charge. We see that most people start at my blog on the home page (/). From there you can see where most people go next, broken out into the different pathways people traverse my site.
Take special note of this Behavior Flow screen, which is telling you where your users most commonly start, then go to next, and so on.
This page will make more sense to you if you have a lot of visitors and relatively few pages. For example, your landing pages will always show up first, and then the “where people visit next” question can be used to understand the psychology of what people are clicking on (specifically, the calls to action on your website).
Those red lines you see to the right of green page visits indicate where people don’t continue to another page. These are called drop-offs. If you see a page with a high amount of drop-offs, think about A) whether the content on that page is repelling people from the sales proposition and/or B) if that page has calls-to-action that lead your customer to the checkout.
As you can see GA is an incredibly powerful tool. I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief introduction and that GA helps you get oriented to your site traffic.