Google Analytics tips for beginners

This article is adapted from our beginners' Google Analytics guide that featured in The Guardian Small Business Network. Read the full article here.

Understanding how people find your website, how they use it and how long they stay is vital to managing your site's performance. This Google Analytics tutorial will help you understand the basics to help improve the performance of your site, enhance the user experience and increasing your rank in search engines to drive traffic to your site.

What is Google Analytics? 

Google Analytics is Google's free web analytics tool that gives businesses detailed insights into website visitors and performance to help guide improvements in usability and search engine optimisation (SEO).

What is SEO?

People will arrive on your website from a range of sources, including search engines, social media and other webpages. If your visitor numbers are low, you need to improve your search engine optimisation (SEO) - where you rank in search engines such as Google and Bing. It is believed there are at least 200 criteria considered by Google which include user experience, back links, signals from social media and regularly updated content.

Choosing an analytics tool

There are a number of tools available to analyse your web traffic. Some of these are entirely free and others have advanced features which are paid for – so-called freemium models. Google Analytics' (GA) is arguably the most popular free analytics tool and is usually sufficient for most small businesses, but it’s easy to overlook some of its many features.

Traffic breakdown

By default, the GA dashboard gives an overview of data derived from a website as well as more detailed information under five main headings: Real time, audience, acquisition, behaviour and conversions.

Acquisition and behaviour

Acquisition shows you how your site acquired visitors and breaks down both organic traffic, paid keywords and organic keywords.

Behaviour, on the other hand, shows you in detail how users navigate your site. This includes how many exit your site after viewing just one page (bounce rate), how long they spend on your site, and how many pages they view (tracked before 30 minutes of inactivity).

Find your website’s weaknesses

Under the behaviour tab is a section called behaviour flow. This shows the path visitors normally take from when they visit your site to when they exit. It can help you diagnose potential problems – you might find a lot of visitors are exiting on the same page, for example. As a result, you could shorten the page, add a call to action (such as sign up or buy now), or include more images. 

Check site load speed

You want your site to load as quickly as possible – a slower site means a bad user experience and higher bounce rate. Site speed also contributes to search engine rankings. There are several ways to run a site speed test but Google Analytics lists your average site speed under the behaviour tab. Google also has a PageSpeed tool which is free to use.

Find out what visitors are searching for

If you’ve got a search box on your site, set up site search using the tips here. This will give you access to information such as how many times the search box has been used, what terms people searched for and how many page views were generated through searches.

Device segmentation

As of May 2015, mobile searches have surpassed desktop searches. Your website should already be responsive (optimised for mobile) but you can check if it is by using Google’s mobile-friendly test tool. Just enter your URL and the test tool will show screenshots of how your site looks on mobile and highlight usability issues like small font sizes. Google Analytics can also tell you how many people are viewing, or trying to view, your site in mobile.

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