In recent years we’ve made it standard practice to create Google Analytics (GA) accounts for our clients and install monitoring code on new websites we create, so that you can monitor the traffic on your website to see:
- how many visits are made to your site
- how many visits are more than a few seconds (which helps you identify which are people and which are the “bots” of search engines which are indexing your site)
- how long people spend on your site
- which page they enter your site on
- which page they leave your site from
- how they move through your site
- where they are located in the world
- how big the screen of their computer is (so you can see if most of your visitors are on computers, pads or cell phones)
- how they found your site
If you have a Google Analytics account, here are some tips on how to find and interpret the information Google has tracked. (Note: Some of the images below can be clicked to view larger copies.)
How to Log in to Google Analytics
- Visit https://accounts.google.com/ServiceLogin?service=analytics. We recommend you bookmark this page.
- Enter the email address associated with your analytics account. When we create the account for you, we usually create a special email address, such as firstname.lastname@example.org which you will use to access the GA account.
- Enter the password for your Google Analytics account.
- After you’ve logged in, click Dashboard under the red Accountheading in Google Analytics’ menu on the left side of the page.
- Then click Analytics. One or more website names with a UA number will display. In the example below, you can see how our GA account lists one website: Usable Web Designs.
- Click the website name which you want to see traffic for.
- You’ll see a screen like the one below. Click the bottom row in the table.
- When you first log into GA, it takes you to the Overview page and defaults to showing you information for the last 30 days. At the top right corner is a box which shows the dates covered. You can use the downward pointing triangle next to the dates to change the date range you want to see stats for. Below, you’ll see information for our site from August 25 to September 24, 2013.
How Many People Visit your Site and for How Long?
- By hovering your mouse over any data point in the graph, you can see what date that point refers to. In our chart, you can see that Usable Web Designs had more visits than usual on September 16.
- The pie chart below the graph shows how many visits were returning visitors (who had been to the site before) and how many are new visitors. Most of our visits this month were new visitors.
- Some visitors may come more than once. Google does its best to identify visitors (this is not always fully accurate, so take this information with a grain of salt) and has counted 170 visits, made by 148 unique visitors for our site over this one month period.
- A single visitor may visit more than one page. The Pageviews total shows that over those 170 visits, 298 pages were visited. It even calculates the average number of Pages/Visit for you – in this case 1.75 pages per visit.
- You’ll see one of the statistics is called Bounce Rate This is the percentage of people who left the website after viewing just one page. Over the past month, 68.24% of visitors viewed only one page before leaving our site. There are multiple reasons why someone might visit just one page. It might mean they found what they wanted right away because they entered the site as the result of a Google (or other search engine) search. Or it might mean they didn’t end up where they expected (e.g. they weren’t looking for the kind of information the site provides). Or it might mean they weren’t sure what to do next once they got to the site. So the bounce rate is best interpreted within the context of the other stats. Later, we’ll discuss how to assess user engagement with the site.
- Google Analytics also calculates the average duration of a visit. On our site, it was 1 minute and 10 seconds per visit during this period. But that number alone is not very helpful. Again, there are better ways at assessing user engagement, which we’ll cover below.
Where are those People Located and What Technology are they Using?
You’ll want to know where on the planet your visitors are located, so you can assess whether you’re reaching your desired audience.
It’s also often helpful to know which browser most of your visitors use (Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari) so you can ensure your website is working well on that browser. Knowing whether they are accessing your site with a large screen, or a mobile phone, lets you assess whether you need to put effort into making a mobile version of your site.
At the bottom of the Overview page, you can click any of the following to see data.
- Operating System
- Service Provider
- Screen Resolution
Whenever you click one of these, the table to the right will update with 10 rows of information. If you wish to see more rows, click the view full report link at the bottom right.
As the images below show, during this period, the Usable Web Designs site received visits mostly from Canada, the US, India, and Spain, and the most commonly used browsers were Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer. The most commonly used screen resolution (by far) was 768 x 1024 pixels (which is the smallest typical size for a desktop or laptop monitor).
How Engaged are People with the Website?
This is where it gets interesting, and the data is more valuable. There is a menu to the left of Google Analytics with various sections in it. Up till now, we’ve been on the Overview page in the Audience section. Now we’ll click on Behavior in that section and then Engagement.
We can see that the majority of the visits are less than 10 seconds long. This indicates traffic which consists of either “bots” indexing the site (or spamming/hacking software looking for vulnerabilities), or human visitors who leave pretty much immediately. A total of 26 visits lasted between 1 and 10 minutes during that month, and 3 visits were longer than 10 minutes. If we calculate the pages viewed per visit we can see that visitors who stay between 1 and 10 minutes averaged about 4 pages per visit.
Since bots can be very active, it’s best to just factor out the 0 – 10 second visits mentally, and focus on the other rows in this table. If you’ve got a high number of visits that last over one minute, don’t worry too much about the 0 – 10 second row.
How are People Moving Through the Website?
Now we click on Visitors Flow under the Audience section of the Google Analytics menu. The chart that displays shows us where visitors originate from, which page they visit first, and which pages they typically go to next. For this demonstration, we’ve chosen to view data for a one year period instead of a one month period.
In the image below, we can see the many visitors come from Canada, the US, India, the UK and Hungary. The blue flow lines indicate where they went next, with each green rectangle corresponding to a page of the website. The height of each rectangle corresponds to the number of people who went to that page. A relative (partial) URL labels each page: a single slash means the home page. We can see that 1.09k (1009) visitors started with the home page.
URLs are shortened with … in the middle in order to fit the graph on the page. To see a URL fully spelled out, just hover your mouse over it, as we’ve done below. You can see that 188 visits were made in the past year to the page vector-graphics-vs-bitmapped. Of those, 9 visitors chose to continue to elsewhere in the site and 179 left the site (hopefully because they found the information they were looking for).
Let’s say I’m interested in seeing where people went after they left the Vector Graphics vs Bitmapped page. I can just click on that green box and choose Highlight traffic through here. Turns out most of them went to Contact Us or Our Portfolio or some other less popular pages. When I’m done, I can click the green box and choose Clear highlighting.
There are many, many ways to filter and view the Visitor Flow information, but this should get you started.
How are People Finding the Website?
Here we leave the audience section of the Google Analytics menu and click Traffic Sources, then Sources then All Traffic. Then we scroll down to the tabular information.
The table below shows that 807 visitors found our website through Google and 312 came direct (which means they typed our web address into their browser). The rest followed a link to our site from another site (called a “referral”). Common refering sites included signboom.com and secheltvisitorcentre.com, among others. Most of the referral sites in this list are websites we created for clients, which have a discrete “credit” link at the bottom of the page.
Knowing that much of your site’s traffic is coming to you from a search engine begs the question “what were they searching for when they found the site?”. To find this out, click Search and then Organic in the GA menu on the left side of the page. (If you have been paying Google for Pay per Click listings, you may also want to click Search and then Paid.) Then scroll down to the tabular information.
We can see below that in 486 cases, the search query was not tracked. Other searches that bring people to our site are those concerning usability/user-friendliness of websites. Likely the most beneficial search for us business-wise is “sunshine coast website design”. To see more rows, we can use the drop-down next to the Show rows at the bottom of the page.
Preparing a Report
Sometimes you’ll need to prepare a traffic report for a colleague or a funding agency. These can be easily prepared by taking screenshots of the relevant Google Analytics screens, cropping out the unwanted background, and inserting them into a Word document, along with some text interpreting the stats. Here’s a post on how to take a screenshot on a PC with Windows.