Tracking Web Data for Non-Techie Folks
Confession time. I’ve been teaching DIY SEO for the last 3 years, but it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve been okay with logging into Google Analytics. I used to feel so suffocated using it because I was out of my element, and therefore I felt so dumb. Why? Because the giant tools it provides seem intimidating and super technical, and I am not a technical gal. Remember, I teach “ghetto SEO” and am at the other end of the spectrum from traditional SEO experts. In fact, they probably roll their eyes at me while spitting out super techy terms and jargon.Another true story.
I figured if tracking and Google Analytics are hard for an SEO lover like me, it’s probably also hard for you creative solopreneurs who are busy working in your business. So, Fuse to the rescue in breaking it down for you! I’m happy to help you, and in fact, let me go put my glittery cape on right now… (Ok, we’re good now. Let’s do this.)
Getting Started with Google Analytics
So what is Google Analytics? It is a tool/service provided by Google to track the stats of visitors to your website and or blog.
- This is the setup phase. You can sign up here. If you use two or more platforms or domains/subdomains for your site, I recommend you add multiple accounts via your dashboard to see traffic for each. (I have one for feuzareis.com and one for blog.feuzareis.com.) Once you get it set up, wait a few days before looking at any data, as it needs time to register new visits and so forth. You may even want to wait a month or so.
- The crucial tracking codes. You can’t track your data without these babies. Adding each account will generate a unique tracking code which starts with the letters UA. You will need to check with your website platform regarding how to add that UA code. (If you are on WordPress, there are plugins that can do that. Never fear, more tips about plugins are under point #6.)
- Install private dashboards. I recommend that you install these awesome & very cool visual private dashboards via Dashboard Junkie. They have three categories of websites: All, Online Retailers, and Blogs, so see which one you fall under.
Since my SEO blog is a blogsite, I installed the blog dashboard and social media dashboard. (See the links up there, under the heading “For Bloggers? Yeah, that’s them!) I also installed the basic visitor facts under the “For all webmasters” heading. Installing is very easy—you just follow the instructions so it links to your GA (Google Analytics) account. By installing these custom dashboards, you will have a very visual overview of your data (yay) instead of looking at a bunch of numbers and graphs that hurt your brain (nooo).
I like this view better than the Google Analytics dashboard one.
Next part will get a bit techy so if you start sweating skip to point #6 and thank me later.
- Learn some Google Analytics basic lingo. Overall, some recent changes: As nicely stated by PNMG: “Visits” are now called “Sessions” and “Unique Visitors” are now called “Users.” What?
So, instead of having the old terms on your graphs and reports, you’ll have “sessions” and “users.” If you’re starting off new, here’s a positive! You don’t have to get used to the change. Just remember sessions and users and what they indicate. Complete descriptions of most important ones are below this graphic and you can download it as a cheat sheet for your records too.
- Session data: There are several ways GA calculates what defines a session. The Analytics help page tells us it can be time based, including your end of day, campaign change, after 30 minutes of inactivity, or at midnight. It can also be defined by other factors that can get kind of complex.
The 30-minute session reset can even be adjusted, as 30 minutes is just the default. See the help page here for full disclosure and options. This term is important to understand because all the other calculations of your data refer back to the number of sessions. (It does get easier from here.)
- Users: See? Easy! This is the number of peeps visiting your site for the selected time period. I usually view mine by month, but when you start off, you will probably look at ALL of them at first as you gorge on the data. It’s okay, it’s carb free.
- Pageviews: How many pages were looked at by those users. Page views, really, just crammed into one word. Sneaky.
- Pages/Session: The average number of pages each user visits while on your site. It’s “pages per session” disguised as something techy, or division, or who knows. Just don’t let it freak you out.
- Avg. Session Duration: This is just what it sounds like. The average time a user is on your site. See? Easy.
- Bounce Rate: This is a VERY IMPORTANT one to know. Your goal should always be to have a low bounce rate. A bounce is when a user enters your site via one page and leaves via the SAME page. So, if the user is not going anywhere and navigating your site, it’s an indicator to Google that you’re not a good fit for their search. (And that’s not necessarily true! What if all they needed was your address and phone so they could book you? Just keep it in mind.) So, since Google has made a high bounce rate bad, we have to try to figure out how to avoid that. “But Fuse, what is an ideal bounce rate?” I don’t have an exact number for you. All sites are different. With blogs, bounces are common (the person comes to read the daily blog post and leaves). But anything over 70% should be seriously looked at. Think of factors like site speed, website structure, how easy it is to navigate, and other factors. The ideal goal for a bounce rate for me is 30%.
Further exploring Google Analytics dashboard and what really matters. (These sections are found in the left sidebar.)
- Real Time. This has the little clock icon by it. I love this feature, especially for a big launch or announcement. You get to see if folks are on your site in real time. An overview of it will show you any search keywords, and which page they are on. Traffic Sources shows you where these visitors came from, so you can see if it is organic (Google) or a referral (a website).
- Audience. It’s got that little icon with 3 people next to it, similar to the facebook friend requests icon. Find it? This will show you the main information as in the photo above: summary of visits, returning, bounce rate and such. It’s got a ton of subsections under it. I only look at the Users Flow subsection because I prefer the private dashboard visual layout, which will show me all the info I need.
Users Flow, though, is a cool graph showing how folks navigate through my website. It’s so cool to see which are the top pages they visit and where am I losing them. It can get a little intimidating and technical, but check it out to see if you find any patterns in the pages they are going to.
You can also use a heat map service, which is more detailed in showing you how users are navigating your website. (See #7 below, under paid services.)
- Acquisition. You’ll see this has two arrows next to it. This is a pretty visual section which shows me where my visitors are coming from. Is it organic (Google), direct (they had the actual URL and typed it in directly), or referral (they linked via a site, or you were mentioned on the site they came from). The Social subsection is interesting because it shows if your traffic is coming from Pinterest. It also has a User Flow subsection to see the pattern of, let’s say, just Pinterest users.
And I love the landing pages because it shows which pages folks are coming and going to, let’s say Pinterest is where most are going to, so looking at those, that will give me ideas of blog posts and more content to create for my audience.
- Plugins. I hope I didn’t lose you with the info above, and if you are still reading, guess what? There are plugins to make life easier and you can even ignore Google Analytics altogether if you want. Well sort of. If you use a self-hosted WordPress blog, then plugins are your best friend. There are Google Analytic plugins where you actually don’t even need to log in to that scary looking GA platform ever again. I recommend the following plugins.
- Google Analyticator
- Google Analytics by Yoast
- Google Analytics Dashboard for WP
- Statcounter – My favorite non-GA plugin. They send out a weekly summary to your email if you want. Just disregard the bounce rate section on this one, as I hear it is not as accurate.
- Clicky – I haven’t used this one in a while, but feel free to check it out.
- If I bored you with the “further information” section of GA, then you should consider a paid version, especially for user flow. I love heat maps because they can show us where visitors are clicking and staying, and also what their exit point is. Here are a couple:
- Crazy Egg
Overall, you may still be turned off by Google Analytics, but I hope I have given you some options and helped summarize what to look for in Google Analytics. After all, it’s important to track your hard work, especially after doing DIY SEO. Decide for yourself which is the most important data for you to know. For me, it is organic traffic and social media stats, plus how long they are staying, and of course the bounce rate. If I see a huge drop, I must analyze why, and I have to then look for ways to improve my website navigation. If I can do this, you can too! I have this awesome sparkly cape, but honestly, it’s gotten a little sweaty and scratchy while going through all this. I’m just like you, and that’s why I’m here to give you all this as clearly as I can. If you have further questions, please leave comments!
And be sure to download this freebie here on a summary of what really matters:
and I have an old video which reviews some of these things here.