Absolute Beginner Google Analytics Tips for Small Businesses/
March 30, 2016
Analytics is a field where it’s really easy (and sometimes fun!) to get ‘lost in the weeds’ over code, best practices, implementation and analysis.
Maybe you log in to Google Analytics, then leave after being presented too much data and too many options for the time you have to look into your questions. It might seem too technical at first, too much to take in or too time-consuming. But remember, you can be interested in data without being interested in becoming a data scientist or analytics specialist. This is especially true for small businesses.
For those independent entrepreneurs and small businesses, the goals are different. Owning or working for a small business requires unmatched versatility where you are the CEO, the accountant, the creative, the marketer, the logistics expert and the customer service lead all-in-one (and possibly more). I’m getting exhausted just typing that out, so for you it’s all about being as efficient and effective as possible with your efforts.
It’s not practical for you to be digging into Google Analytics constantly, reading documentation, or spending hours or even half-hours clicking and poring over the standard reports multiple times a day or week. The Google Analytics documentation is great to learn it, but my goal here is to point those ‘wearers-of-all-hats’ in useful directions to get the most out of their time.
If you do not have analytics set-up yet and need help with adding Google Analytics to your site, you can get started here.
The Measurements: The Basics
The first thing to do before looking at any reports or information is to understand some big concepts in Google Analytics: pageviews, time, bounces and sessions. Different analytics programs may calculate these differently, so that’s why it’s worth going over.
In Google Analytics, pageviews is simply the number of times that a page loaded. This means that if I stayed on one page and kept hitting the refresh button, a pageview would be sent every time. Also, in order to be considered a unique page, the content must have a unique URL. For example, if you have one-page scrolling website where the content changes but the URL stays the same, it will appear as one page in your reports.
Google Analytics doesn’t start a timer when you land on a site and record how long you are there. Instead, when you load a page a timestamp is sent with the exact time and date that it loaded. Then, when you go to a second page on the same site, another timestamp is sent. Google figures out how long you were on the first page by calculating the difference between the two.
It is a simple concept, but will be important for understanding the next two topics.
Sessions deal with both pageviews and time. A session is essentially the entire visit – imagine it as a browsing session. Multiple pages can be included in a session, but every session has to end at some point, which is called a session timeout. It makes sense because if there was no expiration on the session, everyone would have 1 session across days, weeks and months.
So by default, the session expires after 30 minutes if the user does not go to another page in that time (and thus send another timestamp). This is one of the more complex ideas in analytics, so if you’d like to read more on sessions, I recommend Google’s own documentation here.
You will see numbers related to Bounce Rate in many of your reports, which deal with bounced sessions. A bounce is when someone only views one page in a session. Knowing what we know about pageviews, sessions and time, here is an example:
- I visit a page on your site (1 pageview)
- Leave the browser open and go to lunch for more than 30 minutes (session times out)
- Session 1 is now a bounce since there was only 1 pageview and the session ended.
- I come back, finish reading the page and click to another page on your site (1 pageview, new session begins)
Use Bounce Rate to help determine how many people came to your site and were enticed enough to visit a second page. For a deep dive into Bounce Rate, check out this article.
Staying on top of everything can be difficult, but luckily there are some ways to keep up with it!
The Mobile App
One of the questions you may have as a small business owner is simply, “How is my site doing?” There are many, many ways to find the answer to this question, but one of the simplest methods in my opinion is to use the Google Analytics mobile app. It is not just a mobile version of Google Analytics – for example, you won’t see the same style of reports and tables. Rather, it is specifically designed to answer that exact question in a visual, valuable way.
After signing in, the Overview menu item in the left navigation will give you an idea of the current performance of your site. Along with the real-time data of how many people are on your site right now, the data under will show where your audience comes from in the world, which traffic sources led to the most sessions, how many pageviews happened and green/red comparisons for all.
By default, this is based on the last 30 days and the comparison is based on the previous 30 days.
As you can see from the screenshots, these are useful visualizations for a quick read. If you’d like to dig into either audience, behavior (content), acquisition (traffic) or goal conversions, there are more options in the navigation for more details.
If you have a group of more specific questions that you’d like to answer on a regular basis, dashboards are a better option. The menu for adding them is on the left navigation in the Google Analytics interface.
Like the mobile app, dashboard elements can be visual and simple. The best part about them is that once they are created, you can refer back to them again and again instead of drilling down into each of the standard reports.
More about dashboards here.
If you’re not sure where to start, just hold on – there’s a great resource below to help you with templates that you can add to your Google Analytics.
To move beyond just counting overall pageviews and sessions, a great way to get to know your customers and users is to use advanced segments. Just as the name hints, segments divide your audience into groups making it easier to spot trends and insights.
Start by comparing different groups of traffic, like Mobile Users vs Tablet & Desktop Users to see if there are any major differences.
For example, maybe you saw that a local news site linked to your business’ website – you would definitely want to see the behavior of that audience over time! You could create a segment of visitors that came from that specific source.
The Google Analytics documentation has an introduction to building segments here.
These tools are great, but often it’s hard to know where to get started. Luckily, there’s an answer for that!
The Solutions Gallery is a great place to download templates for the assets mentioned here. It’s a site where you can get pre-made reports, dashboards and segments that have already been created. All you have to do is click the ‘Import’ button and choose which view you would like to apply to.
Once imported, take some time to see how they arrange data and use the different widgets/tools to display information in different ways!
The key to learning Google Analytics as a smaller business employee is to focus on powerful, focused and reusable assets. Creating dashboards and segments (or downloading them!) will ensure that you’re not wasting time looking for the same data continuously and the mobile application can act as a fast performance check of your site.