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Analyzing Google Analytics

Mar 1, 2012

When selling merchandise online, it is not enough to simply track sales. What you sell is obviously important, but it is also vital to know who is purchasing, where they are purchasing from, and perhaps most crucially, why some visitors decide not to purchase. There are dozens of major analytics programs available that will track website activity, through companies including IBM, Adobe, and comScore. However, Google Analytics has a vast majority of the marketplace, especially when it comes to smaller businesses, as it is both free and easy to understand.

Google Analytics allows users to analyze website traffic, track purchasing activity, and gauge the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. The site gives helpful data on visitors coming to the site, including where they are coming from, how often they visit, and what type of device they are using; the keywords entered to find the store and the pages that link to the site; data on the most popular pages and where visitors enter and exit; and ecommerce statistics about merchandise, transactions and revenue activity information. The data is customizable, allowing users to choose different factors that they would like to keep a closer eye on.

Getting started is very simple. Add a code provided by Google Analytics after signing up to each page of your site that you want to track, and wait a few days for Analytics to collect traffic data. Upon signing into Google Analytics, you will see the main dashboard which shows all the reports available for viewing, adjustable by date to see specific time periods. Google provides videos and tutorials to help users learn all of its features, and there are also books and online courses available that allow users to go deeper into everything available through analytics.

To track your ecommerce transactions, the first step is to enable ecommerce for your reports, and Google Analytics' site goes into detail about how this is done. The data available includes products purchased, amount, and billing location. Google notes on its blog, "Tracking ecommerce transactions in Google Analytics allows you to see the value of traffic by geography, keyword, referral, campaign, and many other dimensions. You can see ecommerce performance metrics on the ecommerce tab of many reports. In addition, the ecommerce reports provide information on product and sales performance, number of transactions, and time to purchase." These figures give a wealth of valuable information. What percentage of people buy on their first visit to the site? What is the average number of visits before shoppers make their first purchase? Is the number of products purchased on an average visit increasing or decreasing? Do purchases change wildly by season, or are they relatively stable? Are many customers abandoning their carts when they see the cost of shipping? All these questions can be answered by looking through analytics data.

For AdWords users, linking AdWords and Analytics shows which advertisements work and which ones do not. As Google notes on its Small Business Center, "When Google Analytics data is linked with AdWords, the patterns and trails made by your visitors who convert (and those who don't) come into much sharper focus. You might find, for instance, that 80 percent of your buyers arrive at a particular conversion page within two minutes of reaching your site?in which case you might try routing all traffic to that page faster."

Following are some important things that Google Analytics will tell you about your site:

The device or operating system visitors are using.
Sites look differently on Internet Explorer vs. Chrome, and there is a major difference between viewing on a computer instead of a tablet or smartphone. If analytics informs you that 19 percent of your visits come from mobile devices, and the site is not optimized for smaller screens, it indicates that it may be time to make your site mobile-compliant.

Where visitors are coming from.
If 75 percent of the people coming to the site are doing a search for spark plugs, yet it only represents 24 percent of your total sales, what does that mean for the price and/or quality of the product? Conversely, if only five percent of the searches are for Christmas lights, yet they represent 30 percent of total sales, this is a good sign that the item should be front and center, because people are buying. In addition, what sites are linking to you? If there is a steep increase in traffic from a certain site, why is that occurring?

The bounce rate and amount of time people are on the site.
Bounce rate is an incredibly important statistic to keep track of. It signifies the number of people that come to your site and leave after viewing the first page. The lower the bounce rate the better, because it means that more visitors stuck around to further examine the site. You can further break it down into bounce rate for first-time visitors, which will show how people unfamiliar with the site explore more pages. In addition, analytics let the user know how many pages visitors went to on average, and the length of time they spent browsing.

Comparisons by time.
Comparisons can be especially useful if you are running an advertisement or having a sale. If a promo was running for six weeks, how does traffic compare for that period compared to the weeks before and after? Did the ad provide a significant boost? Also, if it was a web link, how much traffic came from people clicking on that banner?

Checkout data.
Most checkout systems are several pages long. If customers exit before completing the purchase, at which step did they abandon the process? Checking on this vital fact will show where there may be an issue.

Amount of viewers engaged with social media.
Using analytics lets you know how many visitors like the brand on Facebook, or +1 it on Google+.

All of the previous features are standard with Google Analytics. However, if you really want to connect it with your specific business, custom reports and tracking give the opportunity to take a closer look at what is really important to you. Alerts can inform you if something is wrong with the site, quickly and easily. For example, the dreaded "404 Page Not Found" error message can be fixed in a snap, avoiding disgruntled customers. As Tim Leighton-Boyce writes on his ecommerce blog, CX Focus, "If someone comes to your site and all they get is an error, they may not give you a second chance. To adapt a well-known analytics phrase: 'They came, you slapped them in the face, they left.' So a quick fix for these problems is very valuable indeed. Using Custom Alerts, I cannot only see that there's been a sudden increase in 404 pages, but also an instant analysis of the source of these visits, and, since these visitors are being referred from another site, there's also a handy button to take me to the referring page with the dodgy link. So I can click straight over there and try to sort things out. In short, GA tells me something's wrong, suggests what the cause may be, and even helps me on my way to providing a fix."

Putting a little bit of time into understanding all of the features analytics can offer is well worth the effort. The more you know about your visitors, the better you will be at serving their needs.

Topic: Web Tech Tips

Related Articles: Google  Analytics 

Article ID: 1554

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