Updated: Oct 22, 2021
Most business owners have an operational understanding of Google Analytics. Enough knowledge to get a few key insights, but not enough to be completely overwhelmed with the plethora of metrics to sift through.
(Side note: if you’re a business owner that doesn’t know about Google Analytics, you should definitely give us a call.)
Getting the most out of Google Analytics requires the ability to filter out the unnecessary options, and focus on what is working for your business. Much like a good driver focusing on the street signs instead of their ringing cell phone.
With that, you can consider me your Google Analytics driving instructor. Letting you know what to focus on and how to avoid distractions when deciphering your website’s analytics.
Affinity Categories Audience > Interest > Affinity Categories
The Affinity Categories section of Google Analytics gathers web visitor data and categorizes them into various categories. Including “Sports Lovers” or “Avid News Readers.” On the surface, this feels like a helpful metric for businesses. That is, until you understand how Google compiles that data.
There is a key distinction between data gathered for Google Analytics and data gathered from social media platforms.
The social giants that provide affinity categories through their pixel platforms, just like Google. However, the platforms utilize declared data. Which are data points that users input into the gathering system themselves. Think of job title, hometown, page likes, etc.
Google’s affinity categories tool utilizes inferred data. Which is data points gathered through passive scrolling from users. For example, if someone visits ESPN four times a week, they will be pegged as a “Sports Lover.”
While inferred data is by no means incorrect, declared data naturally has more authority from the nature of how data points are collected.
So, if you’re looking to gather some affinity data for your website, utilize social media pixels and bypass the Google Analytics information.
2. Age / Gender Demographics Audience > Demographics
Following in a similar vein as the Affinity Categories, the demographic data gathered within Google Analytics should be taken with a (very large) grain of salt.
Again, the issue with these Age or Gender demographics is the inferred, rather than declared, user data.
This collection strategy doesn’t account for people who share a computer. A husband and wife, for example. The demographic data doesn’t translate well into actionable insights.
My recommendation for business owners trying to understand their current demographic appeal is to utilize social pixels to generate higher-quality data.
3. Exit Pages Behavior > Site Content > Exit Pages
When analyzing website engagement, bounce rate and time on page are great metrics to understand the appeal on a page-by-page level.
However, there is a metric cited by many agencies is a key indicator of page success. Exit pages analyze how many times a user leaves your site on a certain page.
On the surface, exit pages seem like a quality metric to measure engagement. What the metric doesn’t take into account is the purpose of each page.
Many blog posts, for example, are designed for someone searching a very niche subject to visit the site, gather information needed, and leave. Think of recipe pages in the same way.
As we’ve all experienced with recipe pages, frequenting a site to gather information is a great way to build brand trust and recognition. So while these pages are often exit pages, they serve a larger purpose of building repeat site visitors.
Top Conversion Paths Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels > Top Conversion Paths
The old adage, “success is never a straight line” also stands true for website conversions. While many well-developed sites can draw leads or sales from someone visiting their site one time, the key to long term success is getting those customers who didn’t convert to come back.
That process of retaining customers can be traced, analyzed, and improved through the Top Conversions Path section in Google Analytics.
This often-overlooked section of GA can lead to some incredible insights of how users found the business website, and if paid campaigns are operating at the right level of the buying cycle.
Typically, paid digital display campaigns operate as a great first-touch website visit. However, these campaigns often have low conversion rates. These campaigns can find justification if Top Conversion Paths often show users visit first through display, then returning via direct or search to convert at a later date.
Understanding the conversion paths can be a powerful tool to shape messaging, paid ads, and branding.
2. Site Speed Overview Behavior > Site Speed > Overview
The site speed section of Google Analytics is often breezed through when agencies review improvements with a client. However, site speed can be the difference between ranking 1st or ranking 13th for mobile search listings.
Since mobile data loading is much slower (as we’ve all experienced), site speed is a major indicator of mobile rankings within Google and Bing. With mobile search volume far surpassing desktop search volume (and only increasing), mobile keyword rankings should be a cornerstone of any search engine optimization campaign.
More than just some metrics on monitoring speed, the site speed section within Google Analytics also provides site improvements that could yield major gains in the mobile rankings department.
3. New Users Audience > Behavior > New vs. Returning User
The New Users metric is displayed all over the place within the Google Analytics platform. However, most agencies and business owners overlook this metric when analyzing a website’s performance.
More than just seeing the number of new users to the site, layering New Users into Acquisition Channels can determine the best channel for gaining new customers. Whether that be organic search or social media, knowing where your business is finding the most new customers can be a great tool to amplify growth.
New Users by device is also a helpful tool to see the site that gives new users a first impression. If your mobile site is lacking a bit in design, yet most of your new users are coming to the site via mobile phones, you know to put emphasis on the design of the mobile version of the website.