Obtaining important insights with Google Analytics
Google Analytics is a well-known tool that collects all kinds of statistics of your website to help you better understand your visitors. The free tool offers valuable basic insights like bounce percentage, conversion rate and site speed. But really how valuable is Google Analytics and how does it relate to other (free) web analysis tools?
What is Google Analytics?
Google Analytics allows you to measure conversions like sales (hard conversions) and subscriptions to your newsletter (soft conversions). You can also discover how visitors use your website with the free analysis tool. Which pages lead to a lot of conversions and which have a high bounce percentage? How do people land on your pages and how can you entice them to come back? That indeed can be pretty valuable insights, because it can yield important action points for purposes as conversion and search engine optimization. You have to identify these action points yourself however, since Google likes to keep a lot of things secret.
How does Google Analytics work?
Google Analytics works through a tracking code on your website that registers all kinds of information, such as clicks and on page times. This results in a large collection of website data that allows you to answer lots of questions, such as: “What are visitors exactly doing on my website?” and “Where do they come from?”. The data is divided in roughly 4 sections:
- Audience (who visits your website?)
- Acquisition (where do you visitors come from?)
- Behavior (wat are visitors doing on your website?)
- Conversions (what does it add up to?)
The Audience section offers reports with visitor characteristics. Think of demographic, geographic and technological characteristics. Which browser is used the most and what kind of devices do visitors use to check out your website? And perhaps even more important: which device maintains the highest conversion rate? Having insight into this data allows you to make targeted improvements.
The Acquisition section of Google Analytics shows where your visitors come from. Did they end up on your website via the organic search results of Google for instance? Or did they directly type in your URL or was it a paid advertisement that lead them there? This data too can lead to targeted action points and enable you to take grounded decisions.
The section Behavior shows wat visitors actually do on your website. You get a good idea of the path one takes from one page to another. This is also the place to discover which pages get all the attention and which cause people to leave your website.
The Conversion section is what it’s all about when trying to make money with your website. Configure the target URL’s, for instance a thank you page that is shown after a purchase has been made, so Google knows when a conversion has taken place. In this way, you get a convenient overview that shows how many sales, contact requests or other conversions you have realized that day, hour or period.
Downside of Google Analytics
Google withholds data: not provided
An even larger downside of Google Analytics is the fact that Google deliberately withholds information. Search engines do not disclose everything, because they want to prevent webmasters and marketers of exactly knowing what to optimize for higher rankings which would lead to over optimization. And that would endanger the goal of search engines: presenting relevant websites to the search engine users.
Linking Google Search Console
A nice addition to Google Analytics is the possibility to link it with Google Search Console. This doesn’t only allow you to see how many visitors you receive from Google, but also which keywords they have used to reach your website. That is a very interesting functionality that tells you a lot about the search behavior of your visitors and enables you to better apply optimizations concerning the search engine.
Our advice for using Google Analytics
Our advice: make use of everything Google Analytics has to offer, but don’t go crazy with it. Yes, if you configure the tool properly, it can be a very valuable starting point for analysis purposes. You would do well to apply the tool, but there are more extensive tools available. Check our overview page of web analysis tools for other tools we advise. Another possible strategy is to complement the acquired data with tools as SEO Profiler and Powersuite. These tools have a more complex scope and offer concrete action points. Furthermore, the power of these tools is that they have their own web crawlers that search the web looking for changes, patterns and relations between websites and their Google ranking positions.
In fact, you’ll want to use Google Analytics to have a global idea of where you’re heading with your strategy. Not heading in the right direction? Then Google Analytics provides general indications for a better structure. You however have to detract these from the huge amount of data on hand. And yet we even haven’t discussed the multiplicity of information you get when you measure more specifically using advanced audience segments, conversion paths or manually configured data variables..
Our thoughts on Google Analytics
Google Analytics is certainly useful to acquire some interesting, basic insights, but the tool does have its shortcomings - as is often the case with freely available software from Google. Only limited information is available and Google doesn’t tell what exactly you have to do to get a higher ranking. Google deliberately chooses to withhold a lot of information (not provided) to prevent you from being able to fully optimize. Just as well for the search engine users of course, because they are looking for the most relevant website and not particularly for the best optimized one. Still, to our opinion, Google Analytics shouldn’t be absent from your collection of tools since it can function as a valuable starting point for further analysis purposes.