“How’s your online marketing going?”

Has anyone ever asked you that question? Would you know how to answer it?

If not, don’t worry — you’re not alone. The Internet is vast and complex, and blending online marketing with real world success is no easy task.

And though there is an abundance of free information on how to do everything yourself, and an abundance of tools to “make it simple,” it’s like looking for the right handful of fish in an entire ocean.

After all, there are zillions of different blog posts on thousands of measurement tools and the pros and cons of each.

But you don’t need every tool out there. Google Analytics will get you what you really need if you know how to use it.

And you don’t need to be a master of ALL of Google Analytics. After all, Google Analytics is huge and powerful and does a million different things.

Start with getting to Google Analytics: https://www.google.com/analytics/

THE MOST OBVIOUS…

Overall Traffic

You find this in Google Analytics in the REPORTING section at Acquisition > Overview. Or, you can see the breakdown by channels at Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels.

This is by far the most obvious duh-hoy metric. It’s very, very basic. It gives your overall website traffic for a given time period.

So what’s to master?

Filters.

The trouble that a lot of companies have with looking at their overall traffic is that Google Analytics tends to record any and all traffic that comes to the site…

Including spam traffic.

Cut spam out of your traffic reports with filters.

Go to the ADMIN section and go to View > Filters. You can add the filters to exclude spammy domains one by one.

There are a few places where you can distinguish sources of good traffic from sources of bad traffic. One place to start is Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium.

You will see the list of where your traffic comes from, and a lot of domains there are spammy domains. Many will be obvious spam sites, and some you’ll want to take a closer look at. Pay attention to domains that end in .info, or with a foreign country code top level domain (.ru for Russia, for example). Anything SEO-related is also suspicious. Check them out.

Make a list of all the domains you don’t want to count as traffic, then add the filters to exclude them.

Pro tip: In ADMIN, go to View > View Settings and make sure the check box is checked to “Exclude all hits from known bots and spiders.” This makes your filtering a little easier.

Super pro tip: In ADMIN, go to View > Filters and add a new filter. Make it a custom filter. Select “Include” and in the Filter Field drop-down menu, choose Hostname. This will ensure your reporting includes only website visitors that are firing your tracking code from your actual website, not a scraped version of it.

Goal Conversions

This is usually the most important of all metrics. This is your measurement of success.

And it’s different for every business, so the first thing you must do is go to your own website and figure out exactly what you want your visitors to do.

If you have an ecommerce site, then most likely you want to track actual sales.

If you have a real-world service business, it may be that your website can generate new leads, so you’ll want to ensure you track those by tracking form submissions. Or perhaps your goal is to record how many eBook downloads your website produces.

If phone calls are your benchmark, that gets a little tricky. But Google Analytics plays nicely with many different independent phone tracking services, including what you may already be using to track calls. You may have to contact their support teams to get it going, but chances are you can track phone calls as goals in Google Analytics.

The main point is to understand what your business goals are and how your website helps you achieve them. If you can describe that concretely, chances are you can track it in Google Analytics.

The most important thing to remember is to set up what you track as “goals” — you find that in ADMIN > View > Goals.

It doesn’t always work out that more traffic = more conversions. However you get your traffic (email, organic, paid…) it’s important to get the right traffic.

Pro tip: Understand the difference between a “conversion” and a “goal”…In Google Analytics, your goal conversions are simply things that are tracked on your website. It’s not necessarily able to track your overall intangible business goals (such as “become the dominant name in my industry” or “achieve greater success than last year”).

It’s there to record and present data; remember to treat it as such. If your business goals change, you’ll have to update what you record as goal conversions in GA.

Super pro tip: Have an objective third party give you some feedback on the usability of your website. Could it be that the design itself is keeping customers away? Contact a web design company and get a free consultation. (Most companies will offer the consultation for free — but you may have to ask!)

THE LESS OBVIOUS…

Dwell Time

Google hasn’t released their special sauce that makes up their “dwell time” metric, which plays a pretty big role in organic ranking and authority. Industry experts believe it’s a combination of bounce rate and average time spent on site (session duration).

You’ll find both bounce rate and average session duration at REPORTS > Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels.

A ratio of these two makes for a pretty good fake dwell time. Bounce rate as a decimal point (e.g. 35% = 0.35) divided by average session duration (seconds as integers — 2 minutes 30 seconds = 150 seconds) gives a number that gets closer to 0 as user experience improves (lower bounce rate, higher duration).

You want this ratio to trend closer and closer to 0 over time. If it starts getting away from zero, it might mean site visitors aren’t interested in your content.

And you have to track it over time, because this ratio is relative only to itself for every website. Anyway, unless you’ve got access to your competitors’ analytics, you won’t be able to compare yours to theirs.

Pro tip: There’s a tiny drop-down underneath the traffic chart at the top. Pull it down and you can add annotations. Use this to mark the fake dwell time ratio weekly or monthly or however often you want. Later on, you can set the time frame for as long as you’ve been tracking and you’ll have those annotations as a quick and easy reference.

Mediums

Know your channels. You can dig deeper into them with the “Secondary dimension” option.

In REPORTING > Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels, where your channels are listed out, above the column heading “Default Channel Grouping” you’ll see “Secondary dimension” as a drop-down menu. You can see how well each channel performs by any number of criteria (such as age group or day of the week).

Pro tip: understand that no tool is perfect, and GA sometimes marks traffic in the wrong channel. Pay attention to paid traffic sources possibly showing up as direct traffic, referral traffic, or other. Many third parties provide traffic that shows up incorrectly, so watch it closely.

Super pro tip: use UTM parameters in all your promotions to help distinguish the true source and traffic type. View the results in REPORTING > Acquisition > Campaigns > All Campaigns.

Queries

While not as blissfully obvious and available as they once were, you can still see some of the actual search queries that people used to get to your site through organic searches.

You used to be able to see the queries by clicking on “Organic” from the list of traffic channels, but this is limited. Slightly less limited is the Google Search Console query list.

In REPORTING, go to Acquisition > Search Console > Queries.

If you haven’t connected Google Search Console to Google Analytics, it’ll tell you. There will be a button to click to set up Search Console data sharing. Click it.

It takes you to ADMIN > Property > Property Settings, which is where you want to be. Scroll all the way down.

Click the button that says “Adjust Search Console.” Follow that path to ensure that Search Console shares the data. Don’t forget to “Save” or else it won’t work!

Haven’t verified your website with Search Console yet? That’s an important step! Get your web team to do it as soon as possible. Get that started here: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/

It’s not as useful as it was years ago, before Google started respecting search privacy a bit more, but the queries it will provide can still provide a springboard for speculation, and can often surprise you with what phrases make you show up in search results.

Pro tip: If you haven’t yet verified your site in Search Console and you’ve got a WordPress website, log in and make sure you’ve installed the Yoast SEO plugin. Then, in search console, use the alternate verification method of the HTML tag. In the example code, you can copy the really big, long string of random characters. That’s the ID you need. Back in the Yoast plugin (in the Webmaster settings), add that ID and click save. Then, back in Search Console, click the button to verify the HTML tag. It should work immediately.

Demographics and Interests

Did you know Google Analytics provides demographics and interests of your website visitors? Find them in REPORTING, under Audience. You’ve got demographics (age and gender), affinity categories (movie lovers, travel buffs, and more) their in-market segments, their geography, and what kind of device they viewed your website on (mobile, desktop, tablet — even iPhones/Android/Windows phones, down to the model!).

You need to enable this ASAP to start collecting data if you haven’t already done so. It’s a one-button click.

This is a great way to gauge what tone your content should strike, what kinds of content you should be producing, etc.

Pro tip: pay attention and see if the types of website visitors you attract are the same types of people you sell your products/services to in the real world. If there’s a gap, there’s opportunity!

Here’s a fun exercise. Without using any digital tech, build a customer persona. Just a stereotype of the kind of person who makes up most of your customers. Then, when you’ve got data to see in this section of GA, take a look — does your persona match up with the actual data? Are you attracting the wrong kinds of customers? Are you trying to sell to the wrong kinds of customers? Remember, adaptability keeps a species alive…

OUTSIDE GOOGLE ANALYTICS

There’s a couple more things NOT found in Google Analytics that you really ought to pay attention to if you run a business.

Google Trends

Find it here: https://www.google.com/trends/

Are your keywords going to be effective for long? Check the trends. You may find that all your SEO and PPC efforts are centered on a phrase that’s on its way out.

Pro tip: If you’re getting started with some online campaigns, you can use Google Trends to make sure you’re going to start chasing after some phrases that look like they’re on their way up.

Google Alerts

Find it here: https://www.google.com/alerts

This is even less of a real specific measurement than Trends, but it’s still pretty great for keeping tabs on brand sentiment. Because not all PR is good PR.

Pro tip: Use it to pay attention to your competition.

Google’s properties, and especially Google Analytics, are very powerful tools that can really help businesses not only build an accurate picture of their online marketing successes, they can help businesses improve beyond their current state and grow their revenue online.

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Author Details
Rahul Alim is the CEO of Custom Creatives, a Digital Marketing Agency in Los Angeles, CA focused on effective Web Design, SEO, & Lead Generation.
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Rahul Alim is the CEO of Custom Creatives, a Digital Marketing Agency in Los Angeles, CA focused on effective Web Design, SEO, & Lead Generation.

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