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Google Analytics: Getting The Basics Right For Your Business

Head shot of Alan, Contact's founder & SEO specialist

Alan Fair

Founder & SEO Specialist

Google Analytics is, by far, the most popular web analytics platform – used by 68% of the top 1m websites and 88% of the top 10,000 websites. Most business owners with websites will have seen some aspect of Google Analytics in relation to their website but are they getting any value from it?

We’ve created this checklist of 10 key Google Analytics factors (sorted from easy to hard, shorter answers to longer ones) that any business owner should look at. If you’re a business owner and you can’t tick most of these (e-commerce ones might not apply) then you need to have a word with your staff or web agency as this is pretty important to your business.

Everything below requires a basic setup and most take between 10 minutes to a couple of hours to implement.

1. Do you have Google Analytics on your website?

This one seems simple but the number of websites we’ve come across that don’t have Google Analytics is frightening. Google Analytics isn’t the only option: there are options like Hubspot or Yandex Metrica as well as a variety of premium platforms. However, in our experience, websites without Google Analytics don’t tend to have other analytics software.

Google Analytics is not retrospective so if you don’t have the data there is no time machine to go back and get it – start now even if you don’t know what to do with it or why you need it, just get it set up and on your website and start collecting the data. 

Don’t forget to be GDPR compliant and update your privacy and cookie policies or you won’t be allowed to collect the data.

2. Do you have admin control of your Google Analytics?

The number of times I have talked to a business who then needs to talk to their previous web agency just to get access to their own analytics data is frankly depressing. Even if you don’t understand it or the value it represents at least accept that data is, and will be, important to your business – so get control of it.

Without it you’re very likely going to fall behind your competitors when you do get into creating marketing campaigns.

3. Is Google Search Console setup?

Google Search Console is a tool that helps you measure your site’s Search traffic and performance plus highlights issues to fix.

This is often overlooked but vital as it’s where Google tell you some of the problems with your site. This information helps you understand why you might not be getting into the Google search results (usually referred to as being indexed). So please get this set up and, of course, have it set up in your control. Just like Google Analytics, you can always give your web agency access via a user account but it’s your data for your business and you should own it.

What does it tell you? Things like errors on your site, pages that no longer exist or Google can’t access, keywords that you show up for in Google (not all but a decent number of them) just to name a few.

So it’s important that you get this setup as Google will continue to improve what information they give you access to. The more data you have about your business, the better.

4. Is your Google Search Console tied into Google Analytics?

So even if Search Console has been set up this important next stage is often overlooked and takes mere minutes to set up in the admin properties area of Google Analytics.

It will bring in some data to the Google Analytics system so you can run some other type of reports (not many at the moment but this could increase over time). Mainly you get some of the keywords that Google rank you for and their average positions and it’s easier to identify say keywords that appear on page 2 of Google so you can work on them…who wouldn’t want to know that information? 

5. Do you have goals setup to measure forms for specific business performance?

The goal of your website might be to generate new leads for your business through a form. If you don’t set up these goals in your Analytics dashboard, then you’ll lose valuable information about your potential customers. With goals set up you get to understand the following :

  • How many visitors come to your site and from what traffic sources?
  • How long did they stay?
  • How many pages they looked at
  • What demographics are they from (if you have demographics enabled)
  • How do you measure if they are doing what you want?

With goals set up you know someone not only filled out your form but now you know what traffic source they came from. This helps you to determine what marketing channels are providing the best return on investment (ROI) so you can adjust your budgets and strategies on those traffic sources.

6. Do you have Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), events or other measurements in Google Analytics to track general business performance and customer engagement?

As well as goals some of the other data sets can be used as KPI’s, this means that if you’ve just spent money on a copywriter rewriting the text on a landing page, is that page now keeping people on it for longer or sending them to the next page so they are looking at more pages than before. These KPI’s can be important to measure if the changes you’re making have a positive effect on your customer’s user journey on your website.

You can also set up events that are triggered by things like clicking on buttons or scrolling down the page -these are a little more tricky and might involve a using a developer to get them working correctly – however they might just give you a better insight into your visitors and what they are and aren’t doing when they are on your website. 

This allows you to make decisions on what to potentially change on the page/site so you can save time and now have a measurement to compare once you’ve done the change to see if it has a positive or negative affect to your goals and KPI’s.

It’s important to constantly tweak your site to get the desired result, marketing is a test, measure and adapt process with every iteration telling you something more about your visitor’s needs and wants, ignore at your own peril.

7. Have the Google Analytics stats been explained to you in a way you understand?

What do they mean for your business and visitor/customer profiles and are you able to make business decisions based on that data?

I, unfortunately, find that most business owners don’t understand even the basics of Google Analytics so it’s hard for them to know if the company they’ve hired are doing a good or bad job.

It’s very easy to make data look good, essentially providing a false positive so that you think they are doing a good job when they aren’t. This also goes for picking poor vanity metrics (metrics that sound good e.g page views but gives you very little insight into making a business decision).

For example, the number of new users coming to your website has increased by 30%…great! But if you now see that the average number of pages per session has gone down, the average time on page has gone down and more people are leaving the page quickly (that’s what bounce rate is), now the 30% increase doesn’t look so good. That to me, instinctually, sounds like the new traffic isn’t the right type of people you want to attract to your business.

If the company you are using aren’t cleaning the data and explaining what the results actually mean and you can’t check them yourself then please learn the basics of Google Analytics and start asking them questions at the next meeting, you might just save yourself some time and money and be able to give a different company the opportunity to help your company grow.

Google have their own courses so you just need to set aside some time to learn, you won’t regret it as it will empower you from that day on.

8. If you have an e-Commerce shop, is it providing the sales data properly so you can track what type of traffic is bringing you in the sales?

The number of times that Google Analytics hasn’t been setup to record sales data is frightening to me, especially with how easy it is to turn on. It’s genuinely heartbreaking to me to not have the years of sales data to sift through and find out what products are doing well from what traffic sources, when in the year they experience peaks & troughs and the years-on-years analysis to measure growth.

Now there is a lot of depth to other types of setups and it can get very complicated, however, the simple part of how much are you getting from what type of traffic source is literally a simple switch in the admin and possibly a slight change to the analytics code on your site.

9. Do you know if you’re looking at cleaned up Google Analytics data or dirty data that makes the numbers look bigger?

In Google Analytics you’re able to remove other countries from the data you see which is perfect if you’re focused just on your own country.

This will have an effect on the numbers you’re seeing because a visitor coming in from any other country is unlikely to stay as long on your site and will affect things like bounce rate (so they leave your website really quickly), average time on page and average number of pages, goal conversion and many other results are then negatively affected.

Essentially you could start to make business decisions based on completely the wrong assumptions.

Let’s run through a scenario – you see the bounce rate is high so you assume if you can lower it you might be able to increase your conversion on the page. That makes logical sense, it’s just like getting more people into your shop from the street.

How can you achieve that? Well usually you would look at what pages the visitors are landing on and try new layouts, copy, images, changing the colours of buttons tweak your offering etc… to see what gets better results.

Now if you do that and it results in positive change that’s great and that could just be what was required, however, there is also and more likely a chance that the conversions will go down…why could that be?

Well if you had cleaned up your data using segmentation (ignoring data that’s affecting the overall stats) you might have found that the high bounce rate and low time on page was caused by a flood of traffic from other countries that you don’t or can’t sell to.

This means the conversion rate was much better than you thought, which means the problem was with the amount of traffic you were getting from your country  – not the conversion rate. This is potentially an easier fix than testing lots of different things on the pages to find something that then works, you just need to increase what you’re doing already to get more of the good traffic.

Don’t misunderstand, testing and measuring to improve results is generally a good thing to do just don’t sabotage what’s currently working because you didn’t understand the data of what was actually working, certainly find ways to a/b split test though as a small percentage improvement could yield a lot of sales over time.

10. Are you aware that some types of traffic can contribute to the sales process and if you stop it you might consequently reduce your sales?

A lot of the time people will use multiple ways to research a service or product. This means that if you’re for example using Pay Per Click (PPC) Ads like Google Ads to get people on to your website, the person might leave the site and then follow up with a search for your business name or something relating to what was on the page, this means that they are searching using a search engine like say Google and no longer using the Ads to get to you or your product.

If your reports are set up to measure as last click attribution, that’s simply the last source of traffic before the goal or sale is being triggered will get the credit for the sale or action. If you don’t look deep enough you might assume that your PPC campaign was a waste of money because organic search was the last click in that scenario above, so you make the simple and what seams reasonable decision to stop doing the PPC Ads.

Suddenly your sales drop like a brick and you don’t know why and once you figure it out you’ve lost a lot of sales and your competition is now getting them, which means they have more profit to spend more to try to keep you out of PPC, not all Ad spend is for conversion sometimes it’s just to reduce the competitions exposure to customers or give you more brand awareness.

Now let’s flip that scenario and assume that you’ve used first click attribution to measure and again you don’t look deeper into the actual customer journey. Now you know that PPC is getting you all the business, great! you drop your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) campaign to save some money or put it into the PPC campaign to get even more clicks to the site.

Again sales drop, but this time it will happen more slowly because SEO unlike PPC doesn’t just suddenly stop, it tails off over time. You think you’ve done the right thing and bask in your smart decision…well at least for the first couple of months, but you now notice a bigger decline in sales and can’t work out why, you panic and change up your PPC campaign which changes how well it was working before.

What you didn’t realise was the PPC campaign you had originally was working perfectly as it was, but due to the dropping the SEO campaign the customers using Search to come back aren’t finding you anymore.

If you figure all that out and return to doing both PPC and SEO campaigns together it’s unfortunately going to take some time to build up your SEO again because your competitors have jumped up the rankings and have maybe 2-3 months on you. That could be as much as 4-6 months of sales that you’ve missed out on from the point of stopping to getting back up.

Please pay attention to the whole customer journey and ensure your making the right decision before you stop any specific marketing channel, also if you’re only doing the one marketing channel you might want to investigate multiple as more customers are using multiple sources to research and make their buying decisions.

Remember traditional marketing had TV, Radio, Outdoor (like billboards/bus stops), newspaper/magazine advertising and the most successful companies usually had a mixture of these advertising methods.

Digital Marketing is just traditional marketing with more channels to advertise with and even better measurements to figure out if it’s working or not and more importantly maybe why it’s not working.

Conclusions

We’ve covered the main talking points around Google Analytics, getting it setup correctly and interpreting the data the right ways. One final thing you really should do, and this is important, when you let an agency go please remember to go in and remove their access to your business data (that might include resetting passwords). This is just good practice when handling data to keep access reduced to only those who need it.

If you want the paranoid version of why you should care about it then here is a scenario that might make you do it…

What if the company you just let go starts to work with a direct competitor?

Now that agency has direct access to your business data. So now what happens if you hire a new agency and they start to knock it out of the park because they found an amazing source of traffic that provides you with lots and lots of high-quality leads?

Wouldn’t that be a great scenario…?

Oops, now that old agency can see that information and potentially implement it for your competitor, now those leads potentially half or more, and your cost per lead could go up as well hurting your profit margins.

Don’t take the chance, get a handle on your business data.

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Alan Fair

Founder & SEO Specialist

Alan owned and managed Contact’s predecessor, Contact Multimedia, for over 8 years and Contact Online Ltd for now 6 years. Coupled with HNCs in both Electronic Engineering and Computer Technology as well as well as over 26 years in the information technology industry he brings with him a wealth of market and technical knowledge to Contact Online Ltd which he started in 2012. Alan has also lectured in a couple of Open Access Courses for Glasgow University.

A specialist in the web development & digital marketing fields that form the core of Contact’s service offerings, Alan has been able to use this knowledge to predict emerging market demand trends years in advance forming the core of Contact’s on-going business strategy. He’s Contact’s very own Oracle!

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