Google Analytics is a data playground. I’m a fairly data minded person, so my first impression of the Google Analytics UI reminded me of when I was little, walking into a Toys-R-Us. Even if a copious excess of data isn’t the sort of thing that gets you all excited, Google Analytics (GA) still offers a wealth of knowledge about your website and your audience. Putting this data to work for you, building a better website by understanding and tailoring your site to your users’ needs, ought to be a top priority of any website admin.
We’ve covered getting started with GA, the power it offers a website admin and your options for getting it working on your website. Check there if you need help getting GA installed. Today we’ll examine the GA User Interface, taking a detailed look at the different ways we can view and play with the data GA makes accessible to us. Check it out!
Breaking Down the UI
A full breakdown of everything Google Analytics is capable of and how to take advantage of it could easily fill a book. This post will serve as a general introduction to GA and an overview of its main sections. The goal here is to give you a guided tour of the UI in a way that complements GA’s own Analytics Education feature. Check back for future posts that go into specific detail for features like ecommerce goals, audience segmentation, conversion funnels, and more!
Google Analytics has 6 major sections: Intelligence Events, Real-Time, Audience, Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversions. We’ll take each section one at a time and give you an idea of the tools you have at your disposal. We’ll go in the same order as the sidebar, except we’ll leave Intelligence Events for last rather than first.
Each section contains its own submenu options. After a brief explanation of the section, we’ll look at each submenu tab. Every section has an Overview submenu tab which is just a composite of main data points from each of the other tabs in that section. Let’s get started!
This is where you can see what’s happening on your site as it happens. It’s your current traffic report. See the users on your site as they come and go alongside a variety of different data sets related to them. It’s like a condensed version of the other sections that focuses solely on active users (defined as someone who has clicked on a page in the last 5 minutes).
Locations. Here you’ll find a detailed breakdown of your users by country alongside a world map. It tells you the number of users from each country and displays them in different visual representations.
Traffic Sources. This lets you know from where on the web users arrived at your site, breaking them down into categories such as direct (from another page on your site), organic (found your site via search engine), Referral (linked to you from another site), and Campaign (material you release that links back to your site). This is incredibly useful for seeing how effective social media, email, and other campaigns are in drawing traffic your way!
Content. Shows you each currently active page on your site, total users on that page, and the percent of traffic that page represents relative to the whole.
Conversions. This is where you monitor goals for your website that you set up in the main Conversions section, which we’ll overview below.
This is the motherlode of data about your users. See an overview of user data like total sessions, pageviews, average session duration, bounce rate, and more for your website. Evaluate the total number of active users on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Track specific use data like goal completion, revenue, session duration, and more on a given cohort that you define. And that’s just from the overview and two beta options (Active Users, Cohort Analysis)!
The submenus of the Audience section are pretty self explanatory, but powerful in their simplicity:
Demographics. Gender and age user data.
Interests. This shows the interests of your readers based on the data Google collects on them as the browse the web, sorted into categories. Affinity Category shows the recreational interests of your readers like technophile, movie lover, social media enthusiasts, etc. “In-Market Segmentation” shows professional interests: employment, technology, travel/hotel accomodations, web design and development, etc. It also displays behavior data for each group on your site.
Geo. Location and language data on every user.
Behavior. How often do users visit? Return visits? How long do they spend here?
Technology. OS and browser data, even see what ISP networks users connect from.
Mobile. Desktop vs mobile vs tablet stats, right down to the type of device: Nexus 5, iPhone, Surface, etc!
Custom. Allows tracking of individual user defined segments. Essentially you can track any segment of your audience that you want by defining a segment and adding it. Want to track the site usage of female millennials living in New Zealand that are French-speaking travel buffs and like browsing your site from Safari on their iPads? You can do that. You’re a little scary sometimes, Google.
Benchmarking. A feature you must opt into, you can share your data anonymously with Google and then compare it to other data sets from companies that also opt-in.
Users Flow. Visual representation of traffic flow through your site from given sources of your choice (country, language, browser, screen resolution, etc).
This section is all about traffic sources: how your users got from the wilds of the internet to you, and how they behaved once they got there. It’s a very valuable tool for evaluating the effectiveness of your marketing strategies. How many users did that last email campaign draw in? How many users find us through search engines? How effectively are we drawing in people from social media? The answers are all here.
All Traffic. This gives you varying level of details about how traffic gets to your site and what they do when they get there. Want numbers on social media driven vs referral traffic? Click the Channels tab. Want to see specifically which sites are sending you referrals? Click Referral. Note that there is behavior and conversion data given alongside each traffic source. This is where you can really analyze the value of those sources by looking at bounce rates, goal conversion, and other factors associated with each source.
AdWords. If you use Google AdWords, you can link your AdWords and Analytics accounts and analyze behavior data for AdWords here, similar to what you can do with traffic sources above.
Search Engine Optimization. Search Console is a Google webmaster tool that, when linked to GA, gives you data on your performance and potential user behavior in google searches. Link these services to learn what you can do to optimize your exposure in google searches.
Social. This tab takes the social data from All Traffic and expands on it considerably. See where traffic is driven to your site from discussion of your content from social networks. See the specific landing pages for those different sources and the flow of traffic from each source after landing. See the numbers on conversion goals from each source and identify the highest valued social networks in terms of conversion.
Behavior data is essentially interaction statistics. Every aspect of the user experience is captured here: where they go, how long it takes to load the destination page, what they search for, events they trigger, and more. See visual representations of user movement in Behavior Flow, design experiments like A/B page testing in Experiments, or navigate your site with a page specific analytics overlay with In-Page Analytics.
Site Content. Summary data on each page of your site, landing and exit page data, and content broken down by subfolders (only useful if you use a consistent sub folder structure in your urls). See pageviews, average time on page, bounce rate, and more.
Site Speed. See average times for page loads, redirects, server connection, server response, and more. Also breaks down that data for every page of your site individually under Page Timings, and Speed Suggestions gives you targeted, specific advice on how to improve the speeds on each individual page.
Site Search. If you have a search box field on your website, GA will feed you data on how much traffic it gets, terms being searched, and traffic that results from those searches.
Set up and analyze data on conversion goals, analyze ecommerce data, and view the paths taken by customers leading up to purchase to analyze behavior preceding a sale or other goal being met.
Goals. Goals can be destinations (how many users wound up on my registration page?), duration (how many users spent 5 minutes or more on this support documentation page?), page clicks (how many users visit at least 3 pages before they leave my site?) or events (how many of my different social media events were triggered this month?). Here you can view activity on pages that contain goals and the url paths taken to the goal. You can also view this data represented in different visual models.
Ecommerce. To use this option, you’ll first need to set it up by enabling ecommerce in GA and entering a tracking code to your website. Use it to view transaction data, revenue summaries and averages, sales times and dates, quantities, conversions, and more.
Multi-Channel Functions. Not every user visits your site once and makes a beeline to a checkout page. Often a user will find your site via ads, campaigns, social media, etc, check out what you have, leave, do some research, return, wander around, and then buy. This submenu is where you can find data on those intricate routes, and use them to explore what other factors are assisting in making up your users’ minds to go through with a conversion goal.
Attribution. Here you can investigate the degree of impression that different elements, pages, etc had on the user along the different routes they may take to a conversion goal. Is there a common page that most users visited before they went through with a purchase? An AdWords click? A particular path through your site that generates more sales than others?
Intelligence events are similar to typical GA events in that they are a custom activity trigger. Your site is monitored for a custom trigger and you are notified when it is tripped. Intelligence events differ from other events in that they specifically monitor for deviations in event activity. On a daily, weekly, or monthly time frame, you can monitor for irregularities and be alerted when they occur.
Set up an intelligence event for a particular product page for example, and if suddenly sales tank, you’ll be aware and can investigate. You can also monitor week to week activity for increases and/or decreases outside an average, monitor referrals from a particular traffic source for spikes or drops, wtc.
The train stops here. I hope you’ve enjoyed the tour. The vast expanse of data that is Google Analytics can be overwhelming, especially for folks that are not naturally very data driven or just learning the ropes of your website. My advice to you is to keep it piecemeal, pick a section or a few submenus that really interest you or that have the greatest potential to help you improve in your niche, and take your time to get comfortable with them. Then move on to a few more. Hopefully this article will help you identify those pieces and your experience in the great data playground will be a fun and rewarding one. Cheers!