Chiel de Leeuw

How to Use and understand Google Analytics in 2018

by Chiel de Leeuw

If you put time and effort into creating exceptional content, surely you also want to know the outcome. How many people read your article, page, or publication? Was your content interesting enough? Did it lead them to take further action?

The only way to find out is to start measuring!

If this is new to you, opening Google Analytics can seem overwhelming. The number of reports, charts, graphs, and metrics may appear daunting at first, but you’ll soon get used to it. Spending a little time exploring the tool will already provide you with valuable insights.

In this post you will learn:

  • How to set up Google Analytics
  • How to set goals before you start measuring
  • How to read various metrics and what they mean
As a bonus, we’ll look at few easy-to-find reports that will give you great insights fast.

 

Begin by setting up your Analytics

Google Analytics is a freemium web analytics service, and like most Google products, setting up your account is not rocket science. The first thing you need to do is login or create an account.

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Step two is to add a new property for your website or interactive web publication. When you create a new property, Google Analytics will give you a unique UA-Code, which looks something like: UA-12345678-9. It will also give you a JavaScript tracking code, but you probably won’t need this.

For Instant Magazine users, we recommend you create one property (one UA-Code) for each of your publication groups. This allows you to compare editions without needing to filter out data from your other groups.

 

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The last thing is to connect your new Analytics property to your content management platform (CMS). There are a few ways to do this:

  • Add your UA-Code or tracking code to your CMS → most likely
  • Add your tracking code to your website pages → rarely the case

Most content management systems just need your UA-code. If you use WordPress, for example, you can find numerous plugins to help you connect Google Analytics. Just make sure the plugin you select is well-maintained and regularly updated to avoid security issues.

If you use Instant Magazine for creating interactive web content, you can easily integrate Analytics by adding your UA-code in our editor.

 

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That’s all there is to it. You set up Google Analytics and connected your CMS. But how do you start analyzing your data? We’ll cover that in the next sections.

 

Analytics starts with clear objectives

It might sound obvious, but measuring only works if you know what you want to measure. Let’s say you created an amazing digital brochure. If your objective is to drive sales, you’ll need to check how many visitors ordered products after looking at your brochure.

If your objective is to improve brand awareness, on the other hand, you’ll want to check the number of new visitors you acquired and how often they shared your material. If your goal is engagement, then the number of pages per visitor and the average time spent on page will be important metrics.

It’s essential that you define the purpose of your content and set clear objectives.

For example:

  • I want 70% new visitors
  • I want the reader to read at least 8 pages
  • I want 80% of the readers to visit the magazine
  • I want 15 business inquiries
  • I want 3% of the visitors to share the magazine on social media

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Without predefined goals, you can measure, but the numbers won’t tell you anything. With goals in place (even if they begin as educated guesses), you can determine whether your content is performing better or worse than expected. Then, based on the information you gather, you can begin to optimize your content (more about that later).

First, let’s look at how to actually find the metrics you need to measure your content.

 

Getting to know the most important Google Analytics metrics

Before proceeding, it’s good to get yourself familiar with some Google Analytics metrics. These are numbers and percentages that you'll see over and over in various reports and dashboards.

 

Sessions

A session is basically just a "visit." It's a group of interactions by a user that take place within a given time frame. For example, a single session can contain multiple page views, events, social interactions, and ecommerce transactions. A single person might start several sessions in one day if they return to your site at different times.

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Source: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/2731565?hl=en

Users

This is the number of unique visitors that visited your website or digital publication. Again, a user can have multiple sessions. If some guy named Frank visits your website and looks at a few pages, then after a nice lunch break returns to his desk and visits again, Google Analytics will record one user and two sessions.

Avg. session duration

As its name implies, this is simply the average amount of time people spend visiting your website or publication during a single session. If two people visit your website, one spending 3 minutes before leaving and the other spending 10 minutes, your avg. session duration will be 6.5 minutes.

Pageviews

The pageviews metric is the total number of pages viewed by all your users. Repeat views of the same page by the same person are included in this number. You can look at the pageviews for individual pages, and also the total number of pageviews for your entire website.

Exit rate

Each page on your website has its own exit rate. It's calculated by dividing the number of sessions that ended on that page (i.e. users who leave your website from that page) by the total number of pageviews for that page. It indicates where people may be getting stuck and leaving your website.

Bounce rate

Bounce rate is the percentage of sessions that end after just 1 page view (in other words, they came and then immediately left again). Every page that serves as an entry point to your site has its own bounce rate. A low bounce rate indicates that users like what they see and continue interacting with your website or web publication. Learn more.

Tip: See how Taalcentrum VU combined analytics with qualitative data to figure out what was most engaging, and then improve their web publications.

 

The most important Google Analytics Reports and how to read them

When you start digging into your analytics, it's important to know what you're looking for. You can spend ages pouring over reports, but unless you approach your data with the right questions, you won't gain any meaningful insights. Stick to the objectives you defined earlier and try to determine if your content is performing above or below expectations.

Here are a number of the most important reports you'll find in Google Analytics. Each one helps you see your data from a different angle.

Audience overview report (Audience → Overview)

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This report helps you gauge audience engagement over a select time period for your entire website or web publication. It answers questions like:

  • How many users visited your site or publication?
  • How many pages did they view on average, and for how long?
  • How many of your users were returning visitors?
  • How many pages did the average visitor view? How long did they stay?
  • What’s your average bounce rate?

What conclusions might you draw from this data?

If you have a large amount of traffic, but your bounce rate is high or the session time is particularly low, it could mean that users are not finding what they're looking for and you should improve your content. If users are very engaged, on the other hand, but your traffic is low, you may want to spend more effort on promotion.

Channels report (Acquisition → All Traffic → Channels)

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The channels report helps you determine where your visitors are coming from and spot differences in their behavior. It answers questions like:

  • Which channels attracted the most traffic?
  • How does the bounce rate differ between channels?
  • Which channels result in the most goal conversions or ecommerce transactions?

What conclusions might you draw from this data?

If you see lots of visitors coming from a particular channel but not engaging, it could indicate that your content is not well-aligned with the link or ad they clicked on. You should check for consistency in your messaging. If, on the other hand, you see a particular channel with very little traffic but a high conversion rate, you might consider investing more in promotion on that high-performing channel.

Tip: Use UTM links when promoting your publication to increase the accuracy of this report.

All pages report (Behavior → Site Content → All Pages)

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The all pages report tells you which specific pages on your site or publication are performing the best according to various metrics.

  • Which pages get the most views?
  • Which pages are most people landing on?
  • Which pages are most people leaving from?
  • What's the bounce rate for each page?

What conclusions might you draw from this data?

Is there a particular page that is performing extremely well? Maybe you should consider making it more central on your site, or moving it to the front of your publication. Are your most important pages underperforming? Perhaps you should emphasize them more, revise the content, or add more compelling CTAs.

Mobile overview report (Audience → Mobile → Overview)

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This report breaks down your most important metrics, like users and sessions, by device type, splitting it across desktop, tablet, and mobile.

  • What’s the ratio between mobile visitors and desktop visitors?
  • Are there significant differences in bounce rate between devices?
  • Are there significant differences in conversions between devices?

What conclusions might you draw from this data?

If you see a higher bounce rate, or lower conversion rate for mobile devices, it could indicate that your site or publication is not well-optimized for smaller screens and you should fix it. Try to design your site or publication around the type of device the majority of your visitors use.

 

And we've only scratched the surface

There is so much more to explore in Google Analytics. Eventually, you'll want to look into custom dashboards, audience segments, event tracking, and even custom metrics. But that's for another blog post. Google also offers free video courses at the Analytics Academy for those looking to improve their skills.

Even at a basic level, the most important thing you can learn is to translate the data you collect into actionable insights. Setting goals, deciding what you want to measure, and asking the right questions are they keys to making analytics useful.

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Chiel de Leeuw
Chiel is a growth marketer and analytics specialist. He spends much of his day in Google Analytics, making sure Instant Magazine campaigns are being measured and improved.



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