If you’re not exactly sure where to start on improving your website, I have the answer for you: you should start with data. And the best place to get data is Google Analytics. Google Analytics is an immense website that digs deep into the data on every aspect of your website, and understanding it well is vital to business success. So in this article, I’m going to walk you through one little part of that puzzle – the acquisition analytics strategy. And by the end, you’re going to understand what each section does, how to read it, how to take the best advantage of it and build faster on your website based on the data that you’ve acquired.
And, as always, this article is a reworking of my YouTube video, coming out at the same time. If you’d like to watch that instead, you can do that here: https://youtu.be/VrQo0ZucvDU
And if you want a preview, just check out this quick clip:
Alright let’s jump in!
I’m assuming that you already have Google Analytics installed but if you don’t, it’s a really easy thing to do. Go to analytics.google.com, start a new account, grab that little piece of code Google provides you and follow the instructions to install it on your website. Just keep in mind that once you install it on the website, you’re not immediately going to have data because it doesn’t have historical data (aka, data that might have been collected before you installed Google Analytics). Instead, it’s collecting data in real time, and sending it back to Google based on that code snippet you just put on your site. So if you’re just now installing it, at least a week from now is when you should check it first, otherwise, there hasn’t been enough time to collect any meaningful data and you’ll start making conclusions based on very little data.
The other thing to point out here is that we’re going to spend most of our time in the channels report. To get there, go to Analytics, choose the Acquisition tab, then the All Traffic submenu, and then select the Channels report.
There’s a lot on this report. And no doubt it can seem overwhelming. But no worries! We’ll go through each part in detail so you can understand exactly how this works.
Default Channel Grouping
Your report will be organized with the default channel grouping on the left side. These are the marketing channels that are leading to visits to your site. So if you’re seeing Organic search at the top, then you’re pulling in the most users from this source, etc. Let’s go through every source to get a clearer understanding of what they mean.
- Organic Search. When you have optimized your website for keywords, backlinks, and all other things related to search engine optimization, your traffic will be showing up from Organic Search.
- Direct. Direct traffic results from people putting your URL into their address bar. This possibly indicates good non-digital marketing efforts
- Referral. Referral traffic is being sent in from other sources to your website. This could indicate strong backlinking activity
- Display. This indicates any traffic coming from display ads. So if you’re using banner ads or video ads, you’ll see results here.
- Social. This indicates all traffic from Social Media. You can always click on these to get more detail (including what specific social media channel), because “Social” is a very broad category.
- Affiliates. This category refers to people who are selling your product/service on your behalf in exchange for a commission on that sale.
- Paid Search. This category is for traffic coming in from pay-per-click Google search ads.
- Email. This isn’t on the list, but you’ll often see it listed on your own Google Analytics. It indicates traffic coming from your email marketing campaigns.
- (Other). It’s just the case that not all your traffic is knowable. Anything Google Analytics can’t identify will be placed here.
You’ll notice that the columns are broken off into three general sections: Acquisition (answers the question: WHO is coming into the site?), Behavior (answers the question: WHAT are they doing on the page?) and Conversion (answers the question: ARE they buying?). We’ll break down the walkthrough from here along that basis.
Of the three acquisition columns, you should always look at Users and New Users together. Users represents the total number of people who have come into the page during the time range you have selected. New Users shows the unique users during that period. Generally speaking, you will always see that there are less new users than total users. It’s important to have a balance – you want people returning to your page, and if you ONLY have new users, that indicates disinterest in the page.
Sessions represents the engagement on your page. You can see that the number is higher than users. The reason is that users can have more than one session. There are three ways that a session ends:
- Inactivity on the page for 30 minutes
- It’s midnight in the timezone you set for Google Analytics
- The user left your page based on one campaign, and they came in based on another. For instance, they came into your webpage based on a campaign from a Facebook organic search, then they left your page, and then they came back in based on a Google ad. Those are two different sessions
But the thing to keep in mind about sessions is that it’s not very interesting on its own. What you’re interested in with sessions is sessions comparative. We want to compare two time periods and determine if there’s some difference between the two. For instance, is there a 20% increase in the number of sessions? What actions have been taken to lead to this?
Let’s next look at the Bounce Rate. The Bounce Rate is the percentage of people who come to your site and then take no action – they go to no other pages, click on no buttons, they don’t scroll. Nothing. So if you have a large number of people who are visiting your site for two seconds and then leaving, then they’re going to contribute to a higher bounce rate than people who look at the page, scroll down, click on something, go to another page or, really take any other action at all.
A good bounce rate range is between 30% and 70%. If you’re under 30%, you probably need to make sure that you’re optimized appropriately – that you have the pixel on every page and that it’s firing correctly, because a low bounce rate usually isn’t logical. People come to the page and they leave, that’s just how the internet works. If your bounce rate is over 70%, that means there’s something on the page that’s causing people to leave.
Now, that said, those percentages are dependent on the site. If you have a single page site then the bounce rate might be different than if you have many, many pages on your site. So you just need to take into account what your site structure is like.
Next is pages per session which is simply the number of pages on average that a visitor visits during a session. Typically, you want this to be as high as possible. If it’s greater than one, in most instances, you’re doing well. It’s an interesting metric to help you understand whether users are actually moving between your pages or not.
Average session duration is simply the average amount of time that someone spends on the page during a session. If it’s very low (for instance, less than 30 seconds), then you want to take a very close look as to why that might be happening. Check HotJar to determine if there are any points on your page that seem to be hanging people up. Maybe an image or a button is malfunctioning and you never even knew it. Average session duration indicates the problem and Hotjar helps you pinpoint it.
Now, as a reminder, one of the ways that a session expires is 30 minutes of inactivity. So if you are expecting sessions of long read time, then maybe you would expect a session to be longer than 30 minutes. You can always adjust your session duration thresholds inside Google Analytics if you expect something like that.
All three of these columns work together to tell you what the sales outcome of each channel is like. The eCommerce conversion rate is the percentage of sessions that resulted in a purchase. Typically, you’re looking for between 2% and 3% here, but the traffic patterns and the amount of traffic have a huge effect on the conversion rate. Higher sessions typically means a lower conversion rate overall.
Transactions is the number of purchases that happened on the page during those sessions, and the revenue is the amount of money you made off those sales.
Putting all three of these columns together you can compare the three different pieces of information, contrast the data acquired against the traffic from each channel, and understand what’s been most effective for you. You can also get a really clear idea of what channels are converting the best an which need special attention to improve.
This traffic report is, in my opinion, the most important bit of information you can acquire from Google Analytics. Other reports are highly valuable, but none give you the depth and breadth of your marketing activities quite like this report. I high advise you give it a lot of attention, and it will surely improve your business along the way.