If you’re running a blog or magazine-style website and are having success with it, you have no doubt put in a lot of hard work building an editorial process, publishing articles, and have conducted the necessary hand shaking to build your readership.
Trust us, we know how much hard work it takes to become a successful web publisher. We all started at the same place at one point. However, once you’re a successful plateau of content generation, you may find yourself wanting more… wanting to build a better experience for your users that generates more page views, more engagement, more signups, and of course, more revenue. And, that’s where really understanding Google Analytics comes in to play.
Let’s focus on three specific reporting tips that fit well for web publishers: custom dimensions, segments, and goals. Before we jump into each, let’s take a look at a few things every Google Analytics report consists of: dimension and metrics.
Dimensions – On the left side of your report you will view the report dimensions. Dimensions describe your data. An example of this would be the Location report (found under “Audience”). The location information you see on your left (country in this screenshot) is the dimension of the report.
Metrics – On the right side of the reports, you’ll see the metrics – quantitative measurements of your data. In the screenshot above you can see the acquisition and behavior metrics that correlate with each location dimension.
Now that we have the basics covered, let’s jump into some of the more advanced things we can do with Google Analytics account that will give us a better understanding of how users interact with our website and content.
Now, by default Google Analytics gives us a ton of different dimensions. But, because every website is different, with varied content and users, it’s important to get specific with the kinds of reporting to make right choices for our content. This is where custom dimensions come into play – they allow the web publishers full control to generate reports that feature just about any kind of information or data set that you can think of regarding user data. A few examples of custom dimensions for web publishers are:
- Article category: Which of your article categories is the most popular?
- Article tags: Which tags are your users clicking on the most?
- Author: Who is the top author of your content?
- Publication year: Is the current year the most popular of a previous year?
- User login status: How do data points change for logged-in users (if enabled)?
- Article length: What is the average length of are your most popular articles?
- Featured image: Do users spend more time on articles with a featured image?
- Video: How does your audience respond to posts with videos included?
Once you decide which custom dimensions best describe your content and audience, you can use those specific dimensions to learn more about readers wants/needs. Using some of the examples above, you can find out information about say, your readers’ favorite article category. Now, you may be spending all of your time crafting all of your content about “category A”, but then find out after setting up a custom dimension that “category B” is getting all the attention. Armed with this information you can now adapt to your user’s interests and create content for the preferred topic.
Another example could be content that features video. Maybe you’re not happy with the user engagement data you’re seeing in your analytics overview – time on site is short and bounce rate is high. For some reason you can’t seem to keep your users around long enough. Then you create a custom dimension that looks at your video content, and notice that compared to your overall data, time on site is way up and that bounce rate goes down. You can now make a decision on how to include more video content and create a richer experience for your users.
In order to get started with custom dimensions, you must first make sure your account has been upgraded to Universal Analytics – chances are if you’ve set this up in the last few years it already is, but an older Google Analytics installation might have to go through the upgrade process. You won’t be able to view any custom dimension data until you actually define them – Google Analytics will only track that data from the initial date of setup. You can only define a total of 20 custom dimensions in the free version of Google Analytics so choose them wisely.
Creating a custom dimension is a fairly painless two-step process. The first step is accessing the custom dimensions tab in the admin section of your Google Analytics account; go to admin and then access the “custom definitions” drop down in the center column (labeled “properties”):
Next, you will create your first custom dimension:
Then, you will define the type of dimension you are looking to track:
The last step will require you to update your Google Analytics code to track the specific data properly. If you’re not the primary developer for your website, you’ll need to reach out to your web developer to make sure the code is properly installed. If you’re a WordPress user using, for example the popular Google Analytics plugin by Yoast, if you upgrade to premium version of the plugin you’ll be able to track custom dimensions without touching a line of code.
Next, let’s jump into segments, a tool that helps us understand our content and users. Segments are nothing more than subsets of our data and they can be applied to any Google Analytics report easily.
Let’s look at a hands-on example to explain importance of segments.
Looking at this report, we can tell that bounce rate is 54.96%. Does this mean estimating likelihood next user to visit our site will bounce at just under 55% is the best we can do? Absolutely not. And, that’s where segments come to the rescue.
Digging deeper into our sample website data, trying to figure out why bounce rate wasn’t lower got me to audience geo-report that simply lists our top countries, ranked by number of sessions.
You see how bounce rate for one country REALLY stands out? For some reason Spanish people hate this website. Perfect time to create our first segment. Read about the “how to’s” of building segments here. For this example, all you need to know is that segment represents a subset of traffic that’s coming from Spain.
Once you have created a segment or picked one of the built-in segments, you can apply it to your reports and see a subset of data from all reports associated with that particular segment.
Applying the “Spain” segment allowed me to discover something interesting. The screenshot above is from Exit Pages report (since I was looking into bounce rate) and it helps me see which pages Spanish audience is leaving my site from. Unusually high percentage of people from Spain, compared to site average, leaves my blog page. I know there’s nothing offensive to Spanish audience there, but I also happened to run across a report that says of all EU countries, Spain has lowest percentage of people able to hold a conversation in English.
That is a clue. It tells me I could probably try translating a few posts to Spanish to see if that reduces bounce rate for this particular segment, which will in turn decrease overall bounce rate. Then I can focus on another segment… and another… and another. So, instead of trying to break a bundle of sticks all at once, segments let you break them one by one. Aesop and segments for the win.
While custom dimensions and segments are extremely important in helping you gain some wonderful insight into how your user base interacts with your content, unless you’re tracking goals conversions, how can you tell if your business is succeeding or failing?
Let’s take a look at the 4 types of goals you can create in your analytics account, but before we do, keep this in mind, a Google Analytics will only start tracking goal conversions after you have defined your goals. You can’t create a goal and see how many people would’ve converted on it in January 2012.
Destination goal is triggered when a user visits a certain page, or multiple pages in specified order. A great destination goal example would be user visiting your “sign up for our newsletter” page, followed by that same user visiting “thank you for subscribing” page after they’ve clicked confirmation link in an email.
Duration Goals and Pages Per Session Goals
These two goal types are similar in sense that they both track engagement, they just do it in different ways. A duration goal will convert every time a user session lasts longer than time you specified, pages per session goal will convert whenever a session consists of “X” pages or more, “X” being number you specified when creating the goal.
They’re both easy to set up and very important for web publishers, so they are a great way for you to familiarize yourself with Google Analytics goals.
Finally, event-type goals are triggered when user complete an action or multiple actions you defined. These can be many different interaction with your site, but a great way to think about them is, for example, wanting to track specific clicks on an advertisement. How valuable would that information be to sponsor? Using this example you would use a line of Google Analytics code to tell analytics to trigger these clicks as an event, then set up an event goal to create the reports. Then you could track different ad placements to see how they perform against each other. Other examples of event goal tracking include goals that don’t have destination pages – download links or ajax buttons that complete a goal without sending the user to an additional web page.
Bonus: Goals & Segments
Remember those built-in segments I mentioned earlier? Three of those are goal conversion segments and they help isolate users who convert and sessions in which conversions occurred:
- Non converters
- Sessions with conversion
By applying these to your reports you will be able to tell what it is that makes users convert. Perhaps a certain acquisition channel converts far better than others? Are there some landing pages that help conversions? Getting answers to these questions is easy if you apply one of these segments.
If you’ve made it this far, you’re ready to jump into your analytics and start answering some of the questions you no doubt have bouncing around your head.
- What categories of content are my users most interested in?
- Which one of my guest authors is crushing it?
- Do people prefer posts with videos in them?
- Does anyone download that free PDF I spent months working on?
The list will be different for everyone, but they’re all great questions to ask.
Remember, use custom definitions to describe your content better than Google Analytics does it out of the box. Create user segments to better understand your users, and most importantly track goal conversions to know if your website fulfills its target objectives.
This process will help bring your website goals closer to your actual business goals, and you’ll develop more ability to change and adapt at a pace that will have a huge impact on revenue.
This article is based upon an SEJ ThinkTank webinar presentation. You can watch the video or view my slides below.
Featured Image: Created by SEJ
All Screenshots Taken By Author in March 2015