The skills we teach deliver real ROI.

Archive of ‘Analytics’ category

How to Use Google Analytics to Optimize Your Website

Google Analytics not only provides a picture of the good things happening on your site which include sales and lead generation. It can also point out the things that are not working well that need to be changed. Below are five steps for optimizing your website based on data available in Google Analytics.

Identify pages with the highest bounce rates

In the Site Content section of Behavior data, you can view your landing pages. View which pages are the common entry points to your site. Are those pages designed to receive new visitors? In other words, will a new visitor know what your website is about if they land on one of these pages rather than the home page? If you see a high bounce rate, it could be that it is not a good introduction for people who are new to your business and there is some room for improvement. Pay special attention to landing pages with a large number of visitors and a significantly higher bounce rate than the other pages on your site.

Analyze goal performance

The easiest way to see how you are doing on your site is to look at your goals in Google Analytics. However, rather than looking at just the raw numbers or the absolute percentages, examine what’s been happening over time so you can see if there’s been an improvement in site performance. So yes, you will still want to look at conversions as a number on it’s own, but make sure you do watch for trends over time. And give extra attention to any spikes and conversions that may be related to a new marketing activity that you started or perhaps an update that was made to your website.

General site performance

The Site Speed section under Behavior is more relevant to the website developers then to the marketers. However if you are involved in decisions about the design, it is helpful to know if an image-heavy page seems to be causing a slow load time. With short attention spans, you are losing potential customers who lose patience and visit another site. The good thing is that this is one of those problems that can be fairly easy to fix and it’s very clear-cut.

Check the Reverse Goal Path report

In a previous article, I wrote about how the User Flow through a website might not be that meaningful for many sites. If there is not a clear path through your website to reach a conversion, it is hard to know what you are measuring other than the end result. However, you may still want to check the Reverse Goal Path report to see the pages a visitor navigated before converting on your site. It can be helpful to know which pages are the common steps followed by people who eventually complete a desired action

Look for drop offs in your conversion funnel

Once you set up goals you can see how people travel through your site to complete them with a Funnel Visualization report (found in Goals section of Conversions). With this report, you can learn which pages have a high exit rate in the funnel and brainstorm ways to improve them.

Website optimization is all about using data to make your website more attractive to visitors and make visitors more inclined to complete a desired action on your website. Looking for ways to improve your site using your analytics and qualitative data such as customer surveys is an ongoing process.

And always remember that no matter how great you may think your website is, you are not the customer. If you can stay curious about what it is your website visitors want, it’s easier to get rid of your assumptions and to be more open to creative ways for improving performance. There can be room to change your overall copy, your images, your navigation, your offers, your landing pages etc. The bottom line is if you adopt a mindset where your website is not a one-time project, you will increase the ROI with the channels used to send you traffic.


How to use Self-Referrals and PayPal Referrals in Google Analytics

A self-referral in Google Analytics means that your website is indicated as a referral source to your website which could have something to do with your installation.  Like with spam referrals, it’s frustrating to site owners if it happens a lot because it throws off your data as a whole.  You don’t know the true source of that great conversion traffic.


A lost referral is similar and occurs when there is a third party tool involved, such as PayPal for collecting payments off your website. Once you send visitors off your site to complete a task, like a purchase, the website where they complete the action is the one that receives credit for the conversion. I call it a “lost referral” because you don’t know if the originating traffic source was organic, paid, email or something else because Google sees the visitor coming back to your site from PayPal and assumes PayPal should get the credit for the conversion. Google Analytics also records that return visitor as a new session even though they only left your site for a moment to process payment.


You use the Referral Exclusion List as seen below when you do not want traffic from an external site to be a referral source or record a new session when the visitor returns from that site. Using the PayPal example, you would add to your Referral Exclusion List.


But this isn’t a perfect solution, although it does at least prevent a new session from being created when the situation described above occurs.  Simply adding a website to exclude list does not enable you to see what site visitors do on the third party site.  You want to see the full journey the user took which is when you would set up cross-domain tracking AND add the site to your exclusion list.



To have a picture of the full user path, you need to implement cross-domain tracking if the back and forth happen across website properties where you can implement tracking code. Cross-domain tracking then would allow you to track your website visitors to the third party site and requires assistance from your web developer for this set-up.


Note that once cross-domain tracking is set-up, you may still have conversions credited to your own website because of cookies. Returning visitors who were tagged with a cookie before you set up the exclusions and cross-domain tracking will still have conversion credit given to the original referral.  Expect to see this in the short-term after making this change, but this shouldn’t be a problem long-term.


When you don’t have access to the outside website property and cannot implement cross-domain tracking, with as a solution such as PayPal, you will instead edit the Website Payment Preferences on their website. In these preferences, you will turn ‘Auto Return’ to on and enter the URL of your ecommerce post-purchase page, such as  A the end of the URL for your post-purchase page, include ?utm_nooverride=1. Doing this gives credit to the original source of traffic rather than giving PayPal the credit for the purchase.  This Website Payment Preferences screen was a bit tricky to find in PayPal’s help files, so go directly to this link to make this change rather trying to hunt for it.


You can start addressing referral issues by going to the Admin area of Google Analytics and adding relevant sites to the Referral Exclusion List.  Then, if you have web properties that you can add tracking code to, you will want to use cross-domain tracking to properly record the shopper’s journey. With PayPal, follow the above steps. Every vendor is going to be a bit different so check their help files or contact customer support to ensure you have this set up right. Especially if you are using multiple digital marketing channels to sell products or services, you want to give credit to the right place so you know what to do more or less of.

Analytics and AdWords – Not Always Perfect Together


If you are advertising on Google AdWords, connecting it to Google Analytics is a must so you can view what happens after someone clicks on your paid ad. Getting to your site is nice, but seeing an action that may result in revenue is more important.

What can be a bit confusing initially when using the products is seeing different data in Analytics compared to AdWords for the same day. If searchers clicked on your ad 100 times on Monday, you would expect to see 100 visits to your site from AdWords on that date in Google Analytics, but that is not always the case. Most of the time, those numbers will vary. Although a small difference may not seem that important, you still want to know what your marketing budget is doing for you so you allocate it to the right channels and/or make necessary adjustments to your landing page.  Let’s take a closer look on how those two products work together so you understand what these different metrics really mean.

First ensure you understand how metrics are defined in Google Analytics. A click in Google AdWords is when someone clicks on an ad. This action is recorded immediately and invalid clicks are removed.  Google Analytics has all the activity that happens after this ad click.


What is User Explorer in Google Analytics?

In the last couple months, you may have noticed a new Google Analytics feature under Audience called “User Explorer”.  This presents a new way to analyze individual-user behavior on your website.

Each row in the User Explorer table represents a single user and the metrics for that specific user.  Anonymity is still in play so you will see a set of numbers (Client ID) to represent a unique visitor. This Client ID is generated randomly by Google based on device and browser information and persists across multiple sessions. And of course, it is good as long as people do not clear their cookies.

When you click on a row, you will see information showing when the user was acquired and through which channel. The top of the table will have additional metrics, such as the total number of sessions, session duration, and revenue for ecommerce sites. You can also filter session information by pageview, goal, ecommerce and event information.

When a new feature becomes available in Google Analytics, it is not always clear exactly how it should be used, including the User Explorer report.  Below are a few use cases for this type of data if you do want to learn more about your individual users.

Segment by bounce rate

Segments are a powerful tool in Google Analytics. One way to use a segment is to separate out high bounce traffic to determine if a particular type of traffic is the most inclined to bounce from your site. If you apply this segment, then look at User Explorer, you can see if individual users tend to bounce from the same pages. Perhaps a single traffic source is responsible for the bounce rate for a segmented group?

Sell more to buyers

Once a visitor becomes a customer, you naturally want that customer to convert again.  With the User Explorer report, you can learn how the high-dollar customers interact with your site. Once you examine that data, you can personalize the experience for your lower-dollar customers and provide the type of content you have learned the high-dollar customers enjoy.


Remarketing is a great tool from Google that works when used carefully – not overdoing it or repeatedly showing the same ads to people.  With individual level data in the User Explorer, you can see if someone made a purchase but did not buy the complementary item as you had hoped. You can then remarket to specific people for the specific items you want them to come back and purchase.

Market to personas

If you believe women over 55 who live in New York are your primary customers, you can create a segment for that demographic and apply it to the User Explorer to look at the purchases or goals for this specific base of consumers. What are they doing on the site that is different from other types of visitors?

Constant visits to the order status page

If you have a page that shows order status or delivery information and your buyer is checking that page multiple times a day, you may want to setup a feature where buyers would have the option to receive a daily email with status updates. Don’t assume this is a feature that all customers want, but could be a good optional feature based on your findings.

Drilling into paid search

Paid search can be tough to do the right way and many advertisers may see a high bounce rate, at least initially with a new campaign. Use the User Explorer report to study sessions in detail for visitors who come through a paid channel to determine whether your landing page may need some changes or the campaign needs new copy.

Although it still doesn’t provide information about the specific person that marketers would love to have, User Explorer does offer more information about the types of individuals on the site and can help site owners provide a more personalized experience, identify weak points in the customer experience through the site and identify trends in behavior.  As always, none of this data matters unless you can use it in your overall marketing strategy, but it is at least worth exploring.

New Feature: Integration of Search Console and Google Analytics Data

Search Console, formerly known as Webmaster Tools, is where website owners can manage the overall health of their website.  This Google tool provides information on site performance, identifies potential issues, allows submission of content for crawling, and displays backlinks and more.  Google also highlights the bad news in here such as malware warnings and 404 pages.  So although it was known as Webmaster Tools until recently, there’s always been a lot of value in that product for marketers. Recently, Google made it possible for site owners to view Search Console metrics alongside Google Analytics metrics which is even better news for marketers.

The ability to link these two accounts is not a new feature. Marketers and web masters have done that for years, which allowed them to see Search Console data with Google Analytics.  But to see them together is what’s new.  It’s still being rolled out to accounts so you may not see it in your account immediately and it may be a few weeks before you do so.  Once it is available to you in Google Analytics, you will see a screen like the below when viewing data. You will also notice a section named “Search Console” in the Acquisition tab that replaces the “Search Engine Optimization” tab.


The data between these two products (Google Analytics and Search Console) is joined at the landing page level so Landing Pages, Countries, and Devices will show data from both products. However, the Queries report will not change and will continue to show only Search Console data. This part is a disappointment to marketers who had hoped to get that valuable keyword data back instead of seeing “not provided”. Unfortunately, that keyword data is still encrypted and not available in Google Analytics data.

Below are two scenarios where you can learn more about your visitors and how they respond to your website once this integration is available in your account.

  • Discover which pages on your site are attracting organic users, but based on a high bounce rate and low conversion rate, seem to not keep their interest. Those pages on your site clearly need some attention!
  • See which pages do have a higher engagement rate, but not a lot of organic traffic. If that is the case, you may want to review Google’s best practices for SEO, such as including title tags and meta descriptions on your site to improve your search ranking.

Whatever scenario you use to review the data, the key is always to do something with it. Think about the user experience on your site and how it needs to be improved. If the landing pages are not providing the results you hoped, do some testing with a Content Experiment in Google Analytics, or through some other tool. Then continue to monitor this data in Google Analytics using the date comparison feature to see if the traffic on your site has improved as a result of making changes.

To make sure you have access to this data when it is rolled out to all Google Analytics accounts, make sure your Search Console and Google Analytics accounts are linked to each other. Enabling this feature does require having Admin access to the Google Analytics property. And the available Search Console data is still delayed by a few days before you will see it in Google Analytics. Since this integration is a powerful feature for learning more about your organic search traffic, make sure you are on track to see when it is available by first ensuring the connection is made between the two products in your account.

How to Import Cost Data Into Google Analytics

5stepzWhat do you think of when you hear the phrase “marketing campaign?”  It could be your email newsletter or paid Google ads. You probably have multiple channels where you run campaigns and naturally want to see how they all perform.  Campaign data is viewed in the Acquisition area of Google Analytics and we’ll focus on the cost analysis report.

This report lets you analyze revenue across your paid marketing channels by comparing the cost of a campaign with revenue for that specific campaign. This feature is built in for AdWords campaigns. In Analytics, you can see how your AdWords campaigns are performing without manual tagging campaigns. The Cost Analysis feature is for paid campaigns that do not run on a Google product, such as paid Bing ads.  This does not happen automatically; you will need to import the cost data for your non-Google channels using these five basic steps.


1. Implement custom campaign URLs.

You will first need to use the URL builder to create the URLs for your campaigns. By adding parameters to each URL, you are identifying the source, medium, and other relevant information about the campaign so it is viewable in your Google Analytics data. You will want to have a consistent naming convention. For example, if you will do some paid ads on Facebook, you either want to set the parameter to Facebook or facebook since it is case sensitive. Best practice is to use lowercase letters for all your parameters so you stay consistent down the road.

2. Create a data set to hold the data.

Next, you create a container to hold your data which includes a key. The key is a piece of data that is in Google Analytics.  It is not something new you are creating, such as a specific page URL.  The key for the page URL is then matched to your external data.

You will see the option to create the data set in the Admin area of Google Analytics under Data Import. Pick the type that is relevant to what you are doing.  As part of this process, you also need to define the Data Set schema which “joins the data you upload with the existing data in your hits.”

You may want to choose “Summation” to add new data to existing data rather than “Overwrite”, but it is good to know that overwrite is an option in case you made a mistake with the initial data import.

3. Generate the upload data as a CSV file.

Using Excel or Google Sheets, you pull together the data you plan to import and save it as a CSV file. Your CSV headers need to have column names that include the GA dimension or metric.

4. Upload the click and cost data CSV file.

Now you are ready to upload the data in your CSV file. If your data does not update frequently, a manual update will work fine. (For a more complex set-up, explore the Analytics Management APIs.) You will still be in the Admin > Data Import area of Google Analytics. Look for the new data set you created and choose to Manage uploads.

5. Report on your data.

It’s time to report!  Assuming everything went well with your upload and you have given it 24 hours to process, you can now run reports on this offline data in Google Analytics.  This data is available in multiple areas of your account under Custom Dimensions. Keep in mind, this is not retroactive so Google will only report on data moving forward.  You may discover some campaigns are performing well and others that may need the pause button. Both are helpful to know when making decisions about future paid campaigns. So good luck and happy reporting!


Does User Flow Matter in Google Analytics?

Jim-HalpertPeople want to control the visitors experience on their web site. And I get it. You want a clear path of navigation where people complete identified steps 1, 2, 3 and then bingo! They convert.  With the user flow report in Google Analytics, you can see exactly how people travel on your site once they arrive.  But this report can be pretty messy. Visitors travel a number of different paths before they take action or leave the site so it’s tough to identify what you think they ‘should’ do. If this is something you monitor on your site, you do not have to totally throw it out the window. But here are a few reasons for and against using the user flow report.

Why it doesn’t matter….

Google decides: The landing page report in Google Analytics is the page someone landed on when they did a search for your company, offerings, or some keyword related to your business.  In an organic search, Google doesn’t always return your home page. So when it comes to user flow from organic sources, Google is really the one who “decides” how the user journey starts based on which links they show in search results.

We’re easily distracted: I may go to my retailer site of choice knowing in advance what I want to purchase.  “But look! There’s a deal on something I didn’t know I wanted until now!” is not an uncommon experience.  Something may catch the eye of your visitors and they go to another section of your site. Eventually they complete a purchase, or conversion, but you do not know why it took three page visits versus eight page visits. It’s a dynamic experience every time a user comes to the site and impossible to predict what someone will do.

But sometime it does matter…..

Clear path: If there is a structured experience with clear steps to follow, then this report is helpful. For example, if I add something to my cart on a site, I could be taken directly to the payment page without any extra clicking on my part. I then enter my credit card information and am taken directly to shipping options.  Once I reach the shipping options, I see the shipping costs are as much as the product costs and decide to exit this site. In this case, the company absolutely wants to follow the path and see where people are exiting. If a significant majority leaves at the shipping cost page, then the strategy may be to share shipping information up front or have slight price increases with free shipping. Regardless of how it is handled, there is objective data to identify the problem.

Social media matters: Some people throw out posts on social media without measuring their impact on the site. Google Analytics does have a basic report on visits from social media sites, but what if you are a content heavy site with a solid social media strategy? In that case, you may want to go a bit deeper than the basic reports and analyze the user flow report.  When you look at this for your social media visits, you can quickly see how much traffic comes from each source. And with the flow report, you can choose to “highlight traffic through here” and see what customers do based on a specific channel. If you have a different strategy for each channel, this matters, or if you are a staff member assigned to a specific channel, this matters. You want to make sure social media is sending people to your site who complete your identified desired action.

A specific page is really, really important: If you have a specific path that is an important part of the overall user experience, you can use the flow report to isolate it. When you right-click on the page in the report, you can choose “explore traffic through here”, to see how traffic came to that page and what happened when they left the page; whether they remain on the site or exit it.

The point of this article is not to say you should or should not use the user flow report in Google Analytics. It is to get you thinking about why you use it. Are you using it to measure activity simply because it’s available or can you identify why this data is used in your business? Since this report can be complicated, it’s worth taking a moment to stop ask yourself that question before you go back into that deep, dark hole of data analysis.

Features You Are Not Using in Google Analytics

unnamedSome features in Google Analytics may be “new to you” or ones you have not yet explored. There is so much data in Google Analytics to get lost in, so a feature may be out for a while before you find time to really drill into it.  Here are a few you may want to explore.

Smart Goals

This week, I was showing someone how to set up a goal in Google Analytics, when I noticed “Smart Goals” in the Goal setup option.  In a perfect world, you already have Conversion Tracking setup in your AdWords account. However, if you don’t, the purpose of Smart Goals is to help you determine which type of visit to your site is most likely to result in a conversion.

However, in one account, I noticed it said “Smart Goals not available”. This is because the connected AdWords account had not yet received 1000 clicks over the past 30 days. In a new account,  there needs to be more click data before this feature can be used in Google Analytics.


11 Segments You Should Use in Google Analytics

numbersThere’s a lot of data in Google Analytics and viewing only the aggregated numbers may not be helpful. It tells you about your site as a whole but does not provide enough detail to learn about your visitors. This is where segmentation comes in. With it, you can get a better feel for which areas of your marketing plan may need some work.  Below is a list of 11 segments and why you would use them in Google Analytics.

Engaged traffic by conversion rate: Do the people who spend a lot of time or view multiple pages tend to convert more? Or do you see a higher conversion with people who are less engaged, implying they may have found what they needed immediately?

Source by significant revenue: Where do your big spenders originate? If you find that they seem to come from every source except your PPC campaigns, you may want to turn those campaigns off for a while and invest your dollars on the channels that offer the best return.

Transactions = 0 by steps: With ecommerce, a simple question to answer is whether people purchased or not.  With a segment, you can drill into visitors who moved towards a purchase, such as adding an item to a cart (which is one step), but who ended up abandoning the process.

Internal search by email campaigns: Users may find your site through an organic search on Once they arrive, they may use the internal search feature, which is on your site.  Let’s look specifically at this by email campaigns, which often have a number of options for recipients. They can click to read an article, make a purchase, or perhaps visit your home page.  What’s great about email marketing is it keeps you at the top of people’s minds and reminds them to visit your site. But when they come to your site from an email campaign, what do they search? That provides insight on topics you may want to include in future email campaigns.

Conversion by landing page: Which pages lead to conversions? If people come in through a specific landing page, do they convert more often than those who start on the home page?

Blog landing page vs bounce rate: We all have our favorite blogs. Sometimes we consume more than one post, others we read what we went there for and go about our day. Blog visitors may have different behavior than other visitors who started on another page, such as your home page. Use a segment to exclude people who landed on /blog/ and compare that to your site as a whole to see if bounce rate varies.

Facebook by content consumption: When you put a teaser on Facebook about a new post on your site, do people head over to the site to read the full article? If you tag your Facebook campaigns, you can also learn which ones brought the most engaged traffic.

Twitter traffic by bounce rate: Are people only interested in 140 characters of information or is that a good source to send to specific pages on your site? If you have a high bounce rate from Twitter, take a look at which URL you use in your tweets.  Is it always the home page? Or are tweets not clearly related to the referenced page?

Popular article by source: Is there a clear winner of all the content on your site? That one article that a lot of people read? It’s good to know the source of the traffic which may provide some insight about those visitors.

Social media by conversions: Social media can be a tough channel to monetize. People may “like” something you said but that does not always convert to dollars. However, you may be fortunate enough to see some conversions in your account based on social media source. If a particular channel is a high converter for you, then naturally you want to post more relevant content on there. And consider doing some paid posts to discover potential new customers.

Conversion by visits: Are your visitors buyers or browsers? Does it take a number of visits before they take out their credit card or do they buy immediately?

Give some of these segments a try in Google Analytics so you can see how powerful your data can be. There are a number of ways to modify the segments mentioned above as well as create new ones based on your business objectives.

How to Measure Social Media Efforts with Google Analytics

social-analytics-google-analytics1Social media can feel like a moving target with new channels and techniques constantly popping up and not always knowing what’s next on the horizon.  Business leaders are left wondering what the true return on investment is for their social media strategy.  Before any metrics are collected to answer these questions, relevant KPIs must first be identified then data can be collected in a specific channel, such as Facebook Insights, as well Google Analytics for social traffic to the website.  An active presence on social media is a good first step, but you have measure your efforts.  This is where you learn what worked and what did not so you can modify your strategy moving forward.

Reach – Building your brand

How many people are you connected to in your various social media channels?  Do you have 20 followers on Twitter or 20,000?  Are most of your Facebook posts seen by 1 or 100 fans? There’s not a magic number here.  It’s more about whether this number is growing or shrinking than the numbers alone.  And it needs to grow to expand your reach organically over time.

Active usersLikes and shares

123Look beyond reach to interaction with your posts.  People who are actively engaged with your content like or share your posts.  Like reach, you want to see this number increase over time as they build a relationship with your brand.  Although likes are a good start because they indicate positive sentiment, shares are more valuable because they increase your reach.