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Understanding Google Analytics Blog Feature

By: admin on October 11th, 2010

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Understanding Google Analytics

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As a followup to the post about our new stats tool, we thought it would be helpful to explain how to read and understand Google Analytics. If you've seen it even briefly, you know it's quite a complicated thing, but with a little bit an explanation it can become a lot easier to use. And once you get it, it can give you an incredible amount of insight into who your visitors are, where they're coming from, and how engaged they are on your site.

To view Google Analytics on your Clover site, you need to enable it through the "Google Settings" page on your dashboard. I'm going to assume that you've already done this and that it's been activated long enough to have some meaningful data.

The best part about Google Analytics is also the worst part: it tracks soooo much. You'd need a PhD in statistics to fully understand it all, but knowing even a few of the highlights can be really useful.

The first thing to understand is that every piece of information you see is from a specific time span. By default, it shows data from the last 30 days, but if you adjust the date range in the upper right, everything you view from that point on will be specific to the dates you selected.

Here are some of the things you can see with Google Analytics:

This is the first thing you see on the analytics dashboard, and it's the same thing Clover tracks for you. It's the number of visits on each day, which is a pretty straightforward way to see how often people are visiting your site.

Location of Your Visitors
Google shows a map of where your visitors are located around the world. Click the small map on the dashboard to get a more detailed view. If you're like me, it's really novel and inspiring to see visitors from all over the world. If your organization is primarily local, you may still be able to get some interesting information about exactly where your visitors live. Keep clicking on the map to drill down into a state or province.

Traffic Sources
Here's where it starts to get interesting. You can see all the other places on the web that visitors came from when they first got to your site. It starts off with a breakdown of broad categories in a pie chart. For example, it might show that 30% of your visitors found you on a search engine, 25% came from a referring site (which would be any website that linked to you), and 45% came directly to your site (by either knowing your web address, or possibly by following a link in an email).

The pie chart is just the tip of the iceberg, though. You can also see every individual site on the web that referred visitors to you. To get there, click the "view report" link under the pie chart and then click "view full report" in the bottom left of the page. Now in the bottom right, find the dropdown menu that says "show rows" and change it to 500. You'll be presented with a list of every website that directed visitors your way, sorted by the number of visitors they sent. This information can be really useful in helping you find who is talking about you and how influential they are. You may find that the sources of traffic are not what you expected. For example, at Clover we've found times when a blogger we've never heard of is sending tons of people our way, and at the same time realized that an expensive ad is not performing well.

Regardless of the number of visitors you're getting, knowing where they're coming from can give you valuable insight into their tastes and possibly even their age or personality.

Most Viewed Pages
Sometimes it can be really helpful to see what pages your visitors are viewing. For example, if you have a donations page or something for sale, do your visitors check that out? To see which pages are viewed the most, click the "view report" link on the Content Overview box on the dashboard. You'll probably want to follow the same steps you did for traffic sources above, and click "view full report" and then change the number of rows to 500. The list you'll see is all the pages on your site that visitors have seen, sorted in order of their popularity.

Average Time Spent on Your Site
This is one of the key measures for how engaged your visitors are. By knowing how much time they're spending, you'll have a much better picture of whether they're actively reading or watching your content, or whether they're checking things out briefly and then leaving. This number is right below the first graph on your dashboard, and it says "Avg. Time on Site".

Knowing whether your specific number is good or bad is a bit tricky, because typical time on a site varies widely between industries, based on the type of content that's on your site. For example, something like Google Maps probably has an average of under a minute because people often just get what they need and then leave. But Facebook's or Myspace's average is possibly in the double digits because of how long people hang around to browse. If your website is primarily a marketing piece for your company or organization, anything from 3-6 minutes is good. Less than 2 probably means your visitors aren't especially engaged. More than 6 and you've got something that people are definitely hanging around to read.

Again, it varies so much based on the function of you're site, so you'll probably need to make your own decision about whether your average is good. And of course, this number by itself doesn't tell the whole story. If your visitors just need to get a map to your location, then it might be great that they're getting it in under 30 seconds.

There's so much more that Analytics tracks, so if you're feeling adventurous, start clicking around. You can see practically anything about your visitors, but some of it is buried pretty deep. For example, you can see details like what kind of computer (Mac or PC) your visitors use, how big their monitors are, and even what company they get their internet service from. (For those things, you'd click "Visitors" on the left menu and then click on an item you want to see).

Hopefully that whets your appetite and helps get your started deciphering your statistics. If you have any tricks you'd like to share, post them in the comments!