Google Analytics provides about 95 standard reports, and, with just a bit of simple configuration to set date ranges and select user segments, you can learn all sorts of interesting things such as how users interact with your site, where they come from, and what channels deliver best on your current goals.
Unfortunately Google Analytics has rather poor web application usability; it can be difficult to find your way around the many available reports. Even worse, it’s often unclear which reports provide the best insight based on your specific data needs. This article helps you short-circuit the confusion with step-by-step instructions for those analyses that are most likely to help you improve your user experience.
1. How Fast Is Mobile Access Growing?
This information is helpful when you are planning, pricing, and comparing approaches to making your site mobile friendly. How much should you spend? What level of priority and resource dedication should mobile initiatives receive?
To contrast how mobile traffic quantity changed between two similar periods of time (e.g., January 2013 versus January 2014), you can use the date-comparison feature in Google Analytics and some simple offline calculations.
Report: Audience Overview
1) Report: Go to Audience > Mobile > Overview.
2) Select the date range and add a comparison date range.
3) Optional: Select a specific goal from the Conversions drop-down menu.
4) The % Change line in this report represents percent change in absolute mobile visits for each date range – not what you are seeking, so you should ignore this.
5) To determine the rate of growth in the percentage of mobile visits, you must perform a calculation. For each period: take mobile visits and divide by the total visits, and then calculate the rate of change.
- Recent time period (indicated by blue squares in the image below): 22,091 mobile visits divided by 267,933 total visits = 8.2% of all visits are via a mobile device.
- Same time period one year ago (indicated by red squares in the image below): 15,791 mobile visits divided by 270,769 total visits = 5.8% of all visits are via a mobile device.
Conclusion: On the sample site, mobile use currently accounts for less than 10% of unique visits, but it has increased by about 40% between these two time periods. If this rate remains consistent, almost 45% of users would be accessing via mobile in 5 years.
To calculate how mobile traffic has changed between two similar periods of time (e.g., January 2013 versus January 2014), you can use the Mobile Overview report. Choose two time periods to compare and perform the calculation detailed above.
2. How Much Do Social Networks Impact Our Ability to Meet Goals?
This information is helpful when you research and plan content strategy, to determine where your content gets traction and what content, is shared most often. With this information, you can conduct some manual categorization (or use Google’s new Content Grouping functionality) to make higher-level determinations of what topics and types of content build awareness and deliver traffic.
Report: Network Referrals
1) Go to Acquisition > Social > Network Referrals.
2) The report illustrates referral traffic via social channels. Click on any of the named social networks to see specifically which content people are sharing via that channel.
The Network Referrals report details visits, page views, visit duration, and pages/visit by social network.
This list of specific links/content can be very helpful in determining which content types and topics attract site traffic. Note: For reasons of client confidentiality we have blanked out the specific URLs in this screen shot. In this example, there’s one clear #1 social topic and two runner-ups, but that’s obviously going to be different from one site to the next. It’s almost always true that a small number of key topics are much better than others at stirring the social juices. In this example, #1 is 35 times better than #10.
3. What Sources Drive the Most Conversions?
This report can provide granular data on how specific channels contribute to acquisition, how the users who come via those channels behave on your site, and how those channels contribute to meeting your goals (as you have defined in Google Analytics). This insight helps content and marketing teams make decisions about the amount of effort, resources, and budget to dedicate to specific channels.
Report: Goals Overview
1) Go to Conversions > Goals > Overview.
2) Select Source/Medium.
3) Select view full report.
The Goals Overview report summarizes goal URLs, number of completions, and percent of completions.
4) On the full report screen, select what you want to view: (a) Source (e.g., Google, Twitter, etc.) and (b) select the goal(s) by which you want to filter.
This report can provide granular data on how specific channels contribute to acquisition, how the users who come via those channels behave on your site, and how those channels contribute to meeting your goals. Note that “t.co” is Twitter.
We can’t emphasize enough the need to look at goal completions and not simply count the number of users arriving from each channel. Some sources of traffic are notorious for mainly sending low-value visitors who are unlikely to do business with you. Let’s take a personal example: for our own website, nngroup.com, users coming from LinkedIn are about 12 times more valuable as users coming from Facebook. So, even though Facebook is bigger and refers more visitors, LinkedIn is the more valuable traffic source for us. Obviously, we target business professionals, so it makes sense why traffic from LinkedIn would be better for us. For other types of sites, the value ratio may be reversed.
4. How Many Visits Does It Take for Visitors to Convert?
When evaluating and planning website experience, many UX teams create customer-journey maps for their target personas. These maps detail the interactions that prospects are likely to take (online and offline) along their path to becoming a customer. The Path Length report can help in defining a realistic range in number of site visits before users convert or take desirable actions (as defined by the goals that you set up in your analytics system). This statistical data can be used in concert with qualitative user research generated from methods such as interviews and contextual inquiry.
Report: Path Length
1) Go to Conversions > Multi-channel funnels > Path length.
2) Select the specific goals by which to filter.
The Path Length report indicates how many visits to the site occur before transactions take place. It shows this as percentage of total transactions and percentage of the value of those transactions. For example, you can quantify the value of conversions that occur after 1 visit to the site versus 6 visits. This tracking goes back 90 days from each conversion.
5. What Desirable Actions Do People Take on the Site?
You can use this report to determine what actions users take on the site (besides moving from page to page). This can help in predicting potential hurdles with major shifts in site purpose and content. In order for this report to be useful, the site must be tagged for Events. Events, in analytics lingo, represent actions that do not result in loading of a new page (e.g., playing a video, pausing a video, downloading a document, and filling out form fields). In the past, event tagging required working with developers to add tracking code to specific elements throughout the site. This is becoming easier now that Google has introduced the Google Tag Manager which provides a user-friendly interface for adding, removing, and editing event tags.
Report: Events Overview
1) Go to Behavior > Events > Top Events.
2) Optional: Select user segments (mobile users, users who convert, users referred by specific sources/mediums, etc.).
3) Select Event Category, Event Action, or Event Label. These are the designations assigned to tags and act as a kind of information structure where a series of Labels can be grouped under an Action, and a group of Actions can be grouped under a Category. This system makes it easier to measure types of events as a whole. For the most granular view, you would select Event Label.
This report is based upon specific tracking tags that you or your developers include in your site to measure how many times visitors take specific actions. Event Tracking is designed to measure “events” like watching a video, downloading a report, filling out a form, and many other actions that don’t involve moving from one page to another.
Developing a Sound UX Strategy Requires Access to Behavior Data and Information
Analytics provides a wealth of information to help you answer both high-level and detailed questions regarding how your site serves users and meets business goals. These 5 reports are just the tip of the iceberg — there are so many more questions that you need to answer and Google Analytics has so much more data that can be utilized in that effort.
Learn more about incorporating analytics into UX practice in our new course, Analytics and User Experience.
This article uses screenshots from Google Analytics to illustrate a variety of website-analytics reports that should be reviewed to drive design improvements. We are vendor neutral and do not endorse or recommend Google Analytics. Depending on the characteristics of your company, you may get better results from another product, and it should be possible to get similar — if different-looking — reports from other analytics services. We simply show screenshots from Google Analytics because many of our clients and course participants happen to be using this product.
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