Articles written in February, 2009

February 19 2009

Wednesday Interview Series: Average Time on Site

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Every Wednesday, I sit down and interview different metrics or report sections from Google Analytics. I ask the tough questions – and I expect straight answers! (This, obviously, is a fictional interview. However, if metrics or reports could talk and be interviewed, this is how I imagine their personalities being and how they would answer my questions. Hopefully this will be a fresh, interesting way to learn about the wonderful world of Google Analytics in a unique way).

Joe Teixeira: “Mr. Average Time on Site…how are things?”
Average Time on Site: “…Average…”
JT: “What’s with the sunglasses?”
ATOS: “…It’s bright in here…”
JT: “Well those are just the studio lights…I can have them turned down if you…”
ATOS: “No…it’s cool.”
JT: “Ummm…OK. Well let me ask you my first question. Can you explain to everyone exactly how you are calculated?”
ATOS: [Turns Away in Disgust and Rolls Eyes] “Man…come on, man. Why you gotta play me like that? Everybody knows it’s up to __utmb and __utmc to calculate the difference between the time stamps of each page. I ain’t got nuthin’ to do with any of that.”
JT: “So, two cookies – __utmb and __utmc – they calculate you…”
ATOS: “Yeah, man…”
JT: “…and the difference between each time stamp on each page is the time a user spent on that page…”
ATOS: “Yeah…”
JT: “…and then the Average Time on Site is the sum of all of the time a user – or groups of users – spent on the pages of a site, divided by the number of pages viewed.”
ATOS: “…something like that. If you know all this, how come you’re asking me, man?”
JT: “Because I wanted to hear what you’d have to say about it…”
ATOS: [Becoming more frustrated] “Look, man, this is how it goes down, a’ight? If somebody bounces from a landing page, guess what happens? I become an average of 0:00:00, because there ain’t no second timestamp to go by, so [pointing to the ceiling] the big man upstairs [GA] can’t give me credit for my time. It ain’t my fault, I’m just doing my job around here.”
JT: “So you really have a problem with this. What about people that leave their computers on and go to lunch, or go to a meeting?”
ATOS: “It’s the same thing, except backwards. Let’s say somebody goes to lunch for an hour and they leave they browser on…after 29 minutes of what they like to call “inactivity”, I stop counting. This happens ALL THE TIME, man. It just ain’t right! If they time me out, no second timestamp happens, which again means the average time for that page becomes 0:00:00.”
JT: “What I’m gathering from you is the message you’re trying to convey here is for people who look at you, and use you in their reports and presentations, to take you with a grain of salt…to use your number precariously.”
ATOS: “Well I don’t know what “precariously” means…but yeah, don’t do that.”
JT: “Last week, I talked briefly to Bounce Rate about setVar, and how his change in classification has impacted him. How has the update to setVar affected you?”
ATOS: “Man, it’s about time they did somethin’ about that. setVar ain’t nothing but a greedy metric, man. I’ve been tryin’ to tell people about setVar, and how it was being counted as an interaction hit, but they weren’t listening to me…but finally they took care of some business and straightened things out.”
JT:
“Well, thanks a lot for your time…”
ATOS: “Oh, shoot – we done already?”
JT: “Yeah, I’m sorry…”
ATOS: “C’mon, man…I get paid by the second…”
JT: “Sorry, ATOS…maybe some other time.”
ATOS: “…whatever, man. That’s what everyone always says: “Time”. More time, less time, average time…everyone always wants to know about time. People need to just chill for a second and look at everything else, not just me…”
JT: “Well…thanks again [I start getting up].

Wednesday Interview Series:
February 11, 2009: Bounce Rate

February 11 2009

Wednesday Interview Series: Bounce Rate

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Every Wednesday, I sit down and interview different metrics or report sections from Google Analytics. I ask the tough questions – and I expect straight answers! (This, obviously, is a fictional interview. However, if metrics or reports could talk and be interviewed, this is how I imagine their personalities being and how they would answer my questions. Hopefully this will be a fresh, interesting way to learn about the wonderful world of Google Analytics in a unique way).

Joe Teixeira – “Hey there Bounce Rate, how’s it going?”
Bounce Rate – “Hey Joe! Right now I’m doing great and flying low…but tomorrow I may be down on my luck…”
JT – “Well, why do you say that?”
BR – “There’s a reason my name is “Bounce” Rate – sometimes I’m very low and loved by everyone – other times, when I’m a bit higher, I’m scrutinized and examined like a Wall Street executive on Capitol Hill.”
JT – “Well, you’re a very important metric, Bounce Rate. People really seem to love you when you’re low…”
BR – “I know, I know…it’s just…why can’t they always love me, even when I’m high? I mean, I’m just a metric…why can’t more people look at other things, too?”
JT – “Are there any other places that you want people to start paying attention to?”
BR – “Yeah – and I hate to put him on the spot, because we go way back – but people should look at me when they’re looking at Top Landing Pages. I mean, it’s a great place for everyone to find out how effective each one of the pages of their website are as an entry point, as a landing page.”
JT – “So you feel as if people may be looking at you in a way that you feel is not necessarily the best?”
BR – “Oh yeah, absolutely! When people look at me on the Dashboard, they either love me or hate me – there’s never any middle ground. Well, I think people should really go beyond the Dashboard and see me when I’m broken down by each individual landing page or keyword!”
JT – “Have you talked to Top Landing Pages or Keywords about this?”
BR – I talked to Top Landing Pages – he agrees with me. It’s hard to get a hold of Keywords now a days, though. A lot of requests for him, you know…”
JT – “Sure, I bet.”
JT – “Let’s move on. What percentage makes you happy? 25%? 30%? 50%?”
BR – “See, there you go. You’re just like everyone else; you want a fixed percentage for me. Why can’t anyone accept me for who I am? Sometimes I can’t be 25% – but that doesn’t mean 25% is too high. Other times I can’t get lower than 60%, but – in a lot of industries – 60% is really good! Yet so many people tell me “I want you to be 15% across the board”, and depending on the site and the industry, I just can’t get that low…I just can’t…”
JT – “I’m sorry – I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. But you’re so great at pointing out to [most] of us the pages, keywords, and even the site search terms that we need to focus our optimization efforts on…sometimes we get greedy and we want you as low as possible!”
BR – “It’s not like I’m not trying to be low, Joe…I DO try…but there’s nothing I can do when sometimes there are just so many bounces that have to be divided into the number of entrances…if people just focused more on helping me be lower, rather than yelling and cursing at me for not being low enough, I probably would be much lower over time!”
JT – “I agree with you. One final question before I let you go: recently, Google Analytics has decided that your long-time friend, setVar, would no longer be counted as an interaction hit. Have you spoken to setVar at all since the announcement?”
BR – “Yeah, I talked to setVar a few times – he’s sorrier for me than I am for him, because now that he’s not an interaction hit, I’m going to go up at least a few percentage points here and there. But I’m OK – and I’m happy for setVar, you know. I think it’s important that he’s classified and tabulated properly from now on.”
JT – “Thank you, Bounce Rate. Hang in there…”
BR – “OK, thank you…I will…”

Tune in next Wednesday, where my special guest will be the notorious Average Time on Site. You won’t want to miss it!

February 6 2009

Can Google Analytics be used for SEO analysis? Yes, it can!

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Surprisingly, a lot of people aren’t aware of the capabilities of Google Analytics, beyond tracking paid search efforts and being able to be synched with your Google AdWords account. It reminds me of a line in a Genesis song: “There must be some misunderstanding…there must be some kind of mistake“.

One misunderstanding about Google Analytics is that you need to have a Google AdWords account in order to open up a Google Analytics account. This is false – you can (and should) open up a GA Account, with or without advertising through AdWords.

Another misconception about GA is that it can only “…do paid search reporting”. Google Analytics can definitely help you evaluate your current / ongoing SEO efforts, as well as let you know where you stand organically, before you begin your natural optimization efforts. As we’ve known for over 10 years now, dating back to the pre-Google internet years, SEO is the foundation of a successful online presence, which is something my colleagues discuss every day on our SEO Blog, which you should subscribe to :).

There are actually plenty of reports that Google Analytics offers which can really help your natural / organic search engine work. Let me share with you some of my favorites:

1. Traffic Sources >> Search Engines (Click on “Non-Paid”)
This one is pretty obvious, right? When you access this report, you’ll be immediately shown the top 10 search engines that are responsible for driving your organic traffic. 95% of time, you’ll see Google, Yahoo, MSN / Live, AOL, and ASK, pretty much in that order. Better yet, put some context and some meaning behind this organic traffic by clicking on the “Goal Conversion” tab, and see if your organic visitors are doing what you want them to do on your site.

2. Traffic Sources >> Keywords (Click on “Non-Paid”)
This report is always the one that gets looked at after seeing the Search Engines report, because we always want to know what keywords are responsible for having our listings appear in the SERPs and being clicked on. A great way to perform some initial keyword analysis for your website is to install Google Analytics on it, wait a few weeks, and check out this report! You can also get fancy and change the views of the report table – simply click on the pie-chart, bar-chart, or the comparison to site average symbols toward the top-right of the report table (Check out my “The four views of Google Analytics” post from a while back for more info on what I’m talking about here).

3. Content >> Top Content
The Top Content report lists all of the pages on your website that have generated at least 1 pageview. By default, it will show you pages from all traffic sources, but you can easily apply the non-paid Advanced Segment (top-right of GA Interface) to view this report for only organic traffic. You can then see which pages are the most popular ones; which pages may need some optimization for higher search engine visibility, how long visitors stay on each individual page, and so on.

4. Content >> Content by Title
Perhaps you don’t care for looking at long URL strings or web page extensions, and you’d rather see the statistics for all of your website’s pages grouped by their <title> tag. Well, this report was made for you. Please note that pages with identical title tag data will be grouped together as one line item – if you have been good and have written a nice title for each page, you won’t have to worry about that.

5. Content >> Content Drilldown
It’s completely understandable that many folks aren’t aware of this report’s existence, let alone what it does (Avinash Kaushik had to explain it to me a long while back). This report groups pages by directory structure. If you use a lot of sub-directories and sub-folders, these will all be represented here in Content Drilldown. A question you could ask while looking at this report could sound like: “Are certain sub-sections of my website brining in more organic traffic than others? Are they more profitable than the rest of the pages on my site?

6. Content >> Top Landing Pages
This is quite possibly my favorite all-time report in Google Analytics (2nd only to Map Overlay, which I heart). This report’s primary focus is on Bounce Rate. Apply the non-paid Advanced Segment to this report, and ask yourself “How are these pages performing as landing pages? Are they effective enough to keep organic traffic on my website, or is organic traffic landing on my site and then going away?” Remember that once you upload a page live on the web, it is a matter of time before it is indexed and crawled (unless you are using a no-follow / no-index meta tag). Also, the search engines are determining what your “homepage” is, by serving up the most relevant page to the user, based on their search query. Don’t just focus your efforts on making your real website’s homepage great – work on category-level, product-level, and all interior pages of your site – you only get one chance to make a first impression.

As I’ve mentioned twice already, you can easily apply the non-paid Advanced Segment at any time in Google Analytics, thereby turning your entire Google Analytics profile into an SEO reporting platform! If you know what you’re doing, and are technically-oriented, you can apply filters to your profiles that, for example, only track organic / natural traffic, and you can also edit the Google Analytics Tracking Code so that it will count your favorite website(s) as organic search engines, or, count your least favorite ones as direct traffic.

Yes – Google Analytics is your newest, best-SEO-friend!

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