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!
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!
Starting today, chances are that your Bounce Rate is going to go up, and your Time on Site metrics will start to become more realistic.
Should you panic and freak out? Should you hide under the bed and lock the door to your room? Should you pause all of your campaigns? Obviously, you shouldn’t do any of those things, but I should explain what’s going on before you reach a state of dementia.
Google Analytics has changed the classification of the setVar function – Custom Segments that appear in the Visitors >> User-Defined report. Previously, whenever a user reached a page that was making use of this setVar function within the Google Analytics Tracking Code, Google Analytics would consider that what they refer to as an “interaction hit”. Interaction hits, like Pageviews, Events, Transactions, and Experiments with Google Website Optimizer are what Google Analytics uses to calculate Bounce Rate and Average Time on Site.
So, for example, let’s say a visitor landed on a page of your website, but left without visiting any other pages. That is, as we all know and love, considered a Bounce. But, let’s say that that same page was using the setVar function. Before today, that visitor would NOT have been counted as a bounce, because Google Analytics would have fired off two “interaction hits” – one for the pageview on that landing page, and one for the custom segment caused by the usage of setVar. However, from here on out, a user that only views 1 page of your site and leaves will be counted as a Bounce, setVar function or no setVar function.
This also has an affect on your Average Time on Site metric. This is calculated by Google Analytics by taking the time stamp of when the first pageview on a website occurs, and subtracting that from the time stamp of your second pageview on a website. Now, if you don’t visit a second page and you bounce, Google Analytics cannot do the math, because it has nothing to subtract from, so it reports a 0:00:00 average time on site.
Previously, because of our setVar friend, Google Analytics would be able to do math, because it would have the time stamp of that first pageview, AND, the time stamp of the setVar function firing off. Since these happened so close together, you could easily see extremely low average time on site numbers, like a second or two. Clearly this was confusing and didn’t make sense, which is another reason why the good folks at Google Analytics have decided to make this change.
When should I use Custom Segments / setVar?
There are a few good places to use this function. One place is on the receipt / “Thank You” page that a user sees after they buy something from your store. This way you can identify anyone who reaches this page as a “shopper” or “customer” or as “awesome”, or anything that you want to call people who reach this page. Then, in your Visitors >> User-Defined report, you’ll be able to do some analysis on this segment of people.
You can also use Custom Segments / setVar based upon an option they select on a “Contact Us” or inquiry form. Let’s say your form has a question that asks users to select between: “Executive, Director, or Marketer”. You can use setVar here to identify people based upon their selection, and analyze the behavior of each custom group of people.
So don’t call your pay-per-click manager or SEO engineer and proclaim that the sky is falling – chances are very good that you will not notice too much of a difference, if at all. If you don’t use Custom Segments / setVar, then you have nothing to worry about. If you use setVar on multiple landing pages and in different places on your site, brace for impact because your Bounce Rate is going up. But hey, think of it like this: it’s for the better – this is now a much more accurate calculation – a truer representation of your real Bounce Rate and Time on Site metrics.