SEO: Google Analytics Dashboard Report- The Absolute Essentials

I love Google Analytics, even if I don’t trust it to give me 100% accurate information all of the time- I feel that Google feels, if they give us 100% of the data it will be too easy to game their algorithm.  As such, I tend to treat Google Analytics data as pretty good, but not 100% gospel truth. Maybe 97%. Anyway, you should definitely be using the FREE Google Analytics if you aren’t. If you’re new to SEO, Analytics is not the same thing as AdSense or AdWords. It’s an analytics solution! It’s very easy to install, WordPress has plugins that let you enter a string of numbers that Analytics kicks out and bam, you have Analytics! If you’re using a custom solution you’ll want your developer to write an include for every page to include the Analytics code which does need to be on every page. Many content management systems also have out-of-the-box solutions for plugging in Google Analytics code.

Google Analytics (GA) from here on out is a very robust system that tends to overwhelm those with no experience in it, so for today I am just focusing on the Dashboard Report, as it’s the default report you see the first time you log in to GA. I’m going to be using the Analytics from this blog to talk about this, so here’s what my current dashboard report looks like (you’ll have to download it to see the whole thing):

Dashboard Report

I haven’t done a lot of customizations of my GA installation, however, I did add one Goal to the site- whether or not the reader is here for more than 5 minutes, which I take to mean they read at least one post- so that’s listed at the bottom of the report, whereas a canned Dashboard report won’t include Goals.  So what’s here, and what can it tell you about your efforts?

Visits– This one is pretty straightforward. Google’s definition of a visit  is:

“Visits represent the number of individual sessions initiated by all the visitors to your site. If a user is inactive on your site for 30 minutes or more, any future activity will be attributed to a new session. Users that leave your site and return within 30 minutes will be counted as part of the original session.”

Visits increasing means that more people are accessing your site, and as such it’s generally a very important Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for an SEO campagin focused on increasing visibility and traffic. If the campaign is more focused on branding or supporting a PPC campaign, for example, traffic might not be AS important. However, if I work on a site and the traffic doesn’t increase after the first round of changes- something’s wrong.

Page Views- Google’s definition of a page view is:

“A pageview is defined as a view of a page on your site that is being tracked by the Analytics tracking code. If a visitor hits reload after reaching the page, this will be counted as an additional pageview. If a user navigates to a different page and then returns to the original page, a second pageview will be recorded as well.”

Again, this is very straightforward- if a page on your site loads and Analytics code is installed on that page, it’s a page view. Simple, right? Page views should generally go up as traffic to the site increases- it’s just simple logic, more visitors equals more page views.

Pages per visit– another easy one- how many page views does the average User initiate while they are on your site? This one is a little bit trickier to parse because a high number of pages viewed in one case might be good because it means the site has a lot of content the User wants to access- however, it could also indicate a problem; maybe the User had a hard time navigating to the content they wanted to find. I generally look for pages/visit to go up at the beginning of the page, but to go down after a while, as we start to serve the most relevant page on the site to the User the first time and they find what they need with just a single click out of Google.

Bounce Rate– Bounce rate is another very tricky stat, especially since many SEOs suspect that Google looks at a pages’ bounce rate when they calculate aurhority. Bounce rate means that the User came to your site, loaded only the one page they clicked into, and left the site without accessing another page. Sort of like pages per visit, this could be either good or bad. Did they bounce off the site because they found what they needed right away? Or did they bounce off the site because we served up a page that wasn’t relevant? Whether bounce rate up or down is good or bad is situational depending on the nature of the site. However, a high bounce rate is usually not a good thing.

Average time on Site– used in conjunction with bounce rate, this can be a great indicator of how engaging your content is. Be wary, though, I have a lot of sites like Google Plus, Twitter, Google Reader and Facebook that simply sit open in a browser tab all day long. If you looked at my individual average time on site stat with Facebook, you’d think I was poking around my friends’ accounts for 14 hours a day! Just like bounce rate, a high or low average time on site is situational. A site like wants you to stay there a long time, but an e-commerce site wants you to purchase with the minimum number of clicks and time, so they would likely see the opposite- quick average visits- as success.

% new visits– Just what it sounds like! What percentage of visits are from a new visitor. Generally, a site wants their percentage of first-time visitors to rise, as it means they are pulling more traffic and their SEO is effective. However, sites such as subscription sites would generally contrast the number of new visits with the number of returning visitors to better focus marketing efforts on obtaining new traffic or focusing on existing subscribers, as the situation warrants.

Visitors– basically, how many unique IP addresses/machines accessed the site. This is not the same thing as visits! If I hit a site 5 times in a month, that’s 5 visits but only one visitor.

A map overlay– gives you a color-coded representation of where your traffic is coming from. Useful for local and highly geotargeted- or international- campaigns. This is about the most straightforward metric in GA.

Traffic Sources Overview– Where are you getting your traffic? Search Engines? Links on other sites? Direct traffic (people typing in your URL)? The nebulous “other”? Since I focus on SEO, the stat I tend to report and focus on is obviously “traffic from search engines”. Careful, don’t let your own visits skew the “direct traffic” number :) Ideally, I feel the best ratio of traffic (if you can’t get it all free) is about 55/45, PPC to SEO. If you get more traffic than that from PPC you’re probably overspending and if you’re getting less you’re probably not spending enough.

Content Overview– this is a much more in-depth report but on the Dashboard they just show you your top 5 pages for the time period specified, the number of views and the percentage of total views each page represents. I could spend a whole blog post on the Content Overview- and I probably will, soon! It’s a great and very important report.

(and since my account has it) Goals– GA lets you set a number of goals to set up your own KPI. Is it important to you that Users stay on the site a long time? That they access pages in a certain order in the sales funnel? That people download your ebook? That they fill out a form? That they subscribe to your RSS feed? GA can track all of this and much, much more in order to give you great insights. Look for another future blog post on that one.

Much more to come in the future on most of these. If I helped even one noob interpret their Google Analytics, it was worth it! Now, off to play some Deus Ex. 😛





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