Note: this is not for Google Analytics experts, but stick with me if you’re a small business or blogger and have questions about what you can learn from Google Analytics like I do.
For bloggers and website owners, most especially those with lower traffic (which includes me, btw, I’ve been online since the early 2000s, but I’ve only just recently started blogging here on my company domain), a huge topic of concern and conversation is about traffic. Which starts (generally speaking) with logging in to Google Analytics (GA) and seeing how many visitors or page views we have.
But I’ve noticed that I’m not alone in feeling that GA is a bit of a mystery. How do we use it well? How do we look at data and draw the right kinds of insights to drive our marketing decisions?
Peeps? I’ll be honest — I really don’t have all the answers yet. My purpose in writing this is to start a conversation and document my quest to understanding all of this a little bit better. I’d like to eventually get certified with Google, but that’s really not a tippy top priority right now. I have many other things I’m focused on learning, a business to run and market, and a life to live too. And I’ll bet it’s the same for you. I’ll get there, but for now, how can we find value in the numbers?
I just want to be able to log into Google Analytics, see what’s what for me (and for my clients), and go on with my day. But it’s not proving to be that simple.
Here’s why I am sharing my struggles and frustrations, and why I think it’s important to address:
I often see bloggers asking one another: “How much traffic are you getting?” as a way to compare themselves, determine whether they’re successful or not, and whether they’re on the right path.
I always cringe a little bit because I know that a lot of what people are reporting is probably absolute rubbish. A lot of what you see in Google Analytics, if it is not set up properly, is junk data.
If you don’t believe me, head on over to Duct Tape Marketing’s “3 Reasons Google Analytics is Worthless for Small Business.” This was the beginning of my journey into looking at GA more critically.
Here’s what I want to say, but I never do (because I don’t want to burst the bubbles of complete strangers or come across as totally rude): Please don’t get too caught up in what other people are reporting about their traffic, you have no idea if they even know how to use or interpret Google Analytics properly.
Here’s an example of what I mean: say you’re working on your website — you’re previewing blog posts, making design or content changes, creating new landing pages — if you’re not telling Google Analytics to block your own IP, all of those hits will count in your totals. The same applies if you’re working with a web designer/developer/virtual assistant. If you’re anything like me, that can amount to hundreds (even thousands) of hits!
And referral spam is a big problem. I’ve heard that Google is working on it, but pretty much daily, I log in and see all kinds of referrer spam. I have tried various methods of filtering it out, I’ve even hired people on Fiverr to lend a hand, and that helps… but it’s a time suck to keep on top of it all and I still spend quite a lot of time trying to uncover the real truth in the data.
(BTW, you can shortcut all of this by hiring a Google Analytics professional to set you up nice and proper… but I’m choosing to use my account as a way to learn how to use it better on my own. And I know a lot of people aren’t willing to throw money at this issue, even though it really is more important that most people think.)
Just this week I got lots of hits from Reddit, and I don’t even really go on Reddit.
“Yay! I’ve gone viral!”
Hahaha sadly? No. After some digging, I discovered it was just another form of insidious analytics spam. *sad trombone*
Before I go further, here’s a method that’s worked really well for me to block much of that junky stuff. It’ll take a minute to go through it, but it’s well worth it.
Here’s another truth about traffic — it’s not terribly difficult to get people to your site. Heck, I’m sure you can buy a ton of traffic on Fiverr. But the total number of visitors is fairly meaningless if they bounce off your site before they even read a word. Just this weekend I “overheard” a conversation about building traffic by forming a StumbleUpon buddy network. StumbleUpon may work well for some people, but I can tell you, it didn’t work well for me, and I know that because I can compare the bounce rate to other sorts of traffic:
I added a link to test it, and here’s what happened in one day’s result:
So got 54 new visitors to my blog post that day but who the *bleep* cares? Exactly zero of them spent even a second reading it. (And it totally horked my average bounce rate statistic which makes me sad.)
Now, I’m not saying that StumbleUpon doesn’t work, I’m sure it does for some people, or even that I shouldn’t continue experimenting with it … I’m saying this is why it’s dangerous to compare traffic stories. Sure this is traffic, but it’s absolutely meaningless.
Drawing insights from bad data can be costly
I’ve heard things like this too:
“I’m using Google Analytics to find out who my customers are and how to target them. (SUPER!) I have a lot of visitors from Russia, so I’m running Facebook ads to that region (UH OH!).”
Before you run ads and spend money based on lessons learned from Google Analytics, be sure you’re not drawing conclusions based on analytics spam. In my GA account, there’s a TON of spam originating from Russia. In fact, 100% of my traffic from Russia is spam. Looking at this person’s GA, same story. Just be careful and critical, yo.
After cleaning up my Google Analytics a bit, my real traffic went WAY down. And yeah, that’s kind of depressing… but is it? I learned that when people follow one of my links from Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest, they’re more likely to explore my website and spend a little more time here. That’s good information — I’ll just keep on keepin’ on and apply a bit of patience.
I know from years working online that it takes time to get traction with any kind of content marketing, to get SEO love, and to get noticed by your audience. I’m not going to worry about what other people are reporting after launching their blog after only a few months… what matters is the bottom line. And if we don’t know that their business is benefitting from that traffic, it really doesn’t matter what the total numbers are.
Just remember too — just because somebody has a ton of traffic doesn’t mean it’s targeted, quality traffic. And traffic for traffic’s sake is absolutely pointless. The point is to drive the right traffic to increase your chances of conversion
I’d love to hear from you if you are experiencing similar frustrations with Google Analytics or finding the right insights, if you’re worried about your traffic, and most importantly — if you’d like me to continue to share any lessons learned. Please hit me up in the comments, I’d love it. <3