The Truth About Traffic Stats & Advice For Beginner Google Analytics Users

Concerned about how your website is doing when you hear about other people’s stats? Don’t worry. They probably have no idea what they’re measuring.

Advice for Beginner Google Analytics Users

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 beyond looking at your overall traffic numbers. 

For bloggers and website owners, most especially those just starting out, 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 and then either bragging about them or whimpering in the corner because nobody showed up to our website party.

Most of us just want to be able to log into Google Analytics, see what’s what,  and go on with our day. But GA is a bit of a mystery for most people I work with. How do we use it well? How do we look at data and draw the right kinds of insights to inform our marketing decisions? The more you dig into it, the more you learn how powerful it is, and the more complicated it is to understand how to set it up and use properly. If you want to jump right to the tips for how to get started using it more intelligently than looking at overall traffic, click here.

Why asking “How much traffic are you getting?” is problematic

I often see bloggers asking one another: “How much traffic are you getting?” as a way to determine whether they’re doing okay. I always cringe a little bit because a lot of what people are reporting is  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.

Here’s what I want to say, but I never do (because I don’t want to burst the bubbles of complete strangers):

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 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 coming from you visiting your own site 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!

It’s not hard to get traffic, what’s hard is getting the right kind of traffic

Here’s another truth about traffic — it’s not terribly difficult to get people to your site. Heck, you can buy traffic, sometimes really cheaply. But the total number of visitors is meaningless if your site visitors aren’t your target customer, or  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. I know that because I can compare the bounce rate coming from StumbleUpon 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 interpreting my data even more difficult.)

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use StumbleUpon, the point is to demonstrate why it’s dangerous to compare traffic stories. Sure this is traffic, but who cares?

Traffic for traffic’s sake is just plain dumb

In one of my Facebook groups yesterday, there was a post promoting reciprocal traffic: “I’ll visit your website and promise 5 page views if you visit mine and do the same.” Seriously one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. The only reason I could think of for doing that was so their Google Analytics stats would look cooler. And likely, make the numbers less useful. If the people you send to your site aren’t your audience, it’s not a good use of your time. You’d be better off having less traffic and spending your time looking for ways to improve your site so that traffic is more likely to convert.

Don’t get too hung up on big numbers — quality is what counts.

Instead of worrying about how big the numbers are, aim to ensure those numbers mean more. Look for ways you can get in front of your dream customers at the right time with the right message, and make sure your site is optimized to convert that traffic. Focus more on making most of the traffic you have and learn from it, then worry about scaling up to a larger audience. You’ll see better results for your business, and your competitors who are chasing big traffic numbers will be wondering what your secret is.

Drawing insights from bad data can be costly

I once had a consulting client say to me:

“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 bad data. In my GA account, there’s a TON of spam originating from Russia. In fact, 100% of my traffic from Russia is spam. So I looked at her GA account and it was the same story. So I said, “Save your money.”

Context is everything

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. Don’t spend your energy worrying about what other people are reporting about their traffic, what matters is whether their business is benefitting from that traffic. Don’t get discouraged or intimidated, know that context is everything.

5 Quick tips to getting started with Google Analytics to understand your site visitors

These tips will help you move past the “overall traffic” stats to more meaningful insights:

  1. First: make sure you’re filtering out your own IP address Otherwise your numbers will be skewed every time you visit your own website
  2. Look for the “whys”: The power of Google Analytics is in uncovering the “whys.” If your traffic is up, or down, that’s great to know — but it’s better to understand why so you know what needs re-thinking and what’s giving you the results you want so you can do more of it. When you see upswings in your traffic — what caused it? Did you send out a newsletter, or promote a blog post? Don’t stop there — look for how the traffic engaged with your site on that day. How many pages did they visit? How long did they spend on your site? Did they perform the action you wanted them to? If they didn’t, why not? Google Analytics won’t give you specific answers to that question, but you can form new hypotheses to better inform your next steps.
  3. Look at where your traffic is coming from. (Acquisition > All Traffic > Source Medium). There, you can see where your traffic is coming from — whether Google, Facebook, Twitter or somewhere else. If you’ve spent the last six months spending a big chunk of your day on Pinterest to get traffic back to your site, but you have very few hits coming from Pinterest to show for it, this will inform your decisions going forward. Another thing you can look at from this tab is how likely visitors are to ‘bounce’ based on where they came from. The lower the bounce rate the better usually, so if my Google traffic is high but the bounce rate is also high, I know there’s something wrong. If I have less traffic from Twitter but they are spending more time clicking through to other pages and spending more time on my site, that’s more valuable traffic for me, and I make more informed decisions with this information.
  4. Look for insights about how users are navigating through your website. Another place I head when I’m looking at either my own stats or my clients’ is Behavior > Behavior Flow. This is one of the coolest features of Google Analytics, where I can see where people are landing on my site, where they drop off, what pages they’re not clicking on and how they navigate from one page to another. I make lots of optimization decisions from this information. If, for example, people get to my “about” page and drop off, I ask myself what about that page isn’t answering my users’ questions? I form a hypothesis, make a change, and see if I can better convince them to click on my “contact” page (my goal).
  5. Use GA to look for opportunities to improve your site. Looking for problems is an opportunity for you to make the kinds of changes with your website that can improve your conversions. Using Analytics to inform site optimization is a huge topic, but in short — take some time every few months to see what’s happening and form a new hypothesis about how to make improvements. The lowest hanging fruit in optimization is to check your bounce rate — is it high? That means either your site wasn’t relevant for your visitors, you failed to delight and persuade them, or that your site has some technical performance issue that needs fixing. What can you do to get the bounce rate down? Then check back in to see how it worked.

Understanding your site visitors allows you to move toward more efficient and effective strategies. You’ll be able to cull promotional efforts that aren’t working well for you and save yourself a boatload of time and trouble, you can continually improve your site where you’re seeing underperformance, and you can focus your energy on doing those things that work best for you. And it won’t be guesswork. Using data to inform your decisions is just as important if not more important  than “driving traffic.”

Proper planning is crucial if you want your website to really benefit your business. Work with me to launch your website and I’ll guide you through the tough questions.

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Concerned about how your website is doing when you hear about other people's stats? Why it just doesn't matter.