LAST UPDATED ON
Do you feel like a total imposter when you hear other people talking about their website traffic? Does logging in to Google Analytics leave you so depressed you consider giving up your entrepreneurial dreams?
Before you throw in the towel, here are some truths that should make you feel better…
For online small business owners, most especially those just starting out, a huge topic of concern and conversation is about traffic. We all need it, lots of it. But traffic conversations generally revolve around ‘total number of page views’, and people love to brag about big numbers while the rest of us whimper in the corner because nobody’s showing up to our website party.
Google Analytics 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? What do we do with those insights?
When you’re just starting out, there are just a few basic things you should be aware of:
Don’t compare yourself to others
“How much traffic are you getting?” is a question people ask others to gauge whether they’re doing okay. (This is not a good way for you to measure your okayness.)
I always cringe because, for one, the goals you have for your website are going to be completely different from other people’s goals: your audience is different, and your products, services and subject matter is different.
Furthermore, a lot of what people report is absolute rubbish. It’s not that they’re lying, it’s just that they don’t understand what the numbers mean. They’re just looking at totals. Here’s an example: if their Google Analytics is not set up properly (e.g. if it doesn’t filter out bots and spam and our own IP address), what they’re looking at is junk data. The numbers literally have no meaning.
If you don’t believe me, head on over to Duct Tape Marketing’s “3 Reasons Google Analytics is Worthless for Small Business.”
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 register in your totals. The same applies if you’re working with a web designer/developer/virtual assistant―every time they load a page, it’ll count. If you’re anything like me, that can amount to hundreds, even thousands of hits.
It’s not hard to get traffic
What is hard is getting the right kind of traffic and building a loyal audience of repeat visitors.
A truth bomb about traffic: it’s not hard to get it. Heck, you can buy it at the “traffic store” (Facebook, Google, et. al.)―sometimes really cheaply. But the total number of visitors is meaningless if your site visitors aren’t taking any action or if they bounce off your site before they even read a word and never come back.
Here’s what I mean.
Just this weekend I overheard a conversation about building traffic by forming a StumbleUpon buddy network. I had forgotten about StumbleUpon so I tested it out. Here’s what happened:
I got 54 new visitors to my blog post that day but who the *bleep* cares? The number might as well have been zero because that’s how many people actually stayed on my website long enough to read my post.
Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use StumbleUpon, or that you should look at one day’s results and conclude “WELL, THAT DIDN’T WORK!” (It usually takes a bit of digging in to figure out the ins-and-outs of various traffic-generating activities, and giving it a fair chance before you can know whether it can work for you.)
The point is to demonstrate why it’s dangerous to compare traffic stories. Sure this is traffic, but who cares? You don’t want traffic that stays for 2 seconds and then leaves.
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 of 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:
Otherwise, your numbers will be skewed every time you visit your own website
2. Look for the “whys”
The real power of Google Analytics is in uncovering the “whys,” not the “how manys.”
If your traffic is up, or down, that’s great to know, but it’s better to understand why so you can know what you need to re-think and improve, and what things are working really well so you can do more of it. When data informs your marketing decisions and what you spend your time focusing on, you’ll become more efficient in what you’re doing.
When you see upswings in your traffic― try to figure out 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 should inform your decisions going forward. Maybe you need to learn more about getting traffic from Pinterest, or maybe you shouldn’t spend more of your precious time on it.
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 traffic is valuable traffic for me because it means I’m reaching my target audience and delivering content they’re interested in. Now I can decide where I need to put my focus.
Let’s look at an example.
What pops out to me in this report are the session durations for mobile Facebook users and referrals coming from Zest.is (which is a content curation app).
Since Facebook users otherwise spend over 6 minutes on average on-site… why are they leaving so quickly when they’re on mobile? The first thing I’d check is whether there’s a technical problem (that is, whether the site needs to be better optimized for mobile).
As for Zest.is, maybe this is the wrong audience for this content. I’d dig a little deeper to see which articles they’re consuming and which ones they’re skimming quickly before leaving; I’d just keep an eye on it for awhile to determine whether continuing to submit content is worth the effort.
4. Look for insights about how users are navigating through your website & what site content they like best
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).
While you’re in the Behavior tab, click on Behavior > Site Content > All Pages and see what content is performing best. When you know what your site visitors love, you become smarter about your audience and what they need.
5. Use Google Analytics to look for opportunities to improve your site
Looking for problems is an opportunity for you to make the kinds of changes to 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 new hypotheses.
The lowest hanging fruit in optimization is to check your bounce rate―is it high? And your session duration―is it low? 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 issues that need fixing. What can you do to get the bounce rate down? Make a change and then check back in to see how it worked. It usually takes some experimentation and tweaking before we really find our stride.
Taughnee Stone is an award-winning designer, brand strategist, and location-independent business owner for over 15 years. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, she now lives in Croatia with her husband, energetic Samoyed, and three bossy cats.