• Joseph Lowe

Google Analytics Inside Tips & Common Questions

Updated: Apr 26, 2020

In lieu of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic that we’re all facing, I’ve been practicing my social distancing and trying my best to stay inside (aside from the occasional quick jog here and there). I, like many people, have found myself struggling at times to figure out the best way to spend all this excess time at home without getting a little stir crazy.

A few months prior to the pandemic, a good friend of mine mentioned I should look into CXL and their minidegree programs to not only sharpen up my SEO/SEM skills today but gain a few new tricks up my sleeve. Luckily, I qualified for their Digital Analytics Minidegree scholarship program and will be writing a weekly tips & tricks blog to outline a few amazing pro-tips from the course that impact my day-to-day job tasks and speak to the course learnings in general. I ran through about 11 lessons this week from Chris “Mercer” Mercer of and gained a few invaluable nuggets of knowledge. So without further adieu, let’s start post 1 of 12!

Tip 1 – Real-time Reports

First things first, let’s talk about real-time reports. Real-time reports are a feature in Google Analytics that allows SEOs to gain better insight into if there are active users on the website in real-time – pretty cool stuff. If you click the overview tab within the real-time reports menu, you can get a quick summary of who all is on your site, detailing whether it came from a social source, from other referral sources, or as a result of a certain keyword. It also provides quick insight into what pages are active – within about a 5-minute timeframe – and where those users are from.

Real-time reports are a great resource for small business owners to stop guessing and start checking if their website pages are working. As an SEO, it’s not uncommon for business owners to build a website, set up Google Analytics and assume that if the domain is linked to the Analytics account that all pages are reporting correctly. Don’t make that mistake. Just hop into real-time reports, open up your own tab and visit all the pages on your website.

If you don’t see an active user on the report for the aforementioned pages, then you might want to make sure to go back and check your Analytics settings and website overall. Mercer made an incredibly valuable point in his course in that real-time reports aren’t the place where you want to make major decisions around your website. It’s simply the place to ensure your website is working properly in line with Analytics. There are plenty of other places to gain website insights, from audience reports to behavior reports to conversion reports, which we will detail in later blog posts.

Tip 2- Client-IDs Explained

When I mentioned using real-time reports to gain insights on users, I’m sure some of you jumped for joy. “I can learn who my users are and when they’re on the website? Great!” Well – sort of. In the age of privacy that we live in today, there’s no way that Google or any company with that much personal data could just hand it over to anyone who creates a Google Analytics account. Insert Google’s client-IDs.

Google client-IDs are the safest way for Google to identify users without giving too much information away. Each visitor to a site is assigned a client-ID if they haven’t visited the site previously. They are cookies. For those that have always wondered what clearing your cookies does on a browser, it essentially clears footsteps on websites by Google’s standards and your client-ID vanishes. The client-ID allows Google to recognize you as a user when you revisit the site and record certain actions you’re taking on the website (i.e. goals, events, session duration time, etc.).

Here’s the big tip though, client-ID doesn’t account for each individual across numerous platforms. What that means is if I visit on an iPad, laptop, desktop computer and phone, then Google is going to assign four different client-IDs and think I’m four different people. What’s interesting about client-ID though is that you can get a quick play-by-play of what your most engaged users are engaging with. Perhaps you’ve published a video to the site recently, and you’re curious how and if people are actually engaging with it. While there are numerous other ways to track this, you could look at your most active client-IDs to see if A) they’re visiting the video and B) see step-by-step how they’re actually getting to it (whether it be from the homepage, direct traffic, perhaps paid search, etc.).

Tip 3 – Exits vs. Bounces

Are you worried about your bounce rate or your exit rate? Well, you wouldn’t be alone. The questions I’ve been most commonly faced within both agency life and B2B digital analytics is around the dreaded bounce rate or exit rate. If you visit the site content tab under behavior in Google Analytics, you’ll see bounce rate and exit rate displayed for all your pages. The difference between the two can be easily missed.

Let’s first define a landing page. A landing page (defined as entrance on Google Analytics) is the first page that’s visited on your website by a user. Most people assume this will be the homepage, but if you’ve produced video content or blogs that answer a specific question, then those can oftentimes be your landing page if it’s high on a search engine results page. The bounce rate defines how often users who visited a page as a landing page, saw the page and then left without further engagement throughout the site. The exit rate defines how often users who visited a certain page on their journey through the site – as in they visited multiple pages on a site – and then decided to exit off a certain page.

The most important takeaway from Mercer’s lesson here is that there is no “normal”bounce rate or exit rate. In his own words, “The power is in in the pattern.” Any SEO needs to be observant when it comes to bounce rate but not get too caught up in it.

For example, if a blog bounce rate is relatively high – let’s say 80 percent – can we objectively say that’s a problem? Well, it depends on the blog material. If it’s a blog piece that’s more top-of-funnel and simply answers a quick question for a searcher and has no call-to-action for the user to explore the site, then the website owner can’t expect there to be a lot of engagement from that blog. Observe the bounce rate for your website and think about how your unique business and website translates online. Is it e-commerce vs. a plumbing company? The bounce rate matters in different ways for both!

Tip 4 – Stop avoiding Multi-Channel Funnels

Personally, I avoided multi-channel funnels in Google Analytics for a long time. There’s something about the multi-channel funnel tab in the conversion section of Google Analytics that sounds intimidating, but I’m glad I got over that fear due to the plethora of valuable insights that can be gained from this particular tab.

Let’s back it up a moment and define conversions or goals as Google Analytics likes to call them. A goal (or conversion) is an action taken by a user on your website that can be defined as valuable by your company. A few examples can include, e-commerce purchase, demo request, webinar signup, or whitepaper download, among many others. Depending upon your line of business, you can assign a monetary value to each particular goal to better measure how your SEO efforts are stacking up against overall ROI.

Now all of that conversion data is phenomenal, but the real question most SEOs often face is what traffic has been the most valuable? Is it social traffic from Facebook? Is it organic traffic from people searching for the business? Is it the advertising we’re doing on Bing or Google? There’s no easy way to define this as most users often take numerous steps down the marketing funnel to take the action we want them to. That’s where the multi-channel funnel report comes into play.

The multi-channel funnel report can show the different traffic sources as they’re working together, defining how traffic sources have influenced the conversion action. For example, let’s say a user clicked a Google ad to get to a video they watch. They watch the video, visit a blog and leave the site. Four days later they see your page on Facebook and click an interesting post regarding your services that takes them to an info request page. They fill out the form and click submit, which triggers your conversion. In Google Ads, it will most likely claim that conversion.

Now, what do you think deserves the credit? Is it the Google ad? Is it the blog post they read from Facebook? Google Analytics typically gives the most credit to the last-click in the funnel (in this case Facebook), but the multi-channel funnel allows you to see all of the traffic sources related to conversions and bridge data gaps across multiple platforms. That way when Google Ads says you gained 15 conversions and Google Analytics says you gained 7 conversions from Google Ads, you can see what other platforms might have influenced the decision to press submit.

Tip 5 – Account, Property and View Setting Tips

Lastly, there can never be enough tips on how to properly set up an account, property or view. It’s easy to simply set up one account, one property and one view and call it a day. Let’s be honest, I know I’ve done it and several Analytics accounts that I’ve audited have the exact same setup.

First tip – don’t do that. Prior to Mercer’s tips, I only set up two views per property but he brings up a valid point of setting up three views per property – a primary view for data, a testing view for any big tests across the site and a raw data view for if anything breaks or goes wrong in other views to compare to. In lieu of that sage advice, here are a few quick tips from Mercer to keep in mind when you set up your Google Analytics account.

Make sure data permissions are safe within your company

In Google Analytics, there is a section in which you have to approve or disapprove Google data sharing options on your website. I understand the temptation to simply check okay, but it’s incredibly important that you defer to your executive team to understand what that might entail – specifically if you’re a holder of private, personal data.

Set the account time for where your servers are

For most small businesses that will have a hosting server within their own building, this tip won’t matter too much. For larger companies with a server that might be hosted in a different time zone, it’s important to ensure that the time zone is set for where the servers are as opposed to your own time zone. Otherwise, there can be holes in the data and incorrect timeframes.

Make a property with the number –2 at the end

Often times, nefarious actors will try to insert bad, spam data into your property by putting in random numbers and finding your property. While this doesn’t always happen, it’s smart to create a decoy property with –1 at the end and a primary property with – 2 at the end because most spammers won’t use the –2 and will only target – 1.

Be smart about session time and campaign timeout

Sessions, by default, are set to a 30-minute time period and campaigns are set to a default of 60 days. Think about your marketing funnel and website wisely when changing these time periods. For example, does your buying cycle take up to a year? If so, a campaign time that is only 6 months may not accurately define what got you that customer. Or do you have long videos that are an hour long on your website? That will technically count as two different sessions and negatively impact your data.

Do you know any great Google Analytics tips that have helped your business or agency? We’d love to hear them. Otherwise, thanks for reading and I look forward to sharing more insights next week!

This post was created in an effort to complete my CXL Institute Mindegree Scholarship obligation and speak to the materials reviewed in the course. The information is a combination of my previous knowledge and excellent insights from a phenomenal program.

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