Why Google Analytics Is The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

Using PinterestWhen I first started blogging, I had no idea what I was doing.

Seriously…  NONE!

My background is in database development, and I have next to no web development experience. I actually thought that I had to write HTML code for every blog post I was going to do. This was what deterred me from getting into blogging earlier.

Another major deterrent was the nagging question in the back of my head: “How will I even know if I'm doing it right?”. After all, it's not like a blog about a guy standing in a cow pasture with a telescope is going to draw the crowds that the latest celebrity gossip blog tends to draw.

There has to be a way to track user hits. As it turns out, there is an incredibly powerful set of free tools provided by Google that allow you to do so much more than track website hits. I'm talking about Google Analytics.

Google Analytics provides you with all the fat juicy details about everyone who browses your website.

  • Do you want to know how many people are visiting you each day?
  • How about how many of those users are using Google Chrome versus Microsoft Internet Explorer?  
  • Have you ever wanted to know how long someone using an iPhone stays on your site before exiting?
  • Do you think it would help you made layout decisions if you knew which pages your readers landed on, and then browsed to?  

If you answered “Yes”, or even “Maybe” to any of those questions, you need to use Google Analytics.

Setting up Google analytics is very easy and straight forward. There are dozens of sites out there that can do a better job of showing you how to start using the analytics than I ever could. Do a Google search for “Setup Google Analytics” and any of the results on the first page will give you all the info you would ever need.

Instead, let me tell you my story about how I used the tools within Google Analytics to make some pretty important decisions early on that quite literally changed the game for me.

Once upon a time…

When I started my blog back in August of 2014, I was on the blogger platform. I turned Google Analytics on after my first few weeks and found the Users Flow tool found in the Audience tool box most handy at first.

I made several layout changes the first few weeks, and noticed my bounce rate went from 90% to the 50% range. Knowing which pages lead to other pages and how my readers were using the links to find content allowed me to build a more intuitive layout.

Users Flow

Another feature I found very useful was the percentage of new sessions versus returning sessions. I was curious to know if people were stopping by and reading my content, and then never returning. As I produced more content and linked it out on social media, I found that my new visitor versus returning visitor rate was about 60%/40% respectively.

I also saw a growth in the number of sessions each week. This growth over time was validation that I was gaining a bigger reach. Seeing the ratio of new versus returning users change was validation that my readers were coming back to see what was new.

When you're just starting out and you feel like a little island in the whole sea of information, knowing that a reader comes back is a reassurance that you cannot put a price on.

Knowledge is power!

As many of us know, and I was about to find out, Google likes to rank our pages based on loading speed.  Google Analytics provides us with a suite of tools called Site Speed. Here, your pages are listed with useful information, such as page views, Average page load time, page speed suggestions, and page speed score.

These last two items come directly from Google Page Speed Insights. In fact, from this tool, you can open up the page speed insights for that page directly! No more need to go and copy/paste the URLs into a separate browser window.

I've since decided that I should move off of the Blogger platform, and went with a hosted WordPress account. My decision for doing this was largely influenced by data I gleaned from my Google Analytics, particularly the Site Speed tools.

Since using these tools, I noticed that my page loading times and page speed scores were below where I wanted them on the blogger platform. My highest page speed score was in the 60's and average page load time in seconds was approaching 8 seconds for that page.

I knew that I could get better with WordPress on a self-hosted site. I was correct. I now enjoy less than 1 second page load speeds, and my page speed scores are in the high 80's through mid 90's depending on the number of images I used.

Page SpeedAlso, in the month that I've run my own hosted site, and doing various performance tuning tasks I've noticed my page rankings have started climbing.

And for the first time, I'm getting clicks from Google search result pages! This is where the money is. Ranking high in a Google search result and not having to pay for it is the best exposure you can hope to get.

As your blog grows, and more people start clicking through and browsing your blog, the likelihood of your content being shared or linked to will increase. That translates into free advertising, and it doesn't get much sweeter than that!

These tools are the tools any new blogger should focus on first. I cannot stress how important it is to do this very early on.

I started doing this with only 18 posts. That may not sound like much, but going page by page optimizing as many as 10 images (I write reviews, and how-to articles) takes a long time. My optimizations took me 3 weeks for 18 posts.

If you're just starting out, and have fewer posts, and a lot fewer images, this will take a lot less time – but it pays off in the long run. Everything you do at this stage while using Google Analytics to validate your changes may take a few days. However, if you do what I did, and wait 6 months, it will cost you weeks.

Imagine if you didn't use the Analytics for over a year, and had hundreds of blog posts? How much time would be lost then?

Once your fledgling blog is tuned for fast page load speeds, and optimized for easy navigation for a better user experience it's time to grow. Grow your content, and by extension, your users.

Study, Evolve, Grow, Repeat.

Now that I have a fast site, and I'm happy with the user experience so far I'm focusing more on the users, and less on the site itself. I am using the Audience tool suite a lot now. I've come to rely on my New vs Returning metric, as well as the Users Flow.

Recently, I've started getting into more of the advanced analytics, and are tracking more of what my users are doing.

By studying the Audience tools, and drilling down to interests, I can see that I have particular user categories that are frequently browsing my blog. My top three categories are Technophiles, Shutterbugs, and Movie Lovers. They make up over 35% of all my traffic.

User Affinity

The other interesting metric available here is the Other Category. I have Science/Astronomy making up 40.5% of all of my traffic. This information is now what I use to develop new content and evolve the topicality of my writing.

I'm able to write for my audience, and in turn, my audience will start spreading the word. I know that I'm on the right track because my bounce rates are below 40% in my niche categories, and my pages viewed per session is 5.5 on average.

How about you? Tell me about your experience with Google Analytics.

Mitchell Tubbs is a database developer by day, and amateur astronomer by night.  He began writing the East of Jupiter blog to spread his knowledge and passion for astronomy to the world.

Comments

  1. says

    Google Analytics certainly gives you heaps of data. And it can give you so many ideas about how to change your tactics to get a better result. I can see how people get right into this tool, and tinker away obsessively at their sites in order to improve its effectiveness.

    That said, it’s quite overwhelming in a way. It takes a while to get your head around how it all works!
    Matt Hayden recently posted…Blog monetization: How to find a good strategyMy Profile

    • says

      Even after 3 years of blogging, I don’t take advantage of everything Google Analytics does. But I do enjoy watching my numbers go up every month!

      Thanks for taking the time to comment,
      Sue

  2. says

    @Matt,

    I agree that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the data overload! I feel that my years doing data analytics has allowed me to pick and focus on a few KPI’s early on so I wasn’t chasing down fifty other things. I tried to focus only on the tools that I could use to speed up the website and enhance the users experience. I was obsessing over it, as you stated.

    While in a meeting at work, I actually told my boss “I’m going to give us a one-size-fits-most solution”. At that moment, the light bulb above my head slowly flickered to life. I realized then that I can’t optimize every aspect of the website, I had to hit the few areas that were more or less universal. Nothing else mattered for those few weeks. I knew it would all trickle down to the new content that would follow.
    Mitchell Tubbs recently posted…The Speed of Gravity Kept Me Up All NightMy Profile

  3. says

    Great article Mitchell. I’m a long time user of Google Analytics but I know I only scratch the surface of it’s capabilities. I use if for all my blogs and mostly leverage it to identify my popular content, and then go in and give those pages a bit of a spring clean. I’ll revamp the content, and make sure the layout is effective and easy to digest and make sure I’ve added in valuable internal hyperlinks.

    Good tip on the Users Flow tool – I’ve looked at this before and drilled down on the flow, but I’ve never thought about using it to increase the information efficiency of my content … just added this to my New Year’s resolution list! Google Analytics is valuable, but also overwhelming. So, for me, the trick is to focus on a few key areas and identify what the goal is, and then put an action plan together to achieve it.

    thx, Jay
    Jay recently posted…Download a January Project Planner TemplateMy Profile

    • says

      Hi, Jay,

      Thanks so much for stopping by and reading and commenting today!

      It’s one of my goals this year also and Mitchell got me psyched up to do it,
      Sue

  4. says

    Hi Sue and Mitchell,

    I want to thank you for writing this post as it has served as a timely reminder for me to do something. I moved my blog from one domain to another at the beginning of December and it turns out that I didn’t re-establish the Google analytics tracking. Prompted by this post, I have now done it and should start to see my results soon.

    Jo
    Jo recently posted…Read Something New: 11 Blogs for 2015My Profile

    • says

      Hi, Jo,

      Glad we could help out! I wanted everyone to get all their numbers right in 2015.

      Happy New Year,
      Sue

    • says

      I’ve personally never used Alexa. As a beginning blogger, I targeted the low hanging fruit – which is Google. More people use it, so I want to do well there. Their analytics and webmaster tools were the first things I started tinkering with. I’m branching out into more advanced analytics now, and even a little bit from Bing.

      Becuase Alexa uses a toolbar, and I personally think toolbars are bad (future blog post, maybe?)… I wouldn’t place a lot of hope that Alexa can provide a realistic sampling of the people I’d be interested in tracking on my site.

      Thanks for your insight, Renard!
      Mitchell Tubbs recently posted…The Speed of Gravity Kept Me Up All NightMy Profile

    • says

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Renard!

      Happy New Year,
      Sue

  5. Zarayna says

    Hello Sue and Mitchell,

    A fascinating read for which I thank you.

    One day, when I grow up, I might actually understand it (have yet to start a blog) and then I’m sure I’ll be sincerely grateful and can thank you again.

    In the meantime, I am off to tighten my Kuiper Belt.

    Please accept my kindest regards.

  6. says

    Hi Sue Anne,

    Google Analytics does provide some great info. As you and others mentioned it can be overwhelming.

    Have you or others installed custom reports for GA? They really allow you to get to the important stuff fast.

    Another great and very insightful tool is http://www.LuckyOrange.com See real time video recordings of how people are using your website. It’s surprising.
    Trent Smith recently posted…What They Don’t Teach You in Law School About Running Your Business.My Profile

    • says

      Hi Trent,

      Thanks for the lead on Lucky Orange. I’ve also gotten insights from a free site Criticue

      Thanks for taking the time to comment,
      Sue

  7. says

    Hey, Mitchell –

    You and me both. I was completely clueless when I started. I was a seller on eBay and forced myself to learn about web hosting because I was sick and tired of paying eBay all the fees for them to host my pictures. I found that the more images I put on the Hallmark ornaments I was selling, the more I sold – so I was highly motivated.

    Love Google Analytics and have used them for 4 years, since the beginning of my site.

    You’re spot on – knowledge is power.

    Between Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools, plus Google URL builder, I’m very pleased with the data I’m receiving. Another plus is CrazyEgg heat maps. This has helped me to increase my conversions big time. 🙂

    My site speed has increased a lot since switching themes too, which makes me happy.

    Your excellent article will be helping a lot of people. Thanks for sharing, and I’ll be passing it along.

    ˜Carol
    Carol Amato` recently posted…Content Inspiration: 6 Effective Ideas for Creating Amazing Blog ContentMy Profile

    • says

      Carol,

      I’m so glad you were able to use Google Analytics to really drive your business to a new level!
      For my personal blog, I’m in the process of creating an images section. Because it’s primarily a science blog which potentially has the ability for me to sell images, tutorial videos, and small PDF publications, I have a question for you: How did you use analytics to determine which images were getting the most traffic? This is going to be new territory for me to begin to explore, and still have no real clear road map to attempt to follow.
      Mitchell Tubbs recently posted…The Speed of Gravity Kept Me Up All NightMy Profile

    • says

      Hi, Carol,

      I use CrazyEgg heat maps also. A free one is now on Sumome.com, just so my readers know about it.

      Site speed is so important.

      Thanks for commenting and for letting my guest post on your blog this week!
      Sue

  8. says

    Thanks for a great post, Mitchell (and Sue).

    Those tips was very helpful. I definitely need to improve my knowledge regarding Google Analytics to improve my blog 🙂

    Thanks,

    Tor Refsland

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