Or, Fantastic Users and How to Engage Them Feat. Google Analytics
This article drills down into the 2nd business question that Google Analytics can help you answer (channels — where are my visitors coming from?) from our 4 Business Questions Google Analytics Can Answer About Your Website Visitors
Your users are likely coming to your website from all corners of the web. They might use a social media post, a search result on Google, or a blog. Whatever the method, each of these possible pathways is called a “channel.”
The first thing that is important to note is that different visitors from different channels may have different intentions and behaviors.
For example, a visitor that uses a blog post as their gateway may be much more interested in learning more about your educational content than a user that found your site through a coupon you placed via search ads.
One key mission of web analytics is to identify this difference in user intention and behavior in order to create tailored messages for each of these channels. This will increase the overall engagement and conversion rate of your website.
Google Analytics helps do just this by providing a broad range of modules to analyze and understand the relevant information.
The goal of this article is to provide you with a brief walkthrough on how to use the channel behavior of your users in order to best engage them
More specifically, this post will answer the following questions:
- What is the most common place your users come from?
- Do some “channels” produce users that are more engaged than others?
- What is the best way to conduct advanced analysis on selected channels such as “search” and “social media”?
- What is the best way to convert insights from your analysis into actual business action items?
What is the most common place your users come from?
Google Analytics sorts your incoming traffic into one of the following eight channels:
- Direct: The user typed your web URL directly into their browser.
- Organic Search: The user searched a term related to your website on a search engine and found your website in the search results.
- Social: The user found a gateway to your website on a social media platform (eg. Twitter, Facebook, etc.).
- Email: The user clicked on a link to your website that showed up in their email.
- Referral: The user clicked on a link to your website that showed up on a different website.
- Paid Search: The user searched a term related to your website on Google, and clicked on one of the search advertisements you placed related to that keyword (eg. Google ads).
- Display: The user clicked on a display advertisement you placed on a Google partner website (think of the giant banner ads you see when you visit a small blog site).
- Other Advertising:The user found your website though a different form of online advertising such as “cost per point” or “cost per view”.
These eight channels can be divided up into two categories.
The first five channels, including direct, organic search, social, email, and referral, do not require you to spend any money on advertising to see traffic (although it is true that you can spend money on search and social to increase traffic).
The last three channels, on the other hand, will only show up as traffic if you pay for search, display or online advertising campaigns. More specifically, for the “other advertising” category, you need to manually place Google tracking parameters on your link in order to see traffic.
How does user engagement rate differ based on the channel they utilize?
Just like for user analysis, Google provides nine basic metrics that provide a lot of information about your users’ behavior regarding channels.
These metrics are divided into three categories: Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversions. The way these metrics are laid out is illustrated below.
Pouring over this data will allow you to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each of your channels in terms of Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversions. From there you can pick two or three core channels that are performing the best and focus on them in order to maximize your audience engagement.
In short, you need to find channels that have a high rating in the following categories.
- Frequency (High total sessions): This group visits your page most frequently
- New Visitors (High percentage of new users): This group is your emerging channel, where many of your new visitors are coming from
- Engagement (Low bounce rates, high pages/session, high avg. session duration): This channel is most engaged with your website
- Conversion (High conversion rate): This is the channel that most frequently accomplishes your business objectives
I wrote an article a couple of weeks ago that not only covers in depth how to find these groups, but also describes methods to further engage those audiences via hypothesis testing. To learn more, check out this article:
One channel that might be trickier than the others to analyze is the “direct” channel, as it is more of an indicator of the overall popularity and traction of your website as opposed to a concrete, traceable source.
A high level of “direct” traffic is usually a positive indicator regarding traction, but it could also mean that your other channels are struggling to bring in users. Furthermore, the “direct” channel is usually harder to work with than other channels since there is no simple way of tracing the source of its traffic back to its original source.
Therefore, it is not recommended to choose “direct” as your core channel.
What is the best way to conduct advanced analysis on selected channels such as “search” or “social media”?
Google Analytics also offers advanced analytics features such as Organic Search, Social, Referral, and Paid search. Additionally, it provides a custom campaign tracking service that can help you further categorize your traffic according to your needs.
Google recently enabled integration between Google Analytics and Google Search Console. which enables you to conduct search analytics on Google Analytics.
Search analytics enables you to understand which specific terms your site visitors are searching for on Google and, furthermore, helps you understand the chance a user will reach your website as a result of searching for those terms.
In general, these search terms, or keywords, can be divided into two categories: brand-specific and non-brand-specific.
For example, if your company’s name is “Bob’s Burgers,” any keywords that are related to the name “Bob’s Burgers” are considered brand-specific keywords as users that search for those terms clearly intend to find your company.
On the other hand, non-brand specific keywords may include terms such as “the best burger in town,” or “burgers close to me.” People searching for these keywords are not looking for your brand specifically. This means that you need to spend more efforts convincing them to visit your site after they’ve made their initial search.
In addition to keyword analysis, Google Analytics also enables you to see various search metrics such as click through rate and number of clicks, as well as average ad position by landing page, country, and device.
You can use these functionalities to understand further which specific page or demographic contains are performing the best.
To recap, referral traffic reaches your website through a link located on a different website. It is essential for search engine optimization (SEO) that you have a lot of referral traffic(that is the essence of link building and PageRank) and that you can identify your biggest referrers. You can do this by looking at the Acquisition -> All Traffic -> Referrals section of Google Analytics.
Generally, the principles I explained for general analysis also apply to detailed referral analysis. However, data consistency and accuracy for the referral session are perhaps some of the worst metrics in Google Analytics.
Oftentimes, I see both bot traffic and social traffic misclassified under the referral tab. Therefore, it is essential to identify these types of misinformation and filter them out during your analysis (here is a guide for filtering and other dashboard tricks in Google Analytics).
Another example of data that needs to be filtered out can be found when, a specific referral source refers a significant amount of traffic to your site with a very low avg. session durations (usually close to 00:00:00). Visits of this length are not possible for human users, so you should exclude them from your analysis.
An example is shown below. Out of 29 referred users on this site, only line number 4 is correctly classified and all remaining traffic is either from social media or can be classified as a bot (e-commerce-seo.org traffic).
Under the Acquisition -> Social tab, Google Analytics provides specific information about the social network engagements of your users. For example, it will show you their behaviour on your site as well as their conversion behavior.
You can use these functionalities to further understand the behavior of users coming from social media.
However, it is worth pointing out that, while many social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have robust analytics features, Google Analytics does not support integration with those platforms.
So when analyzing your social media traffic, it is highly recommended to utilize these platforms individually in order to gain a clear picture of why and how users engage with your online content.
Google Analytics also integrates smoothly with Google Adwords. This is important because it can help you identify successful Adwords campaigns.
I would even go so far as to argue that promoting advertising through Google Adwords is one of the major reasons why Google Analytics exists for free in the first place.
The Advertising functionality of Google Adwords is a beast in and of itself. Therefore, in this article I will give you a simple overview of what you can do via the Adwords analytics module. Namely, you can analyze the user behavior on your site down to specific keywords and display segments You can also receive suggestions on the best times for you to place advertisements.
Google also enables you to personally organize your incoming traffic through modules called “custom campaigns.”
Through “custom campaigns,” you can add various parameters to your URL. This allows Google to automatically classify any traffic that comes through that link as belonging to a specific campaign.
The custom URL function of Google is rather intensive, so I will not cover it in depth here. Please refer to this guide or contact me if you are interested in learning more about how to setup custom campaigns.
What is the best way to convert insights from your analysis to actual business action items?
The ultimate goal of all of the analyses explained above is to convert insights into business actions that can help you further engage with your users.
My recommendation for implementation is to start with the most basic analyses and identify one or two highly performing channels to optimize at a time.
You’ll need to focus on only a few at a time because channel optimization is a marathon. Some efforts, such as search engine optimization and social marketing, will take weeks if not months to reach full effectiveness, You’ll need to be focused in order to get them done.
These are the steps you can take to optimize your channels once you’ve decided which ones to focus on.
- Organic Search: Use search engine optimization techniques such as keyword analysis and link building to raise your search ranking (how far up the Google search results page your link sits).This will also improve both impressions and clicks.
- Direct: It is difficult to mechanically improve direct traffic since it is an indicator of your overall brand traction. That’s also a good thing though, as it means that any effort to promote your business will also raise direct traffic.
- Social Media: Advertise on your most popular social media platforms.
- Email: Use automated email tools such as Mailchimp and closely monitor each of the emails that are sent out.
- Referrals: Conduct an influencer marketing campaign or hire a PR consulting firm in order to gain public awareness about your website.
- Paid Search: Conduct paid search campaigns via Google Adwords
- Display: Conduct display campaigns via the Google Display Network
When implementing the actions above, it is highly recommended that you carefully monitor your channel metrics in order to see what kind of effect you are having.
I would also advise you to be patient, since projects like SEO usually take take about a week to see any results. Writing projects off too fast may result in both wasted resources and missed opportunities.
Thank you so much for reading this article. I hope it helps you further engage your users via multiple channels. If you have any questions about this article or are interested in learning more about how you can better engage your customers, please feel free to email me at email@example.com.
This article is part of our Google Analytics fundamentals series. In the next article, we are going to talk about how you can use Google Analytics for page-by-page optimization (the 3rd question you can answer with Google Analytics). Stay tuned!
This article is produced by Humanlytics. At Humanlytics, we build tools for SMBs that not only help them answer their business questions and track metrics in real time, but also tell them what questions they should be asking in the first place — all with the goal of teaching them how to implement solutions.