A Beginner's Guide to Understanding Google Analytics

While you will most likely have heard of Google Analytics, you might not have taken the time to gain a comprehensive understanding of this extremely valuable tool. Google Analytics is one of the most powerful web analytics apps available at the moment, and can aid your understanding of your web traffic in a way that can really help improve the design, purpose, and content of your website.

As a web designer, you need to understand how visitors engage with your work. You should know what page they’re landing on, what page they’re leaving from, and how long they spend on each page. No matter how beautiful the design, if your client is not converting, then your website is not doing its job.

This basic analytics guide will help you understand how exactly Google Analytics works. In the meantime, we’ll cover what analytics does, and why it’s important for web designers and developers. We will give you tips on how to use it to its full potential, so that you can improve your website’s usability, engagement factor, and those all important conversion rates.

What is Analytics and What Does it Do?

Google Analytics is a free application that tracks traffic patterns on your website, giving you fresh insight into how visitors use it. This invaluable information on the behavior of your visitors can help you to understand their experience, letting you know what’s working, and more importantly, what’s not.

Google Analytics monitors every aspect of the traffic that comes through your site. It gives you the lowdown on entrance and exit pages, bounce rates, what browser types are being used to view your site (including mobile devices) and your site’s conversion funnel.

Why It’s Important

Truly great design is all about combining form and function, and the primary function of a commercial website is conversions. As a designer, you need to have an intuitive understanding of how to create a well designed, engaging and usable site.

How to Use It

There are several metrics every conscientious designer should be keeping an eye on:

Bounce Rate
The bounce rate tells you how many people left a particular page without moving further downt he conversion funnel. In other words, it’s a useful gauge of first impressions. A high bounce rate means the page is failing to engage, and that could be due to your design. Try testing low performing pages with Google Website Optimizer to figure out how to lower these figures.

Landing Pages As less than 40% of visitors enter a site through its homepage, it’s essential to optimize the engagement value of all of the major landing pages. Using the data from this metric, think objectively about what’s working on your high performing landing pages and try and adapt low performing pages accordingly.

Conversion Funnels

You want your users’ experience to be sleek and intuitive, so they journey naturally through your site towards the end goal: conversion. Generally, this is the primary function of most sites. A conversion can be anything from generating a lead to selling a product, and you need to know how your visitors are getting to this final destination. Assess which pages are losing customers, and improve them.
An ever increasing percentage of users are viewing the web through mobile devices and smart phones, and the devices metric will help you to see this. In 2013, we’re going to see a lot of changes in design in order to cater for these different viewports. This year, web design is set to become more vertical, in line with the instinctive scrolling of tablet users. Because so many viewers will be accessing your site via mobile devices, responsive design is key to making your site user friendly no matter how it’s being viewed.

Time on Site
The longer someone stays on your site, the more time you have to make conversions, so it’s useful to know which pages viewers are skipping through. From a design perspective, there are certain things you can do to keep people on your site longer. These include adding a video or useful explanatory graphics and ensuring that your site has a consistent layout across all of its pages.

These metrics may seem like a lot to think about, but each can be key in taking your flair and creativity and turning them into something spectacular.

Author Bio
Luke Clum is a Seattle based designer, developer and outdoorsman. If he’s not geeking out about UI design, you’ll most likely find him climbing something in the mountains. Follow him on Twitter @lukeclum

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