Website Analytics – How To Analyze A Website’s Performance With Google Analytics

Website Analytics

I wanted to write about website analytics for a while.

When you work with a client for a while and create reports and dashboards every month, it can be tough to always go beyond the numbers and make a business impact with these reports.

Here is what I have learnt over the years about website analytics and how to analyze a website performance.

While there is a plethora of tools to collect and report on website data, it is still up to your, the talented analysts and marketers, to analyze what this data means for your website and the business and what can be done to further improve its performance and its significance to business success.

Data reporting is merely numbers, data analysis is an art, it is about providing meaningful insights that will have a positive impact.

What Is Website Analytics

Website analytics refers to the collection of data and analysis of that data from a website for understanding and optimizing its usage, accessibility and digital marketing performance.

Here is an overview of the reports in Google Analytics I use and how I use them to analyze a website’s performance.

How to Analyze A Website’s Performance With Google Analytics

Acquisition Strategy

The Acquisition report in Google Analytics provides several different reports to understand how users found the website, whether it was from organic search in Google, or a paid ad in Bing or a social media campaign on LinkedIn.

This is an important component to understand for a website. Knowing which marketing channels bring the most traffic is critical to plan future marketing campaigns and ad spend. It is also important to understand whether the data relates to the acquisition strategy and whether the channels that you invest in the most actually bring in the most traffic.

I look at acquisition reports to understand trends over time and cross reference with campaigns or content marketing campaigns that have been active at a certain time.

Understanding Visitors

While it is important to bring users to the website it is also important to make sure the website makes them stay longer, commit to performing actions like reading your articles, browsing and purchasing your products, signing up for news alerts, etc.

I usually look at the standard user engagement metrics like bounce rate and session duration. While these might not be your main KPIs they are indicative of how well you are able to retain visitors on the website. I look at these metrics overall, per traffic channel and per top landing pages.

Other great reports that help understand visitors are the visitor loyalty and recency report and the behavior flow report. The first one shows how many times for a certain time the same user visited your website. The second one helps understand how users navigate your website, where they drop off the most, etc.

The loyalty and recency report can help you understand what percentage of your users come back to the website which is indicative if users find your content useful or like your website.

The behavior flow report can show patterns for users drop offs or pages where users navigate to the most.

Both of these can analyze how your users like the website and what you can do to improve the user experience.

Content and Conversions

The Landing page report contains conversion data that can be sorted by all conversion or by a specific conversion.

This data is full of insights on how the content on the website is performing against brining in new customers for the business.

I like to look at pages that receive a lot of sessions but do not bring many conversions and vice versa. Then use these insights to plan acquisition strategies and conversion optimization.

Naturally there are web pages that would perform poorly in converting web users into clients. For example blog posts normally would not bring conversions but this does not mean to ignore these pages. If a lot of traffic goes to the blog section of your website it would be a good to spend time brainstorming how these users could be more engaged to convert. What strategies you can implement to send blog visitors to product or service pages?

Conversions from Campaigns

A lot of effort and money are going into managing paid campaigns whether it is paid search, social media or email.

In my reports I include data to analyze sessions and conversions from all paid campaigns that were run for the selected time period.

This shows not only if campaigns are successful in acquiring website users but also if there is a return on your investment converting these users into customers.

If you are putting resources in paid campaigns it is critical to analyze the impact of these campaigns not only for budgeting but for better strategizing these marketing efforts.

What metrics do you look at to analyze your website? How do you evaluate if your business websites performs well or poor?

Bar Charts Remake

Bar charts are used extensively in marketing dashboards. They are my favourite way to visualize data since they are simple yet comprehensive and can be used for lots of types of data including trend over time and comparing categories.

Bar charts have to be used for their simplicity, yet most of the bar charts I see in reports and dashboards are cluttered with unnecessary colour and background distractions.

Below are some examples:

bar chart

bar chart

bar chart

bar chart

I am not remaking these particular charts. I found some interesting travel data from the National Travel and Tourism Office and using this data I am creating a few bar charts the way I like to use them – with fewer colours and no background clutter.

The example below is data from 1997. It shows the number of Americans that travelled to Europe, Mexico and Canada each month. Back then Europe was the most popular destination among Americans. I have highlighted the bars with red as a contrast colour and used grey for the other Mexico and Canada.

bar chart

The next example is the same data for 2017, 20 years later. In 2017 the number of Americans travelling to Mexico has significantly increased from 20 years ago. Using the same color scheme, I highlighted Mexico numbers in red and used grey for Europe and Canada.

bar chart 2017

The outcome from comparing the two bar charts above is the significant increase in Americans holidaying in Mexico over 20 years period. So below is an example of combining the data from the charts above into a horizontal bar chart. Since the outcome is related to Mexico I highlighted the data with red in both parts of the charts and used grey for Europe and Canada.

bar charts 1997 vs 2017

Conclusion:

When using bar charts be careful how you use colour. Use colour wisely to draw the audience attention where needed, remove all background elements and use an outcome title.

Trip Visualized

Interactive Map - My Trip Visualized

Recently I took a month long trip to Europe which is the reason the blog has not been updated. I thought a good way to start after a holiday is to visualize my itinerary.

I found this great tool, Tripline, which draws itinerary on a map to visualize a trip. It also offers options to enter information about each stop from the journey. What is great is that the lines this tool draws follow the exact root of the airplanes. I noticed this since I watched closely the progress of each my flights.

My trip is now over and I feel recovered from the jet leg. Here I am back in Denver and back to work on my blog.

The Waterfall Chart

I recently took part in a challenge organized by Storytelling with Data to create a waterfall chart.

I rarely see this type of chart in digital marketing dashboards, if ever! The challenge wasn’t limited to data related to digital marketing but I wanted to find a use case for a waterfall chart in a digital marketing environment.

The Waterfall Chart

What is a waterfall chart

Waterfall charts are used to show how an initial value has increased or decreased by a number of values in between that lead to a final value. These intermediate values can either be time based or category based.

My challenge was not only to create such a chart for a digital marketing report but to also find real data.

A couple of years ago I started working with a client on their blog and content strategy. Since we started publishing content that is relevant but also targeting high volume search terms, their visibility improved significantly.

A Waterfall Chart To Visualize Online Visibility Improvements

This type of data is a great candidate for a waterfall chart that will show how the number of keywords ranking on the first page of Google has increased over a certain period of time.

Such data can also be visualized with a bar chart or even a line chart.

The use of a waterfall chart however will emphasize on the intermediate values or in this case the number of new keywords in high positions for the intermediate time period (each month in 2017).

With the inclusion of a takeaway title this visual turned into a great data storytelling example.

Here are a few other use cases for a waterfall chart to be used in digital marketing dashboards

  • Newsletter subscribers at the start and end of year with their intermediate positive or negative numbers
  • Number of external links at the start of a link building campaign and at its end
  • Number of acquired leads for the duration of a paid media campaign

You can create a waterfall chart in Excel 2016 and other data visualization tools like Tableau. I used Excel 2013 and this tutorial.

Data Storytelling With Excel – Episode I

This is the first of series I plan to do on how you can use Excel for pretty data visuals and data storytelling.

In this video I build a very basic Excel dashboard using data storytelling principles including:

  • Focusing audience attention
  • Removing clutter
  • Include insights and takeaways right into the charts

In this dashboard I use a 100% stacked area chart to visualize all users to a website and users who made a purchase on the website. The line where these metrics intersect on the area chart is the trend and the rate Made a Purchase/All Users. This visualization aims to show what percentage of the users who visit the website make a purchase.
There are a number of ways to visualize this, but I chose a 100% stacked area chart so I can focus on the rate. In this video the blue color on the area chart is for visitors who made a purchase on the website and the orange color is for all users.
Using a text widget I will include a clarification of what the white line between these two chart components is. This insight will also focus the audience attention on the rate which is what I aim with this visual.

The second chart in this dashboard is a simple line chart with annotations. It visualizes the trend for revenue made from website purchases. To be easier to understand the real numbers behind the trend I am including data labels and removing the vertical axis to reduce clutter.
Using a text widget I will insert a takeaway insight onto the chart as well as further takeaways on the right hand of the chart.

This is a very basic Excel dashboard, there are a number of other ways to make data look pretty in Excel which I will be exploring in future series.

Digital Acquisition Report Infographic With Google Data Studio

*Disclaimer: For this video I have used data from the Google Merchandise Online Store Google Analytics which is publicly available!

Google Data Studio has many options to style and make your reports pretty. I have been experimenting building infographics with Google Data Studio and I came up with some really great looking visuals.

In this video I create a digital acquisition report for a website to show performance by digital marketing channel. I got inspired by an available infographic template in Venngage, which is a great data visualization tool.

It was super easy to recreate a similar style infographic with Google Data Studio and in this video I show some important features like:

– how to select multiple widgets
– how to group widgets
– how to create new filters
– how to use background shapes and color

What I came up with is a very colorful report.
If you look at it from a data storytelling perspective it is a little difficult to digest and to focus your audience attention.
But as an unusual style report that looks like an infographic I think it is pretty cool.

Digital Acquisition Report Infographic With Google Data Studio

Hope you enjoy it and get inspired to create your own infographic in Google Data Studio.

The Pie Chart Dilemma

A pie chart is used extensively in presentations and reports. I use pie charts very often in my monthly performance dashboards. Or to be fair I used to.

The Naughty Pie Chart

In some of my recent videos I have used pie and doughnut charts without putting much thought.

If you watch my eCommerce Dashboard video you would agree it is hard to understand the pie chart I used for eCommerce conversion rate by country. The main reason being that the data contains many categories (countries) (slices) and a pie chart is totally unsuitable for the visualization of this type of data.

In fact it’s ugly!

So lately I have been very cautious about how I use pie charts. Or even doughnut charts!

Against the Pie Chart

Regardless of their popularity I have heard many data visualization experts to speak against pie charts and recommend using bar charts instead. The argument is that pie charts are hard to read.

When pie chart slices are close in values it is hard to determine which one is bigger. If the values are not close in size you can only determine which one is bigger but not by how much.

With bar or column charts however the audience will compare the end points. And because the values (size) of the bars or columns start at a common baseline it is easier to understand their relative values.

Also as discussed above pie charts are not suitable when you are comparing the values of more than a couple of categories.

In the visual below the pie chart is used to visualize traffic by marketing channel to a certain website. In this example we have seven categories included in the chart, each represented by a slice in a different color.

pie chart

Looking at this chart I have to agree it is hard to analyze each channel’s performance as compared to the other channels.

Below is the same data visualized with a bar chart. And it does look much better! It tells a good story that is very easy to understand.

pie chart vs bar chart

In Defense of Pie Charts

But pie charts do serve their purpose!

In the example above we are looking at seven different categories. But if we are visualizing only two parts of a whole a pie chart doesn’t look this bad. In fact I think I prefer it over a chart with only two bars.

Here is an example of a data visual for new vs returning visitors to a website.

pie chart two values

vs:

 

pie chart vs bar chart two values 1

Another big reason I have stuck with pie charts for a long time is that they are designed to compare parts of a whole. Or in other words they are the visual that will show percentage data labels.

All of the data visualization tools I have worked with only pie charts will calculate the percentage of each part to a whole. Including Excel.

Unless your numbers are already calculated and your tables include percentage values you will not be able to assign a percentage data label to a bar chart. (correct me if I am wrong here!).

Final Thoughts

Your lust for pretty data might lead you away from pie charts. And that’s understandable. But they can often be more effective if you are comparing two categories (two slices) within a total.

Custom Dimensions in Google Analytics via Google Tag Manager – Blog Categories and Dates

In this video I will show you how to create custom dimensions in Google Analytics via Google Tag Manager. I am going to use my blog posts meta data, the category and the date to create these custom dimensions. Blog categories and blog post dates are not default dimensions in Google Analytics. With a custom dimension we will be able to report on categories collective sessions as well as compare sessions between newer and older posts.

I am going to use the CSS selectors of my blog posts meta data to create a DOM Element user defined variable in Google Tag Manager. I will then use these variables to create the custom dimensions.

One very important thing to remember is to use your already existing Google Analytics pageview tag in Google Tag Manager to insert the custom dimensions. If you create a new tag this will mess up with your data, specifically Bounce Rate and Pages per Session. (sound common sense, but I have seen this mistake happen)

I am also going to create a custom report in Google Analytics with the new custom dimensions, Have in mind that it will take a day or so to start seeing data.

Follow the video for a detailed demonstration of this process.

Book Review: Storytelling With Data

Book Review - Storytelling With Data

Usually when talking about data one would refer to number crunching and staring at spreadsheets. In recent years however with the growing popularity of infographics and web analytics data goes far beyond just numbers. It is a visual process that require creativity, correct use of colors, correct use of graphs and most importantly storytelling.

I work a lot with data related to digital marketing and web analytics. I analyze a lot of websites and their marketing performance, user engagement performance and conversion performance and visualizing data is a big part of what I do.

A few months ago I stumbled upon Storytelling with Data blog, a blog which has actually been around for quite some time so my bad I only discovered it recently. It was clear from the very beginning that I had a lot to learn about data visualization from the awesome author Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic.

And it didn’t take me long to get convinced to buy her book Storytelling with Data.

The book is divided into ten chapter each one teaching a different concept in data design with real life examples and case studies. What I found particularly useful was Cole’s lessons in:

  • how to choose the most appropriate type of graph for your data (always a challenge when I’m working on my reports)
  • how to carefully choose colors
  • how to direct your audiences attention to where you want it

But what is most impressive about this book is its dedication to teach us how to leverage the power of storytelling to help get the message across and make stick with our audience. Chapter Seven called Lessons in Storytelling deals specifically with that looking at examples of storytelling in plays, screenwriting and creative writing and how the concepts can be applied to data visualization.

The book uses some really basic examples but as I was reading through all the tips and suggestions in the book I was amazed to realize how many silly mistakes I was making in visualizing my data in the reports.

Storytelling with Data specifically uses presentations and PowerPoint decks as an example. I wish the book had touched upon how to apply all these concepts and lessons when you deal with dashboards and large reports. In my line of work I sometimes need to put several visuals in one page. This is my biggest challenge every month when I prepare report for clients – how can I draw their attention to where it is most needed and how can I tell a story when there are so many graphs and tables in one place.

Still this book is a great starting point and an excellent resource to help you with any data visualization challaneges you are facing. You will get a basic introduction to data graphics, will learn the importance of color and how to apply storytelling concepts into data visuals.

How to Build Tables in Google Data Studio

Google Data Studio offers the abillity to build pretty tables with a lot of options to highlight your most insightful data.

In this video I will build a table with two dimensions and two metrics. I will show how to use bars or a heatmap in one of your metric columns to highlight the highest value. In this example we look at a table with landing pages per channel, sessions and eCommerce conversion rate for each landing page. The table will be sorted by highest number of sessions and I will implement a heatmap on the eCommerce conversion rate column to highlight the page with the highest conversion rate.

Also in this video you will see the new data panel which was very recently released by Google Data Studio. This new panel makes easier and faster to change or add new dimensions and metrics to your widgets.

If you are just starting with Google Data Studio check out my detailed Google Data Studio guide

Also check out my Google Data Studio examples of an Organic traffic dashboard and an eCommerce dashboard