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Google Analytics from Start to Success

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by Tracy R. Atkins

A good many independent publishers, and a good many authors who work with them, sing the praises of Google Analytics. But for many others, the very word analytics brings to mind sophisticated technical analysis that you’d need a Ph.D. to understand or utilize.

In fact, Google Analytics is simply a set of easy-to-read reports that can help you make smarter marketing decisions. In many ways, it exposes site viewership elements reminiscent of journalists’ classic Ws. It lets you easily find out who is visiting your site or blog, where they are coming from, and what they are doing while there.

You can install Google Analytics on virtually any site or blog in just a few easy steps. Once it’s in place, dozens of high-quality Web-based reports are available to help you gain a better understanding of visitors to your Web property (see, for example, the screenshots below). And although many people think analytics are useful only for analyzing the impact of Web-based activity, Google Analytics can help you do better with real-world marketing activities as well.

Don’t be discouraged by the fact that its reports often have names such as Demographics/Location or Traffic Sources/All Traffic. With a little instruction, you can easily utilize these reports to gain insight into a range of subjects, including how much interest an author event created and what Web sites are best for converting your advertising and editorial messages. You can also glean valuable information about which pages or products your users are looking at most and how long the average reader spends on each page. All this data is tracked on a daily basis and easy to read.

What follows explains how to install Google Analytics on popular platforms and describes basic uses for a few of the reports.

Adding Google Analytics to Your Site or Blog

Once you complete the signup process for Google Analytics at google.com/analytics, you get a unique Property ID and a Tracking Code Script for your Web property (.com, .net, or whatever). This tracking code consists of a small piece of Java Script (HTML code) that you can place on any page you want Google Analytics to track. A simple piece of browser scripting, it reports usage and behavior to Google every time a user accesses a page with the script embedded in it.

Make a copy of this short section of script code and the tracking ID so that you can insert them on the appropriate pages of your platform.

(Note: The tracking code must not be modified in any way, and it must be copied in its entirety to function. The full tracking code script already has your tracking ID embedded in it.)

For WordPress

It is easy to embed the Google Analytics tracking code in WordPress, the top blogging software suite. Many new WordPress themes have a section in the theme configuration area where you can add the tracking ID or script. It will typically be one or the other, depending on the theme’s requirements. Once the tracking ID or code has been copied and pasted, the theme will start automatically reporting data to Google.

If your theme does not natively support Analytics, simply add the tracking code to a text box widget and place it on the sidebar of your blog. Text boxes widgets can be found on the WordPress blog’s dashboard menu under Appearance/Widgets. Simply drag a text widget box from the available widgets area to the sidebar area. Open the textbox up; paste the complete tracking code script in the box, and hit Save. Since the sidebar and accompanying widget appear on every page of your blog, all pages and content will be tracked by analytics.

Note: Unlike standalone WordPress blogs, sites hosted by WordPress.com (the WordPress application’s parent company) have Java disabled permanently. This prevents the use of Google Analytics, so I recommend utilizing a third-party hosting provider for a WordPress blog. Most major hosting providers, such as GoDaddy (godaddy.com), Bluehost (bluehost.com), or Site5 (site5.com), offer standalone WordPress hosting and will install the WordPress blog software as part of their standard hosting service.

The graphics below represent the steps to be taken.

For HTML Pages

Many Websites are constructed using standard HTML. For these hard-coded HTML pages, you can include the tracking-code script segment at the top of every page that you build or maintain. To do that, open the HTML page in your preferred HTML editor. Find the /HEAD tag at the top of the HTML page, and then paste the tracking code script immediately after it. That page will now report to Google Analytics with each user visit.

For Blogger

Blogger is one of the easiest sites for adding Google Analytics. Log on to Blogger, choose Settings from the menu, and then choose Other. At the bottom of the settings page, enter your Google Analytics ID in the provided space. Save the settings and you are in business.

Google Analytics Reports

Publishers and authors can both use Google Analytics to track detailed usage data and create correlation analysis with ease. The starting point is on the Google Analytics dashboard. Learning your way around a few of the controls will ensure that you get the information you need in the timeframes you find most valuable.

The dashboard (above) should be the first thing you encounter when you go to the Google Analytics Web site. Navigation is easy, as the main window contains the current report. All the elements on the report are live, and you can change dates using the date filter, and see additional information on the fly. The menu on the left contains a dropdown list of report types that you can click through and access. The date range can be adjusted by pressing the down arrow next to the date filter and selecting start and end dates from the calendar.

Dozens of reports are available and you may even find yourself creating custom reports once you become comfortable with the system. In what follows, I will focus on some of the more actionable reports that are valuable to publishers and authors.

Analyzing the impact of a local event. Appearances at bookstores, seminars, and trade shows often involve disseminating marketing and promotional materials. As with most marketing efforts today, interested consumers will consult your Web site to research book titles, make purchases, and participate in social media activities.

Local event activity and its impact can be validated through Audience/Demographics/Location in Google Analytics. In many cases, the location demographic reporting gives you new insights.

Analytics provides a graphic representation of the entire globe, segmented in levels of granularity by country, state/province, and city. You can view the overall Internet activity for your Web site as it originates from each location by simply clicking the map down to particular areas. Once you have selected a location, you can use the explorer tab to view visitor statistics for a selected date range.

This example reflects an author’s book signing in San Dimas, CA, on the 18th of September. During a two-week period before that event, nobody from San Dimas came to the author’s Web site. At the event, the author signed 20 copies of his book and gave out more than 50 flyers and business cards. Over the next week, the author’s site got five unique visits from San Dimas, indicating that the signing had generated additional interest that endured locally for several days.

Further analysis, using a secondary dimension for source, may show that all the visits were direct, which typically means that the end users typed the URL into a browser after reading it on a piece of promotional material.

Extracting local data is the main value of this report. Since Google Analytics tracks Internet access based on the location of the user’s Internet gateway or provider, the statistics are not always accurate about where the user is, but they are accurate enough for a reasonable assessment of activity levels. This is most apparent when an event is held in a small community where little or no regular traffic originates. In larger cities, the effects of major events may be apparent against the average baseline of visitor traffic from that area.

Analyzing where people are paying attention to your message. Knowing where your Web traffic originates is critical for understanding where your message has penetrated on the Internet. Publishers invest myriad resources in spreading their brand and message across the Web. Advertisements, links, articles, and promotional materials are cast wide in an effort to attract visitors who will convert into paying customers. Assessing the impact of these activities can help you make better decisions about where to invest your resources going forward.

This Traffic Sources/Sources/All Traffic report shows the top origination locations of a Web site’s visitor traffic. Each site on this list has referred a viewer to this site through a hyperlink.

If you find that a major portion of your traffic originates from an industry partner, you can gauge the level of success you are achieving in your campaign with that partner. If you find that you have spent a lot of time with a particular promotion or social media experiment but are receiving few visitors, then perhaps your message is not resonating with the intended audience.

Drilling down lets you see the impact of your social media efforts. A Traffic Sources/Social/Overview report will give you an overview of which social networks are sending visitors your way. By clicking on the name of the social network, you can see which of your URLs were shared with its other users.

The activity stream tab on this report will show you the frequency of visits from a network over a customized timeline. With social media’s tendency to spread virally, you can see whether any of your messages have had a viral effect and focus on creating similar messages in the future.

Leveraging your brand’s search engine strengths. Search engine visibility is vitally important for enticing viewership. Billions of search requests are entered into Google, Bing, and other top search sites every day, and companies invest a lot of resources in search engine optimization (SEO). However, most Web sites already index well for certain keywords. Knowing what search terms are working well for your site will give you an opportunity to generate more content that will capture viewers who search for them, and bolster your search standing.

The term used to describe the end-user activity of manually searching for a Web site using a keyword is organic search, and the Traffic Sources/Search/Organic report gives you an easy way to see what organic keywords are bringing people to your Web site.

This report exposes the keywords that your site is showing as relevant to your content during user search activity. Note that these are keywords that your site has already optimized to the point that people are using them to find you online.

Search Engine Optimization—which determines what keywords appear in search engines and your page rank in major engines such as Google—is beyond the scope of this article, but this Google Analytics report lets you see what terms are trending well for your site. By increasing your use of those terms and original content related to them, you may attract more visitors, and your site may get to be perceived as an authority on those terms.

You may also want to experiment with using different terms in your content to attract viewers, and this report will let you check the progress of these efforts. Keyword indexing sometimes takes days or weeks, so any experiment here must be tempered with patience.

Seeing which pages are trending upward and what’s happening to reader engagement. Content—the pages, articles, conversations, and products you host on your Web site or blog—presents the public face of your Web effort. Understanding what content people are spending time on should help you shape your marketing and content delivery strategy. Going further, analyzing how much time an average visitor spends on each page and knowing the “bounce rate” can be invaluable for gauging content engagement.

A high bounce rate for a page means that once people view it, they leave to visit another Web site instead of going on to view other pages on the same site. This indicates that the viewers are either uninterested or unable to find something else compelling on the site or blog that makes them want to see more.

Bounces are not always negative, as people may visit your site several times in a row, but they do give you a clue to how your visitors behave once you have them at your site.

Average time on a page is also useful for measuring engagement. In the sample above, the average visitor spent more than five minutes reading the article with page rank number one. That shows that the content was compelling and that visitors stuck around to read the entire article. If you see lower time numbers, your page(s) may not be grabbing reader attention and may need work.

Finally, the page views can tell you what content is hot on your Web site. Each page view represents a pair of eyes that gave a page a look. Seeing what content is most popular can give you a good idea of what is working and what is not catching on with the readership.

As time progresses and a particular piece of content ages, page views will likely diminish for that content, so you must continually add to or refresh your content to attract an active readership. If a piece of content goes viral, you will see a spike in page views and you may be able to leverage that to attract even more visitors.

On Beyond the Elementary

I have only scratched the surface of Web-based analytics and what using them can tell you about the people who access your site or sites. Applications more technically advanced than Google Analytics are available (for example, Adobe Digital Analytics, and Webtrends). Nevertheless, Google Analytics is a good starting point for any publisher or author who wants to evaluate marketing efforts and refine marketing strategy and tactics.

Getting started takes only a few minutes; and using the basic information provided here, you will be well on your way to cost saving, smarter marketing, and higher customer engagement.

Tracy R. Atkins reports that he has been a technology aficionado since he was young, having played a critical role in an Internet startup when he was 18 and cut his tech-teeth during the dot-com boom. He is also the author of stories that intertwine technology with exploration of the human condition, and the author of the novel Aeternum Ray, singularity-fiction that he self-published. To learn more: tracyatkins.com; aeternumray.com.

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