Google Analytics is an effective tool for analyzing your audience data, and one that we recommend for all Makeswift users.
It’s a staple for website owners everywhere, and for good reason: it’s simple to use, is likely free for most users, and couples copious amounts of website traffic and event-based data with incredibly flexible reporting.
This article aims to dive deep into why Google Analytics is such a great choice for your website and how founders and marketers can leverage it to improve website performance.
What is Google Analytics?
Google Analytics is a free web analytics tool that lets you aggregate, filter, and visualize data to get the following insights into website traffic:
- How visitors find your site
- What pages they visit
- What actions they take on the website
- What device they’re using
- And more
As of this writing, Google Analytics is the most-used traffic analysis tool on the web, utilized by 55% of all websites in the world for a market share of 84.1%. This is nearly 70% higher than the market share of its closest competitor, Facebook Pixel (14.9% market share).
Why use Google Analytics?
There are a bunch of reasons why someone might prefer Google Analytics over competing tools, but here are some of the most convincing:
Google Analytics operates under a “freemium” model. Usually, freemium means that a tool has certain features that users can access for free, and other features or capabilities that require a subscription.
Unlike most other freemium tools, however, Google Analytics’ free tier already comes with a hefty combination of features that most businesses will need, such as:
- Goal tracking
- Multi-channel reporting
- Basic attribution
- Events tracking
- Mobile device & app tracking
- Custom reports
- Data segmentation
- And much more!
The only time you will need to upgrade to Google Analytics 360 (the paid tier) is if you handle massive amounts of data and traffic—anything higher than 10 million monthly hits. That’s much higher than your average small-to-medium business will ever need.
Google Analytics is easy to set up
Google Analytics’ second advantage is that it’s relatively easy to set up on your site. All you need to do is generate two snippets of code from Google Tag Manager (another free Google product) and paste them into whatever pages of your website you want to track.
While it does require that you lift your website’s hood and get your hands a bit dirty, the process is simple enough that even tech newbies can do it — especially if they have a tool like Makeswift that easily allows them to add code snippets to the head or body of their web pages.
It can track both URL-based and event-based conversions
Nearly every web analytics tool on the market has the ability to track URL-based conversions like site traffic. However, it’s not enough for businesses to know how many people are going to a website. Businesses also need to know what visitors are doing on the website and in the actual product.
This is called an “event-based conversion” and tracks activity beyond simply visiting a web page. This includes events like video plays, downloads, ad clicks, and more.
If you put in some effort, you can even figure out how users moved their mouse on a page or whether they abandoned a form field. These conversion stats provide far more value and insight than URL-based conversions do.
For SaaS businesses, Google Analytics can also be leveraged to identify what channels produced the most free trial signups, where drop-off happens in the signup funnel, and direct ROI from certain paid acquisition channels (such as Google Ads).
These are all things that Google Analytics can track, for free.
Just because Google Analytics is free doesn’t mean it can’t provide incredibly valuable information. It has a lot of functionality that smart founders and marketers can leverage provided they put in the effort to learn.
Tracking across many sub-domains
Businesses that employ subdomains on their website (e.g. example.mysite.com, which is a subdomain of www.mysite.com) will need to track and collect conversion data along with that of the main website.
Google Analytics isn’t set up with cross-subdomain tracking on by default, so most website owners won’t automatically have an accurate picture of how visitors move between subdomains and root domains.
This is normally accomplished in Google Analytics by setting the Cookie Domain to “auto” and updating the Referral Exclusion List.
You would then create a special filter in Google Analytics. This filter will show the full URL in each view, allowing you to identify individual sub-domains.
Typically, most marketing teams opt to use the same Google Analytics tracking code across all sub-domains — including applications and software — and leveraging the above filter to identify full sub-domains and traffic patterns.
Creating goals in Google Analytics
Goals are perhaps the most critical part of getting the most value out of Google Analytics. Earlier, we mentioned that Google Analytics can track both URLs and events. Goals are where we put it together.
They can help growth teams track everything from lead magnet downloads to pricing page views to free trial signups to direct purchases. Goals are applicable to every vertical and industry — there’s something that marketers are going to want to track, and GA’s Goals is a step in the right direction.
In Google Analytics, a Goal helps you measure and track the most important actions in your funnel. These actions can be anything from site visits to repeat site visits to downloads or purchases. Typically, Analytics can record any desirable action a user takes as a conversion. These conversions are what get credited towards your Goal.
If you can configure your goal properly, you’ll be able to better evaluate the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns and overall website performance.
Goals can be broken down into 4 categories:
This is when a specific location in your website or app loads. It could be a landing page, a thank you page, or a product detail page. This is one of the most common goal metrics being used today and is easy to set up.
This goal tracks how many times a specific event is triggered. Maybe you want to track how many times your brochure was downloaded, or how many times your video was watched. Event-based goals are typically very accurate, but you can’t use them in funnels in Google Analytics. Even still, we recommend leveraging event-based goals wherever you can. Marketers without technical resources, however, will find destination goals easier to configure on their own.
Sometimes you want to know how many sessions last for a specific amount of time. For example, you might want to know how many people read your company’s latest blog article all the way through to the end. So you would set a duration goal of 5 minutes or longer.
Pages per session
Unlike the Duration goal, where you want to know how long a visitor spends on a single page, the “pages per session” goal helps you track how much people jump from page to page. This could be a good indicator of whether or not they’re browsing through different products, for example, versus general website or content engagement.
Creating a custom goal
To create a Custom Goal in Google Analytics, you have to:
1. Sign-in to Google Analytics
2. Go to the Admin panel and navigate to your desired View
3. Select “Goals” from the View column
4. Click on + New Goal
5. Select Custom from the provided options
6. Click Continue
7. Name your goal and select the Type.
8. Click Next to set up your goal based on your chosen type.
Note that you only have a maximum of 20 goals per view. If you want additional goals, you’ll have to set up a new view.
Goal templates serve as a useful jumping-off point if you have actionable goals that meet typical business objectives. If you’re unsure about what goals you want to track, you can select a template close to your objectives and modify the template before saving.
To set up a Goal Template:
1. Sign-in to Google Analytics
2. Go to the Admin panel and navigate to your desired View
3. Select “Goals” from the View column
4. Click on + New Goal
5. Select Template
6. Pick which Goal Templates you want to use
7. Press Continue to edit the details of the template
Note that goals tend to be tailored to meet the needs of specific industries. If you didn’t select an industry within your Google Analytics account, you might not be offered any templates.
Smart Goals are a special type of Goal that is meant to work with Google Ads. It helps you optimize your ad spend and ad conversions.
There are several prerequisites for working with Smart Goals:
- You must have active Google Ads and Google Analytics accounts.
- Ads linked to the active Google Ads account must result in at least 500 analytics sessions in the past 30 days. Smart Goals will stop working if the number falls below 250.
- The reporting view must not receive more than 10 million sessions in 30 days
- You must enable data sharing among Google products and services.
For founders who’d like more control over the results of their campaigns, we recommend leveraging plain ‘ol event-based or destination goals rather than Smart Goals.
Google Analytics best practices
As you explore Google Analytics and learn more about its capabilities, keep the following best practices in mind:
Web traffic is a popular but simple metric to track, and virtually all Google Analytics users use itin their reports. But the difference between a beginner and an advanced Google Analytics user is in how they segment and categorize this traffic data.
In segmentation, you break down the aggregate data into different dimensions — like age, gender, and location — in order to identify patterns that you can use to influence your business strategy.
For example, you might see that your new software product’s page gets 5,000 hits a day. But when you segment by age and region, you discover that 3,000 of those hits are from people who live in Europe between the ages of 30-34. This may require you to rework your website’s design to take advantage of this previously unknown market.
Other common segmentation strategies focus more on new users than returning users. If the marketing team is primarily focused on generating awareness and volume of qualified traffic, then creating segments focused primarily on new users to the website and their activity will be more insightful than focusing on the total traffic to the website.
The best rule of thumb here? Create segments based on your marketing and business goals and your desired target markets, but if we had to choose, here’s a list of segments to keep in mind:
- Performance of any paid acquisition channels to the website
- Visitors who land on the blog first
- Active, paying customers
- Performance of the sign-up funnel or demo funnel
- New user behavior — including performance and top acquisition channels
Get context around your metrics
Google Analytics tracks a lot of metrics, like bounce rate, time spent on page, and number of pages per session to evaluate website performance.
All of these metrics have a story to tell, but you need to know the context for the story to be useful.
For example, let’s say we have a web page with both a high volume of traffic and a high bounce rate. A bounce rate is the percentage of users who enter your site and leave immediately instead of looking at the rest of the site. Ordinarily, a high bounce rate implies that the content isn’t providing value to your visitor. But in this scenario, we check the keyword rankings and discover that the page was ranking for the wrong keyword.
It wasn’t the content itself that was the problem; people were showing up expecting totally different content.
Another example is the “time spent on page” metric. Time spent on a page on a blog could imply that they’re invested in the content and want to learn more (which is good) but time spent on a pricing page or a checkout page might imply they are having trouble converting or are hesitating in some way (which is bad).
Here’s a quick list of the metrics to keep your eye on:
- Users & sessions — we prefer to use “users” and even more specifically, “new users” when pulling our own reports
- Time spent on page — perhaps one of the clearest signs that the segment or audience is engaged on the website
- Bounce rate — this metric is really helpful for understanding “cold” traffic sources such as Google Ads where visitors experience your brand and website for the first time; sometimes, however, bounce rate simply indicates that a page is efficient
- Conversions & conversion rate — this requires Goals to be configured, but conversions tell a story around how certain channels perform
The 3 most-recommended reports in Google Analytics
Google Analytics has a slew of reports that can collate, visualize, and streamline your website’s performance data for easy viewing. But of all those reports, there’s three in particular that stand out:
Landing page report
When you talk about landing pages to marketers, they’ll tell you that landing pages are frequently used in conjunction with email promotions, content marketing, and PPC campaigns.
But Google Analytics treats landing pages a little differently. Google Analytics defines a landing page as the first page viewed in a session. It doesn’t matter what that page actually is — if it’s the first page viewed, it’s automatically a landing page.
That’s not as big a deal as you might think. You just need to account for that as you read/use your landing page report.
Speaking of which, there are actually two landing page reports in Google Analytics. One is under the Acquisition tab. The one we’re talking about (the more popular one) is the one under the Behavior tab.
This report shows page data from all traffic sources, not just searches. So it accounts for backlinks from social media, emails, and other people’s content—all essential channels to track if you want a true measure of your content’s performance.
The landing page report also shows conversion statistics for all of your web pages so that you know how effective the messaging on your landing page is.
When combined with goal tracking, the Landing Page Report can tell you how your campaigns, overall website, and even content marketing efforts are performing and contributing to your business and marketing goals.
The only thing more important than tracking site traffic is knowing where all that traffic is coming from. Fortunately, Google Analytics offers a Channel Report that can help you track which of your channels is most effective at bringing visitors in, and which could use more attention.
Google Analytics currently categorizes traffic into the following channels:
- Direct: visitors that navigate to the site directly through the URL, or cases where the source isn’t known
- Organic: visitors who arrive from organic or unpaid search results
- Email: visitors who arrive to the website by clicking on a link in an email
- Social: visitors who navigate to the site by clicking on a link posted in a social media platform (Twitter, Facebook, etc)
- Referral: visitors who arrive at the website by clicking on a link posted in another website (search engines do not count as referrals)
- Affiliates: visitors earned through affiliate marketing efforts using an affiliate tracking link
- Paid search: visitors earned through pay-per-click advertising campaigns run in search results
- Display: visitors who click on display advertising such as Google Ads and remarketing campaigns
- Other advertising: visitors earned from miscellaneous advertising tactics such as video content and SMS ads
The Channels report will allow you to see which of the above traffic sources are your top performers month over month.
Keep in mind, however, that as you add new paid acquisition channels to your marketing mix, you may need to update the definitions of your Channels just in case Google doesn’t predict which channel it belongs to. For example, Facebook ads can accidentally end up in “Paid Search” which wouldn’t be accurate.
Like other reports on this list, the Source/Medium report tells you how traffic is getting to your website. But while the Channels report consolidates traffic sources into groups, the Source/Medium report tells you which types of channels and types of content, specifically, are contributing most to your site’s popularity.
The Source is the actual website where people come from just before they visit your website. If a visitor from your site came from Facebook, then your traffic source is ‘facebook.’
However, some links are tagged with UTM parameters, which are used to track which marketing campaign the link is associated with.
Example link: https://hbr.org/2020/09/research-why-breathing-is-so-effective-at-reducing-stress?utm_source=GetShift-dot-net
The UTM section of this link is: utm_source=GetShift-dot-net
In this case, the Source/Medium report will say “GetShift-dot-net.”
Sources that don’t have a referring page or a UTM are considered “(direct).”
A Medium is the category of a given traffic source. These categories are normally defined by Google Analytics and are referred to as a “system defined medium.” Sample system-defined medium categories include:
In all, there are almost two dozen different categories Google Analytics already uses.
However, there is also a “user defined medium” that you or other website owners can create.
When put together, the Source/Report looks like this:
Once you’ve compiled the actual Source/Medium report, you’ll be able to rank results by:
- New users
- Bounce rate
- Pages per session
- Average session duration
- Ecommerce conversion rate (if ecommerce)
- Goal conversion rate
- Goal completions
- Goal value
As you can see, the Source/Medium report gives you a much deeper look into channel performance than any of the other reports.
Connect Google Ads
Google Ads is a powerful and effective ad platform in and of itself, but it is lacking in one important area: you can’t see what the user does after they click the ad. You won’t be able to tell whether or not the ad led to an actual sale; nor will you know what areas of the site the customer visited or avoided.
But when you connect Google Ads to Google Analytics you have a more complete picture of your sales funnel. You get to see which ads actually contribute to revenue and which ones are a waste of your ad spend.
In fact, some features of Google Analytics, like Smart Goals, can’t even be used until you link your Ads and Analytics accounts. Others, like the revenue columns in your reports, only show part of the picture. Without the Ads data to corroborate it and provide a different perspective, your view of your funnel is obscured.
Create custom reports
As you’ve already seen, Google Analytics comes with a range of out-of-the-box reports that each supply very valuable information. But as thorough and versatile as these reports are, they won’t be able to answer all the needs of the thousands of businesses that use Google Analytics.
That’s why Google allows you to create Custom Reports in Analytics; so you can have more control over the information you see and focus on the metrics that make the most difference to your business.
Google Analytics offers three types of Custom Reports:
- Explorer. Your standard GA report, including both tables and line graphs
- Flat table. A plain data table with sortable columns
- Map overlay. A global map with colors to indicate chosen data types (must be trackable by region)
After you choose the report type, the report builder will allow you to pick the metrics to display (e.g. bounce rate, session duration, etc) and the dimensions (country, pageviews, etc).
In order to keep your report output relevant and to avoid overwhelming yourself with data, you should narrow down the results by adding filters and segmentation.
If the out-of-the-box reports don’t work for you but you’re not comfortable building your own custom reports, you can visit the Google Solutions Gallery. Here, you’ll be able to draw from hundreds of user-generated custom reports, segments, and dashboards.
How to use Google Analytics to improve your Makeswift website
Makeswift and Google Analytics naturally integrate with each other out-of-the-box. All you need to do to get started is add your Google Analytics tracking code to your pages using our snippet feature. From there, you will be able to use Google Analytics to track your website and make improvements.
The best way to improve your Makeswift website and maximize conversions or leads is to follow this approach:
- Measure how many total high-quality conversions the website generates from new users. These “high quality conversions” should be the bottom-most funnel conversion in your business, such as a purchase, a free trial sign-up, demo request, or critical conversion.
- Measure channel and campaign performance against your high quality conversions. Different channels and campaigns will likely have stronger conversion rates than others. Make sure to identify and measure these every month at minimum.
- Improve existing landing pages based on bounce rate, time on page, and goal conversion rate. As you identify the top-performing channels and campaigns, there’s likely opportunity to improve the pages themselves. This is where experience in conversion rate optimization (CRO) will prove invaluable. We highly recommend learning from CRO experts like CXL.com and Talia Wolf to improve landing page and website conversion rates.
Remember: track trends and patterns over time. Don’t get too obsessed with the “perfect conversion rate.” The secret is that perfect conversion rates don’t really exist, but there’s always room to improve your baseline.
As you set new baselines, you can set new targets — and Google Analytics is a great way to track and measure those website targets.
Your all-in-one traffic tracker
As you can see, Google Analytics is a hard traffic analysis solution to beat, especially for Makeswift users. It’s free, it’s comprehensive, and it’s backed by the biggest search engine in the world. Makeswift users who spend time exploring Google Analytics’ depth and functionality will be rewarded with much deeper insights into where their customers are coming from and how well they’re connecting to them.
Plus, you can then take advantage of Makeswift’s easy to use website builder to rapidly respond to any insights you pick up.