Introduction To Google Analytics For Beginners

How to read google analytics for beginners
woman at her laptop with the screen open to Google Analytics

When you are promoting a travel website, you need a way to measure how well those promotions are working so you can make adjustments accordingly. Google Analytics (GA) is a powerful tool that will help you get the most out of your digital marketing campaigns.

Google Analytics delivers ridiculous amounts of data about your website traffic. It can tell you who your customers are, what interests them, and what gets them to buy. The struggle is knowing how to read the numbers so you can gain actionable information from them.

The good news is you don't have to be a data analyst to glean valuable insight from GA. You just need to know where to look and what the numbers mean.

Note: If you don't already have GA installed on your website, you can get it for free.

Measuring traffic to your website using Google Analytics

One of the first things you want to know is how much traffic you are getting to your website. To learn this, navigate to the Audience section of GA, which you can find in the left-hand navigation.

In the left sidebar of Google Analytics, the fourth option from the top is Audience.
From the drop down menu select "overview."

Once the audience option is selected in the Google Analytics sidebar, over view is the first option in the dropdown

This will take you to a the Audience Overview screen. Here you’ll find information that will tell you a lot about the health of your marketing campaigns.

The first two numbers to look at are users and new users.

  • Users tells you about* how many people have visited your website in a given period of time
  • New Users tells you about* how many of those people had never been to your site before.

(*I say "about" because one person may be counted multiple times if they use different browsers or devices or if they clear their cache between visits.)

If these numbers are very low—say, fewer than 100 users per week—then you know you need to focus on building brand awareness and driving more traffic to your website in general.

If there is a steady increase, you are doing a good job of marketing your website and growing your audience—keep it up!

If there is a downward trend, you might need to see what's changed to reduce the number of visits: did you recently end an advertising campaign? Has it been a long time since you added fresh content to the site? Is there some sort of technical glitch that needs attention?

You'll also notice the pie chart to the right that shows what percentage of users are new vs. returning. It's good to be filling your sales funnel with lots of new visitors, while also building loyalty among return visitors. Exactly what percentage of new vs. returning is good for you will depend on the purpose of your site. For example, if your customers tend to buy just one "trip of a lifetime" from you, then you'll need a consistently high percentage of new visitors discovering your site.

The next three numbers you want to look at are the pages per session, average session duration, and bounce rate. These are indicators of how engaged your audience is.

  • Pages/Session tells you on average how many pages people looked at when they visited your site.
  • Average Session Duration tells you on average how much time users spent on your site before leaving.
  • Bounce Rate tells you the percentage of people who came to your site, took one look at it, and--well--bounced. (GA measures these as a session duration of 0 seconds.)

The pages/session will tell you if people liked what they found on your site and took time to look around. If your pages/session is below 1 you may need to improve your site design, navigation, or calls to action.

It takes a minute or two to read a web page, so if your average session duration is under a minute, you know people aren’t hanging around long enough to engage with your content. You might need to improve your headlines or your messaging. An average session duration of 2 minutes or so is good for most websites.

If your bounce rate is high—80 or 90 percent—then you have a problem. It may be that your site loads too slowly or isn't optimized for mobile. Or there may be a mismatch between the message that brought them to your site and what they found on the page. Whatever it is, you need to diagnose it and make some changes. A bounce rate around 60% is generally considered good.

How to see where your traffic is coming from in Google Analytics

Once you’ve identified how much traffic you're getting, you'll want to know where it’s coming from. In the left-hand navigation choose Acquisition and be sure to click “overview.”
Acquisition is located below audience in the Google Analytics sidebar. "Overview" is the first option in the acquisition drop down menu.
Here you can see all your traffic sources in both pie chart and bar chart format.

Google Analytics traffic sources screen. Top left is a pie chart of traffic sources. Top right are line charts for number of users and conversions. Bottom is a bar chart of traffic sources.

  • Organic Search is traffic that found your site by searching Google, Yahoo, Bing or some other search engine. This gives you an indication of the health of your SEO. If you have little or no search traffic, you’ll want to work on your keyword optimization.
  • Direct traffic comes to your site by typing your web address in the browser navigation bar. If you have a lot of direct traffic it indicates you have good brand awareness and people know where to find you online. Good job!
  • Email measures how many people are coming to your site from your email marketing campaigns. If you are using email marketing, but not getting traffic, you may need to improve your audience segmentation or the calls to action in your emails.
  • Referral traffic comes to your site by clicking on a link on another website. If you don’t have any referral traffic you'll want to work on your off-site SEO.
  • Social is all the traffic you get from sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram. This can give you an idea of how well your organic or paid social media campaigns are doing and whether your audience is sharing your content with others.

You'll notice in the image above that we have very healthy organic search and direct traffic, so we know we have good name recognition and people are finding us when they search for our brand/product.  The social traffic, however, is on the low side, it might be worth investing in boosted posts or working with an influencer in order to juice that number. But on the whole, there is a healthy mix of traffic sources here.

Clicking on any of the traffic sources will take you to a detailed report on the traffic from that source. For example, clicking on social will show you which social channel is sending you the most traffic.

How to see what people are looking at on your website in Google Analytics

The last thing you’re going to know is what people are actually looking at on your website. For this you’ll want to navigate to behavior link in the sidebar. When the drop down opens click site content to open another drop down, then click on all pages.

Google Analytics for beginners: navigate to the behavior dropdown located beneath "acquisition" in the sidebar.  Site content is the third option. All pages is the first option after that.
Here you'll find the following breakdown of the content on your website.

How to read google analytics for beginners: this table shows various web pages and their associated statistics
The Page column lists the URL extensions for all the web pages that people have visited on your site. The first URL on the list will be the most popular page on your website.

The Pageviews column breaks down your pageviews by individual page. If there are certain pages that way outperform the rest, you may want give your audience more of that kind of content.

Unique Pageviews filters out multiple page views by the same person during the same visit to your website.

Average Time on Page will tell you how engaged people are with the content on each page. Look for those pages with the highest session duration to get a feel for what your audience likes to read (or watch if you have video content).

Entrances shows you how many times each page has served as the landing page for your site.  If you get a lot of direct traffic, your home page will likely have the most entrances. However, if you are running ads then you'll see a lot of entrances for the landing page for those ads. A high number of entrances on a specific blog post or service description may indicate your SEO is working well for that page.

Finally, the Bounce Rate is broken down to show which individual pages people bounced from. This is useful to see if there is a particular page that people don’t seem to be engaging with.

That’s it

Those are my quick and dirty data points you can easily pull from Google Analytics even as a beginner. As you can see, even a few basic numbers will allow you to make data-driven decisions regarding your marketing.

Want to drive more traffic to your website?