I’d like to start by saying I’m not an expert in Google Analytics. However, I have been using it for many years (with a lot of trial and error!) to understand my blog traffic better. I know many people struggle to get started with it, so I thought I’d write this little guide to analytics to hopefully help you out.
Why Google Analytics?
Before we get started with the how-to’s, let’s talk about why.
You’ve got a blog and maybe you’re on a platform like WordPress or Blogger where you can already see how many hits you’re getting a day – why would you need Google Analytics?
Well, wouldn’t it be nice to know where all those people have come from? What they’re doing when they’re on site? A little more about who they are?
As well as knowing this for your own purposes, if you ever want to work with brands you might need this information too. Before potentially paying you for advertising or your copywriting services, brands will want to know the sorts of people who are reading your blog and how many of them there are. Google Analytics is the best way to find this information, and I’ll tell you how a little later on.
Where to start
Once you’ve linked analytics with your blog (a step I’m going to skip over because you’ll be able to find much better and easy-to-follow advice specifically for your platform elsewhere), you can pull up Google Analytics and get started.
Straight off the bat you can get some pretty good insights. Your home ‘dashboard’ offers a look at the last 7 days (compared to the week before), your current active users, a 7 day summary of where your audience have come from, and a few other things including the top pages visited and which device people have been using to view your site. You can change most of these views to date ranges that suit you better if you wish, and this is where I’d come for a rough overview of how my blog is performing. However, if I was looking for something specific, I’d delve a bit further in to the tool itself.
One of the key reasons to use Google Analytics is to learn about your audience. Where in the world are they reading from? What are they interested in? Which devices do they use to view your blog?
Click on the audience tab on the left-hand side and head to overview for a glance at some user data like language, users per month and average session duration.
You can head into demographics and interests to find out more about your audience.
Audience > Demographics > Overview
Google Analytics doesn’t own insight data, and as a result you’ll probably see your demographics as a percentage of your total audience. For example, in the top right of each of these sections, my graphs are based on less than 50% of my audience. That said, I think these stats give a pretty decent overview of who’s visiting your blog, especially if they’re as clear cut as mine are.
You can dig down further by selecting the age or gender tabs, but I don’t find that any of my segments vary too much throughout the year so the top line stats are good enough for me!
Next you could visit the interests or mobile tabs to learn more about your audience.
Top tip: Remember, anything that is hyperlinked is available for you to click for further information. If you get lost in your data, use the breadcrumbs at the top of the page to go back to the page above or simply select another tab down the left-hand side.
The other key area of Google Analytics to be aware of is the behaviour tab. Again, you can gain some insights from the overview page like your most popular posts.
The top pages that show in this view will likely be your homepage (showing as just “/” or “/home” in the page column) and may also include preview/admin links which are your own back-end pageviews. You’ll need to discount these if you’re giving your stats to external parties.
Whilst this section offers a good overview, if you want a clearer look at your top performing posts, you’ll need to dig a bit deeper.
How to find your pageviews/sessions
A useful measure of how many people are visiting your blog are pageviews and sessions. So much in fact, that I actually track mine by month in my bullet journal.
Pageviews: Behaviour > Site content > All pages
Sessions: Behaviour > Site content > Landing pages
The difference between these metrics? Pageviews are the total pages viewed, including repeated visits to one page by the same user. Sessions pertain to the single session of a user visiting your blog, counting all the pages they’ve viewed as one session.
Once you’ve decided whether you want pageviews or sessions, you can then search by a specific post url to see the stats of that one post. Here, I’m looking at my ‘5 things I wish I’d known before starting a bullet journal‘ post.
This view will show you top level stats for your searched post, including bounce rates and exit rates. You can set a date range for your search in the top right of GA. I like to set mine to the date my post was first published until today to get overall figures.
It’s worth noting that if you’ve ever changed your url structure on your blog (you’ll know if you have) – you might see both urls in your Google Analytics. This is because GA doesn’t update for redirects, it’ll just show you both urls as separate pages on your blog. As you can see above, both the url structures I’ve used for that specific post show up in GA. I just add the numbers together if I’m looking at my stats.
So in this view I can see my total pageviews for that specific post, including how many of those were unique (meaning multiple visits to a post by the same person are discounted).
I can also see the average time on page which will vary depending on how long your posts are – longer posts equal a longer reading time and probably a longer time on page. That said, if your posts are too long you might see higher bounce rates.
If a user ‘bounces’ they literally land on your blog, do nothing and leave. 84% is a pretty high bounce rate (not such a great stat) but I know that this post gains A LOT of traffic from Pinterest. It wouldn’t surprise me if most people who land on this post are opening my blog from a pin, having a quick look at it and bouncing back to Pinterest. They might then come back to it later, or just pin it to one of their boards.
Want to compare stats? Use Secondary dimensions!
So, you’ve got basic stats for a specific post but you want to know more? You can dig into any view a little more by using the ‘secondary dimension’ drop down on the left-hand side.
For example, if you want to know your audience demographics by post, you’ll need to put ‘age’ or ‘gender’ as a secondary dimension.
Here are some useful secondary dimensions when you’re in behaviour > site content > all pages:
- Source – shows you where your views are coming from (e.g. Pinterest/Facebook, direct or organic search)
- Full referrer – in some cases you’ll be able to see the full link people visited your blog from
- Age/gender – view your audience demographic by post (e.g. how many 25-34 year olds read your post compared to 45-54 year olds)
The main purpose of Google Analytics is obviously to use the data you’ve recorded. With that said, it’s sometimes useful to record key information in Google Analytics itself. For example, did you recently rebrand and see a shift in your traffic? Did you have a period of downtime where your blog was offline? These will likely skew your data and should be recorded in GA.
In the behaviour tab, you’ll get a timeline spanning the date range you’ve selected. Underneath this timeline, you’ll find a grey dropdown box with an arrow in, which if you click will bring up your annotation tab. Select ‘create new annotation’ in the top right to add a note.
These annotations then appear as little speech marks along your timeline. You can see I have two on mine – one in April 2019 and one in October 2019. The first marks an unusual spike, and the second denotes when I rebranded. You can choose to keep your annotations private or share them with others, but if you’re a solo blogger you’re likely to be the only person using your GA, meaning this doesn’t matter too much.
I don’t doubt that there’s a lot I haven’t covered here, but I think I’m going to leave this post here. I wanted to keep it simple whilst giving as much information as I could about what to actually find within GA. Let me know if you’ve got any questions or things you’d like to see added to this post – I don’t imagine this will be the only time I’ll update it!
It’s also worth saying that there are often multiple ways of finding information in Google Analytics, so if you think you’re getting the same information as me but in a different way, you’re probably right!
What’s your top tip for newbies to Google Analytics?