You’ve nailed your niche, set up your blog and started creating content, but your attempts to figure out Google Analytics have amounted to little more than an entry in your ‘to do’ list.
If that sounds like you, you’re not alone.
If you’re a new blogger – or even a more seasoned blogger – Google Analytics can be a really scary thing to get your head around. From setting it up correctly to knowing which statistics are most important to your blog’s progress, it’s very easy to feel utterly bamboozled by so much data.
Don’t give up! Google Analytics really is your friend, albeit a slightly difficult one that needs some time and patience to figure out. If you feel like throwing in the towel and just need someone to break down this little goldmine of data in human-friendly language, this guide is here to help!
Part of a two-part special (the second post tackles Google’s Search Console) I’ll walk you through how to set it up, what the metrics mean and what you should be focusing on to drive your blog’s growth.
*This post contains affiliate links for products I use and recommend. I may earn a commission if you purchase through one of these links, at no extra cost to you. Please read my affiliate disclosure for more information.
What is blog analytics and why do we need it?
In order to move forward strategically, it’s important to look back. In a nutshell, blog analytics involves the consistent measurement of your visitor behaviour; how they got to your website and what they do once there.
This data helps you to look for patterns so you can determine which content is most popular with your readers while providing an on-going benchmark for future growth strategies and content-related planning.
What else can blog analytics tell you?
Aside from visitor data, analytics tells you more about your website’s speed and performance – important factors in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). A slow website can dramatically affect your conversion rates and the time people spend on your site, so it’s crucial to pin-point any bottle-necks and issues early on.
Continuing with the techie side, analytics helps you find out things like how many of your website’s pages have been crawled and which are visible to search engines. And yes, you can always manually submit any pages that aren’t yet showing).
Lastly, analytics allows you to see which external sites are linking to yours and sending traffic your way – another often overlooked but hugely important factor in SEO. Search engines like to see quality sites linking to yours so this ‘link juice’ is a sign of authority and is great for your search engine rankings.
It’s possible to go much deeper with your analytics, but these are broadly what you should be focusing on with a new blog.
Blog Analytics – how does it work?
A tracking script (a few lines of HTML code) is placed on your website – usually just after the Header section in your website’s code (but sometimes in the footer). This can be done manually by copying and pasting the code yourself, or installing a plug-in and pasting the appropriate analytics ID there.
I prefer to install the ‘Headers and Footers‘ plugin which allows me to add any number of scripts easily in one place, rather than adding a ton of individual plug-ins, which can slow your site down.
Once installed, when a new user visits your website, the tracking script records their IP address and assigns it a unique ID. If a user returns from the same browser, they’re flagged as a returning visitor. If they visit from a different browser, that would be considered a new visit and a new, unique ID assigned again.
Some analytics providers – like Google Analytics – anonymises user data so you won’t be able to track and get reports featuring individual IPs. Others – such as Statcounter (also free) – don’t anonymise, so if you feel this is necessary, you’ll be able to run reports containing individual IP addresses, operating system used and even things like the city where the user is based.
The tracking code is then able to determine where your visitors come from (referring sites and channels) and, depending on the analytics tool used, tracks their actions while on your site. This includes pages they visit, time spent on each, downloads and social shares etc.
It’s also possible to turn on reporting of more detailed demographic information about your visitors in Google Analytics, including sex, age group and interests. (More on this below).
Popular free blog Analytics Tools
There’s a lot of sophisticated, paid options available but I’m focusing on the best free analytics tools I recommend to help you measure your blog:
- Google Analytics – the most widely used of analytics tools focusing on front end user data including visitor acquisition and behaviour. It allows you to create custom reports and set up specific tracking goals (I’ve included a handy walk-though of how to do this further in the post).
- Google Search Console – an essential companion to GA, it provides an overview of how search engines view your site, how it’s being indexed and highlights any errors along with mobile friendliness and which search terms you’re ranking for. Search Console allows you to ‘fix’ these errors, submit sitemaps and highlight any structured data you’d like to try to include as a featured snippet in search results. I’ll be covering Search Console in more detail in my next post.
- Bing Webmaster Tools – a sort of all-in-one GA and Search Console for Bing and Yahoo. Don’t overlook the power of Bing and Yahoo, particularly with the rise in popularity of Amazon tablets which use Bing as the default search engine.
- Clicky – if Google Analytics is just way too overwhelming, Clicky is a pretty decent alternative. The interface feels a little more pleasingly ‘basic’ but the available reports – even in the free version – are sophisticated enough to provide solid insights to help you grow your blog. It even contains some neat features you won’t find as standard in GA, including Heatmaps and external link click monitoring (ideal for monitoring affiliate links). You can really drill down on individual user behaviour and compare data up to three months previously on the free version. The upgraded version provides more insights and the ability to set goals and campaigns – ideal for tracking newsletter signups.
- Statcounter – another lesser-known free tool that provides easy to read, at-a-glance supplementary stats for your blog. The free option holds data for up to 5 days and works best as a compliment to GA rather than replacing it altogether. The mobile app interface is clean and easy to read so it’s good when you’re on the go.
In truth, you’ll probably end up using some or all of these options but in this mini series I’ll be focusing on Google Analytics and Search Console. They may seem a little overwhelming at first, but if you make a habit of dipping in once a day or so, you’ll soon get the hang of their features and how to make them work for you.
First things, first, let’s look at how to set up Google Analytics on your website!
How to add Google Analytics to WordPress
- Click here to sign up for Google Analytics using your Google account login:
2. Give your new account a name, add the website URL, change the time zone, select your data settings and hit the blue button to get your tracking ID:
3. Review and agree to the Terms Of Service:
4. In your new dashboard. click ‘Admin’ on the bottom left side of the screen to go to your admin panel:
5. Pan across to the ‘Property’ section and scroll down to click ‘Tracking Info’. Highlight and copy the code in the box:
6. Head over to your WordPress dashboard and insert (paste) the code into your website’s header, then hit save:
7. Go back to your GA admin panel to Tracking Info:
8. Select Tracking Code:
9. Finally, check the Status of your installed tracking code to see if it’s working and reporting traffic (note this can take a day or so, so be patient):
Removing your IP address from Analytics Reports
Now you’ve installed Analytics, there’s just one more thing to do: remove your IP address from your analytics reports. You don’t want your own visits showing in the stats, so you’ll need to add a filter.
Here’s how you do it:
- Go to the Admin Screen
- Pan across to the right and click on ‘Filters’ under the ‘View’ menu
- Click the red button ‘+Add Filter’
- Give your filter a name, e.g ‘Block my IP’
- Select ‘Predefined’ as the filter type then click ‘Select Filter Type’ and ‘Exclude’ from the drop-down menu
- Select ‘Traffic From The IP address’ from ‘Select Source or Destination’ drop-down menu
- Select ‘That are equal to’ from the ‘Select Expression’ drop-down menu
- Enter your IP address in the box labelled ‘IP address’ (If you don’t know simply type ‘what is my IP address’ into Google)
- Click Save
That’s it! Now you can visit your site as often as you like, safe in the knowledge it won’t skew your stats.
Drilling Down into Google Analytics – what the metrics mean
So you added your code and have started mining data, now what? Head to your Home screen and take a look at the left hand navigation panel. Let’s take a look at those Reports overviews in more detail to find out what they mean (please note I’m skipping over reports that are too advanced or not essential at this stage).
Exactly what it says on the tin: a live snapshot of site visitors right now, in real-time. You can hone in on where users are located, which sites are referring them and the content they’re checking out.
It’s fun (and a bit of a thrill) to see live users showing up on your site, but in the early days it can be kinda depressing. Like living in deepest Alaska and looking out your window hoping to see a Kardashian. It could happen, in theory. But, you’re more likely to see a sea of white. ie your empty screen. Best to focus on more tangible results.
Ignore options two to six (Active Users to User Explorer) and instead hit the Overview link for a snapshot of your audience in a specific time frame. I tend to focus on weekly stats but you can zoom out to a month, a year or just focus on today.
Here you’ll find these key metrics:
- Users – total number of unique visitors to your site
- New Users – First time visitors to your site
- Sessions – each time a user (new or returning) visits your site it counts as one session, regardless of how many pages are viewed or if the same page is re-loaded multiple times. A session ends after 30 minutes of inactivity.
- Number of Sessions per User – pretty self-explanatory but useful for gauging how engaged visitors are with your content, and if they’re returning.
- Page Views – total number of page loads. If a user visits 10 pages in one session, this registers as ten page views. It’s something of a vanity metric in that it won’t tell you much about your audience’s behaviour or how engaged they are, but is considered a good benchmark for a website’s overall popularity. It’s what many ad networks look for when considering your website for approval.
- Pages per session – another interesting metric as it indicates how long visitors are sticking around and how well they’re moving around your site. The higher the better.
- Average Session Duration – how long users are sticking around per session. Again, the higher the better.
- Bounce rate – when a user visits just one page and exits or ‘bounces’ away without visiting another page of your website, either because they’re clicked an external link, hit the back button on their browser or simply closed the browser. The lower, the better (but not always!) You can read more on bounce rates below.
Sweeping back over to the navigation panel on the left, there are a number of ways to drill down your data further.
Demographics and Interests data can only be activated by going into your Admin panel and toggling ‘Enable Demographics and Interests reports’ to on (note it can take a few days for this data to show up in reports):
- Geo allows you to sort and pin-point where users are based, along with the languages they speak.
Tip: add a secondary dimension to your reports by clicking the Secondary dimension box and selecting from the drop down. Here I’ve filtered a Country breakdown further still by ‘City’:
- Behaviour allows you to gauge which visitors are new and returning, the number of sessions and page views.
- Engagement lets you see how long visitors are sticking around.
- Technology shows you which are the most popular browsers and network providers.
- Mobile provides a breakdown of mobile versus tablet and desktop along with the types of devices people are using to visit your site.
Skipping over Custom, Benchmarking and Users Flow, let’s head down to Acquisition.
This is where it gets really juicy because this report allows us to see exactly where our visitors are coming from. Some of these categories overlap slightly so play around and add secondary filters (such as mobile v. desktop) to really delve into the data:
- All Traffic – shows a birds-eye view of your top referring channels (Direct, Social, Email, Referral etc). Expand this view to get more detail:
- Channels – a broad breakdown of the main channels sending traffic to your site – Social/Direct/ Referral/ Organic search/ Email – including how many users from each, bounce rate, number of pages visited etc
- Source / Medium –a more detailed breakdown of where your site’s traffic originated and how it got to you i.e. via organic search, paid search, referral or direct
- Referrals – a list of sites sending traffic to your site from outside of Google’s search engine
- Social – breaks down which social networks are driving traffic to your blog along with the pages visitors are landing on.
Tells you how visitors are engaging with your content. This section helps you get to the nitty gritty of what your visitors actually do once on your site, what resonates with them, and what doesn’t. This is where you’ll find some of your most insightful statistics, so pay attention and don’t just focus on the flattering results:
- Site Content
- All Pages – a breakdown of all your site’s pages by number of page views, unique page views, avg. time on page and bounce rate. This view also shows ‘entrances’ and ‘exit pages’. ‘Entrances’ simply means the number of times users enter via that particular page. Finally, if you’ve set a goal and assigned it a monetary value, you can see at-a-glance which pages are converting best under ‘Page Value’ (a really useful statistic).
- Content Drilldown – similar to above view minus ‘Entrances’ and ‘Page Value’.
- Landing Pages – Similar to Entrances, this is simply the first page visitors landed on when visiting your site. It’s another useful report because it shows the usual traffic data along with conversion rates (based on whatever goals you have set and assigned a monetary value).
- Exit Pages – The last page a user visited before exiting your site. Exit Pages differs from Bounce rate because a user might have visited any number of pages before exiting. A Bounce is when a user fails to visit more than a single page (see ‘More on Bounce rates’ below).
Tip: Not happy with a high exit or bounce rate for a page? Take a look at any external links you’ve included in the copy. Are they opening in a new window? If not, you may be sending users away unnecessarily. Make all external links open in a new window and see if this lowers your bounce and exit rates.
- Site Speed – gives an indication of how fast your website is loading, along with sample load times for your visitor’s locations and browsers.
- Speed Suggestions – allows you to run speed tests for individual pages and provides some ideas for how you might improve.
- Site Search – allows you to track visitor search queries on your website. This is an incredibly useful source of content ideas and insights but you’ll need to set it up first with a few simple steps:
How to set up Site Search Tracking in Google Analytics
To set up site search you’ll need to head to your admin panel > pan across to All Website Data > View Settings then scroll down to Site Search Settings, toggle Site Search Tracking to ‘on’, add ‘S’ as a Query Parameter and hit Save.
This is slightly more advanced and requires you to manually set up goals to monitor. This is where many people fail to harness the power of Google Analytics. At the very least I advise you set up a tracking goal to measure your newsletter signups. It’s really easy to do in just a minute or two but darn, it’s totally worth it.
How to create a custom Goal to track newsletter signups in Google Analytics
- Head over to admin panel, pan across to ‘All Website Data’.
- View Settings then scroll down to ‘Goals’. Hit the red button +’New Goal’.
- Now select ‘Sign up’ under the Engagement menu and hit continue.
- Type in a name for your goal, select ‘Destination’ under the ‘Type’ menu and hit continue.
- Enter the URL of your newsletter signup’s Thank You page, add a monetary value if desired, verify then hit save.
Tip: adding a monetary value to a goal completion, e.g $1 is an easy way to see which pages convert best for you.
Easy peasy, right?
Now you’ll be able to see which pages and posts are converting into subscribers. This is powerful stuff and gets to the heart of why analytics are so important in helping you figure out which content is driving your business forward.
As you get more confident you can experiment with these metrics, creating goals to track more complicated, multi-page funnels, if desired.
How to set up a consistent schedule for measuring your blog’s progress
So now you have an overview of the key metrics, have switched on things like Demographics and Interests, Site Search tracking and possibly set up a goal to measure sign-ups, it’s time to create an actionable strategy that will help you grow your blog.
Broadly, you need to be focusing on three key areas:
Let’s dig into these in a little more detail.
A birds eye view of your week-to-week and month-to-month growth. As previously mentioned, page views are a good indicator of a blog’s overall health, but things like number of unique users, time on page, bounce rates and returning visits are better indicators.
I like to focus on which channels and sources are sending traffic to my blog and how this stacks up over time. Dig into these channels – particularly your social media referrals – as these will help you see which sites are bringing quality traffic to your blog, and which are not. This will help you figure out where to focus your promotional efforts. It might be different to what you’re expecting.
Don’t get overly fixated on any one individual metric, you’re looking for healthy overall growth. Sharp spikes up and down are normal, but what you really want to see is a steady upward trajectory over time. The Analytics Planner in my Free Resources can help you plot your blog’s month by month progress.
It’s important to get under the hood of your blog’s content and look at what’s a hit with visitors, and what isn’t. Behavioural analysis allows you to see not only which content is driving traffic TO your blog, but what visitors actually do once they’ve got there. Don’t be satisfied with vanity metrics. Three hundred visitors a day to one blog post might seem amazing, on the face of it at least. But if they’re consistently ‘bouncing’ away after 3 seconds? Houston, you have a problem.
Learn to dig into metrics that look otherwise healthy. Pay attention to the ones that make you uncomfortable. 5000 pageviews a month is pretty good for a new blog, but if 70% of those are mobile visits and your mobile bounce rate is over 90%, again, you may need to look at how mobile-friendly your site really is, and look for ways to improve it. Similarly, dig into content that is doing well, then aim to make more of it!
If you’re running your blog as a business then your ultimate goal is to get visitors to take action, you want them to convert. This could be signing up to your newsletter, clicking on an affiliate link and making a purchase based on your recommendation, or buying one of your own products or services.
Even if they simply share a blog post on social media, or add a link to your website from their own, this puts eyeballs on your content and creates fresh traffic. It moves the needle for your business. Learn to dissect which of your content leads to the highest conversions, clicks and shares and, again, make more of it and promote the toosh off it!
A word about Bounce rates
Not all Bounce rates are a cause for alarm! If you see a high bounce rate, it’s super important to drill down the data to find out more. Generally bounce rates of 90% or higher are a sign something isn’t hitting the mark, but you’ll need to do some sleuthing to figure out why. Referrals from sites like Stumbleupon or Pinterest tend to lead to higher bounce rates, for instance.
If a page has a high bounce rate, look at how long visitors are sticking around. If it’s a minute or two, this indicates they’re actually reading your content, getting what they need from it and simply going back to their other tasks. There’s a good chance they may come back at a later date. In an ideal world, your internal links will keep them moving through your website to other content, but time on page is a good indicator of how engaging your content is.
High bounce rates can also indicate something more technical is at fault- like a slow loading site. People have short attention spans, and will click away if a site takes forever to load. Even your best content is at a disadvantage if your site is slow, so pay attention, run some speed tests and try to diagnose how to speed things up. This post about SEO can help you with that.
As with all things analytics, getting fixated on one metric may not give you the whole picture. Instead, get into the habit of adding additional filters and going deeper, particularly when it comes to Bounce rates.
Wrapping it up
Analytics doesn’t have to be intimidating. Focusing on a few key metrics – even if you only check in once a week – allows you to set benchmarks for growth. Try to get into the habit of setting growth targets – even loosely – then create content that helps you reach these targets. It’s much easier creating blog posts based around what your audience is actually responding to, rather than looking at lists of ideas from other bloggers.
I saw a quote recently on Instagram that really resonated with me:
“don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle”
Oh boy, is that never more true than in blogging. Be very, very careful when comparing your stats to other bloggers, even those in a similar niche and who launched in the same time frame. This also applies to bloggers selling generic growth strategies to people in any niche. Believe me, there is no silver bullet and one-size-does-not-fit-all!
It takes time, consistency and grit. Your website’s growth is dependent on many things: content is clearly a biggie, but more nuanced things like branding, your visitor demographic – whether you use American English over British English or blogging in a less widely spoken language – website’s load time, domain authority score and number of backlinks are also relevant factors.
Focus on your metrics and achieving steady growth, along with cultivating your tribe. Then learn to view your blog’s stats through a conversion-focused lens because this is what really matters, not someone else’s vanity metrics or income reports. Comparison is fun, but you’re never getting the full picture.
If things are looking a little lacklustre, try some experiments – maybe even switch up your content style. If you write epically long posts (guilty), try creating shorter, bite-sized posts. Conversely, if your posts tend to be short and sweet, try beefing them up with more research and depth. These experiments are part and parcel of the blogging journey.
So much of what you need to know about your audience is right there in the data. Embrace your inner geek, learn to love analytics and your blog will be better for it.
Next time….I’m digging into Google’s Search Console to help uncover which organic search terms your site is ranking for, along with a few tricks to improve your blog’s visibility in search engines.
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