Our Beginner’s Guide series is designed to help those who are just starting to learn about user experience, or those who want to brush up on the basics. In this part, we take a look at Google Analytics.

What is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is a free tool offered by Google which you insert on a website in order to get data about the number of people who visit your site, the systems they are using to access it and how they got there.

The use of Google Analytics is part science, part witchcraft

Google AnalyticsAnalytics can be a powerful additional tool in your UX toolkit in learning about how users behave on an existing website. Whilst you can’t ask them why they are doing things, you can identify trends (if you have enough data) and make some educated guesses about where improvements could be made.

Google Analytics can help you identify what type of devices your users are accessing your site on too. A high number of mobile users or a high bounce rate on those accessing your site via mobile could provide a business case for a responsive site.

They can also be powerful tools in illustrating things to stakeholders – if they see 99% of their traffic is dropping off on a certain page it may be fairly easy for them to see it needs some attention!

How do I install Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is fairly easy to get set up, even if you aren’t particularly code savvy. It involves inserting a small piece of Javascript code into your site’s HTML which will then start to track data about your users.

  1. You need a Google account in order to use Analytics, so if you don’t have one yet you should sign up for one.
  2. Follow the straightforward instructions from Google to insert the code into your website
  3. If you want to do any detailed analysis I recommend waiting until you have achieved 1000 unique visitors. If you are a small site this could take a while so be patient!

If you need help getting it set up I recommend asking a developer to give you assistance – or even better, become one yourself!

What do all the metrics mean?

Google Analytics HoverThere is a lot of jargon you will need to pick up in order to make sense of what you are seeing. I will provide a short list here, but you can easily get descriptions within Google Analytics itself simply by hovering over the labels with your mouse.

Visits

A visit is best thought of using the following metaphor:

Imagine you go into a shop. You might browse around for a bit, chat to the sales assistant and then leave. That would be a visit. 30 minutes later you might go in again, buy a few things and then leave. That’s another visit.

A visit is basically a user coming to your site, doing some stuff over a certain time period and then leaving.

Unique Visitors

The amount of individual users that have visited your site in the time period specified. The same user will only be counted once.

Pageviews

The number of pages on your website viewed in the time period specified. Note that if someone presses refresh in their browser then this is counted as an extra pageview too.

Pages / Visit

The average number of pageviews per visit in the specified time period. This shows essentially how much users are browsing around your site.

Bounce rate

The number of visits which consisted of only one page view. I.e the user did not visit any additional pages other than the one they came in on.

% Exit

This metric differs from bounce rate in that whilst it also shows the number of users leaving the site, they may have visited other pages beforehand.

What sections of Google Analytics should I look at?

The Google Analytics dashboard has a wealth of options, and it can get a bit scary. There are a couple of main sections you should focus on to begin with.

Audience -> Overview

This gives you some nice stats for your website as a whole including a breakdown of the types of visits, demographics and device information.

Traffic sources -> Overview

This tells you a bit about where your visitors are coming from – aka where their user journey may be starting. This could be through search, social or direct.

Content -> Overview

This is where you start getting into the real analysis as you can begin to drill into individual pages and check out their metrics such as bounce rate, pageviews and % exits.

Google Analytics Content Drilldown

How do I interpret the data?

The use of Google Analytics is part science, part witchcraft. You can never be totally certain of why something is happening in the data, only make a strong educated guess. There is an amount of interpretation and imagination required to use it effectively.

It can be a little intimidating at first, especially if you aren’t a numbers person. But once you have learnt the lingo and found your way around the dashboard you can get up and running in less than an hour and start learning some useful things about your users.

Here are four common patterns you may see in your stats and how to interpret them.

A page has a high bounce rate

KangerooAt first this stat might sound bad. But first you have to think about what sort of content is on the page. If it’s a blog post and the user has come from your RSS feed which they are subscribed to it may be they are simply coming back to read the latest article.

However consider if the page is for a new campaign for a new product. You want users to view the advert and then go on to buy it. With a high bounce rate this page may have issues in helping you achieve your goal.

A page has a high % exit

Exit signAgain, it depends on what this page is. The classic example is an e-commerce checkout.

If there is a particularly high exit rate on the delivery details entry page that may be worth taking a look at. You clearly don’t want users to be dropping out at that stage before completing the checkout process.

If the % exit rate is high on the order confirmation page that is to be expected as the user has probably completed what they wanted to do on your site – buy something! That isn’t to say you couldn’t still try to lower this rate and keep them on your site by tempting them with other offers though..

A page has low pageviews

This one is particularly hard to diagnose as it could come down to any number of factors

  1. The page simply isn’t relevant to the majority of users. This may not be a fault in itself, it could just have a specialist audience. Use your persona work to help figure out if that is the case.
  2. Users can’t find the page. This could be down to bad search results, bad signposting or poor information scent.
  3. You just don’t have enough traffic. Check for a high bounce rate on your homepage or other entry pages. Users may not be staying around long enough to get to the page because of a bad user experience when they arrive on your site.

The site has a low Pages / Visit number

Basically this shows that users aren’t clicking around very much when they visit your site. This can either mean they are finding what they want extremely quickly or they aren’t interested in your content. You should compare this to various page entrance numbers to see where users are coming in.

If they are coming in through the homepage and you have a ratio between 1-2, it means a lot of users aren’t getting any further. If however there are a large number coming into a particular page first it may be that is exactly what they are looking for (check the bounce rate of the page to help verify).

Users aren’t spending much time on a page

This can either be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the page. If the page’s purpose is to signpost users elsewhere in the site (like a typical homepage) then a low time on the page could indicate that they are finding where they need to go quickly and moving on. Compare this to the bounce rate to understand if they simply leaving the site altogether though.

If the page contains content that would take a while to read then a short time on the page could show that either the content isn’t relevant to the user or that things such as a lack of headings could be contributing to making the content impenetrable.

Next Steps

We can’t possibly cover the whole of Google Analytics in this Beginner’s guide – but what you learn here should get you off to a good start. As stated before, it requires interpretation and your UX knowledge to make a hypothesis about why something is happening.

After some experience using the tool you will be able to get more advanced in your analysis techniques and use the data from Google Analytics to feed into your user research.

Images courtesy steve gibsonKristin Nador


Chris Mears

Chris is co-founder of UXmentor.me. He has worked with clients such as the UK government, Just Eat & Which? with a focus on service design and transformation.