Figuring out how to grow your business can feel like you never quite have all the information you need. You’re always wondering things like:
- What guest posts drove the most email subscribers?
- What blog posts have the highest conversion rate?
- Which email from my sales sequence brought the most customers?
But what if there was a “secret weapon” that you could use to see all of the variables and maximize your efforts? Enter Google Analytics.
I’d bet you’ve heard of Google Analytics but chances are, you’re missing out on some basic things you can do to ensure you’re getting all of the info you need to know what’s working, what’s not, and where to spend your time.
Let me make this less scary. I help companies use data to grow their product revenue, which means I’m inside Google Analytics on a daily basis. I’ve seen some sad GA setups that cause more harm than good.
But GrowthLab readers are smarter than that. So today, I’ll show you the 5 steps that you can follow to be better than 90% of the companies I see when it comes to creating actionable data dashboards. We’ll do this by establishing our important user actions or “goals” and properly tracking all of our incoming traffic.
We’ll end with organizing this information in a way that helps you make quick decisions without spending hours looking at a spreadsheet. These are things you can do once in an afternoon and then use forever.
A rough table of contents is below and if you already know a little bit about GA, you can skip around:
- Step 1: Get Google Analytics working accurately
- Step 2: Create goals to track important conversions
- Step 3: Properly tag traffic with UTM parameters
- Step 4: Look at the most useful reports inside Google Analytics
- Step 5: Establish a regular analytics review
Step 1: Get Google Analytics working accurately
Incorrectly setting up Google Analytics is worse than not using it at all. I once spent four hours trying to understand why users weren’t completing a checkout funnel, only to realize that our data was incomplete and broken, and that they actually WERE completing it. We just weren’t tracking the last two steps of the funnel!
If installing GA sounds intimidating, don’t worry. Even if you’re not a developer, there’s no need to complicate your life. Nearly every platform and content management system has some sort of plugin for a quick install, and most just require you to copy and paste a few details and be done with it.
If you don’t have a Google Analytics account, let’s create one now.
1. Start by going to https://www.google.com/analytics/ and scrolling down to the middle of the page to find the “SIGN UP FOR FREE” button.
2. You’ll then be asked to log in (or create) a Google account. After you do that, you’ll need to click the “Sign Up” button one more time.
3. You will then be asked to enter details like your company name and your website URL. Once you’re done, click the “Get Tracking ID” button.
4. You will then get something called the “Tracking ID.”
Now that you have a tracking ID, you can download a plugin for the platform that you’re using. The plugin will ask you for your tracking ID and you’ll be good to go!
- WordPress: Google Analytics + OR MonsterInsights
- Squarespace: Has a built-in setting for Google Analytics
- Wix: Has a built-in setting for Google Analytics
- Drupal: Google Analytics module
- Weebly: Instructions for adding Google Analytics
- Shopify: Has a built-in setting for Google Analytics
- Bigcommerce: Has a built-in setting for Google Analytics
You can then browse through your website like a normal user would. If you get a green smiley face, then everything is working well. If there are any issues, you will see a red sad face and links to help you get it fixed.
Got it working? Great. Now to move on to adding goals.
Step 2: Create goals to track important conversions
Goals are used to track important activities that users may do on your website. The kind of stuff that results in leads or revenue for you. Examples:
- When people complete an email opt-in form.
- When a potential customer emails or calls you.
- When a user purchases something from your store.
A good goal is something that, if improved, will actually lead to an increase in revenue. You can then use this information to optimize your site. Remember: data for the sake of data is useless. You need data that will lead to ACTION and help you organize your time effectively.
So before we begin, make a mental list of the most important actions someone can take on your site. For most of us, email sign ups and sales purchases are a good place to start. These are the actions we’re going to set up as goals.
Step 1: Start by going to the “Admin” section in Google Analytics by clicking the gear symbol on the left navigation:
Step 2: Go to the last column (View) and then click “Goals” under your main view. If you’re just starting out, you likely only have one view which is fine.
Step 3: Next, click the “+New Goal” red button in the top left of the screen.
Step 4: Let’s now choose the best template for our goal. If you don’t see any template options, make sure that you selected an industry for your account. You can edit this under the “Property Settings.”
Back in the template section, find the one that makes sense for your business.
Step 5: For this example, I’m going to choose “Sign up” since I’m interested in tracking users who join my newsletter.
Step 6: Give your goal a name that you will easily recognize e.g “Opt-In Sign Up” or “New Purchase.” This name will be displayed in all the reports that you will be using.
Goal type tells Google Analytics how it should track this goal. For example, a “Destination” goal will get tracked when a user visits a specific page like a “thank you” page.
Choosing the right goal type is important because it will determine the accuracy of our goal. If we want to track successfully opt-ins, then our goal should be tracked when users actually give us their email address.
I recommend that you choose “Destination” because it is the easiest to set up and most actions we do have some sort of confirmation page that lets us know the goal was completed. For example, if a user signs up for my newsletter, they get redirected to a thank you page found at practicoanalytics.com/thankyou. Or you can track when someone arrives at your purchasing confirmation page.
Step 7: Finally, we need to confirm the location of our thank you page. In my case, this is “/thankyou”.
Step 8: You can finish this process by verifying your goal settings. If you did everything properly, you should see a conversion rate like this:
Woo! You’re now tracking an important action that you want users to do. You should repeat this process for all of the goals you outline when we started this process.
Now, we are almost ready to start analyzing our traffic. We just need to get familiar with UTM parameters first.
Step 3: Properly tag traffic with UTM parameters
While goals help us track the important actions that users take on our website, UTM parameters are things we can append to links that will help us track WHERE they came from and how they found us.
When we combine the UTM parameters with goals, we can tell what traffic sources are most useful to us. We can then use that information to double down on the stuff that is working and cut out what isn’t.
For example, you may be working on guest posting, posting in Facebook groups, and doing podcast interviews. Which one is worth more time? Which one should you pull back on? The one worth more time is the one that leads to more of your goals being completed!
I had one client that was spending all of their time (and money) running Facebook Ads but most of their customers were coming from organic search results. Once they knew this, they could shift their efforts to increasing the traffic they received from Google and other search engines.
Another client of mine implemented UTM parameters across all of their Google Adwords ads. They could then see exactly how much revenue each ad generated for them (see below).
And you can have the same insights for your business. So, let’s build a UTM parameter.
Step 1: We can use the Campaign URL Builder from Google to help us here. I suggest you bookmark this page, you’ll be using it a bunch. Let’s start by adding the URL that we would like to track to the “Website URL” input.
Step 2: We then have 5 options but we don’t have to use them all. I recommend that you always use “Campaign Source” and “Campaign Medium” at the minimum. (For our purposes a “campaign” is an effort to get more traffic. So a round of guest posts can be one “campaign” or buying Google AdWords can be another “campaign” etc.)
Here is a short description for each field:
- Source: the site where traffic is coming e.g Facebook, GrowthLab, etc.
- Medium: the type of traffic e.g referral, email, cpc (cost per click), etc. I recommend that you stick to the default medium definitions that Google Analytics uses.
- Campaign: the overall campaign that this link belongs in. This is commonly used with things like Facebook Ads where you naturally have “campaigns.”
- Term: the keyword that users clicked to visit your site. Commonly used with Google Adwords.
- Content: the specific content that drove this link e.g a specific ad, a specific email in a sequence, etc.
Step 3: Once you added the correct values, this tool will give you a new URL:
Step 4: You can now share your new link with the world and Google Analytics will automatically capture the parameters that you added. Perfect for social media, guest posts, and creating ads.
If you’re not sure how you’re going to be using this information, it’s ok. I’m about to show you some of the most useful reports inside Google Analytics that will take advantage of the goal we created earlier and the UTM parameters that we’ll be using.
Step 4: Look at the most useful reports inside Google Analytics
How to figure out what traffic is leading to conversions
Google Analytics is really good at analyzing traffic and this is where we will start. The main report that matters here is the “Acquisition Report.”
I personally use this report to figure out what traffic sources are leading to new email subscribers and leads. If I’m working on guest posts for example, I want to know if any of them drove newsletter sign ups (this would be my goal).
I may also discover that “Organic Search” is really good at driving newsletter sign ups. I may then shift my focus from guest posting to figuring out how to increase my organic traffic.
You can find this report by going to “Acquisition” > “All Traffic” > “Channels” in the left-hand menu:
On the left-hand side of the table, we have the different traffic types. Here’s a short description of what each one means:
- Direct: Came straight to your site from a bookmark, by typing the address of your site into their browser bar, or from links outside of their browser (like from a PDF).
- Organic Search: Found your website through a search engine like Google or Yahoo.
- Social: Came from known social networks like Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter.
- Referral: Came to your site from other websites e.g. guest posts and links.
- Email: Came to your site from an email such as the ones you can send from MailChimp.
- Paid Search: Came to your site by clicking on a paid ad in a search engine like Google.
- Display: Came to your site by clicking an ad from a display network (like a banner ad).
You can use the UTM parameters that we learned earlier to force traffic to fit into one of these pre-existing categories. If we don’t use these parameters, our traffic may end up in the wrong category.
These are the UTM parameters that Google is expecting to match the traffic types I listed above.
Let’s take the example UTM link we made above (https://practicoanalytics.com/growthlab?utm_source=growthlab&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=guest-posting&utm_content=90%25-google-analytics-post). I will use this link to direct people back to my site from any post that I write for GrowthLab (like this one). Anyone that clicks that link will be categorized as “Referral” because of the bit that says “utm_medium=referral.”
We can then see useful stats like how many sessions each traffic type had but more importantly, we can see how each traffic type converted against the goal we created earlier.
It doesn’t stop there though!
We could dig into most of these traffic types to get more details. For example, let’s dig into the “Referral” source by clicking the “Referral” link in our Acquisition report from before (you can find it here “Acquisition” > “All Traffic” > “Channels”).
You will then see a list of all the websites that sent you traffic in the next page. You might recognize websites where you have guest posted before or you might discover new websites that are linking to your content.
Remember those goals we made? Now we can see the specific websites that are driving conversions against the goal we created earlier. I highlighted the goal column in red. Looks like I should spend more time doing guest posts for hubstaff.com or find similar sites.
Remember: not all traffic is created equal. You may have traffic sources that are driving a lot of users but aren’t converting well. You will then have to decide if you want to continue receiving this traffic or if you want to focus on higher quality traffic.
Does your website have any conversion issues?
The next report that is useful is to see how well your website converts on different devices. We can go to “Audience” > “Mobile” > “Overview” and you will see this report:
This will tell us how different device categories convert against the goal we created earlier. We can see that mobile traffic isn’t converting very well here.
This gives us an opportunity to explore why and to bump up our conversion rate without having to drive new traffic.
These are the kinds of low-hanging fruits that you can fix to improve your business.
What is your most popular content?
Finally, we can use Google Analytics to show us our most popular content.
For this report, we’ll go to “Behavior” > “Site Content” > “All Pages”:
We can see a list of all the pages in our site on the left-hand side. I then sorted the table by clicking the “Avg. Time on Page” column to get the pages with the highest values first so I can see which pages have the highest engagement.
The first results only have a few page views but result number 6 (practicoanalytics.com/saas-analytics/) is interesting. Seems like this type of content resonates with my audience: they click on it more AND read the entire thing.
Remembering all of these reports can be tough. So our last step will be streamlining all of this so you can get everything you need to know from a single screen by taking advantage of the “dashboard” functionality inside Google Analytics. This will let us see our important metrics in one single place.
Using dashboards to track your metrics in one place
Step 1: Let’s start by clicking the “Customization” menu button and then clicking “Dashboards.” Then click the “Create” button to start adding a dashboard.
Step 2: You’ll be greeted with the following options:
Step 3: Choose “Starter Dashboard” so we can see how the widgets work. Give your dashboard a name (I suggest “The Cashmoney Command Center” but that’s just me) and then click the “Create Dashboard” button.
I’ll also give you some dashboard templates at the bottom of this post that you can import into your Google Analytics account.
Step 4: You can then add “widgets” into this dashboard. Let’s add a widget that uses the UTM parameters and goal that we created earlier.
- Widget title: Traffic Sources by Conversion Rate
- Standard: The “Table” type will display multiple values in an easy to read format.
- Widget options:
- The first value is the “Source / Medium” which matches the UTM Source and UTM Medium parameters from earlier.
- The second value will be the goal we created (look it up by its goal name) by “goal completions” which shows how many times a goal happened.
- The third value will be the goal we created by “goal conversion rate” which will give us a conversion rate for specific UTM parameters.
You can use this to see what UTM parameter leads to the most sales (or other conversions). So if email is your primary selling channel, your widget might look like this:
In this widget, we are using the “Campaign” dimension for our first column, which matches the “utm_campaign” value in our URL. We then use the goal we created by adding a metric showing how many times a goal happened and its conversion rate.
Finally, we filter our data to only show links that had a “utm_medium” value of “email.”
There are a lot of different dimensions or metrics but if you are ever lost, you can simply look at the column names in any default report like the acquisition report from earlier.
These are the same values that you will find available for widgets.
Step 5: Finally, we can save our widget. Once our new guest post goes live, we’ll be able to see the UTM parameters that we used and how many conversions we got from that link.
You can bookmark your Google Analytics dashboards and come back to them on a regular basis. The data will refresh automatically and you will see your latest numbers.
If you’re looking for more advanced dashboard templates, I recommend that you check out these ones:
- The “perfect” ecommerce dashboard
- Performance dashboard to identify conversion issues (I use this one myself)
- Dashboard for businesses that run blogs
- An overview of your SEO performance
Note: Make sure you’re logged into Google Analytics when you click the above links.
Step 5: Establish a regular analytics review
Once you’ve created your dashboard, set up a time in your calendar to review your data. This can be on a monthly or weekly basis depending on how many marketing tactics you’re currently working on.
I also like keeping a spreadsheet that shows my weekly progress on my key metrics. Sarah Jones from Introverted Alpha provided a Google Sheets template that you can use to do this.
What kind of questions should you ask during this analytics review?
- Am I making progress on my key metrics?
- What is working for metric X? If I’m looking at newsletter sign ups, I might look at what traffic sources or what blog posts are leading to sign ups.
- Where is the biggest area of opportunity? If I’m getting a lot of traffic but no sign ups, then I should focus on increasing my opt-in rate. No point in getting more traffic until that is fixed.
Remember that analytics are meant to help you grow your business. Don’t get caught up in trying to understand every possible metric. Focus on the KPIs that matter to your business and ignore everything else.
If something is unclear, drop a comment below and I’ll answer any of your questions.