Google Analytics can capture more than 360 metrics and more than 260 dimensions. Long story short, you can run thousands of reports in Google Analytics to evaluate the strength of your marketing program, particularly your website.
But when you’ve got access to vast amounts of data, where do you start and how do you avoid falling into endless, fruitless rabbit holes?
It helps if you think of performance reporting in two distinct ways:
- Monitoring — The routine review of a select group of reports to stay on top of overall performance and trends.
- Analysis — The process of diving into the data to uncover what happened and why.
Your Google Analytics data analysis may be prompted for various reasons, including strategic planning, benchmarking, or campaign evaluation. But most commonly, the need to dive into the data is spurred by something weird you’ve spotted when monitoring your Google Analytics reports.
Effective monitoring of your marketing performance data requires a regular cadence of asking and then answering the same questions at regular time intervals, at minimum monthly.
Only by getting familiar with the status quo can you uncover the unusual.
Questions to Ask of Your Google Analytics Data
The questions you ask will be contingent on the different types of campaigns you’re running and whether you sell items on your site.
However, for most companies, focusing first and foremost on overall website traffic is a good start. Specifically, how much, how engaged was it, where did it come from, and were there any significant changes?
Specifically, consider asking:
- How much traffic came to the website?
- How does that compare to last month? Last year?
- How engaged was last month's website traffic?
- What were the top traffic-driving channels?
- Were there any traffic source fluctuations and if so, what caused them?
Blog Monitoring Questions
Next up, if you’re blogging, asking similar questions about your blog traffic is a valuable exercise considering the impact it can have on site performance. In addition, routine blog monitoring can offer insight into the value and potential of specific content topics.
To effectively monitor blog traffic, it helps to turn on a segment that filters Google Analytics data to only show sessions that start on a blog page. Click here to add this segment to your Google Analytics account.
With this segment turned on, ask the following:
- How much traffic came to the blog and how does that compare to last month? Last year?
- How engaged was last month's blog traffic?
- What were the top-performing blog posts? (Turn off the segment here to see total blog pageviews)
- What were the top traffic-driving channels?
- Were there any traffic fluctuations and if so, what caused them?
Goal Monitoring Questions
Finally, Goals. Ideally, you’ve got Goals set up on your Google Analytics account to track when a visitor takes a valuable action (e.g. completes a lead form).
Understanding how your site performs at driving goal conversions is crucial to revealing ways to increase conversion opportunities.
- How many goal completions were generated last month?
- What pages did they convert on?
- Where did these goal completions come from?
- Did goal completions differ from last month and if so, what channels caused it?
Answering the Questions
As important as asking the right questions is how they’re answered. The value of your answers relies on how you combine relevant metrics and historical data for context.
Consider the following recommendations when formulating your answers:
- Compare numbers to something. Whether goals or historical data, pairing metrics with context gives readers a truer sense of what the numbers mean to the bigger picture.
- Answer clearly and concisely. Adding too much exposition clutters and conceals the important stuff.
- Combine metrics. Combine pieces of the puzzle together for context and to tell a more comprehensive story.
- Pair percentages. Percentages on their own are misleading. Always combine them with actual numbers to offer some perspective.
- Answer the same way every time. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel with each answer. It may be boring to write and read, but consistent answers make it easier to get familiar with the report and allows for quicker reviews.
Putting It All Together
Below is a sample marketing analytics report we produce monthly for our agency and for clients.
How much traffic came to your website, and how does that compare to the previous month? Last year?
In November, there were 6,279 website users, which is a decrease of 1,141 (-15.4%) compared to October. These users generated 8,124 sessions, a decrease of 1,276 (-13.6%). 6,023 of the users were new to the site, which is down 15.1% compared to October. Year over year, November's sessions improved by 155 (+1.9%).
How engaged was last month’s website traffic?
In terms of engagement, in November there were 202 form submissions, which is an increase of 27 (+15.4%) compared to October. This gives the site a conversion rate of 2.5%. The other supplemental engagement metrics were mixed:
- Bounce Rate: 34.4% (+2.3 points)
- Pages / Session: 1.4 (+0.2%)
- Avg. Time on Site (sec): 138.6 (+4.2%)
What were the top traffic-driving channels?
Similar to October, last month Organic Search (5,236 sessions) was the top traffic-driving channel to your website, making up 64.5% of all traffic. Direct (1,736 sessions) again is the second top traffic driving source with 21.4% of total traffic. Referral (572 sessions) moves up into the top three channels, replacing Email. Referral made up 7.0% of total traffic.
Were there any traffic fluctuations, and if so, what caused it?
November traffic as a whole was down 13.6% (-1,276 sessions) compared to October. This is predominantly thanks to three channels:
- Email caused most of the drop, contributing 693 fewer sessions specifically from the following email: Webinar Promotion Email 1 (-601 sessions).
- Organic Search also contributed to the decline driving 256 fewer sessions specifically to: 10 Ways You Should Be Looking At Your Data (-96 sessions), The Marketing Audit: 21 Tips to Strategic Content Planning (-87), and Homepage (-73).
- Social pushed 179 fewer sessions, specifically from the following networks: Twitter (-71 sessions), LinkedIn (-63), and Facebook (-15).
It's worth noting the decrease in sessions was offset by an increase from Referral. Specifically, Referral increased by 100 sessions thanks to the following sites: www.espn.com (+79 sessions) and www.nytimes.com (+10 sessions).
Blog Traffic Reporting
How did the blog perform last month?
The blog was responsible for attracting 4,582 users to the site in November, which is a decrease of 372 (-7.5%) over October. These users, who entered through the blog, were responsible for 5,330 sessions (-5.8%), and 4,396 were new users to the site, which is a decrease of 331 (-7.0%) compared to October.
How engaged was blog traffic?
The blog received 6,345 pageviews in November, a drop of -337 (-5.0%). In terms of engagement, blog traffic saw varied performance with bounce rate, session duration, and pageviews per session:
- Bounce Rate: 41.1% (+1.2 points)
- Pages / Session: 1.2 (+0.1%)
- Avg. Time on Site (sec): 134.8 (+3.9%)
What were the top-performing blog posts?
The top blog posts in terms of pageviews include:
- The Marketing Audit: 21 Tips to Strategic Content Planning: 600 pageviews (-15.7%)
- Case Study: How We Grew Blog Traffic and Leads 110%: 543 pageviews (+20.9%)
- 11 Social Media Tips for Better Engagement: 425 pageviews (+14.2%)
- The 4 Most Important Things to Do Every Morning: 357 pageviews (+33.2%)
- 10 Ways You Should Be Looking At Your Data: 299 pageviews (-26.9%)
Were there any changes in blog traffic last month, and if so, what caused them?
As noted above, the blog caught the attention of 372 fewer users in November (-7.5% compared to October), and generated 326 fewer sessions (-5.8%). This session decline is chiefly thanks to three channels:
- Organic Search experienced the largest decrease, generating 128 fewer sessions to the blog, specifically to the following post: 4 Ways to Generate Content Daily (-96 sessions).
- Email contributed 94 fewer sessions to the blog, specifically from the following emails: Q1 Blog Notification Email (-62 sessions), and Monthly Enewsletter (-30).
- Social contributed 62 fewer sessions to the blog, specifically from the following networks: Twitter (-38 sessions), and LinkedIn (-26).
How many goal completions were generated last month?
When it comes to goal, in November, there were 202 completions, which is a change of 27 (+15.4%) compared to October.
What were the top converting pages?
The top pages for goal completions were:
- Contact Us: 40 (-7.0%)
- Subscribe: 37 (0.0%)
- The Marketing Audit: 21 Tips to Strategic Content Planning: 32 (-22.0%)
- Case Study: How we grew blog traffic and leads: 13 (-13.3%)
- 15 Marketing Assets You Probably Have Laying Around: 5 (-61.5%)
Where did these goal completions come from?
The top channels driving conversions to your site include:
- Organic Search: 96 goals (+21 / +28%)
- Direct: 39 goals (+6 / +18.2%)
Did goal completions differ from last month, if so, what channels caused it?
Last month, there was an improvement of 27 (+15.4%) goal completions compared to October. This growth was the result of 3 channels, specifically:
- Organic Search experienced the most growth, generating 21 additional goal completions specifically from visitors who landed on: The Marketing Audit: 21 Tips to Strategic Content Planning (+15 goals), Case Study: How we grew blog traffic and leads (+12), Homepage (+11), 11 Social Media Tips for Better Engagement (+11), and 15 Marketing Assets You Probably Have Laying Around (+7).
- Referral contributed 33 additional goal completions specifically from the following sources: hubspot.com (+8 goals), netflix (+6), contentresources.com (+5), publicrelationsinternational.com (+3), and business-site.com (+2).
- Direct experienced growth, driving 6 additional goal completions specifically from visitors who entered the site through: Service Pricing (+14 goals).
Stay On Top of Your Marketing Performance
In today's digital age, tracking your marketing performance data isn't an option, but a requirement, of success. However, keeping up with the ever-changing marketing landscape can be daunting, so it's essential to stay informed about the latest trends and best practices. Seize this opportunity to take your marketing to the next level—sign up for our newsletter today. Every other week, we'll send you the latest insights, tips, and strategies to help you stay on top of your marketing performance data and make informed decisions that drive results.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated to be more current and comprehensive.