by John Brandon

5 Ways IT Can Get More From Google Analytics

Oct 11, 20125 mins
AnalyticsE-commerce SoftwareInternet

Many companies use Google Analytics to view website traffic and visitor click-through data, but that's only the beginning. These five tips will help you examine traffic, keywords, bounce rates and visitors in order to improve your website.

In the enterprise, there are often two kinds of corporate websites. There are those that seem frozen in time, presenting stale information to visitors and languishing in disrepair—and there are sites that vibrant with life, where IT staff post frequent updates with rotating banners to display company news, rich graphics encourage Web travelers to explore, and the latest Web 2.0 programming tricks improve the user experience.

As with any IT project, the difference between languor and life is usually good data analytics. Many companies use Google Analytics to see which sections of a company site are the most active, to research which keywords visitors use to find your site, and to explore how visitors click through an ecommerce portal to make a purchase.

Though the data is readily available to view, experts say it’s important to act on that data as a way to breathe life into any company site. Here are fire ways to do just that.

1. Use Dayparting to Examine Hourly Traffic

David Handmaker, CEO of Next Day Flyers, uses dayparting, or the division of the day into several segments, to examine when customers search hour-by-hour. The company uses Google Analytics to generate reports on the most common time period of the day when customers make purchases and uses this data to understand purchase patterns.

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For example, Handmaker might see a bevy of visitors, but no purchases, during the morning hours. He can monitor how this traffic turns into purchases at the site. Handmaker also tracks when an ad is placed online, notes the traffic that it generates and adjust his ad placements accordingly.

“When we see trends with times of the day, one of the things we do is raise bids and allocate more of our budget for those times when conversion rates are the highest,” he says. On the other hand, “trends for days of the week are a little different, as they can reveal the psychology of customers. Once we take part in an analysis we can adjust our ad copy or offer promotions that will speak to their behavior.”

2. Track Negative Keywords

Many company use Google Adwords to generate traffic. In most cases, the company might purchase ads for positive keywords, but Michael Maguire, director of marketing at Private Flight Advisors, says it’s also important to analyze the keywords that are not a good match. “Entering a negative keyword like ‘cheap’ helps us get more out of Google Analytics,” he says. “We sell a luxury service where people pay a premium price. A potential customer who is typing ‘cheap’ along with ‘private jet charter’ is either price shopping or not a serious buyer.”

3. Put Bounce Rate in Context

A bounce rate is a measure of how many visitors leave the site from the home page without clicking into other sections. Bounce rate is calculated by dividing the number of visitors who view a single page by total page entries, says Tyler Phillips, an account strategist with site building engine Neosites.

It’s important to put this measurement in context, Phillips notes. At an executive level, it might be easy to view bounce rate as a measure of failure, but that’s not always true, he says. When a site has most of the pertinent information stored on the home page, your staff should use Google Analytics to measure factors such as the length of time a visitor stays at the site in total, not the bounce rate.

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“The rate applies to the page on which the user enters the site, which is most commonly the home page. If the user can glean most of the key site information from the home (or entry) page, then there isn’t necessarily a reason to click through,” Phillips says. “The bounce rate is most commonly used as a measure of success for campaign landing pages, where users are directed to complete a specific action on the site.” This could include registration, clicking through to detailed content or downloading a coupon.

4. Examine the Funnel to Purchase

Ecommerce sites routinely use Google Analytics to examine when a customer leaves a site and does not make a purchase. In some cases, IT comes to a quick conclusion about the problem and shortens or changes the purchase process. Natasha Ashton, co-founder and co-CEO of Petplan Pet Insurance, says this is not the best approach.

With Google Analytics, her company was able to create two different purchase funnels and then examine which one led to better sales. This worked better than the previous practice of relying on “gut feelings,” Ashton says, adding, “We were able to understand the points where our customers were dropping out of the funnel and take steps to refine the process to improve conversions.”

5. Analyze Subsets of Users

One overlooked feature in Google Analytics is called Advanced Segments. Kurt Elster, the creative director at EtherCycle, encourages clients to go much deeper than just seeing how a visitors clicks through a site or how long they stay on the home page.

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The Advanced Segments features, as their name implies, can help you segment users. For example, you can see how tablet users click through a site or measure the traffic from those who found the site using a keyword that is not related to your company brand. “Google Analytics can tell you specifically which devices users are accessing a site with,” Elster says. “We use this to decide which devices we need to be testing on in our device lab.”

John Brandon is a former IT manager at a Fortune 100 company who now writes about technology. He has written more than 2,500 articles in the past 10 years. You can follow him on Twitter @jmbrandonbb. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, on Facebook, and on Google +.