There may be a few businesses out there that don’t need help with their Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) in 2021, but they are an increasingly rare bird. Consider these facts:

Are there alternatives? Sure, Bing does a healthy business and shouldn’t be ignored when developing a search engine marketing strategy, and privacy-focused DuckDuckGo has quietly seen its brand equity and user base grow amid rising concerns about third-party tracking online.

But Google is still the mostly undisputed king, and mastering the intricacies of its ever-shifting and closely-guarded algorithm is vitally important for businesses of all sizes that hope to compete for attention and customers in the digital marketplace.

There’s no substitute for the right tool for the job, as they say, and Google has generously supplied one that is full-featured and powerful enough to satisfy most businesses.

Mastering the All-In-One Tracker, Reporter, Analyzer, and Optimizer

First released in 2005, Google Analytics is parent company Alphabet’s primary web analytics platform. It quickly became the most popular analytics service available, a title it still holds. After several revisions, it is currently on version four (GA4).

The system works by tracking page tags, small pieces of JavaScript code that webmasters add to every page. Client browsers, assuming they have JavaScript enabled (most will), run the code and send the relevant information back to Google.

“Mastering the intricacies of Google’s ever-shifting and closely-guarded algorithm is vitally important for businesses of all sizes that hope to compete for attention and customers in the digital marketplace.”

The number of metrics you can monitor and visualize with Google Analytics is large and constantly growing, but typically, the headline indicators will be:

  • Session duration
  • Pages per session
  • Bounce rate

That last one, the bounce rate, is particularly important because it indicates the number of users that almost immediately left your page upon reaching it, which is a sign that either the link that took them to you was misleading, or that they were immediately displeased with the user experience (UX) after seeing your site.

Google has been moving aggressively towards punishing websites with poor UX scores. Problems like long load times, unintuitive navigation, outdated or irrelevant content, or simply unappealing visual design can all negatively affect UX.

A great UX is an overarching goal that virtually every website should be optimizing to increase their ranking on Search Engine Results Pages (SERP), but businesses also have their own immediate goals, including tracking and improving things like:

  • Lead generation
  • Sales
  • Traffic to a landing page

Google Analytics is also highly valued because it integrates seamlessly with Google Ads, permitting the creation and review of online campaigns that track landing page effectiveness and conversion rates.

Though online activity was almost entirely desktop-based at that time, Google has since begun offering a Software Development Kit (SDK) for gathering user data on mobile devices using iOS, Android and a few smaller platforms. Called Google Analytics for Mobile Apps, it reports on:

  • Number of users
  • Actions being taken
  • In-app revenues
  • User navigation paths

One caveat, though, data can be made invisible to Google Analytics by blocking technologies like firewalls and browser extensions. Some entire browsers, notably Brave, completely block all web trackers of any kind.

Five Big Mistakes to Avoid

Whether monitoring desktop or mobile user data and web traffic, Google Analytics makes it simple to create multiple dashboards displaying everything from a high-level overview down to granular, campaign and page-specific details. Plus, there are advanced tools for segmenting your visitors, for example by a certain demographic or by behavior — making it simple to isolate your most active and regular users and customers for personalized outreach.

“Problems like long load times, unintuitive navigation, outdated or irrelevant content, or simply unappealing visual design can all negatively affect UX.”

But what exactly should webmasters be tracking? In a word: Everything.

The general rule is to gather as much data as possible and then to sort through it. That means tracking traffic to your homepage, landing pages, blog posts, videos, and every other source of content on your site. That data powers the insights that inform layout, navigation, content, and branding changes to encourage better conversion rates, UX scores, and loading times.

All that said, Google Analytics may be a powerful tool but it doesn’t self-optimize. You still have to do that, and a few minor mistakes can greatly undermine your efforts. Here are five common mistakes:

1. Not adding tracking codes to every single page you control.

Google can’t measure what it doesn’t know about. If you create a new page and don’t add a tracking tag, it is functionally invisible to Google. You won’t know who is visiting it or how they are responding to your on-page elements.

2. Letting nonexperts work on your backend code.

The polished exterior of many a website belies a tangled web of background code under the hood doing the heavy lifting. Unless you have a developer proficient in the languages your site runs on, tampering with it to adjust your analytics reporting can cause serious problems, including rendering the site inoperable.

Leave the coding to the pros, and if you want to adjust your tracking tags, use Google Tag Manager, which is designed to do so without interfering with the backend.

3. Adding duplicate trackers to the same page.

Google Analytics is pretty smart and fault-tolerant (it will flag issues when it spots them), but you can still manage to trip it up. The easiest way—and the easiest to avoid—is to add the same tracking script and ID more than once. You’ll end up with inaccurate and misleading data.

4. Not excluding robots and spiders.

Not everyone crawling the web these days is who they appear to be. Millions of automated bots and web spiders (indexers) will be accessing your site alongside flesh and blood people. Make sure you’re not counting them or your numbers will appear greatly inflated.

5. Tracking the wrong metrics.

Paid traffic gets a lot of attention simply because businesses that invest in driving people to their site want to know what kind of return on investment they are netting. But don’t neglect to monitor your organic traffic. It’s a better measure of how your typical customers and visitors are interacting with your site.

Get Personal

The end goal of optimizing Google Analytics isn’t just a better running and more appealing website. It’s a greater understanding of your customer, who they are, where they are coming from (both geographically and online), how they prefer to interact with you, and which pieces of your content resonate with them.

It’s all information that better informs a broader branding and marketing approach, so that you are always targeting an audience primed for your message and deploying your resources efficiently to maintain a strong and lasting connection with them.

 

Concerned you’re not properly optimizing Google Analytics to improve your website and stay engaged with your customers? Talk to the design, branding, and technology experts at Hanlon.