This guide hopes to serve as an introduction on how to use Google Analytics for small business applications, and assumes that you have set up and integrated Analytics into your website. Let’s get started!

Your website is the middle-man between your business and the online world. Users come in, and leads or customers come out. Depending on the type of business you run, a website may act as nothing more than a detailed business card – while for others it may work as a useful tool in gaining new clients and engaging with existing ones. Whichever purpose your website serves, having an understanding of how your website is performing on an analytical level means being able to make it an important extension of what’s needed for your business to succeed.

Why analytics matter

Let’s say you’re a store-front owner. There’s probably a wide range of information you already have a good grasp on: customer traffic patterns through the week; the aisles that get the most attention; the questions most often asked; the most popular products. This data gives you important insight into how to plan your store layout; when to schedule your employees to make sure there are enough present; and what products to make sure are in stock. The same translates to the online world – as an owner of a business website, you should be doing everything possible to figure out what works and what doesn’t, who goes where and why. Google Analytics allows you to gather and analyze data that will help you understand what your website excels at, and what it needs improvement on. And although it may seem daunting, it’s completely free and fairly easy to use.

Start with a plan

Before you get buried deep inside the Analytics platform (this guide assumes you have already integrated Google Analytics into your website), it’s a good idea to sit down and draft out a basic online plan. What is it that your business does? How do you currently use your website to gain new customers, or leads? What do you want to achieve? How do you plan to do it?

The planning portion will involve some research. You should be looking at your competitors and see what they are doing. Maybe they’re focused solely on social media, or have landing pages which an AdWords campaign points, or both. Figure out how you’d like to achieve your goals and the best way to do them with the resources you have available.

By having a plan – with clearly defined goals and objectives – you can better manage the time and effort you put into making your website better. If you want to gain more traction in a specific service or product area, you’ll probably want to dedicate more time to making that section of your website really shine.

Identify your strengths and weaknesses

Google Analytics offers a great visualization tool, Users Flow, which can give you a great overlook on how users are landing on and moving through your website. By default, the Users Flow page will display dimension data filtered by Country / Territory. Change this to Landing Page – you can type landing page into the search bar within the menu – and now you’ll be able to see what page your users enter the website on, followed by the path they take.

If you mouse-over each bubble, you can see some useful data showing you Through Traffic and Drop-Offs (or users who exited the website on that page) as portions of all visits to that page. If you follow the lines leading off of each bubble to the right, you can see which pages the users would continue on to, how many dropped-off, and how many continued on to the next set of pages.

You should be paying attention to pages that have a large proportion of Drop Offs – especially if they are intermediate pages you are hoping to gain further traffic from – as this identifies possible issues with the quality of the webpage. Maybe the content or copy isn’t visually interesting or compelling enough – or maybe it’s not clear enough for users to know where they should go next. Take note of the pages which are struggling and save them for later.

Next we’ll look at the first row on the users flow, the Landing Pages where your users arrive on. Which one gains the most hits? For most websites, this will be the homepage – but you may find some inner pages that are gaining quite a bit of traction. These inner pages give you great insight into what you may be doing right – and serve as a great standard to compare the struggling pages to.

In fact, you should always be comparing your “good” pages to your “bad” pages, and try to identify the reasons why they work. Don’t be afraid to change the content or images around, improving on your work will be a valuable learning experience and make future page additions much easier. Finally, if you’re familiar with Google Analytics, you can look deeper into the data to see if there are more reasons as to why some pages are performing better than others, whether it’s a referral link that’s giving you a boost in traffic, or simply your Search Query results.

Set up conversion and event tracking

If there’s any one specific skill that’s worthy of investing the time to learn, it’s how to set up and use conversion and event tracking. These two powerful tools give you the power to start tracking very specific and focused actions across your website content, such as external link clicks, video plays, downloads and dedicated form submissions. There are many great tutorials available that cover the nuts and bolts of how to get started (such as this one, and here as well).

Both event and conversion tracking can give you the power to track what’s important to your online plan. You should be applying conversion and event tracking on each page – especially when you’re trying to improve them based on the Users Flow analysis. Find out if the Free Download you’ve provided is actually leading to leads – see which of your call to actions on a single page are being clicked on. The possibilities are endless, and the data you can gather is worth its wait in gold. It saves you time and helps you learn about what works, and what doesn’t.

Just like when you drafted an online plan, we recommend drafting a conversion and event tracking plan. Take a look at each page on your website, and try to identify the different ways these tools can help you better understand their effectiveness. Event tracking allows you to break down events by type, category, label and value. You can assign different parameters to each and group them by their purpose – and then filter the data within Google Analytics to compare and analyze.

Keep at it and don’t stop learning

Analysis, comparison and improvement should become standard, regular activities. Never stop paying attention to what your data is telling you. Try an develop a schedule for all three points, and perform analysis and comparison on a regular basis. When it comes to improving web pages, you’ll need to give each change a bit of time in order to track its progress and results.

Finally, don’t stop learning. This guide is a very short introduction to components of Google Analytics that can be used to improve your website. But there’s always more to learn. Google itself has a great source of detailed and wonderful documentation on its platform (find it here) – and there are plenty of other blogs, websites and videos that teach you what is possible.

We hope we’ve given you a good starting point to jump off from, if you enjoyed what you’ve read, please comment below and share.

Photo Credit: Flickr user Blue Fountain Media – Google Analytics on Computer Screen CC BY 2.0