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How to: Generating Insightful Google Analytics Reports

We see a lot of companies misusing or under-using Google Analytics. Many companies seem to install Analytics just because they were told to have it, but they don’t really understand how to use it to gain valuable insights on how their website is performing.

Let’s dive into a few ways you can generate quick, easily-digestible Google Analytics reports so you can understand your site’s performance and begin making more informed business decisions.

The Setup: Custom Dashboards

The best way to quickly gain an understanding of your website’s performance is through the creation of custom dashboards. This is easily done, and you can place a LOT of great data on a custom dashboard.

Step 1: Create your dashboard

In Google Analytics, select Customization from the left-hand menu, then select Dashboards. Click the Create button and name your Blank Canvas dashboard. I like to call mine Site Overview.

Step 2: Creating a Widget

Custom dashboards are made up of different widgets. I’ll go into which widgets I prefer later, but for now, let’s set up a widget with a few different data points so you can understand how they get set up and what data they can show.

You might think that your first step should be to name the widget — it’s not! While you can provide a custom name for the widget, it will automatically populate a name based on the data you ask it to show, so naming it is unnecessary.

First, select how you want to present your data. I like the Table option because it displays data nicely in a table, but often the Timeline, Pie, and Metric options are very useful. You can choose between Standard and Real-time data, but unless you’re specifically interested in the traffic on your site at any given moment, you’ll be wanting to look at Standard data.

With the Table option, you can select one Dimension and two Metrics to see. A great example dimension to track is Source/Medium, and some helpful metrics to add to that dimension are Users and Bounce Rate. Simply use the drop-down menus under each area to select this data.

After selecting the data, you can choose to filter it if desired. For example, you can filter your Source/Medium data to only mobile users to get a better sense of how mobile users arrive at your site.

Once you are ready, click Save and your new widget will be added to your dashboard! Choosing a different date range in the upper right-hand corner will change the data to correspond with the given date range. Add as many widgets as you’d like to this dashboard, just be sure you’re pulling in data that will help you analyze the performance of your site.

Catching Key Performance Indicators and Red Flags

One of the best ways to gather KPIs and catch red flags before they become a larger issue is through careful curation of your custom dashboards within Google Analytics.

Here are some of the data I like to see on my dashboard:

  1. Users over time: This is simply standard and necessary. Users over time is the most efficient way to see how your site is performing.
    • Things to look for:  
      • Large spike in users: This likely indicates that something is working well. If there have been recent marketing efforts, they may have contributed to this spike, and it is worth further examination. However, it is also possible that a large spike in users is erroneous. Either way, a large spike in users is worth further investigation.
      • Large dip in users for an extended period of time: This may indicate an issue with your Analytics tracking code, the usability of the website, a significant change in search presence, or a negative reaction to a recent website edit.
  2. Bounce Rate by Users and Landing Page: Being able to see the bounce rate of your users based on how they first enter your site can tell you a ton about the effectiveness of your landing pages. Does your homepage draw users in or does it push them away? Does your Ads lander deliver on its promise or are users leaving your site without interacting at all?
    • KEEP IN MIND: Bounce rates in Analytics are determined by interaction (or lack thereof) — Analytics needs to be able to report on another data point in order to not count a visit as a bounce. Without any custom events to report on, bounce rate is usually determined by the user visiting another page. This means if you have a single page lander that doesn’t have any event set up on a ‘conversion’, Google Analytics will mark those visits as a ‘bounce’ unless users go on to visit other pages (unlikely!).
    • Alternative: If you have specific events set up on your landing pages that directly correlate with business goals, you may want to set up Events by Landing Page rather than Bounce Rate by Landing Page.
    • Things to look for: Your top 10 landing pages are indicative of popular or well-promoted content. If a blog appears in this list, it is likely a hot topic or popular search. Consider investing extra time into this page or this topic to increase user engagement.
  3. Users by Source/Medium: This report will show you, at a glance, how most of your users are making their way to your site. This can be massively insightful if you’re looking for your best referral websites or the efficacy of various ad campaigns. You can add something like Bounce Rate or Events as a secondary data point in these reports to be able to see the engagement rates of users per source.
  4. Users by Campaign: This report will quickly show your most successful campaigns in terms of attracting users to your site. Use Events or Bounce Rate as a secondary data point to understand more about user interaction stemming from these campaigns.

Exporting and Emailing

Now that you have a wonderfully curated dashboard, you can generate quick reports to share at your next meeting! Simply click the Export option at the top left of the dashboard, and then the PDF option. Google Analytics will spin up a PDF version of your dashboard to share with the rest of your team.

You can also choose to automate the sending of this report over a predetermined frequency to a select group. I would caution against this, however. I don’t know about you, but personally, the best way to get me to ignore something is to have it show up regularly in my inbox. I’d rather make it a recurring task to check the dashboard, a to-do item to check off. Not only does this get me to actually pay attention, but it also gets me to actually log into Analytics, which means it is much more convenient to do some further investigation on any one datapoint if something stands out to me.

Wrapping Up

Custom dashboards are a great way to get quick, hard-hitting info on the performance of your site. They are, however, very limited in terms of what detail they can provide. Remember that your dashboard should serve as the first phase of any investigation into your website. Use it to narrow down which specific reports you run or what data you look into at any given time.

Maybe your users spiked recently, and you can see in your campaign widget that there was a large influx of users stemming from a certain campaign; now it’s time to investigate this campaign further. How well did users engage with the campaign? What facet of the campaign was most effective? Did your emails do particularly well? Maybe your ads resonated like never before? The dashboard will not answer these questions, but it has pointed you in a good direction and now you can get better data, faster.

If you’re having trouble with your Analytics data or not seeing the results you’re looking for, drop us a line and we can discuss ways we can get Analytics working for you.