I have a personal website that I use to promote my writing because, these days, authors need them. We do the majority of our own promotion, much of it using social media, yet falling back on a website that directs traffic to our social media sites and vice-versa. The nice thing about having an understanding of this when I started working at Trademark Productions is that I had a fairly decent idea of what’s involved when TM offers clients our content writing and social media campaign services.

Now, I fully admit to being a novice when it comes understanding all the tools available to people on the web and even though I’ve learned a sizable amount in the last two months, it’s all still pretty much a mystery to me and, I’m betting, many of you out there, too. Someone in the office asked me a couple of weeks ago if I noticed any additional traffic to my site while promoting my latest work and I recall staring at them blankly and asking “How would I know?” Their response was a simple “Don’t you have it set up in Google Analytics?” Well, sure. At least I would if I knew what Google Analytics was. Perhaps it’s something new?

Nope. Google Analytics has been around since 2005 and, just in case you’re wondering since I was, too, it’s a free service. I’m not going to get into all the bells and whistles of setting up an account, specifics on how to read the data, set up goals or any of that–I’ll see if I can get some folks around the office here to post a blog or two on those items–but rather an overview of what the basics can mean to a layman, someone like me and possibly like you.

First, you need a Google or Gmail account in order for Analytics to even be set up. If you don’t have one, get one. Someone set up my account for me and added my site, so I can’t speak to how easy or difficult it is to add your site to the Analytics account. However, since there is a link that reads “Add Website Profile,” I’ll venture an educated guess and state that it’s probably simpler than we might expect.

The basic screen you’ll sign in to once the account has been set up immediately has two pieces of information that are of interest to me; “Visits” and “Reports.” The visits column is fairly obvious data and tells you how many people have been to your site since you set up the Analytics account. All information prior to this hasn’t been collected, so it’s not available. The other column will have a link you click on that says “View report.”

The report features a dashboard that allows you to see the number of visitors to your website over any period of time you specify. Since mine has only been running since the end of October, it’s showing me from that time until the most current day (the day prior to the current day). This allows me to see where there has been noticeable increases and decreases to my site. In being able to see that, I’ve been able to trace it back to blogs posted on those days, which I’ve noted since Analytics allows you to create annotations, a very useful little tool.

Beyond that, there is a Site Usage section that allows you to see the number of visits your site has had along with the number of page views, pages viewed per visit, bounce rate (when a visitor only looks at one page of your site before leaving), the average time viewers spend on your site and the percentage of new visits. There’s a nifty little map overlay so you can see where your visitors are coming from around the world and a traffic source overview that allows you to see if your traffic is coming from referring sites, folks who typed your website address in directly or through search engines.

Finally, a content overview shows you a ranking of what pages visitors are looking at, the number of pageviews each has had and a percentage when compared to all the others. The index page on my site currently ranks the highest, but my blogs are starting to enter the top 5 sections. This will eventually allow me to see what blogs are interesting my readers most and which ones aren’t, which is obviously helpful to a writer.

Each of these features on the main report opens up into another report, but I think I’ll leave things off here for now.

Having a website these days just isn’t enough. What good does it do if you add or change content on it, yet have no idea what’s attracting the most traffic? Furthermore, maybe you’re based in Michigan, yet the majority of your visitors are coming from Idaho? Why? Google Analytics can help any website owner better understand how they’re being found and if they’re being found. More on this in the future.

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