Google Analytics provides a wealth of information about the visitors to your website. If you set clear goals and understand how to interpret this data, you can track and increase the effectiveness of your site.
- Don’t forget to add the Google Analytics tracking code to your UCL website.
- Know what you want to track. What you measure should be linked to your site’s objectives.
- Think beyond ‘hits’, ‘clicks’ and ‘page views’, learn to see the limitations of any single piece of analytics data and combine several metrics to form your opinions about site performance.
This video (11 minutes) by digital expert Paul Boag provides a video overview of this page's content on getting the most from Google Analytics and monitor your site's performance.
Google Analytics has become the de-facto standard for website owners to measure and analyse the traffic from site visitors. The software is powerful and free to use, but does require an investment of time to get beyond the basics. First and foremost, Google Analytics is a marketing tool, so is best approached with that in mind.
Set up your own Google account
To get started with Google Analytics, you should register for a free site account at www.google.com/analytics. Make sure you set up a specific Google account for this website (and not one associated with a person), so it can be shared and is not affected by people leaving. When you have the account number (UA–123 …), place it in the UCL attributes file(s) in your Silva website. If you use Indigo place the account number in the Properties tab. For more information on using the Indigo pattern library in Silva visit our Indigo page.
After a couple of days, you’ll start to see visitor statistics in your Google Analytics account.
UCL site owners can also gain access to the central UCL analytics account, but will be unable to modify any of settings. Although it may be interesting to have a sneak peek at the statistics of other UCL departments’ websites, more often than not they’ll simply clutter your view of your own site’s statistics.
Defining your site’s objectives
Before you even log into Google Analytics, you should have some clarity about what exactly you want your site to achieve. In going through such an exercise, you will undoubtedly come up with several goals that are laudable, but not easy to quantify:
- provide relevant and current information
- engage and inspire your users
- promote and enhance the image of your work, your department and the university.
However, in analysing web traffic we’re more concerned with objectives we can measure. Goals that can be tracked with statistical data might include:
- increase in new student enquiries vs. same period last year
- increase in downloads of a brochure PDF
- increase in number of visitors from organic search (that is, people who come straight to the site from a search engine, e.g. Google).
You can see that these goals may in fact underpin larger goals of the department, such as increasing recruitment, reducing the amount of printed marketing material posted to prospective students, etc.
Don’t get hung up on pageviews
Because one of the top-line numbers presented to you when you log into Google Analytics is your total (i.e. site-wide) pageviews, it’s easy to give too much importance to this number. Don’t automatically assume that an increase in pageviews is necessarily a good thing. In other words, don’t think of it as a measure of your site’s popularity.
For example, if your site’s content becomes increasingly difficult to find, visitors will inevitably be forced to visit more pages before they find what they’re looking for. In this way, a growing number of pageviews (without the number of visitors growing in proportion) is a sign that something is wrong. You could look at it from the opposite perspective: if you make the most important information easy to find, perhaps by reducing site clutter or raising it closer to the top level, you’ve made the site easier to use, but your pageviews may indeed decrease.
This highlights the fact that analytics data cannot be relied upon alone to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of your site. It should be complemented with both qualitative and quantitative types of user research (surveys, user testing, focus groups, etc).
Think relative, not absolute
Another trap that new users of analytics fall into is to look at recent trends or snapshots of site stats in isolation. In general, you can’t do much with metrics that lack context. The real power of analytics comes from comparing two sets of data. For example:
- Year on year: Compare this month’s stats with the same period last year. With the cyclical nature of university life, this is a must.
- Effectiveness of a change: compare the stats for the period immediately prior to a change you’ve made (e.g. a home page redesign) to the period immediately following that change.
- User behaviour: compare the number of visits made from desktop devices to those made from mobile devices.
What is the value of your site?
How much (yes, in monetary terms) is your site worth? Many of us would struggle to put a price tag on it. In the world of e-commerce it’s somewhat easier to assign value to a user action. If it takes an average of 4 visits before the user spends £10, we can assign a value of £2.50 to each of those 4 visits. And with simple mathematics an e-commerce site owner can come up with a conversion rate and some numbers that tell them more or less the value of their website.
However, for a non-e-commerce site it becomes a bit trickier, but is still possible. When you created your site you should have thought about what you want users to do when they visit it. Don’t worry if you didn’t – it’s not too late and you can do it now. For many university sites, at least among academic units, key tasks might be to encourage prospective students to request more information, schedule a visit or apply. For research or other administrative departments you can apply the same logic to define what you want your users to do.
Each of these desired actions should have a page, or pages, the user visits to complete this action. Whether there are intermediate pages along the way that they need to visit isn’t as important. The crucial thing is to define those pages that are the final destination. These are your ‘goal’ pages.
Now, you simply need to assign a value to them, again thinking in monetary terms. For a page such as a PDF download, you can work out the cost to print and deliver a hard copy of that brochure and assume for every download you’ve saved that equivalent amount. That becomes your goal page’s value. For other goals (such as a contact us page), you may have to be a bit more arbitrary or creative, but the important thing is to assign some value so you can track performance over time.
Setting goal pages
Goal pages are relatively easy to set up in Google Analytics, although the method changes from time to time, so please visit the link to Google’s support page below for the latest information. As mentioned, you’ll need to have your own Google Analytics account to set up goal pages – having read-only access to UCL’s central analytics account will not permit you to do this.
Once you’ve successfully set up goal pages, you will have opened up a whole new world of information about your visitors. With this new deep knowledge of the conversion process, you can begin to distinguish how and why users reach your goal pages and, perhaps more importantly, why a user might give up before they get there. And that’s the first step in an action plan to improve the effectiveness of your site.
For help understanding your users or developing personas, contact Web & Mobile Services: firstname.lastname@example.org