Google Analytics 101: How Traffic Gets to Your Website

If you’re on the freeway trying to get to an appointment by noon, traffic is a terrible thing. But in the ecommerce world, traffic is wonderful. The more traffic, the better; imagine hearing someone say that in the real world!

The term ‘traffic’ actually refers to the amount of data sent and received when an entity visits a website. Unless you’re an engineer monitoring for highs and lows, you probably think of traffic in terms of individual visits. That’s okay because believe it or not, counting the number of people who visit your website isn’t an exact science. As a matter of fact, more than half of the visits to your website aren’t real people, they’re bots – as in robots. Don’t panic, not all bots are bad bots. Some of them are important bots like the ones Google sends over to see what’s new.

Hidden amongst all those bot visits and line items in Google Analytics are nuggets of information you can use to market your business.

Directing Traffic

The first step in getting more people to your site is finding out how people are already finding your webpage.  Google Analytics puts this information under “Acquisition -- > All Traffic -- > Channels”. All non-paid traffic coming into your site is divided into four categories; Referral, Organic Search, Social, and Direct.

Referral Traffic: these are the people who found you through a link on another website. Maybe another blogger mentioned your site or you wrote a guest post and your link is in your bio.

Organic Search: these are the people who searched for something on Google, Bing or other search engine and found your link in the results. For example, I search cute dresses for flower girls and Google’s first pick is an IndieMade shop that sells handmade, fancy dresses for little girls.

Social: these are the people who found you through a link on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.

Direct: these are the people who either typed your website URL into a browser, clicked a bookmark or found you in a way that wasn’t covered in any of the above. These are most likely return customers or direct referrals from other customers who are sharing the love.

Google ranks these four categories based on the percentage of traffic so you can learn something at a glance.  If most of your traffic is coming from direct access, you’re probably not doing enough to get new customers. If most of your traffic is coming in on social – then keep up the great work. But if Organic Search is near the bottom, you need to do some Search Engine Optimization on your site.

Ideally, you want to see a healthy mix of all four of these categories but don’t be too hard on yourself if it’s not happening. There are huge companies that spend millions to make that happen.

Drill Down

Next you want to drill down into each of these sections by clicking on the links. Social is the easiest to read. What percentage of your traffic is coming from Twitter? From Facebook?

Don’t just look at the number of visitors, look at how long they stay (avg session duration) and how many are new versus returning visitors. On my site, I get more traffic from Twitter, but the people who come from Facebook stay longer. From that, I’d guess that my Facebook followers are more interested in my business than my Twitter followers as a whole. I should spend more time on Facebook.

Click to drill down on Organic Search and you’ll see some of the keywords people used to find your site. This can be very telling because it’s not just about what customers want but what Google thinks of you as well. For example, six months ago you had a dozen leather bracelets to sell. Now you’re in your gemstone ring phase but Google is still sending people to your store for leather bracelets. Will customers be disappointed when they find you only have two options in stock? Is it enough traffic to make you change your current business model?

Here’s my real life example. I have a TV blog that for some reason became the top Google search result when people search for the TV show Ghost Hunters. I write about all kinds of TV shows but 75% of my traffic still come to read a Ghost Hunters piece I wrote more than 5 years ago. I can buck the trend and write about soap operas but the people who are visiting my site probably won’t stick around. Or I can capitalize on the traffic Google is heaping on me and write about other supernatural shows. When I do that, my visitors stay longer and click on more pages which means more ad dollars for me.

The last link you want to check out is Referrals. Don’t bother with the top links, they’re going to be bots. Dig deeper until you find URLs you recognize. These are the websites and bloggers who are sending people your way. Where appropriate send a thank you email or leave a comment on the sender’s site. And take note of forums or other venues where you’ve left your link and people have followed through. If it worked once, it’s worth trying again.

Handmade Homework:

Spend some time this week clicking around in the traffic section of your Google Analytics report. Don’t worry about what all the numbers mean. Just look for patterns in traffic and areas that need improvement. Once you understand that, you can make a plan to make it better.

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