UNB Marketing Blog
Tips and tricks from your university marketers

Top 3 tips for getting started with Google Analytics

Author: Marketing

Posted on Sep 28, 2016

Category: Analytics

Measuring the success of your marketing tactics used to be pretty much non existent. In the days of traditional advertising, you pushed out content and hoped for the best. That’s fine if you’re Don Draper, but what about the rest of us who aren’t as confident that we’re producing meaningful content for our audiences?

Luckily we’ve evolved beyond the 1960s. Marketing analytics are a real thing and they enable you to measure, track and test your initiatives.

While there are a lot of tools out there to help you in your journey of digital analytics, the best place to start is definitely Google Analytics. At a high level, Google Analytics works by anonymously tracking how your audience engages with your website: where they’re coming from, what they’re doing when they’re there, and what’s causing them to both stay and to leave.

As you get more comfortable with the tool, you can even use it to measure the success of your various initiatives in driving traffic to your site. Always wanted to know whether your it’s your snappy, concise tweets or your image-based Facebook posts that’s driving more event registrations? Google Analytics can help.

If you’re brand new to the tool, it can be a little daunting to get started. That’s why we’ve started with the top 3 tips for understanding and mastering Google Analytics when getting started.

1) Understand the top concepts

Here are some of the buzzwords you should know:

Sessions: Visits to your website. A session can be comprised of one page view or 20 page views. If user A comes in and visits 2 pages and user B comes in and visits 15 pages, those both count as one session each.

Users: The individuals visiting your site. Note that in some cases individuals may be counted more than once, if they’ve cleared their cookies or are visiting from a new device.

Page views: These are the individual page views that make up the total sessions. This is where you can see which pages are the most popular or most visited on your site.

Pages per session (Pages/Session): Just like it says, this is a calculation of page views / sessions. This gives you the average number of page views that comprises a session. If you’re able to increase this metric over time, you’re likely doing a better job of engaging people with your website.

Session Duration: The average length of time of sessions measured in hours:minutes:seconds.

Bounce rate: The bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who leave immediately after going to your website. A high bounce rate usually means it isn't relevant to what your visitors are looking for, because they are leaving so quickly. Lowering your bounce rate means that you’re doing a better job of keeping people engaged with the content on your page. Watch for pages with high bounce rates and check what links are pointing people to those pages. Is there a menu that says course registration that leads to a page on peer mentoring? If the content is not immediately identifiable as what your audience is looking for, they’re going to bounce!

Percentage of new sessions: The percentage of sessions that are “new”.

2) Know its strengths and limitations

Google Analytics is an incredible tool. It is the most widely-used web analytics tool out there and it’s popular for a reason. It’s set the standard of the kinds of data that we can measure and report on relating to digital activities. However, it’s good to keep in mind that it’s best used to measure trends rather than scientifically accurate numbers. For example, when comparing your current web traffic vs. last year’s it’s more helpful to keep in mind the trends and rough percentages than the exact numbers (e.g.: “we decreased our bounce rate by 5% year over year” or “we’ve increased total sessions by 20%” rather than “we had exactly 23,050 more sessions than last year!”).

There’re 2 big reasons for why reporting on high level trends is a good idea. The first is that Google often samples your data. You’re not seeing the full picture, you’re seeing a piece of it and you want to make sure that you’re recognizing and communicating that. The other reason is that Google Analytics data is intentionally anonymized and Google will withhold any information that goes against this policy. This is especially true when looking at demographics of your audience.

Keep these things in mind (and be clear when you’re using it to present results) and you’ll be fine!

3) Benchmark against yourself

As you get up and running, you’re going to want to know what the numbers mean! Is a 30% bounce rate “good”? Are 20,000 sessions/month “enough”? Be extremely wary of any websites that provide you with benchmarks to compare yourself against. Every industry is going to have completely different results and therefore different definitions of “good” and “bad”. Even within your own organization, different areas of your website are going to have different numbers.

The best site to compare yourself against is your own. Compare and contrast the same periods in time (i.e.: Sept. - Dec) from different years. Is your bounce rate going up or down? What about pages/ session? And what does it mean if they are?

If all you do in your first few months of using the tool is gain a better understanding of how to benchmark, you’ve accomplished a lot! Remember that your company’s Google Analytics data is highly competitive and shouldn’t be shared publicly.

For those of us at UNB, all of our pages are already set up for Google Analytics. To gain access, email digital@unb.ca. Our Marketing Data Analyst, Jess Stutt will be happy to get you setup!