How To Read Google Analytics (And Understand What It’s Telling You).

Mar 06, 2023
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I’m hoping you’re wondering what all the fuss was about as far as setting up Google Analytics goes, and that you’re sitting there feeling quite smug now you’ve created your property and embedded the tracking code!

So I think you're ready to learn how to read Google Analytics and actually understand what it's telling you, don't you?

Google Analytics can tell you almost anything you want to know about who’s visiting your website and what they’re getting up to while they’re there.

It can:

  • Show you how your website and individual pages are performing.
  • You can see if your marketing plan is working. 
  • You can see what visitors to your site are looking for, so you can create the content they want to see and products they want to buy. 
  • You can see what gender your customers are, how old they are, where they’re located geographically and even what device they use to access your website.

And lots, lots more!

But, I doubt you’ve got the time or inclination to wade through reams of reports or create them yourself (just yet), so I’m going to tell you which are the most useful things to look at in Google Analytics 4, why and what you can do with the information you’ve now got at your fingertips.

Prefer to watch a video?


Which Google Analytics Reports Are Most Helpful and Why?

Before we get stuck into running through the reports you’ve now got access to, it might be helpful for you to get set up with the Google Analytics demo account.

The demo account contains real business data and has 2 GA4 properties and 1 UA property so that you can see the difference between the two systems in terms of information.

Also, by using the demo account, you won’t come up against the issue of Google not having enough data from your own website to populate the reports.

Click on this link for instructions on setting up a Google Analytics demo account.

I’m going to talk about the reports you can find in Google Analytics 4 (GA4), and you’ll find them listed on the left-hand side of your Google Analytics account.

The Google Analytics Reports Snapshot 

When you enter the reports section of your account, the first thing you’ll see is the Google Analytics Reports Snapshot. 

It’s an excellent summary of traffic to your website, users and the activity they’re undertaking while they’re visiting your site. 

It’s a great report to review to ensure everything’s in hand and you’ve got nothing strange going on that needs your attention.

Lifecycle Reports

Your lifecycle reports help you understand how well your business supports your visitors' experience.

And yes, each report in this section is aligned to the customer lifecycle and the funnel they move through as they visit your website and buy from you.

In this section, you’ll find reports on how well, or otherwise, your website is acquiring, engaging, monetising and retaining your visitors (or users).

You’ll be able to see all sorts of things like how your website users enter your sales funnel and how they behave once they’re in there.

Acquisition Reports

Your acquisition reports inside the Lifecycle Reports section show how your users found your site.

Make sure you check out the Traffic Acquisition report.

The traffic acquisition report is especially useful and will show you whether your users went there organically through the search engines between the two systems or if they clicked on an ad. Maybe they come directly through a link in a piece of content, by a referral from another website or social media.

You’ll find all this information here, and it will be invaluable for you in tweaking current marketing campaigns or planning future ones. 

A quick note on (Direct) / (None) as a traffic source

You might see that most of your traffic is coming from (Direct) / (None), which at first glance seems pretty meaningless, so let me take a moment to translate it for you.

All it means is that Google Analytics can’t find a specific entrance source for that user. 

Basically, it can’t tell you how they ended up on your site but think of it as direct traffic.

Some reasons your visitors will be deemed (None) is that they’ve: 

  • Typed your URL directly into the browser
  • Bookmarked your page and came over that way
  • Clicked your link in a mobile app
  • Come to your site from a non-web-based platform like a PDF
  • Come through a link shortener (not all but some) 

Engagement Reports

In GA4, you won’t find the Bounce Rate metric you see in UA. Instead, you’ll now see Engagement Rate. 

This new metric is more helpful than bounce rate because it shows how your visitors engage with your website, rather than just showing how quickly they leave.

To have an "engaged" session, a visitor has to take one or more of these actions: 

  • Engage actively with your website for more than 10 seconds.
  • Make two or more screen or page views.
  • Fire a conversion event, which you can set up, and include things like making a purchase, subscribing to your lead magnet, entering your checkout etc.

The engagement rate is super helpful in understanding how people are using your site and what experience they’re having.

You can also see which marketing campaigns are working well for you. If you’re getting lots of traffic from a specific campaign, and they’re then going on to have a good engagement rate, you know you can rinse and repeat this campaign later in the year.

If you’re getting lots of traffic, but not much engagement, then you know you need to tweak your website or the content you’re directing them to.

Monetization Reports

This is where you can see the fruits of your labour and all the details on your sales from your website, any subscription programmes you have and any revenue from ads you’re running.

Going back to the fact that these reports reflect your sales funnel, this report shows you if things are working and which part of your funnel is working best for you. You’ll also be able to see what parts of your funnel aren’t working so well, and you can make sure to go in and get them fixed.

The Most Helpful Things To Track

So now you know where the best GA reports are; what will you focus on to track your progress?

Here are my suggestions and instructions for how to use GA to track them.

Organic Traffic.

Organic traffic is the number of visitors that have come to your site via organic search.

Organic searches are results that show up on the SERPs which are not paid for. 

It’s your SEO efforts that primarily drive organic traffic.

Getting your keywords working for you, making sure your website is optimised and creating consistent, well-optimised content will, in time, drive your organic traffic up.  

So, if your organic traffic is increasing, your SEO is working.

So how do you track your organic traffic?

This is a straightforward metric to track on Google Analytics.

On the dashboard, click on Acquisition - Traffic Acquisition - on the dashboard and look at Organic Traffic.

You’ll find a graph that sets out the traffic source of all your website users for the last 28 days. 

If you want to change that timeframe, just click on the drop-down box at the top right of the page and choose the time frame you want.  

Expanding the time frame can be helpful if you want to see the impact of your SEO work over time. 

It’s also helpful to track the organic traffic to specific sections of your site, like your blog or landing pages. 

You’re looking for your organic traffic to be increasing over time. 

Customer Engagement.

This one is a bit more tricky, but only because you have to define what you mean by customer engagement first. 

So what are you going to look at?

Once someone is on your site, what are you interested in them doing?

Do you want them to read some content? 

Or perhaps you want them to do something like click on a form? 

Or maybe you want them to make a purchase, so looking at who has entered your sales funnel and how far they’ve progressed will be really important.

So, while your customer engagement metrics might be very different from someone else’s, they are hugely important for tracking the success of your SEO as your engagement figures show you how well your content is working for you and how good the user experience is on your website.

How to track Customer Engagement.

In Google Analytics, look for  “Engagement” on the left-hand side of your dashboard. 

Remember, I’m talking about GA4, not UA, as Engagement is a new metric. 

It shows how your visitors engage with your website, rather than just showing how quickly they leave.

To have an engaged session, a visitor has to take one or more of these actions:

  • Engage actively with your website for more than 10 seconds.
  • Make two or more screen or page views.
  • Fire a conversion event, which you can set up, and include things like making a purchase, subscribing to your lead magnet, entering your checkout etc.

This will show you which SEO strategies are working well for you. If you’re getting lots of traffic from a specific tactic or a blog, and you see a good engagement rate, you know you can carry on with your plan or create more of the same kind of content or even a product.

On the flip side, if you’re getting lots of traffic, but not much engagement, then you know you need to tweak your SEO on your website or optimise the content you’re directing them to.

Conversions (Sales and Leads). 

Of course, making money doing the work you love is at the top of your agenda, and you want to see that you’re being rewarded for all your efforts.

So, yes, you need to track your sales, which is super important from an SEO perspective. 

All that organic traffic you’ve been driving to your site has been coming from your keywords (and, yes, some other important SEO factors), and you want to make sure you’ve chosen the right ones.

While you might be attracting traffic to your website, you want to make sure your SEO strategy brings the right kind of visitors to your site, so your conversion rate is hugely important. 

It’s important to say that conversion in terms of leads into sales isn’t the only metric to look at here.

Moving quality traffic through your sales funnel can take time, and there are lots of other conversion events that you might want to look at. 

To be clear, a conversion event is when a visitor to your website completes an action you want them to take, like filling out a form or making a purchase.

The percentage of total visitors that convert is called your conversion rate. You can have conversion rates for online sales, leads, email list opt-ins, form completions…you name it, and it’s important to your business; you can track it as a conversion.

And in terms of SEO, you can see how well your strategy is working by looking at how well your traffic is converting. 

If you’re getting lots of traffic and seeing lots of the right conversion events - great news - your SEO is working, and you’re attracting the right kind of people to your website.

If you’re getting lots of traffic, but you’re not converting it into sales, then it’s likely you’re not optimising your website and content for the right keywords.

How to track your Conversions. 

In Google Analytics, in the Engagement section, look at the Conversions section.

Once you’re here, you’ll be able to see the conversions you’ve defined for your business and how you’re performing on them over time.

If you head over to the Monetization section, you can track your sales conversions by looking at “e-commerce purchases.”

You’ll also find all sorts of other sales data, like how many people looked at your products, how many people added them to their cart, and what sales revenue you’ve made.

So, there you have it - how to read Google Analytics - and actually understand It!

See, once you know what you're looking it's not that hard. Learning how to read Google Analytics is a bit of an art, so keep practicing. 

Go in once a month and see what's going on. Does the data match with what you've experienced in your business? 

If you need any more help, why don't you read my articles on setting up Google Analytics, or if you're ready, how to set up Google Search Console.


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