Got a Google account? Great. Not sure? If you’ve ever created a Gmail account, or even a YouTube account, you’ve got a Google account ready to roll. And if you haven’t had an account for any part of Google’s world then a) goodness gracious me, that’s impressive in this day and age, and b) the good news is that it’s quick, easy and painless. Don’t be tempted to fob off the job of Google Analytics set-up to someone else, like an external web designer. If they use their own Google account to get things going, you could run into major issues down the road if you find yourself no longer working with them and unable to get ownership access of your own website’s analytics. A scary thought — and one that should make the acquiring or use of your own Google account highly palatable! Once you have an account, it’s as simple as heading to https://www.google.com/analytics and following the instructions to fill in your website’s details. It’s also free, unless you’re an absolutely massive company with multi-millions of hits per month — then you’re looking at heading into the realm of Google Analytics 360, which demands a princely sum of at least US$150,000 a year. However, I would suspect that if you’re playing in that world, you’re probably leaving the SEO (and its reporting!) to your in-house experts.
Google Analytics can provide data on all kinds of aspects of traffic and visitor behaviour. But the first place to check in on when your main interest is how your SEO changes are doing is organic search traffic. In the ‘Acquisition’ section of the Google Analytics menu, there’s an option under ‘All Traffic’ called ‘Channels’. That section is where you’ll see a breakdown of all the different kinds of ways people have found themselves on your website. There may be links from social media posts or email marketing, people may have typed your web address straight into their browser, or they may have clicked through from a PPC (pay per click) ad, if you’ve set those up. But we’re interested (for the time being) in one particular area: organic search.
According to SEO Leeds, clicking through to the organic search data will provide you with a whole lot of valuable information — whether for your own purposes or for reporting to your wider team. You’ll be able to see overall numbers for different acquisition criteria (where your various website visitors are coming from) such as number of sessions, percentage of new sessions and number of new users; behaviour criteria like bounce rate, pages per session and average session duration; as well as a breakdown of all that information for different keywords.
A session, in this context, refers to a user taking actions within your website in one sitting, within a specified timeframe. Those actions could be clicking from one page to another, filling in a form, scrolling down a page — basically just engaging with the website in some meaningful way. Google’s default setting for a session is defined as lasting until there has been no user activity for half an hour. As the name hopefully suggests, ‘new sessions’ refers to sessions from first-time visitors to your website. This data — as well as the sheer number of new users — can give you a good sense of what proportion of users are returning to your website. But do keep in mind that this breakdown of data is still related solely to organic search. This means new sessions are people visiting for the first time after searching X keyword, and other sessions are people who are repeat visitors searching with X keyword (although their previous session may have been with any keyword search — as long as it led them to your website). This data isn’t taking into account second/third/umpteenth users who have gone directly back to your website (i.e. by typing in your web address directly, rather than relying on Google results).