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October 23, 2012

Quick and Dirty UX: 3 things Google Analytics can tell you about your users

October 23, 2012

This post is third in a series of posts about how to apply quick and easy ways to incorporate UX methods and UX mindsets into your business or organization.

Google Analytics, while a powerful tool for your site, can sometimes seem like an overwhelming mess of data that’s vomited all over your screen. I felt like that when I first started diving into it, and I sometimes still feel that way. Heck, it’s not a proper week if I haven’t been overwhelmed by Google Analytics at least once.

Through study, trial and error, and picking up on the wisdom of our SEO whiz Emily, I’ve found three things to be incredibly helpful in beginning user research for our clients. I see the data as information to spark curiosity about users, a way to get an overview of user activity and find places where I find myself asking, “Why?” Instead of answering that question with an assumption, I like to consider it a signal that we need to dive deeper and get to the heart of what’s going on. Kind of like the safety beacon a mountaineer might use in the event of an emergency or other duress. Google Analytics picks up on the signal and then it’s our job to investigate further with more direct research.

So let’s talk about three of those signals.

1. How many of your site's users are accessing on mobile
You've heard that more and more people are using the internet on their mobile devices, but how true is that for your site? Is your mobile traffic increasing? (My guess is yes.) More importantly, how quickly is it increasing? Let’s ask the Googs.

First, to view information about your mobile traffic, (assuming you’ve got your Google Analytics dashboard in front of you) you’ll want to choose “Advanced Segments” in the horizontal menu and then uncheck “All Visits” (first in the list) and check “Mobile Traffic.” If you wanted to view All Visits against Mobile Traffic, you could leave them both checked. But for this exercise, we’ll keep it simple and go with just Mobile Traffic.

To get a bigger picture, you’ll also want to change the timeframe by clicking on the dates in the upper right corner of the dashboard. I’ve started with mobile traffic data on the SmallBox site for this year.

Interesting, but this isn’t yet exciting. Let’s add some more data to compare previous time periods. In the data selector, I’ll click the “Compare to:” box and choose “Previous Year” from the dropdown.

Now we’re talking. Check out that sweet data:

Here we can see clearly that mobile traffic has definitely increased since the same time period last year. In fact, Google tells us that there’s a 2.5% increase in percent of visits. And kind of a bummer that visit duration has gone down slightly between this year and last. That may be something to keep in mind depending on what other data we might uncover. I’d also keep an eye on the bounce rate, but the change here isn’t terrible.

Just for fun, let’s compare this year with the same period in 2010.

Oh hey there, even more change (as I would suspect, given the general rise of mobile use). This time we’ve got nearly a 7% increase in percent of visits between two years ago and this year. But is that a significant or meaningful change? I would say that a 7% change in two years and around a 3% increase is probably about average. We’ve seen some sites with a 15% increase in the last year, which is incredibly significant. If this is what your data tells you and you don’t have a mobile-optimized (whether responsive, mobile-specific, or otherwise) site, it’s time to start that conversation.

Mobile traffic is becoming one of my favorite metrics to study because Google Analytics makes it easy to segment and examine this data in other areas (more on that in a minute).

2. How users navigate through your site
Where do users go after they land on your home page, top visited pages, or that really cool page you made last month about your team? Do they go where you expect? Do they take a completely weird turn? Navigation Summary, please tell us!

First, if you’ve been following along with the first exercise, let’s get our data back to ground zero. In the date selector in the upper right, uncheck the “Compare to:” and choose a good chunk of time (I’m going with all data for this year). Click “Advanced Segments” and check All Visits and uncheck Mobile Traffic. Alright. All freshened up. Let’s get to it.

Now, in the left column, navigate on over to “All Pages” in the Site Content list.

Then click the Navigation Summary tab near the top. Let’s have a looksee.

By clicking the Navigation Summary straightaway, we’re looking at the navigation path for the top visited page, in this case, the SmallBox Home page. There’s a lot of great data here. First we can see that 72% of users enter this page first, without having been anywhere else on the site previously. 27% of users come to this page from previous pages, of which the top 10 are listed out at the bottom. We’ll also note that 47% of users exit the site after this page and 52% go on to other pages, again the top 10 listed out at the bottom.

The real key for me in this view is the previous and next page lists. I could click through and examine this data for hours. Days, even. Let’s click on the first page in the Next Page Path list, which is the Contact page.

Ok. So now we see the Home page as the first page in the Previous Page Path list. That makes sense. But it also shows up as the next page. Here I would start to ask, are users getting confused? Are they looking for information on the Contact page, not finding it and then returning to the Home page, hoping to find it there? Is there something else that’s creating this issue? These would be things I’d want to investigate more deeply. Something else noteworthy in this path is that Dan’s and Elizabeth’s pages are the next most viewed (we have a list of our team members in the left column of our contact page). Are users looking to contact them? Should we make it easier for users to contact them right from this page? Again, more investigation fodder.

Let’s take the excitement up a notch and look at the navigation summary through the lens of mobile. Going back up into the Advanced Segments menu, I’ll uncheck “All Visits” and check “Mobile Traffic.” What does this data tell us?

First, we can see that compared to all visits, a slightly greater percentage of mobile users are entering the Home page without previously visiting any other pages. And a slightly higher percentage is leaving the site from this page. Again, the Contact page is first in the Next Page Path list, so let’s see what users do when they get to this page.

Interesting. The mobile version of our Contact page doesn’t include a list of our team members, so it’s notable that many users click (or tap, in this case) to our Culture page. Again, I would wonder if users are wanting to contact a specific team member, so to continue that research, I would click through to the Culture page’s path to examine what pages get viewed from there. And I’d probably continue to click further down that path to see if anything interesting came up. Maybe you can get an idea now of why it’s easy to spend a lot of time with the Navigation Summary. I think there’s a lot of opportunity to question why some pages are ranking where they are in context to other pages, and how indicative it might be of users wants and needs. Again, this information becomes a great starting point for further user research.

3. How long users stay on the site and how many pages they visit.
This is also called Visit Duration and Page Depth, found by clicking and viewing Engagement in the left column navigation.

As we did in in #2 above, we’ll reset the data so we’re looking at All Visits in the last year.

Duration and depth can be important metrics to review for a glimpse at user activity. If this data shows me something I’m not expecting, once again this is information to use to drive further user research. In this case for the SmallBox site, I would want my target Visit Duration to sit probably around 60 seconds or more, since we want users to explore the site and read more about SmallBox. If this data included our blog (we track our blog analytics separately), I’d want that number to be a little higher. So, since we’re not quite hitting our target duration, we might want to research and strategize what we need to change for users to want to hang out longer.

Let’s look at Page Depth.

The majority of our users are visiting just one or two pages. Again, I’d like that number to be a little higher because we want users to explore the site a little more than just one or two pages. But it could also mean that users are getting what they want and getting out. Do people actually get what they need and then leave, or are they immediately frustrated and giving up easily? Not to sound like a broken record, but this is another good metric that becomes a starting point for user research.

Let’s wrap this up
Phew! That’s a lot of data! If you’ve stuck with it this far, you’ll have three great data signals to consider in learning more about your users. Hopefully these things will help Google Analytics be less of a daunting beast and more of an insightful tool toward creating a better user experience on your website.

See the other posts in this series:

Quick & Dirty UX: User Feedback
Quick & Dirty UX: Navigation Sorting

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