You may have installed Google Analytics on your site and spent time poring over the multitude of reports that it provides, but are you struggling to get actionable ideas out of what you are seeing? If so, don't worry, it can be like this for many in-house staff members or site owners, especially if you are trying to fit learning Analytics in around your other commitments. This post is designed to give you some ideas about where to start - they're sure to boost your understanding and you might find that you are inspired to investigate some theories of your own!

As an aside - it is getting more and more important to ensure that your site has good usability, since Google have been indicating more and more loudly that this is a factor they are looking at. It makes sense to use the tools at your disposal to check for any issues.

Improve Pages that Users Aren't Finding Useful

One of the most important elements that Google Analytics can measure is visitor engagement. This is the set of metrics that helps you decide what information is interesting to your visitors. While it might not always be content that immediately leads to conversions if you have interesting copy on site it can act as "link bait" and encourage people to link to you.

Typically, good content has a lower bounce rate and a higher average time on page. It's worth starting simple and listing the pages in the Analytics content report by descending bounce rate, and filtering the results to show unique page views higher than 50. This is so you can identify the pages that are getting a high bounce rate which have enough data to confirm there really could be issues.

If you only have a low number of page views on a certain page it's likely that you will have a higher bounce rate, because it will only take a small number of bounces to skew the data.

Focus in on Traffic Sources

Once you have spotted a page that has a high bounce rate (and anything over 50-60% is to be considered high) you need to try and identify the culprits for it.

Things to check out straight away are the mediums and sources sending traffic to the page. To do this I would actually recommend working down the top 10 pages you have identified and clicking into each one from the content report, so that you can see the sources sending traffic to this location only.

So, click on the top result and then select "secondary dimension" - "medium". This will reveal the overall medium that is causing the highest bounce rate, whether it's referring, organic, paid, direct or a custom campaign.

If you notice that referring sites have a higher bounce rate you can then drill down further to reveal the site name by changing the secondary dimension to "source".

If you notice that organic traffic is causing a particularly high bounce rate, change the secondary dimension to "keyword". If it's paid traffic that is causing an issue, you can try changing the secondary dimension to campaign or ad group, to get a better picture of what isn't working.

How do you Reduce the Bounce Rate?

Well, there are a few steps that you can take, but the answer depends on what the issue is.

If you have discovered a number of sites that are sending traffic with a high bounce rate, make sure that those sites are really relevant to yours. If you have acquired the link from that site via link building, have a look at the tactics underpinning your link building campaign. You should really only be looking for links on related sites - the less related they are the bigger the spam signal you are sending to Google. This is really something you want to avoid, especially since Penguin.

If it's certain paid or organic keywords, it's time to review your keyword research. Maybe you think that your customers search for "apples" but really they are looking for "apple pies in London". Get specific, review your customer feedback, look at your competitors and check what is converting. "Apples" might be a high volume term, but if 90% of people visiting on that term bounce, it's wasted money and effort.

If there aren't any obvious culprits, the hard answer is that your content is simply not engaging enough. This can sometimes be a difficult message to deliver, but keep the solution in mind. If you can write some standout copy that demonstrates your expertise, answers customer questions, does something funny or really showcases your talent you are going to be getting better results from your existing traffic and multiplying that traffic, as people link to your content. If you can add eye-catching images and videos this often helps. If this is something you struggle with, it may be time to speak to your local online marketing company or web designer.

Hopefully that gives you some simple pointers for identifying what visitors are finding less interesting on site. Time to turn it around so the next time you are analysing the huge improvement in visitor engagement!

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Liz Strawford

Analytics, SEO and PPC girl working at OneResult, in the UK. Can often be found cutting up GA data, writing ads and building links...soon to be moving on to new pastures after a wonderful 3 years with the agency. What new challenges are around the corner?

SEO Birmingham

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5 Responses to “How to Use Analytics to Understand What Your Visitors Don't Want”

  1. Jon says:

    Great post. Google Analytics gives you so much information, it can be tough to sort through.

  2. It's good to draw people's attention to bounce rate, Liz, but one factor people would need to consider is whether a particular page with a low bounce rate could have achieved its goal even though people leave after reading it.

    For example, what if a store posted a page just with their holiday opening hours. If that is the purpose of the page, and people look for that information specifically, find it, read it and leave, then it's mission accomplished, even if the bounce rate is 90% or whatever.

    The same applies if you post your phone number or email address at the bottom of your page as a call to action, and you get a lot of phone/email enquiries off that page. Your analytics may tell you that page has a high bounce rate, but you could well have received quite a few leads from it – it's just not showing in your stats.

    So I agree: bounce rate is important to look at and you can learn a lot from it, but you need to consider a couple of things before you draw conclusions and possibly remove pages that are performing after all.

    • Hi Micky – Thanks for the comment and apologies for the delay coming back to you – now the wedding madness has passed it's easier to stay up to date! Thanks for adding the context to this post with that important point. Of course you need to look at the page and keywords to make any decisions – and bounce rate is just one basic metric that needs to be considered in conjunction with the others – especially conversion rate as you have said. Really you need to be looking at every page from an acquisition, behaviour and outcome point of view – how many people came to this page, how long did they stay there and what interactions did they have and did they convert. Avinash Kaushik has some great custom report templates on his site that will help people acheive this.

  3. Derek says:

    Google Analytics is not the best place to turn to discover what your visitors want and don't want. Staring at Google Analytics and postulating theories why the "data" is behaving this way will leave you fixing problems that don't exist and not fixing ones that are so obvious you've forgotten them months ago. Best to actually talk to your users to understand what they want. Instead, using the screener to talk to users coming from your problem traffic source or page will yield much more actionable insights and more in-depth understanding of your users, then use Google Analytics to validate those insights.

    • Thanks for the reply Derek. I would just like to clarify that this post does not claim Analytics is the best place to find out what your users don't want – this is a basic primer on one way you can start to get an idea of what they are engaging with on site, starting with the most obvious places.

      The best place to begin any journey of conversion rate optimisation is to talk to your customers. As you say, Analytics can be used in conjunction with feedback tools such as Kiss Insights, carrying out real transactions on site as though you were a user and actually speaking to your customers and customer service staff. If you have a high bounce rate, speaking to people will help you to answer the questions they have and keep them on site, or confirm their questions are being answered really quickly – as Micky says.