I recently wrote how one of the biggest mistakes was to have a website without the advantage of running Google Analytics. It is a free tool, it is easy to install, and it provides a wealth of extremely valuable information regarding a website, its traffic sources, and much more. I have also learned over the years that most people never take the time to actually review the data now at their fingertips, or they get lost in the sheer volume of all that is available. I have often spent 20 minutes on the phone with a client when both of us are logged into their Google Analytics account, walking them through the process of what to look for and where to find it. Let me attempt to take a similar approach to guide readers through the process.
Is it Installed?
Prior to proceeding any further, you need to confirm that Google Analytics is actually installed and running on your website and that you have been set up with user access. Ask your webmaster. If either you or your webmaster are uncertain (and it is not a good sign if your webmaster is uncertain!), view the source code on the Home page of your site by right-clicking on the page and choosing “View page source”. Then search the page’s source code for a string of text that begins with “UA-”. This will show you the Google Analytics tracking code and script if it is installed, usually near the top or the bottom of the page.
Presuming that Google Analytics is installed and running on your site, you also need to be set up as a user with access to the account. By only being accessible to authorized users, you are prevented from allowing just anybody to access this data, particularly your competitors. Once you have confirmed that Google Analytics is installed and that you have been set up with user access, it is now time to log into your account to sort through the mountains of data.
Changing the Default View
When you reach your Google Analytics Home page, you will be shown a snapshot that includes active users (the number of people who are on your site right now) and a summary of some of the basic data compiled over the past 30 days. Although it is fun to see the number of active users on your site, along with which pages they are visiting, this information is generally not as useful as cumulative data. To get into the detailed data, click on the “audience overview” link. By default, this is going to show you a graph with daily traffic counts over the last 30 days; however, I think that it is generally more useful to chart the previous year’s traffic. In the upper right of the page, click on the down arrow to the right of the date range, then choose “custom”. There will be two date boxes, with the one on the right showing yesterday’s date. Change the date in the box on the left to show today’s date last year. While you are there, check the box that says “Compare to previous period”, then click “Apply”. I suggest that you continue to graph your data on a daily rather than weekly or monthly basis.
Sort the Wheat from the Chaff
Because most campgrounds are seasonal businesses, the annual graph is likely to look like a rocky roller coaster ride. For parks in northern states, the lowest traffic volumes will probably occur in December, after your park has closed for the season, people are more concerned with holiday shopping than where to camp next August, and the winter camping shows have not started to spur new interest in camping for the following year. You are also likely to see occasional spikes in traffic that may coincide with marketing efforts such as camping shows, investments in advertising campaigns, or links that appear in social media or review sites. The overview data will display the number of users, new users (people who had not previously visited your site during this time frame), sessions (which accounts for users who visit your site more than once and which is directly related to the number of sessions per user), pageviews (a cumulative number), pages per session (where you want people to visit enough of your site’s content to progress to your reservations page), the average session duration (where more time is more likely to persuade), and bounce rate (worthless traffic, generally bots that visit a single page on your site for a total of 0 seconds.) Because you have elected to compare data to the previous period, every set of number will be accompanied by a percentage showing an increase or decrease from the previous year, a useful demonstration of overall trends.
Refer to the “Reports” in the left-hand column, then scroll down to Audience > Geo > Location, and you will reach a world map and summary of demographic information. Your primary source country for traffic will undoubtedly be the United States, but it is also useful to know if you have significant amounts of traffic from beyond our shores. Click on “United States” (or the U.S. on the map) to open or zoom into a sequential list of the states that are sending you traffic. You can also click on any state to see the clusters of cities and towns within the state that are sending you traffic. With Google Analytics, you can click on almost anything to open a more detailed breakdown. Do you want to know if your participation in a camping show or advertising in a local newspaper provided you with a return on investment? This is one place to look.
Scroll down again to Audience > Mobile > Overview, and you might be surprised by the increase in traffic from users of mobile devices, generally coming at the expense of users of desktop (including laptop) computers, with tablets generally never gaining a significant amount of traction. If your site is not mobile-friendly, here is proof that it is losing you income.
When you are driving down the highway, the last thing you want is to encounter traffic; however, when you have a website, traffic is mission critical. Scroll down to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels, and it will not be surprising if your primary source of traffic is organic search on Google. Although the results will show a list of the most important search phrases that have been used to actually reach your site (and which should influence the keywords in use on your site or chosen for any paid advertising campaign), the highest number will probably be “(not provided)”, which represents tracking data that Google was unable to gather, generally because the user was logged into Gmail or another Google Account while performing their Google search. When this occurs, the search is conducted over SSL and the search query data is hidden. Hopefully enough actual keyword numbers are shown to still provide you with the useful information you need.
Pennies from Heaven
Scroll down again to Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals to see the other sources of traffic to your site. The top of the list will probably include your state association website, various campground review sites, Good Sam, state and local tourism websites, Facebook, Yelp, and local businesses with reciprocal links to your site. Once again, these numbers will help to justify your involvement with any paid advertising programs on referring sites. Although there may be costs involved in Good Sam advertising, your state association membership, and your membership in your local chamber of commerce or tourism association, their websites are targeting your market demographics and are likely to send you significant amounts of traffic that far outweigh your out-of-pocket costs.
These are only a few tips in the process of discovering what Google Analytics can do for you. There are hidden treasures to be found with many other clicks, but you will never discover them if you do not log into your account and put it to work.
This post was written by Peter Pelland