The Google Analytics Dashboard can be scary and confusing. I am going to break down how to use Google Analytics to tell where your traffic is coming from, and how to isolate one source from another to understand whether traffic from certain sources is growing.
How to Use Google Analytics
How to Get to Your Traffic Report
When you log into Google Analytics, you see something like this. Click “Traffic Sources” near the bottom on the left:
That will expand the “Traffic Sources” accordion.
Next Click “Overview” and you will get a screen that looks like this:
Different Types of Traffic
In the overview, you will see a pie chart that highlights 4 traffic sources: Search Traffic, Referral Traffic, Direct Traffic and Campaigns.
- Search Traffic: Traffic that comes from a Web search.
- Referral Traffic: Traffic that comes from someone clicking a link to your site from another site.
- Direct Traffic: Traffic where the “referrer is unknown,” such as directly typing a URL into the navigation window or clicking on a link in an email newsletter.
- Campaigns: Traffic from an adwords campaign.
Diving Deeper Into the Sources
To dive deeper into a particular traffic source, click “Sources” just under “Overview:”
This will take you to another set of menus where you can take a closer look at a particular source. You will see a chart that looks very much like the overview chart, except it will be a chart for only the traffic source you choose.
In this case, I am going to click “Search Traffic… Overview:”
This gives me a closer look into my search traffic, how it is trending. In this case, my traffic is bumping along with no major trend up or down. If I were embarking on an SEO project for this site, this is where I would go to see the fruit of my labor. After all, if I am optimizing for search, then my traffic from search should increase.
Where to Look in Specific Scenarios
The first few paragraphs were a basic overview of the structure of Google Analytics and where to go to see traffic breakdowns. Now I am going to talk about specific scenarios related to web traffic and where you would go to see the associated traffic trends.
Scenario 1: I Just Guest Posted on a Popular Site
When you guest post on a popular site, provided your profile/bio at the bottom of the post contains a link to your site, the expected increase is in the “Referrals” category.
Scenario 2: I Just Put Out a Press Release
A press release is a wonderful way to get publicity for your company, product, or service. It is also one of the best-kept secrets (if not controversial) of SEO. When you distribute a press release over the wire, you should see an increase in the “Referrals” category.
Scenario 3: I just Spent $1M on Google Adwords
If you have your customer lifetime value calculation down to a science, that is a good time to embark on a paid search campaign. You can track the results of this campaign in the “Paid Search” section of Google Analytics.
Scenario 4: I Just Revamped my Content Strategy
You just finished a refresh of the copy on your website and put together a load of new, exciting and insightful content on your blog based on long-tail keyword search terms.
You should see an increase in the “Organic Search” section of Google Analytics.
Scenario 5: I just Got Featured on Oprah
Congratulations – Oprah is about to melt your servers. Its a nice problem to have.
When oprah says, “Go to www DOT yourwebsite DOT com” and 1 billion people hit your site at the same time, you will see an increase in the “Direct Traffic” section of your website.
Google Analytics is a powerful tool that has become more useful and more complicated over the years. For a free tool its awesome, but don’t expect Google to hold your hand and explain to you how to use Google Analytics.
Understanding, measuring and tracking your traffic sources should be a fundamental part of your SEO strategy and hopefully this guide on how to use Google Analytics gave you some help.