Knowing the sources of your website traffic – direct, organic, paid, social, referral – is very important. Generally speaking, reviewing traffic sources segmented by channel can help businesses determine if channel-specific marketing initiatives are paying off.
For example, is there a spike in website traffic after posting on social media? Is organic traffic steadily increasing after a successful SEO implementation? Maybe there has been a steady decline in organic traffic but overall site traffic is up. In this case, things look great from a top-level view, but there’s a problem. Valuable information like this won’t present itself if you’re looking only at website traffic as a whole.
However, as important as it is, knowing your traffic sources can reveal only so much. Whereas, understanding who your visitors are and what their intent is can be game-changing. In fact, I would say it’s crucial to the success of your company.
When you know who your visitors are and what their intent is, you can tailor your site content to reflect their interests. This will result in higher conversion rates and a better return on your marketing budget because you’ll be making better use of your website traffic.
If you’re anything like the average Google Analytics user, you can probably log in, click around a little bit, and leave with a general idea of what your traffic looks like. However, you’re just scratching the surface.
In this post, I’ll show you how to segment your traffic by age, gender, and interests and then begin monitoring the traffic of each segment independently. We’ll identify top conversion paths and figure out how to properly attribute conversions to originating traffic sources. Also, I’ll show you how to visualize visitor flow to spot potential website navigation issues and identify pages causing your visitors to drop out of your sales funnels.
1. Using Audience Data to Create Custom Visitor Segments
Many business owners have a target audience in mind when they create website content, messaging, and marketing collateral. In most cases, determining this audience is a gamble at best.
Google Analytics gives business owners a great opportunity to begin viewing website visitors as more than just page views by using actual website data to determine who the visitors are and what kind of content they are interested in.
The first step in getting to know your website visitors is to navigate to your Interests: Overview report (Audience > Interests > Overview).
In the above example, we can see that visitors to this website are interested in technology, television and movies, and photography. Our “In-Market Segments” report (most likely to purchase products or services in these categories) shows a high interest in employment, business and marketing services, and software.
Knowing this, we’re beginning to get a better idea of what a typical visitor to this website looks like. The next step is looking at Age and Gender data in the Demographics report (Audience > Demographics). Here’s the age overview:
Here’s the gender overview:
These two reports show us that 41% of the traffic to this site is between 25 and 34 years old. Almost 70% falls between 25 and 44. This audience also skews male by a ratio of 3:2.
Combining these reports, we know that the majority of our audience consists of males between 25-34 years old with an interest in technology. Armed with this information, we can begin making insightful decisions about our content marketing, conversion optimization, marketing channels, and more.
As a bonus tip, let’s look at how we can take this information and save a custom segment with this data to compare against other traffic in the future.
Let’s go back to the Audience Overview report (Audience > Overview) and click the “All Sessions” segment.
Now, let’s create a new segment and name it “Key Demographic.” We’ll include males, ages 25-34 with an Affinity for technology, and we’ll use “Business Services” for the “In-Market Segment.”
With this segment saved, we can quickly apply it to almost any report and compare how our key demographic is consuming content in comparison to any other segment. If, at some point, you find that your key demographic is not highly engaged and interacting more frequently than your general audience, it may be time to review your content and messaging strategy.
2. Examining Top Conversion Paths to Optimize Sales Funnels
Most business owners have an expectation that their audience will see an ad, visit their site, and make a purchase, all in a single sitting. Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually work like that. In reality, business owners need to create multiple touch points, often across multiple devices, before ultimately converting their customer. This is why understanding your top conversion paths is so important.
Understanding a visitor’s top conversion path not only helps businesses understand how their visitors are actually converting (as opposed to how they think they are converting), but also offers amazing insight into visitor behavior and the often complex route visitors take from first impression to final conversion.
To see a site’s top conversion paths in Google Analytics, go to the Top Conversion Paths section of the Conversions report (Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels > Top Conversion Paths).
In this example, we can see that our top conversion paths are pretty basic – Organic search with a Direct return visit, two Direct visits, a Referral and Direct return, and so on. We also see a few outliers, such as two Paid searches and three Direct visits.
This is good information on the surface, but what value does this report add to a much broader marketing discussion? How does this report help shape future marketing initiatives?
This report becomes irreplaceable when each goal conversion being measured in your Google Analytics account has a monetary value assigned to it. By having a dollar value assigned to each goal conversion, business owners can use the report to see which conversion paths and which originating traffic sources are proving to be the most profitable paths.
Even non-transactional conversions can and should be assigned a perceived value. An example of assigning a value to a non-transactional conversion would be figuring out that for every 100 prospects who fill out a form, 1 of those prospects turns into a client that pays your business $500. In this case, a value of $5 should be assigned to each goal conversion ($500 / 100 forms = $5).
Once business owners learn from this report which paths are performing the best and which channel visitors are using to return to their site before converting, they have the opportunity to optimize their sales funnel. They can reduce friction and ease the visitor’s path to purchase, which will ultimately lead to higher conversion rates.
3. Using Attribution Modeling to Accurately Attribute Visitor Conversions
Now that we know how to examine our Top Conversion Paths report, it’s important to acknowledge that the data presented there has some discrepancies. Most businesses report on what is known as a “Last Click Attribution Model,” which means the conversion value is assigned to the channel responsible for the last click before conversion.
As a result, “top of the funnel” marketing initiatives (social, content marketing) are often underreported when it comes to tracking conversions. In many cases, the channel a visitor discovers your brand on is not the same channel they use to return to your site. Because of this, channels closer to the purchase (direct, organic) are attributed with the conversion.
This is where the Model Comparison Tool comes into play (Conversions > Attribution > Model Comparison). By looking at how conversion percentages change in a “first click” model versus “last click,” business owners can begin to value their traffic sources and marketing channels more accurately.
In this example, we can see that Organic search is losing 10% of its conversions in the last click model. Paid search (which has an obvious cost associated with it) is losing 4% of its conversions, which hurts the reported ROI of this marketing channel.
In fact, all traffic sources except for Direct are being greatly underreported. This can cause obvious concerns for marketing executives reporting on the success of their efforts. You can see why this tool becomes very important for marketers fighting for budget and justifying their marketing initiatives.
4. Reviewing Behavior Reports for Visitor Insights
Knowing the sources of your website traffic is one thing, but understanding the way visitors flow through your site and navigate your sales funnels can give you a much deeper understanding of what your visitors want to see and when they want to see it.
To begin looking at how visitors are interacting with your site, open the Behavior reports and click on Behavior Flow.
Don’t panic. If you’re looking at a time period with a decent amount of traffic, this report can look like a spider web of confusion. In reality, the information here can be easy to filter when you know what to look for.
The Behavior Flow report defaults to Landing Pages in the left-most column. By clicking on any landing page and selecting “view only this segment,” we can view the traffic that originated only on the selected landing page.
Once the report reloads, it should be much easier to understand. This report reads as a flow chart from left to right, reflecting the visitor’s flow through your website. Starting with your Segment (in this case, your landing page) in the left-most column, there are your Starting pages (which will match the Segment column since you started with a landing page), and then the visitor traffic sequence begins, starting with the First Interaction. Pages are sorted by total sessions from top to bottom per interaction.
By hovering over a page at each interaction, we can see more detailed information, including the URL of the page, the number of users who took the selected step, and the number of Drop offs. A Drop off is defined as the last interaction a visitor had before leaving your website. A Drop off is bad when it comes in the middle of a sales funnel.
So, what can we learn from the Behavior Flow report? While there are a lot of things you can take away from this report, the most important is the ability to visualize whether your website is causing visitors to do the things you want them to do, such as complete a sequential sales funnel, fill out a form, or complete a checkout. If visitors aren’t completing these steps, you can see exactly where you are losing traffic and then optimize your site content at these drop-off points to boost conversions.
Pretty cool, huh?
Knowing how to dig deeper into Google Analytics to gain a better understanding of your visitors and their intentions on your site can play a big role in the growth of your company. Having informative and accurate data can help your business make the difficult marketing and design decisions that will lead to higher engagement and conversion rates in the future.
About the Author: Dallas McLaughlin is a Digital Marketing Specialist at The James Agency, a full service advertising agency in Phoenix, Arizona. He blogs frequently at DallasMcLaughlin.com about Search Engine Optimization, Pay-Per-Click, and Social Media Marketing trends. If you have any questions, you can tweet him directly at @BossDJay.