What is The Best Way to Measure Your Website Traffic?

Published by
Kenny Novak
on November 05, 2014
Posted in Traffic Generation

Optimizing your website performance comes down to a lot of measurement and monitoring.  Your optimizations are only as good as your data.  One user’s testimonial isn’t nearly enough to give you the path to success; that would be like every Target in America changing the layouts of their buildings just because one customer told them that putting the electronics section closer to the door would make his life a little easier.  You need to monitor your traffic, objectively, and in bulk.

So how do you do it?  There are dozens of tools to measure different aspects of your traffic.  Some, like Facebook Insights, only work from specific platforms.  Others, like Crazy Egg, only monitor certain types of behavior.  As it turns out, the best general solution for your website itself is Google Analytics.

Why Google Analytics?  It’s very broad, very general, but it digs deep into the data.  It tracks nearly anything you could want to know, but it doesn’t attempt to flood you with that data.  You can generate custom reports with as much or as little granularity as you want.  If you need to know something Google Analytics doesn’t cover, you can install an additional piece of tracking – like Crazy Egg for heatmaps – and use it to get the information you want.

Another benefit, though some users won’t see it as such, is that Google Analytics isn’t typically real time.  You can set up real time reporting, but it’s not the default.  Why is this actually a benefit?  Too many fledgling webmasters spend too much time essentially refreshing the analytics page, hoping to watch their traffic grow before their eyes.  A lack of real time reporting means that those users will be forced to do something else, to be more productive with their time.

Configuring Google Analytics

Google makes setting up Analytics very easy.  All you need to do is sign in to a Google account you want to use as your admin account and go to the Google Analytics page.  Once there, you click on “admin” and copy the tracking code.  Insert that code into the header of your website – every page, because it needs to be present to track information – and save, upload, sync and push life your pages.

With that code present, your analytics are active.  You can see this by checking back on the Analytics page itself, where it will verify you’re tracking information if you’ve done it properly.

Google Analytics Custom Reports

Google-Analytics-Custom-Reports

One of the greatest features of Google Analytics is the wealth of data it provides.  The problem is, unless you know your way around the program, it’s pretty hard learning what’s what.  There are dozens of guides you can use, of course.  The question is, do you have time to learn and set up all of these reports yourself?

Of course, many busy entrepreneurs don’t want to spend time duplicating the work of others.  Stand on the backs of giants, don’t try to become a giant yourself.  Google Analytics allows this by allowing you to download and use custom reports.  Anyone can create a report pulling certain types of data and link that report publicly.  Once you click to install that report, all of the work of setting it up is done for you.  You just see a nicely formatted report with the data you wanted displayed before you.

Useful Custom Reports

I’ve gone ahead and compiled some of the best custom reports I’ve found since the feature was implemented.  They won’t all be useful to your specific situation – they aren’t all useful for mine – but they give you a great idea of what can be accomplished with reports.

For basic traffic tracking, nothing can beat this goal conversion report.  It shows you your incoming traffic and how it compares to your goal conversions, segmented by each traffic source.  You will need to configure your goals manually – more on that here – for your specific goals.

If you want a more SEO-focused report, with an emphasis on individual keywords – what’s still shown, anyway – you can see your keyword analysis with this report.  It will show you what it can of your keyword data, though that data is slim these days.  Frankly, this report is on its way out in a lot of cases.  Still, it doesn’t hurt to import it and see what it can show you.

When you’re measuring traffic, one thing you want to be aware of is the presence of any errors or broken pages on your site.  If users are coming in to a 404 page, you’re going to have issues of one form or another.  It might be a malformed external link, it might be a broken internal link, it might be a server issue, you never know.  This report gives you a readout to help show you any broken links, either incoming or internal.

Speaking of incoming links, short of organic traffic, they’re the most important source of traffic to track.  SEOBook created a report you can use to see the source, landing page, visits, conversions, bounce rate and a dozen other metrics about your incoming link traffic.  It’s also one of the more valuable reports you can have, because it never stops being useful.  It’s always a good idea to be aware of your link presence.

A big part of how effective your posts are on your site comes down to when they’re shared.  If you want to figure out how effective your social media posts are, in terms of the conversion information available through Google Analytics, you can use this time of day report.  It may not be the prettiest report you’ve ever seen, but it works.

Tracking Social Information

Tracking-Social-Information

Google Analytics may not be as good as Facebook for tracking Facebook data, particularly on the platform itself, but the social reports it offers will allow you a great deal of information freedom.  You should still use Facebook Insights while on Facebook, but on your website, you can use Google Analytics as well.

If you want to track social information, however, you need to use non-shortened links.  A URL shortening service like Bitly will mask the origin; you’ll see a referral from Bitly, not Facebook.  If you wanted to specify, you would have to pick a specific shortened URL for each platform, which is more work than just leaving them unmasked in the first place.

Google Analytics also offers an interesting social activity stream, which you can find under the social sources report. It will show you the posts and comments that included links that led to conversions, so you can see it all at a glance.

If you feel a little overwhelmed by everything Google Analytics can show you, you’re not alone.  There’s so much data, and so many ways to filter it, that anyone would be lost trying to dive in. That depth, though, is why Google Analytics is the best platform you can use for measuring traffic.

Written by Kenny Novak

Kenny Novak

Kenny is an SEM and SEO professional. He uses blogging and content marketing as a launchpad for small businesses looking to grow their online presence.

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