Let’s talk about the weather
“Isn’t it cold at the moment?” “You’d never think it was June” “It’s more like October!” These are the sorts of conversations I’ve been having and over-hearing over the last few days. And while it’s a little too early to tell about June, the excellent Western Isles Weather tells me that, although May was the coldest since 2015, it was not unseasonably cold. It certainly feels chilly just now. But it’s not just the extremes that we notice or remark upon, even in the Outer Hebrides where we can have four seasons in one day. We all talk about the weather a lot, whatever the weather.
In fact, what we are doing when we talk about the weather, is commenting on how different it is from what we are expecting (or hoping) for that time of year. Our daily taking stock of the weather is a form of monitoring. We all monitor, to some extent, every day, in different ways. Whether that is keeping an eye on the time (are we running late for work or late getting the kids ready for school?) or, in the era of “fit-bit” type devices, how many steps we’ve walked that day. Having just done the Walk-on Hebrides challenge, the last one particularly resonates with me and is a good example of how digital tools can often help us monitor something for our own benefit.
Monitoring your website traffic
Monitoring your website traffic within Google Analytics will probably be second nature if you are checking your account frequently. Using data that you access via Google Analytics to understand your website traffic trends is at the core of its function. Knowing what is normal for your business for that time of year is particularly important for businesses in the Hebrides, that often have a tourism-related seasonal peak.
Detecting when your traffic falls short of what you would normally expect can be an early prompt for you to get some promotions on the go, in order to drive interested potential customers to your site. A good way of doing this online is via social media. You might wonder how you can tell which promotional activities work particularly well. Using Google Analytics, it is possible to compare the effects of different promotional tactics and campaigns so you know what works for you and what isn’t really worth the effort. This is obviously important for those of you with e-commerce sites, where selling via your website is your bread and butter, and knowing which campaigns are cost-effective and which aren’t, is crucial.
How to monitor website traffic
Taking a look at the Google Analytics data for your website over the last month is a good start. This will give you a basic idea of your website traffic volume. You can do this effectively from the Left Hand Side navigation menu of your Google Analytics account.
Go to Reports -> Audience -> Overview. Then select the “last 30 days” in the calendar section in the top right of the screen and look at the shape of the timeline graph of “Users” (see below), paying attention to when peaks or troughs in the line occur.
If you have a year’s worth of data, select “custom” instead of “last 30 days” in the calendar and input the dates to cover the last year. Then look back over this last year to assess whether there are any peaks (or even small hillocks) in your timeline which may be explained by seasonal trends. Examples of such trends are tourism interest from summer visitors, pre-Christmas shopping peak and post-Christmas holiday planning. Better still, tick “compare to previous period” to see if you had the same trend the previous year. This, of course, is providing your Google Analytics account has been set up and recording for that long.
You can select your social media referrals to see whether the timeline looks similar to that of your web traffic overall. If it does, it’s a good indicator that social media is effective in driving traffic to your site.
To do this, in the left hand navigation menu, go to Acquisition -> social-> network referrals.
The trend information you gather can then be used to set your own targets for your website traffic and other related website metrics. Note that setting targets is different from goals (see below). An example of a target is working out what a 20% increase in weekly website traffic might be in a busy time of year, based on the average that you might normally expect at those busy times. You could think of it as an aspiration. Other simple examples might be calculating a percentage increase in the amount of time that visitors to your website spend on your site, an increase in the number of pages they view per session or a decrease in the bounce rate. The bounce rate is the percentage of visits that end up with the visitor leaving straight away from the first page of your website they land on.
I think of targets raising the bar for what you can achieve. Targets are something you set yourself, using Google Analytics as a tool to inform you. You can even set up email alerts from Google Analytics to let you know if you are falling way short of these targets or are exceeding them. I’m not sure whether target-setting is official Google Analytics jargon but goal-setting certainly is and I explain a little it more about this below.
So what are goals? How are these different from targets?
I think of goals as something you score. You either score a goal or you don’t. It’s a yes/no outcome. If you are an e-commerce site, for example, you’ll want your customers to be reaching the checkout and actually purchasing an item. For non e-commerce sites, there may be a page that you particularly page interested in people visiting and taking action on, such as signing up to a newsletter or blog 😊.
By setting a particular action that visitors may do on your site a goal, you can then monitor, not just how frequently goals are scored, but also what things, such as running a promotion, result in more goals being scored.
These are only a few examples of monitoring via Google Analytics. The next post in this series will be on using your Google Analytics account for troubleshooting and maintaining a well functioning website .