What Freelancers Need to Know About Google Analytics
Google Analytics is one of the most popular analytics packages available online, in part due to its price. Where most analytics software is relatively expensive, Google Analytics is entirely free to use — you just need a free Google account to use it.
Analytics gives you invaluable information about what happens when prospective clients visit your website, including what pages they look at before contacting you or sending you money.
It isn’t the most user-friendly piece of software, though. It’s easy enough to get some basic figures, but for anything more, you have to learn how to use Google Analytics effectively.
Setting Up the Tracking Code Correctly
In order to actually be able to get all that great information out of Google Analytics, you need to add a snippet of code to your website that will send that information to Google. This may seem old hat if you’re a web developer, but for some of the rest of us, it needs some discussion.
In general, the directions on Google Analytics will get the job done, but these points will help you get everything set up correctly the first time. You’re going to need to paste the tracking code that Google Analytics provides for your account directly into the HTML for your website.
Individual themes and frameworks allow you to pop the tracking code into a special field, which ensures that everything winds up where it needs to be.
First, be sure to set up a separate tracking code for each website you’re operating. Because you can add a tracking code for Google Analytics to all sorts of things, like Etsy shops, mistakes can happen which result in you tracking all your visitors in one place. That, in turn, makes it very difficult for you to sort out who is really going where.
Certain content management systems, like WordPress, offer some options when it comes to Google Analytics. Individual themes and frameworks allow you to pop the tracking code into a special field, which ensures that everything winds up where it needs to be. There are also plugins — particularly Google Analytics for WordPress — which allow you to manage not only your tracking code but also to see your analytics from the dashboard of your website.
If you find that you’re having trouble getting the tracking code set up, there’s always the option of hiring another freelancer or consultant to help you out with Google Analytics. Getting a little training and some explanations of what all of this means can help you get up to speed if you don’t have enough time to sink into the process to learn it on your own.
Understanding Your Own Sales Funnel
Once you’ve got your tracking code in place, Google Analytics is ready to run: it will start collecting data on who is visiting your site and how often. But to get to the information that really helps you make decisions, like where to promote yourself and what sort of services bring you more customers, you need to do a little more work.
You want to be able to look at specific pages and understand if visitors to those pages are converting to paying clients, which is the name of the game when you’re freelancing.
You need to identify where you want potential and paying clients to land on your website — and when in your sales process. If you don’t know how you want visitors to progress, it’s hard to tell if they’re on track. You want to be able to look at specific pages and understand if visitors to those pages are converting to paying clients, which is the name of the game when you’re freelancing.
It can be tough for a freelancer to measure conversions, at least online, because of the way that Google Analytics works. It only measures information about visits to pages on a given website — Google doesn’t automatically know every time you take on a new client. That means that getting a new client to land on a certain page on your website is the only way to let Google Analytics count successful conversions and calculate that into the reports it can produce.
Most ecommerce sites solve this problem by directing buyers to a page telling them when they’ve successfully completed a purchase, and tracking that page specifically as a goal in Google Analytics.
If you have very standardized packages, which clients must pay for through your website, you can create a similar situation. Otherwise, you can direct new clients to resource pages or other information that’s just for them and track those pages. It’s imperfect, but it still may get you more data to work with.
Working with Traffic Sources
You don’t control who finds you through a search engine or who links to your site from their own. But you do control your own social media profiles and possibly a few other sources of traffic for your website. It’s worth gathering more information about those sources you do control so that you can tweak what you’re doing to increase traffic.
In one of its recent updates, Google Analytics added some tools to track social media, but to dig deep, you’re going to need to set up ‘advanced segments’ for your accounts. By the way, you can set up advanced segments in all of the reports that Google Analytics generates — when you have time, play around and see what you come up with. You may just find a way to get some precise information about a particular group of visitors to your website.
For social media traffic in particular, you’ll want to click on the ‘Traffic Sources’ menu, then on ‘Social’, and then on ‘Sources.’ You’ll see a button for ‘Advanced Segments’ just below the title of the page. Once you’ve clicked that button, you can set up either a default segment or a custom segment. If you click ‘New Custom Segment,’ you will see a form. You want to choose the following options: ‘Include,’ ‘Source’, and ‘Containing.’ In the last field, add the website (i.e. twitter.com) that you want to segment traffic for. That’s all it takes to create a custom segment.
This is something that you can repeat for just about any traffic source. Want to see if a guest post you did on someone else’s blog has sent you traffic? And if that traffic has converted into paying clients? Set up an advanced segment for that site.
Finding the Context for Your Data
If you look at the numbers that Google Analytics spits out, you’ll be in a position to start tweaking your website and improving its appeal to prospective clients. But the data isn’t the only thing you need to look at: you need to have context for those numbers.
Before you leap into action based on the information Google Analytics has given you, dig into the context.
You might see a sudden drop off in the number of visitors reaching your site and freak out — but there could be different explanations for that drop off, each one of which requires different action on your part. Something could have actually broken on your site, one of your main traffic sources may have disappeared or your target market could be on vacation this week.
Before you leap into action based on the information Google Analytics has given you, dig into the context. You need to know your visitor demographics inside and out (both who you want to visit your site and who is actually visiting your site). You need to know how they behave in different situations and what actually constitutes a problem with that audience. Sometimes, you’ll find that the best thing you can do to fix a drop in traffic is to entirely ignore it.
Bringing in more data, of a different variety than website analytics, can sometimes help you get a better sense of context. For instance, if you run an email newsletter through one of the more common tools, such as MailChimp, tools are already in place to integrate the two so you can see the connections in the data.
You might also consider getting away from the numbers, too: the occasional reader survey can help put Google Analytics’ data into perspective. After all, web analytics can only tell you what visitors did on your site, not why they did it. In particular, getting the logic behind the choices that your paying clients made while clicking around your website can help you ensure that you’re doing everything you can to ensure that your website brings you a steady stream of clients.
Making Use of All the Data You Get
One of the difficulties of working with Google Analytics is that you can easily wind up with more numbers than you know what to do with. You need to pick and choose what you want to know about your business — what data is actually going to be actionable for you.
Maybe you have specific questions or issues you’re looking to resolve (if you need a starting point, read the post 3 Insights You Can Learn About Your Freelance Business from Google Analytics). Maybe you know that you just need to get one key metric, like sales, up. Focus on the numbers that actually help you. Don’t worry about the other details that Google Analytics is tracking.