6 Google Analytics tips to boost your online sales

Google Analytics can tell you virtually anything you want to know about your site visitors, organic SEO efforts and pay-per-click ad campaigns. A set of digital marketing and online metrics experts shares advice on how to use GA data to increase sales and boost revenue.

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Google Analytics (GA) is often referred to as a "gold mine" of data. Savvy GA users have learned over time how to spot opportunities to increase sales — that's where the "gold" comes in. Other clever folks use GA to address problems that prevent them from realizing all possible revenue potential. 

After you learn and understand the basics of GA, it's time to start digging for all that gold. Here are six tips and best practices to help you get started.

1. Set up Google Analytics conversion funnels 

GA conversion funnels provide a look at the steps your site visitors take when they buy things. Using conversion funnels, you can identify the specific processes that cause you to frequently lose potential customers. From there, you can take action to fix whatever related site issues may cause those loses, according to James Gardner, client strategist with Connective DX, a digital experience consultancy.

A "conversion funnel" is a common ecommerce term that describes the journeys consumers take, including online ad or search results, visiting ecommerce sites, and making purchases on those sites.

Funnels follow goals their site owners create. In GA, goals measure how well your site fulfills its target objectives. Here's one way (of many) to create a funnel, starting with goals: 

  • In GA, go to your website profile and click the Admin option in the top navigation.
  • Under View, go to Goals > New Goal.
  • Go to Goal setup > Custom.
  • On the next screen, under Goal description, enter "Thank you" as the name. The idea here is to enter the URL for the "thank you" page customers see when they buy something — in other words, at "the end of the funnel."
  • Under Type, select Destination and Continue.
  • Under Goal details and Destination, select Equals to in the drop-down menu. In the field to that menu's right, add the URL that corresponds to your thank-you page, such as http://www.YourSite.com/ThankYou.html.
  • Go to Value and click On. You can then either assign a monetary value to the conversion or leave the field blank and use GA's ecommerce tracking and reports.
  • Under Funnel, click On. Next, you assign names and URLs for each step you want to track in your conversion funnel. Click Yes for Required? next to each step.
  • You can click Verify this Goal to see what your conversion rate would have been, based on data for the past week. 
  • When you're finished, click Save

"You'll want a few days to collect data," Gardner says. "Then you can go back to the funnel visualization report and see a graphical rendering of your data."

To see your funnel visualization, return to Reporting, and then select Conversions > Goals > Funnel Visualizations. (An example of a funnel visualization report is embedded below.)

ga Google Analytics funnel visualization

Google Analytics funnel visualization

2. Use Google Analytics to find pages that lead to conversions

It can be useful to determine the specific content or pages on your site that produce the highest conversion rates. For example, which blog posts caused the highest number of visitors to convert, or make a purchase? This information can help you plan and create new content that turns visitors into paying customers.

GA's Reverse Goal Path helps you uncover top performing content and glean insights into what your customers appreciate the most, according to Derric Haynie, CEO of SplashOPM, a company that helps organization grow their online audiences. (Before getting started, you need to set up goals using the previously listed steps.)

To use the feature, go to Reporting > Conversions > Goals > Reverse Goal Path. This dashboard shows you the previous pages your customers visited before they decided to opt-in to your email list, for example. "Did they visit your About page? Pricing page? A key blog post?" Haynie says. If you see a pattern in which pages or pieces of content often lead to conversions, you might want to spend money on pay-per-click (PPC) ads to direct more visitors to that content, he says.

3. Use custom Google Analytics URLs to gauge site effectiveness

Custom URLs can help you measure the success (or lack of success) for specific Google AdWords campaigns, email blasts, or other content, according to Vahag Aydinyan, digital marketing manager with TTAG Systems, a telecommunication and IT company.

"Let's say you're selling flowers online, and you're running a Google AdWords campaign," says Aydinyan. To make your ad copy as effective as possible, you'll want data on the visitors who land on pages on your site as a result of those ads, as well as information on the actions they take after visiting the pages and the outcomes of their visits. 

To get started, you can create custom URLs using Google's URL builder. The tool lets you add parameters to URLs for custom Web-based or email-ad campaigns. When users click one of your custom links, your GA account receives the unique parameters, which help you identify the URLs that most effectively attract users to your content. (For detailed instructions on how to create a custom URL, visit Google's URL builder help page.) 

After you create the custom URL, it can be found in Acquisition > Campaigns > All Campaigns.

These URLs can help you track the performance of a particular campaign and answer a number of important questions. "What did they do when they visited your landing page? Did they leave immediately? Did they go to your home page? Did they buy flowers?" Aydinyan says. "To measure this, you can look at the bounce rate, next page path, conversion rate, abandoned pages and average session duration." If you see many visitors immediately leave the page, you may need to improve the content and make it more targeted, according to Aydinyan. If see you lots of visitors go to your home page, the landing page might not contain enough relevant information. And if many people start the purchase process but then suddenly leave the website, your payment process may have issues, he says.

4. Identify top referral sites and pursue them aggressively

If you want to increase online sales, you can monitor the specific websites that send you traffic, and then increase your exposure on those sites and other similar pages, according to Henry McIntosh, director of content marketing of digital agency Twenty One Twelve Marketing.

To determine which sites send you the most traffic, you can go to Reporting > Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals. This report highlights your top sources of referral traffic. From there, you should pick a site that's highly relevant, and next contact the Webmaster or another appropriate representative of the site. McIntosh suggests that you then offer your product or service for a review, or share your expertise with the site's visitors through a guest blog post.

You can also expand exposure using a URL "scrape" tool; McIntosh suggests the free Scraper Google Chrome extension. Using this tool, you can select the most relevant referral URL from your GA data, and then use the Chrome extension and choose Scrape similar. You receive a list of similar sites, which can be exported in spreadsheet format, such as a Google Sheets file. Then you can use the list to contact other relevant websites and see if you can offer guest posts or have them review a product or service.

Additional site traffic won't always translate into more sales, according to McIntosh, "[b]ut increasing the amount of highly relevant traffic to your site will increase your sales."

5. Ensure your Google Analytics data is accurate 

GA data is "often taken as gospel," according to Carolyn Lowe, CEO of ROI Swift, a digital marketing agency. However, website issues or other problems can skew GA numbers, and that can lead to lost revenue opportunities, she says. For ecommerce companies in particular, it's a good idea to compare certain GA data to numbers from other ecommerce platforms, such as Magento, Shopify and BigCommerce.

For example, with one of ROI Swift's ecommerce clients, Lowe used GA and went to Reporting > Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium to review the revenue column within the Conversions > Ecommerce section. She compared that data to the client's revenue data in BigCommerce and noticed it didn't match up. Lowe dug deeper and found that the client had no desktop revenue or traffic. Working with BigCommerce, she discovered the organization had inadvertently deleted a line of BigCommerce code.

"Once we fixed that, the data started matching from BigCommerce to Google Analytics to within 95 percent, which is what you want," Lowe says.

Lowe says she also used GA to identify a technical problem that negatively affected a client's ecommerce sales. Mobile checkout conversion rates are typically half or a third of desktop conversions for most websites, according to Lowe. However, she determined that one client had a mobile conversion rate in GA that was abnormally small. So Lowe and her colleagues tested the client's mobile site using different smartphones. "We discovered that customers were getting a 'Security Warning' when they tried to go from the shopping cart to checkout on Android phones," she says. "We told the client, and the developer fixed it. Their mobile conversions more than doubled and have stayed that way."

6. Use Google Analytics to find keywords that drive conversions 

Google restricts the availability of organic search keyword data in GA. You can use other keyword research tools from Moz or SEMrush to find this data, but it can be more effective to run Google AdWords campaigns to see which targeted keywords cause the most site visitors to make purchases, according Garrett Mehrguth, CEO of search marketing consultancy Directive Consulting.

After you create AdWords campaigns, open GA and go to Reporting > Acquisition > AdWords > Keywords. This will help you identify the long-tail keywords that drive paid conversions. Armed with this knowledge, you can use the keywords to build content on your site, which can increase conversions and revenues, Mehrguth says.

This story, "6 Google Analytics tips to boost your online sales" was originally published by CIO.

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