What to Look for In Google Analytics

Google Analytics offers a wealth of data. You need to know what to prioritize, or else you will spend hours trying to understand what all the numbers mean for your website traffic.

The main point of Google Analytics is to figure out how your website is performing, and what that means in relation to your marketing efforts. Let’s walk through this process.

Starting Point – Acquisition > Channels

Every time you log into Google Analytics, you want to look at the Acquisition Channels. It’s the best way a quick snapshot of what is happening with your website. You will quickly be able to identify any success or issues occurring on your site.

The default timeline in this section is one week, but that is a small sample size for most websites. Switch your timeline to a 30-day period for more reliable results. Compare this to the previous period, and you will have a great starting point to identify the performance of the website.

Further, you can break down the traffic into specific channels to get a more detailed grasp of the performance.  If something is off, it usually jumps out here.

What to Look for In Google Analytics

What to Do if Traffic is Up

This is a great thing! But just because traffic is up this month does not mean your job is done.  Ideally, you’d like to see an increase in traffic month over month, so try to figure out what caused the increase and replicate it for the future.

Tip: Compare each channel’s engagement or conversion data to see which might be underperforming.

What to Do if Traffic is Down

Obviously, this isn’t ideal, but don’t worry. A change in traffic could be based on a factor outside of your control.

The most common reason for changes in traffic is seasonality. Keep in mind how your industry ebbs and flows, and standardize your results to get a better sense of how you are doing relatively.

The first step in accounting for seasonality is to analyze the year over year data. While this is not a perfect comparison, it can still be a good litmus test to see if the changes are normal. If your year over year data is also down, then you probably have a bigger issue on your hands, where further investigation is required.

The next step to determining reasons for a decline in traffic is to compare month over month data from the previous year. Look at the changes in traffic from past years, and compare that to the current data to get a gauge of your results. If your current decrease in traffic is less than previous years, you can consider your results successful.

For clarity, here is an example. In a previous year, your drop in traffic in October was -40%, but this year your drop in traffic is -20%. Although your overall traffic is still down, when you factor in seasonality, your YoY traffic is up 20%!

If your traffic is still down after accounting for seasonality, then you will need to conduct a deep dive into your analytics to figure out why. Carefully check out the performance of each individual channel to find out which avenue could have a problem.

Tip: Take a close look at your top three channels, as they are the largest contributors to your traffic.

Here are some factors to consider for each channel when traffic is down:

  • Organic traffic – Check your keyword rankings.
  • Social – Check into what content you’re posting.
  • Paid – Check your total spend amount and cost per click.
  • Referral – Check to see if you have lost any backlinks.
  • Direct – There is no simple solution to why direct traffic is down. Any traffic that comes to a website that is not specifically classified will be logged in direct traffic, meaning it is difficult to pinpoint the problem. Fluctuation in traffic can often be attributed to spam.

Finally, if you still can’t seem to figure out why your traffic is down, look at individual page views and content types on your website. Certain types of content and landing pages my not be as relevant as you expected, causing a drop in traffic. For example, if you sell air conditioners, but it has been a cool summer, then you would not have as much traffic to those pages as usual.

If a single page has a dramatic decrease in views, this might be an SEO issue. If a page is no longer ranking properly, it might explain why traffic is down.

Engagement Metrics

Engagement metrics are another important data set to analyze. Key metrics include bounce rate, average session duration and pages per session. These metrics are large indicators of conversion likelihood, so continually monitoring and trying to improve engagement can lead to an increase of success on your website.

What to Do if Engagement is Down

Different types of traffic have different engagement metrics, so analyze where your traffic is coming from before panicking. Social and Paid traffic generally have poorer engagement metrics based on the nature of their medium, so if you had a massive influx of traffic to these channels, don’t be concerned when engagement is down.

Check out individual page engagement metrics to identify specific underperforming pages. Often, landing pages leave users with “nowhere to go”, causing high bounce rate and low session duration. Simply, when users finish with the content, there are no prompts to send them elsewhere on the website. A blog with related posts of links to a related product/service will have better engagement than a post that does not.  Fixing underperforming pages is a great way to improve the overall metrics.

Finally, check behaviour flow and see which landing pages have high drop off rates. If you can identify which pages are not giving users the information they need, causing them to leave the site, then you can improve the overall engagement rate.

Checking these metrics should give you a good sense if there is an issue or it’s just normal fluctuation.

Google Analytics can give you a ton of information about your website. Once you know how to interpret the data, you will have new ideas on how to improve traffic and engagement, leading to a more successful website!


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What Are Keywords and Why Do They Matter?

What are keywords? In short, keywords are relevant words or phrases that define the purpose of a web page. Optimizing content with well-researched keywords helps increase a page’s search ranking and drive traffic from the right audience. 

We’ve written a brief explainer on what keywords are and why keywords matter for SEO.

What Are Keywords?

Say you’re in the middle of an intense work session when someone drops a multi-page document on your desk. You do not have time to read the whole thing, but you’d better find out what the paper’s about and whether it’s important.

So what do you do? You’ll probably look at the title first, then the headings, and quickly scan the body text to see if any words or phrases jump out at you.

Search engines work much in the same way.

When someone searches for something, Google aims to deliver results that are both useful and relevant to the user’s search query. Simply put, it tries to find a page that actually answers the person’s question or provides the content they were looking for.

To do this, Google’s search algorithm digs through its mountainous search index and pulls results that best relate to the word or phrase the user searched for.

When a keyword or phrase appears repeatedly throughout a page — in its title, main heading, and body text — it helps the search engine crawlers determine what the page is about, and increases the chance the page will rank when someone searches using that word or phrase. These are keywords.

Why Keywords are Important for SEO

Keywords define what a piece of content is about. They help search engines understand the purpose of a page and decide where and when it should show up in the search engine results.

When a page contains relevant keywords, and its content reflects what people are looking for when they search for that keyword, its ranking will increase.

Keywords also help human visitors (as opposed to Google’s crawlers) understand what a page is about. Think back to the above example. People often scan a page for keywords to decide if it’s worth their time. Relevant keywords improve a page’s readability, increasing the chance users will stick around and scoring more points for SEO.

Types of Keywords: Head, Body, and Long Tail

In the realm of SEO, we typically think about keywords in terms of specificity (how broad or specific a keyword is) and competition (how difficult it is to rank for a keyword).

Search volume refers to the number of people who search for a specific keyword over a period of time. The more people searching, the higher the search volume, and the more potential traffic the keyword can draw.

Highly specific keywords tend to have a lower search volume, but less competition; broad keywords with a very high search volume are much more competitive.

Based on these criteria, we can fit keywords into one of three categories:

  1. Head keywords: Short, generic words or phrases with a high search volume.
    Example of head keywords:

    1. Women’s clothing
    2. Dogs
    3. Camping
  2. Body keywords: Longer and more specific than body keywords, but still broad and competitive.
    Example of body keywords:

    1. Bridesmaid dress trends
    2. Organic dog food
    3. Back country camping
  3. Long tail keywords: Long, specific phrases containing a head or body keyword, with clearer intent and a lower search volume.
    Example of long tail keywords:

    1. Fall 2017 bridesmaid dress trends
    2. Best organic dog food for poodles
    3. Back country camping near Toronto

Although head and body keywords have a higher search volume, their competitiveness makes it extremely difficult (and expensive) to rank for them. That’s why long tail keywords are important for SEO, especially when it comes to new or unoptimized sites yet to earn a solid place in the rankings.

Why Target Long Tail Keywords?

Long tail keywords are great for building a strong SEO foundation and driving traffic to new and smaller websites. They yield greater returns on investment in the short term while building the power to rank for more competitive keywords in the future.

Shorter head and body keywords encompass a broad range of search queries, while long tail keywords capture users with a specific intent. Long tail keywords bring in targeted traffic at a later stage in buyer’s journey — users who are more likely to make a purchase or inquiry. Using long tail keywords can result in more conversions.

Over time, ranking for long tail keywords can help a page rank for the head keyword contained within. For example, a page drawing traffic for “best family photography in Waterloo” can start to build power for “family photography” and “photography in Waterloo” as well.


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Why Page Speed Matters

Page speed is the time it takes to display all the content on a specific page of a website. In other words, it measures how long a visitor has to wait for a page to load.

Page speed can have a big impact on a site’s traffic and ranking in search engine results. Learn why page speed matters, how to measure it, and how to optimize your site and boost page speed.

Why Page Speed Matters

How often have you clicked a link that caught your attention, only to close it because the page took forever to load? Your site could have the best content around, but if it takes too long to load, many people will leave before they have a chance to see it.

One survey shows nearly half of web users will give up on a site that takes longer than three seconds to load. That’s barely enough time to start counting!

The same survey found that poor performance will keep 79% of online shoppers from becoming repeat customers, and 44% of them will air their grievances about the site with a friend.

Mobile users are slightly more forgiving, tolerating page speeds of six to 10 seconds on average. But as mobile browsing becomes more prevalent, people will increasingly expect an experience on par with desktop speeds.

That’s not the only reason page speed matters. Page speed has been a ranking factor in Google search engine results since 2010. Websites that load quickly get a boost in the rankings, while very slow sites can face penalties that drag them down.

How to Measure Page Speed

Google’s benchmark for page speed is five seconds. How does your site measure up?

You can use Google PageSpeed Insights to measure the speed of a page on your site. Available as a web tool or Google Chrome extension, PageSpeed Insights checks to see whether the page has applied best practices for performance and provides a score between 1 and 100. It also suggests fixes to improve your speed and boost your score.

How to Increase Page Speed

There could be a number of reasons why your page speed is not up to par. Common problems include inefficient code, oversized images, unnecessary redirects. Start with the following steps:

Use Browser Caching

When someone visits a page, their web browser has to download all the images, stylesheets, scripts, and other resources needed to display it. Reduce the time this takes by leveraging browser caching.

Caching stores the latest version of the page on the user’s computer so the browser doesn’t have to generate it each time they visit the page. If a resource can be cached, cache it! Google recommends a minimum cache time of one week, and preferably up to one year, for assets that change infrequently.

WordPress users can enable browser caching with plugins like WP Rocket, W3 Total Cache, and WP Super Cache.

Minify Resources

Minifying means reducing the size of a website’s code without changing its functionality. It includes steps like removing code comments, trimming unused code, and using shortened variable and function names. Reduce the size of your resources to increase page speed.

Google suggests using tools like HTMLMinifier, CSSNano, and UgifyJS to minify HTML, CSS, and JavaScript respectively.

Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

Pages load faster when the server delivering the content is located close to the user. If you seek national or international traffic, invest in a content delivery network (CDN) to serve your files from an optimal location.

Optimize Images

Images are one of the biggest culprits when it comes to site slowdown. The more images the browser must download, and the bigger those image files are, the more competition for the user’s bandwidth.

Trimming down the size of your images is a simple but significant step in increasing page speed. Instead of forcing large images to display in a smaller resolution using HTML, save those images at the smaller resolution. Only use the PNG format for large, important images that must look sharp, and save less important images as JPGs and small images as GIFs.

Enable GZIP Compression

All modern browsers support GZIP compression, which reduces the time it takes to download resources and render a site. GZIP compression reduces file sizes by up to 70% without degrading image and video quality. Ask your web host to enable GZIP compression.

If you aren’t sure whether your site uses GZIP compression already, use this tool to find out.


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