Google Analytics is a powerful tool that offers insights into how site visitors behave that can translate into real business value. The problem is understanding how to leverage this complex platform and put that data into practical application. As we move towards a more digital, post-covid era, you’ll want to get familiar with the tools that’ll help your jumpstart your business growth online.
In this post, we’ll go over 15 actionable Google Analytics best practices you can implement so you can maximize your marketing performance. We recommend referencing this article as you familiarize yourself with Google Analytics.
Table of Contents
- Use the traffic report to get a broad view
- Use the site content report to better understand traffic.
- Track Google Ads (and non-Google ads) campaign data with UTMS.
- Setup Google Analytics Ecommerce/Conversion Tracking
- Conversion tracking for non-ecommerce companies
- Dive Into That Google Ads Data In Analytics
- Get Key Analytics Insights by Setting up Custom Alerts
- Set Up Event Tracking
- Track Page Speed with the Site Speed Report
- Create Custom Dashboards
- Analyze Assisted Conversions
- Find Keywords In Google Analytics
- Use the Google Analytics Intelligence search bar to ask simple questions.
- Keep Ad Data Accurate
- Use Advanced Filter
- Use the Analytics Data in Google Ads Carefully
1. Use the traffic report to get a broad view.
How to get there: Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium > Google/Organic
Why you should care: This report will give a snapshot of all the traffic sources and marketing channels for quick comparison and a jumpoff point for exploration.
For instance, you can click on “Google / organic” and look at how your website visitors find your website via non-paid channels or as marketers refer to it, “organically”.
You can even run secondary dimensions on this data. In this case, sorting traffic by
Dimensions are custom ways to segment data for better analysis.
Filter to see how Google organic mobile traffic is trending. The main takeaway is that there are various ways to dig down deep if you start at this one spot in Google, so don’t glance over this report.
When you have all your Google Ads integration and UTMs for other channels set up, then you can easily compare how each channel does from this view. For more information on linking Google Ads, check out Google’s support documentation
2. Use the site content report to better understand traffic.
How to get there: Behavior > Site Content > All Pages
Why you should care: You can learn specific information about your site visitors by checking the Site Content report in Google Analytics.
The Site Content Report breaks down site traffic by page. You can use secondary dimensions to sort by source/medium and look at how your marketing channels are doing on these pages.
If you have hundreds or thousands of pages on your site, the pages that are no longer getting much traffic will be buried. An easy way to look at the most trafficked that you used to get is to flip your comparison dates like so:
…putting the more recent time period in the bottom. This will allow you to easily see what pages used to have traffic, now do not. (Tip: Double check your bottom date. You usually have to redo the year because Analytics freaks out a little when you do this.)
As you scroll, you can compare those previous high trafficked pages and find your issues. For example, on this page we see a massive change:
Traffic completely dropped off the map. This may pinpoint a problem. Maybe one of your ads is going to a dead page because of a URL change no one told you about. (Often, after a site redesign, URLs get changed without proper 301 redirects and SEO traffic falls off or goes to an error page for a while before getting dropped from the search engines.)
Site changes need to be monitored when you are running ads. Make sure you periodically view traffic from this perspective.
3. Track Google Ads (and non-Google ads) campaign data with UTMS.
How to get there: This is not part of the UI, but a practice of appending code to your ads. We’ll explain below.
Why you should care: Your Google Ads campaigns are auto-tagged to track with Analytics, and your non-google ads campaigns won’t appear under “direct/none”.
With this integration, a whole world of data sharing has just opened up for you. From Google Ads cost and click-through data to amazing audience targeting opportunities based on your site visitors.
For your other non-Google marketing channels, you need to add specific code to your ads using Google Analytics UTM parameters. To do so, you can use the Google Analytics Campaign URL Builder for your Ad Campaigns.
A UTM code is a simple code that you can attach to a custom URL to track a source, medium, and campaign name within the Google Analytics platform.
We recommend using UTMs because if they are not included, you might see a Bing paid search campaign shown as “Bing organic,” or your traffic lumped in with the “direct/none” traffic source, for example, which is not informative or useful.
Once you build out your UTM parameters, these go at the end of the URL you are posting in your ad platform. If this looks a little intimidating, don’t worry. Over time, you will easily get familiar with these elements.
4. Setup Google Analytics Ecommerce/Conversion Tracking
How to set it up: Follow Google’s guide to see how to implement this.
Why you should care: You’ll be able to track sales and other ecommerce site data .
Some ecommerce websites will have ready-to-go setups that make Google Analytics ecommerce integration happen within a few seconds. For other websites, this requires some detailed coding.
This is extremely valuable sales data that you need to have in Google Analytics to maximize your marketing efforts.
Once integrated, here’s the kind of data you want to get into Google Analytics, which can then be pulled into Google Ads when your accounts are linked:
It is precisely that sales data, the exact revenue generated from the different marketing channels, that can be optimized a hundred different ways once you get this setup.
5. Conversion tracking for non-ecommerce companies
How to get there: Navigation: Admin > View > Goals
Why you should care: Knowing when a user submits a lead and hits your confirmation or “thank you” page is the gold standard used to optimize your marketing.
You will need to figure out what your confirmation page is after someone submits a lead (do a form test or look in your Analytics site content data…we’ll discuss that in a section below).
If you submit a lead and get a new page confirming your form submission, that’s what you will need to build the most basic type of conversion goal.
To set up your goal, go to your Admin area and the View section where you can click on goals.
There’s a lot of different types of goals you can create. Google has a pretty lengthy page on it.
Click on +NEW GOAL. The type of goal you want for the above example is a Destination goal:
From here you can paste your confirmation URL and then Verify the Goal to see if that’s correct.
This kind of tracking is simply vital. We have a saying:
In real estate the three most important things are location, location, location. In online marketing, it’s tracking, tracking, tracking.
6. Dive Into That Google Ads Data In Analytics
How to get there: Acquisition > Google Ads > Campaigns
Why you should care: You can get both Google Ads data in Analytics, and Google Analytics data in Google Ads which will help your marketing efforts.
First, navigate to the above to see the Google Ads section and click on the Campaigns link. This will give you a nice snapshot of your Google Ads account along with various on-site metrics, goals, etc.
Search Queries Report
Perhaps, you want to do some analysis by search queries, or the exact phrases searched that triggered Google Ads campaign. You decide you want to look at any search query that doesn’t have a goal conversion with more than $100 in ad spend.
To do this, apply a couple of advanced filters:
- Click Advanced. Select Include. Cost. Greater than 100.
- Click Add a Dimension or metric. Goal Completions. Equals 0.
Now you can compare the traffic that meets that criteria (or any other metrics you want to filter) in one area with additional data points to optimize by. If you want to adjust, just click the “edit” link and change your filter parameters.
You can quickly go through poor performing keywords to turn off or make into negative keywords. You can do similar filters in Google Ads, but the U/I currently only allows you to see conversion data not Analytics data at the Search Query level.
In Google Ads, the ability to see how your sitelinks are performing is again limited. The U/I currently doesn’t allow you to view Analytics data by sitelink.
Want to know what sitelink has the highest time on site?
Simply click the “Site Usage” tab in the upper left section of Google Analytics. Then, sort by the Avg. Session Duration column.
Tip: Stretch out your date range to get a more complete data set. To further refine this data:
- Do a Secondary Dimension sort by Campaign so that you can identify results by campaign.
- Set up an Advanced filter: Click Advanced. Select Include. Users. Greater than 50 (or any other number you choose to make sure you are looking at enough valid data.
- Trim the poor producing Sitelinks from your Google Ads account.
To get more insights on what to do while working Google Analytics and Google Ads, check out comprehensive guide here
7. Get Key Analytics Insights by Setting up Custom Alerts
How to get there: Navigation: Customization > Custom Alerts
Why you should care: Alerts are a great way to keep you notified when something changes that you should look into.
These get sent to your inbox and put something on your radar without you having to always have your nose in Analytics. Ask yourself, “What would be a tragic error or missed opportunity if I wasn’t notified?
For example, as a digital marketing agency, we like tracking when blog readers sign upwe have an alert setup for when someone subscribes to our marketing newsletter blog.
Here’s another example. The setup below allows for us to view a website when the page 404 error triggers. This could be especially bad if you have Google Ads pointing to a page and suddenly the page is down.
In this case, the page contains “Nothing found” in its page title. If we see a spike in these pages with over 35 user sessions for a day, it triggers the alert to send an email.
Perhaps, your site is less trafficked. Instead of setting it up for a certain amount per day, you can change that to a percentage increase per week. Here’s another example of how that would work:
Note that in this instance, we changed it to compare to the previous week. Also, the page title that triggers this error is a little different than the other one.
If the page title contains “Hmmm” we know we’ve got errors on our site. You could also set this to apply to a Landing page that matches any type of page URL like /404 if that’s the case.
To set these up, Navigate to Customization > Custom Alerts. Click on the “Manage custom alerts” button. On the next screen, click on the “+NEW ALERT” button.
Some other Google Analytics Custom Alerts you can create:
Social media traffic alert: Maybe a sudden burst of traffic might mean you’ve gone viral. You don’t want to miss out on this opportunity. At least now, you will know:
- Period: Day
- Applies to: Source
- Condition: Matches regular expression
- Value: facebook|twitter|linkedin|instagram|pinterest|reddit
- Alert me when: Sessions
- Condition: increase by more than
- Value: 400 (or whatever number makes sense given your traffic)
- Compared to: Previous day
Need to know if your organic traffic is dropping? Maybe you don’t want to dive into Analytics and compare data all the time. You can set up any KPI to hit you on a monthly basis, too. Here’s the settings:
- Period: Month
- Applies to: Medium
- Condition: Matches exactly
- Value: organic
- Alert me when: Sessions
- Condition: % decreases by more than
- Value: 10
- Compared to: Previous month
We could easily highlight a dozen other possible alerts to set up for low revenue, no revenue, low conversion rates, decreases or increases in traffic, increase in self-referrals, etc.
If you have your Google Ads integrated with Analytics, you can set up alerts for increases in ad impressions, changes in CTR or CPC, etc. All the metrics you’re pulling into Analytics can be used.
Think about what your KPIs are. Think about what would be tragic if you didn’t know. These are the things you want in your inbox (or even text to your mobile phone if it’s that important).
8. Set Up Event Tracking
How to get there: Navigation: Behavior > Events
Why you should care: Knowing which specific buttons or links are clicked within your site can give you further insights.
Events trigger in Analytics for certain user activity. Maybe you want to know when a video is watched for a certain amount of time or a podcast is listened to. All of these can be tracked.
Most Google Analytics users aren’t aware that with a little bit of extra code added to your site you can bring these data points back into Analytics.
Why would tracking Analytics Events be useful for Google Ads?
Here’s one example. We had a client whose sole purpose of the site was to send users to another site on a large domain that we had no control over. How do you track success in your advertising if you can’t see when they arrive to the other site?
By adding a little event tracking code to the button that sent the visitor to the other site, we were now able to track this action in Analytics.
But still, we wanted to link this data into our Google Ads account. Thus, we took it a couple of steps further … and turned these Events into Goals.
How to Turn Events into Goals in Analytics:
- Navigate: Admin > Goals
- Click New Goal
- Under Acquisition select “Create an Account”
- Name the Goal and select the “Event button
- Choose your Event
Now…you’ve got Events to Goals.
And Goals can be imported into Google Ads as conversions that can be optimized or used as data points for Google’s bidding algorithms (like Target CPA bidding).
So, you’ve turned a button click into something that Google Ads will now use its machine learning on and optimize its bidding with in order to drive you more of that behavior.
Setting up events, do require a little bit of extra code on your site. See Google for more details.
Pro Tip: Use Google Tag Manager (GTM) for your codes and you don’t have to bug your webmaster or IT team all the time. Once GTM is working on your site, you can use it to setup events.
9. Track Page Speed with the Site Speed Report
How to get there: Behavior > Site Speed > Page Timings
Why should you care: online traffic comes from mobile devices so you want your pages to load fast.
If your pages take too long to load, studies show users will quickly give up. According to research done by Google, 53% of your mobile visitors will leave a site if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load. Got a slow loading landing page you are sending advertising to? This is a huge problem.
To find out how your pages fare with load time, navigate to
- Behavior > Site Speed > Page Timings.
Here you will get a chart like this that compares each page to your average load time. Quickly, you can see some in the red that have issues. Have your web team focus on speeding up the load time for these.
“According to research done by Google, 53% of your mobile visitors will leave a site if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load up.”
10. Create Custom Dashboards
How to get there: Navigation: Customization > Dashboards
Why should you care? Dashboards are a great way to create a customized Analytics report that can be shared with your team or client or reviewed periodically in Analytics.
These can be private, as well, so only you view them.
You can either build your own dashboard or look at some of the many that are already created and easily added to your account.
What is a Google Analytics Dashboard? A custom dashboard is simply a collection of various Analytics widgets into a single view.
While running your Google Ads, for example, you may want a PPC dashboard that pulls in your important ads data into one view.
Interested in more of Google Analytics best practices? Here’s a link to Google’s solution gallery where you can find some prebuilt top-rated dashboards.
You can use these templates for your own dashboards or you can share dashboards you created between your Analytics accounts.
If the Dashboard is already in your account, click Share in the upper left hand section, click “Share template link.” You can send that via email or add it to a browser window if you are logged into the other Analytics account you want to share it with.
“ Dashboards are a great way to create a customized Analytics report that can be shared with your team or client or reviewed periodically in Analytics.”
Click create and it. This should now add this to your Analytics account.
If you are uploading a dashboard from Google’s gallery, click the import button and it will ask you which Analytics account you want to import it to just like the above image.
If you like a dashboard and want to use it for reporting purposes, dashboards can be scheduled to automatically email on a recurring basis.
To do this:
- Click the Email tab at the top of the dashboard.
- A window will pop up with details, add the email addresses you want it to go to.
- Select the Frequency (Once, Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly)
- Under Advanced Options select how long you want these emails to be active for.
- Add some email text and send.
Scroll the Google gallery or search according to your needs. Beyond a PPC dashboard that pulls in your Google Ads data, check out some of the others.
Here’s a couple of great ones we recommend:
- Site Performance Dashboard – This will tell you site speed issues by browser, country, page and some other important stats. Pay particular attention if one of your pages is much slower loading than others.
- New Google Analytics User Starter Bundle – A lot in here including custom reports and segments. This is put together by the awesome Google Analytics Team.
- Content Analysis Dashboard – Take a look at the engagement and lead production from the various pages on your site.
If you don’t have a pretty reporting interface for your Google Ads campaigns and are stuck using Excel spreadsheets or snapshots from Google Ads, consider integrating these dashboards in your monthly report and your boss will appreciate it.
“Consider integrating dashboards in your monthly report and your stakeholder will appreciate it.”
11. Analyze Assisted Conversions
How to get there: Navigation: Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels > Assisted Conversions
Why you should care: the first visit by a prospect often is not the only thing that gets credit for the final lead or sale
This is where assisted conversion data becomes important.
An assisted conversion is Google’s measure of any interaction besides the final click, that leads to a conversion. You can think of it as the alley-oop set up by the player who throws the ball for the other player to slam dunk.
You must be tracking conversions of some sort for this to be useful. If you have ecommerce tracking setup, then you will see dollar amounts in here, as well.
When you navigate to the above, the first view will show by channel.
We prefer to use the Source/Medium view, which is highlighted in blue just below the graphic and above the table of data.
This view will help you determine if there is more value from your marketing sources than you originally thought. Here, you can see those assisted conversions in addition to last click conversions. This will give you a more accurate look at your return on ad spend.
In the above example, we can see that in addition to the $322K in last-click sales for Google paid search, there was another $235K that it assisted on!
This is extremely valuable data to optimize your Google Ads with!
Once we implemented new PPC bidding rules based on the above data, revenue shot through the roof for this site.
Navigation: Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels > Top Conversion Paths
If you want to see a visual demonstration of how people are typically converting between your channels, this is a nice view.
Don’t forget to also view by Source/Medium so you can break the paths down further.
In the below example, this shows a common path. The user first came to the site on a Google paid search ad, then came back by directly typing in the domain name, then came back via the Google organic results, then direct to the site again before finally converting:
What you don’t want to get lost in that path is that the Google paid search ad should really get the credit for this sale, not the “(direct) / (none)” source that was the very last click.
Want to maximize your ROI from your ad spend? Use the above Google Analytics attribution data to get a complete picture of the real profitability of your marketing efforts.
12. Find Keywords In Google Analytics
How to get there: Navigation: Acquisition > Search Console > Queries
Why you should care: Obviously, you can see your Google Ads keywords in Analytics once you’ve linked up the account. But how do you find your organic keywords in Google Analytics, as well? This can be useful information to use along with your Google Ads campaigns.
Since Google Analytics plays well with Google Ads and other parts of the Google ecosystem, don’t stop at just integrating just your Ads account. Integrate your Google Search console, as well. It used to be you could easily get your organic search keywords inside of Analytics. The search engines removed that ability and you were left with little data about your organic keywords. Google has brought some of that ability back with the integration between Google Analytics and the Search Console.
The data in Search Console and Analytics is only stored for 16 months, so it’s still limited. Once you have this data, it may be a useful source of information that helps inform what you do or don’t do with your Google Ads keyword buys.
Also, link your Search Console account to Google Ads and review the Paid & Organic Reports inside Google Search Console.
Note: The data in Search Console and Analytics is only stored for 16 months, so it’s still limited.”
13. Use the Google Analytics Intelligence search bar to ask simple questions.
Why should you care: Google Analytics is trying to be more user-friendly. For instance, now you can ask Analytics Intelligence questions in the box at the top of Analytics:
Want to know:
- Why is Google Ads traffic down?
- Why is my bounce rate increasing?
- Is there a problem with paid search?
- Is there anything unusual?
- Is the United States traffic normal?
Google will give you some quick answers. For instance, with that first question, Google Analytics returned this data:
It will break down the difference and provide a breakdown of traffic from your different campaigns.
You can even do comparisons in the same fashion. Type “Compare conversion rates for paid search and display” and in the right column it will give you some instant data:
Play around with this, we’re sure it will become more and more robust over time. If you have a simple question, toss it into the search box and see if Analytics can quickly find that info for you. Instead of spending several minutes trying to navigate to where that data might be, see if you can save time and get your answer in a few seconds using this method.
Here’s more details on Google’s Analytics Intelligence.
14. Keep Ad Data Accurate
Why should you care: Analytics is only as good as the data it collects. Make sure your data is as as you can make it.
Some areas that typically need to be cleaned up:
- Self-referrals are when you are tracking your own site as a referral source because there is a disconnect in your analytics cookie and installation. You will see your own domain as the referral source of the traffic and you lose all the real source information.
This can be hugely problematic, for instance, if a massive amount of sales data is credited to your own domain. It may strip your Google Ads traffic from your source data, leaving you flying in the blind for optimization. Ideally, you find out where this is occurring.
Google has some tips here to clean this up.
- Referral spam will appear from time to time from some bots that try to get you to visit a domain name by sending a burst of traffic to your site so that their site will appear in your analytics. These are often from dubious websites that don’t have any connection or reason to link to you. You can create filters to exclude these domain names from appearing in your analytics.
Go to Admin > View > Filters to set these up.
- Incomplete conversion data. Maybe you have a different form on your landing pages then you do on your contact pages. Make sure that both of these are triggering a goal conversion, not just one of them.
15. Use Advanced Filters
How to get there: Filters can be found on most reports.
Why should you care: This is a powerful little box that is often overlooked. It’s on just about every Google Analytics table page for a reason.
You can use the search box for quick filters of data in a table, but the “advanced” link allows you to create some custom rules to filter data.
You can include or exclude certain metrics and dimensions from your data.
Maybe in the above view I want to include only Google Ads search queries that contain the word “buy” in them and compare how these do.
Maybe I want to add a second filter that looks at searches in them with “buy” that were made on mobile devices and see how that compares to those not on computers. Getting into groups of user’s heads and refining data can tell a story. These stories can turn into action items.
In the above case, we found that users typing a query with “buy” in it were nearly twice as likely to convert on mobile as on computers. We could then use that data to make mobile bid adjustments in our Google Ads.
16. Use the Analytics Data in Google Ads Carefully
Why should you care: You are also importing data from Analytics into your Google Ads account so you need make sure the data is sent properly.
As part of the link up with your Google Ads account, Analytics pushes goal conversion data into your account. You can choose whether to use or not use that goal conversion data. (In Google Ads, click Tools > Conversions and edit your conversions.)
What you don’t want is to see double reporting of your conversions.
For instance, you may have a Google Ads conversion tracking pixel giving you conversions data in addition to Analytics.
Next, let’s take a look at the other data imported from Analytics. Google doesn’t import every metric into Google Ads. If you are wondering which of these is not possible when you link your adwords account to google analytics, look at the list available in the image below. It’s not a lot, but if you don’t have a lot of conversion data to optimize by, you may want to do some optimizations by these Analytics metrics:
You can even set up auto-bidding rules based on how your ad groups and keywords perform with these metrics.
3. Lastly, as mentioned, Google Analytics will import audiences you can use for remarketing. It automatically brings in All Visitors as an option for you to then use with display ads or as bidding adjustments for your search ads. You can see this under your audience manager
We definitely recommend this as a best practice. Remarketing Campaigns are an inexpensive way to push your prospects through the funnel.
So You Made It This Far…
There’s a lot one can do to optimize and maximize marketing efforts in Google Analytics. It could go on for days, but the above is a solid foundation for combining analytics in conjunction with your ad campaigns. Even if you don’t have a deep understanding of each tip’s mechanics, just knowing what’s available to you is often enough. If you’re a small business, we suggest taking a deeper dive by checking our our tips for small businesses here
Building up valuable data and diving into it bit by bit can really move the needle for your online marketing. Our analytics experts love diving into this data when servicing Google Ads accounts for our clients.
We have a saying here:
“Data dictates decisions.”
When it comes to online marketing, the data can be endless. But so much of it can be turned into actionable items to improve your business. Happy analyzing.