My interest in Google Analytics began about 6 years ago. Two years after my brother, Gary, and I launched Mad Mimi Email Marketing. Whilst we had installed Google Analytics from the start, we used it almost entirely for its vanity metrics. We looked at our traffic numbers and very little else. Sure, we glanced at conversion rates, bounce rates, landing pages and a handful of other metrics. And yet not once did we ask the right questions of our analytics. Of course, without asking the right question, one never gets the right answer. So I hired an analyst. Then another and another. Unfortunately, instead of simplifying our data, and looking for an area of improvement, these analysts collected heaping swaths of information into reports and dropped them on me like a ton of bricks. I was perplexed. I mean to say, there’s something about data that paralyses the mind and reduces the contents of the brain to mush. So, no longer enamored of the idea of analysts, I decided to strike out on my own, to learn the mysteries of Google Analytics. Along the way I did meet phenomenal analysts with ready intelligence – they’re out there –  who helped me learn a lot. I’d like to share one of my favorite ideas.

So, How Is My Website Traffic Doing?

As far as questions go, this one is a doozy. It’s really a poor question that leaves out all the pertinent points one might hope to glean from an answer. It reminds me a little of myself at the age of 14 when my father would ask me how my day at school was. I’d answer “fine.” Really, if you’re asking this question of your data, you’re probably answering “fine,” to yourself. And yet I bet I could throw a rock and hit a business owner, or marketer, or growth hacker, who asked this question. A better question to ask is:

Have I been growing my high-quality traffic recently?

Now that is a good question that will yield insights and inspire you to act.

Defining High-Quality Traffic

First, do you want to look at all your traffic? You might want to focus entirely on new visitors, or referrals or even mobile traffic that arrives on your site via organic search. Whatever defines “ideal” to you. Here are the steps to segmenting traffic in Google Analytics. To answer the question above, we need to first define what high-quality traffic is. The way I do it is that I select two or more Google Analytics metrics that I feel make up a great visitor. The obvious ones are Bounce Rate and Conversion Rate but you might want to add in Site Depth, or Revenue per Transaction. Whatever suits your goals. Then, I like to create my own, internal benchmark to compare myself to. I generally look at my site’s average bounce rate and conversion rate for the last quarter and set that as my goal to surpass. A simplistic example may be a bounce rate of 40% and a conversion rate of 10%. Now, anytime I look at my traffic, if it has a bounce rate of lower than 40% and a conversion rate of 10% or higher, I consider it of good quality. So, time to define what you feel is “high quality” for your website. Take a break, write down what you’d love for your audience to do on your site. Then choose 2 to 4 metrics that would quantify your audience behavior. If you want them to explore your site, then site depth is a good one. If you want them to purchase something, then transactions per session might be the right metric for you. If you’re unsure, start simple with bounce rate and conversion rate.  

Getting Analytics’ Answer To The Right Question

Jolly good, we’ve got our definition of high quality. Now, let’s look at our site traffic. I’m going to say, for this example, that we’re only interested in growing high-quality new visitors. Note: By keeping things focused, you’ll find clearer opportunities to act. We might rephrase our question now as: Has my growth strategy been attracting high-quality new visitors recently? Now that’s a great question to ask yourself! So, let’s look at our traffic through this lens. I created a custom report in Google Analytics that shows me only new users along with their bounce rate and conversion rate. Marvelous, but that’s not all. I also made sure to add in dimension drill downs of default channel grouping and filter by user type. Here’s what it looks like: Untitled Well, now you have your report. Excited? I jolly well am. Because now we have this report, we can monitor our growth weekly, or monthly, in the context of our own definition of high-quality traffic.   You can actually answer the question in a yes or no way. Has your growth strategy been attracting high-quality new visitors recently? This report has that answer. Keep a close eye on it!

Optimizing For A Traffic Source

Monitoring your traffic is all very well, for those that like to monitor things. I, and I feel safe in assuming you too, like to act. So here is what I do next: I review each traffic channel in the context of our ideal traffic and ask a new question. Are new visitors who visit my site via a specific channel, bouncing and converting at the rate I’d like? If I notice a channel that has a significant volume of traffic but is letting me down somewhat in the quality metrics (i.e. it has a poor bounce rate), then I know I need to optimize for that. Perhaps it’s the referral traffic channel that is sending me a nice amount of traffic but simply not converting at a rate I’d love. My next actions are crystal clear. I can investigate which referrers are sending me the traffic and explore their site. I could then look at the landing pages they’re arriving on and optimize them. For example, I’d make sure that the new visitors, coming from a blogger, writing about my app versus my competitors, see an awesome chart highlighting my strengths over my competitors. Because I’m considering quality in the context of traffic, it helps clarify the actions I can take. Once I’ve optimized my site or strategy to improve the experience for new visitors, I’ll likely see growth in conversion rate too. Quality results tend to be holistic. Best of all, I can simply keep an eye on this report and make sure that my actions haven’t had an adverse effect on my quality.

Growing A Traffic Source

On the other hand, perhaps I notice that a traffic channel has outstanding quality. My bounce rate is rock bottom with an high conversion rate. Amazing! I know that the next actions for me to take are to grow this traffic source. Let’s use referrals as an example again. Say I notice that referral traffic volume is somewhat low, but of a generally high quality, I can define and enact a strategy of inbound link building, simultaneously improving my SEO. I can note which types of referrals are bringing me great traffic and seek out other opportunities, either with those sites or with similar sites. Again, because I’m monitoring my growth in a specific context on traffic and quality, I’m able to keep tabs on the success of my strategy. I can note that I’m growing my traffic without sacrificing quality. Or, if I see a correlated drop in quality, I can act quickly to fix that.

Growing Versus Optimizing

Well, this is simple but it’s so much fun to lay out. If you have low quality traffic and a high volume, you should optimize! If you have high quality traffic at a low volume, grow it! Ultimately, by switching between these two ideas, you’ll end up growing your high-quality traffic!