If you currently use Google Analytics to capture traffic on your website, you are in good company. It was recently estimated by W3Techs that more than 55% of the top 1,000,000 websites are using Google Analytics. It is not surprising that Google Analytics is so widely used. The free web traffic tool can provide extraordinarily useful insight into visitor demographics and show how visitors interact with your website, including where they enter, how they navigate, what actions they take, and at what point they abandon the site.

Though the tool can capture a host of compelling visitor data, many new users to Google Analytics find the information to be overwhelming. In addition, if your Analytics account was not setup following best practices, the data captured may not be as helpful as it could be.

Below are five steps you can take to ensure that you are capturing accurate data and viewing reports in a way that is most useful for your business goals and objectives. These simple tricks will allow you to start leveraging your data instead of simply collecting it.

1.       Define Your Default Page and Track Your Site Search

There are two options in the Profile Settings tab that many people overlook during configuration—the Default Page and Site Search Tracking.

Profile setup

The default page is usually an index file (index.html, index.php, or index.asp). For example index.html (www.mywebsite.edu/index.html ) is the default page for www.mywebsite.edu. When the default page field is left blank, Google Analytics will return a separate number of Pageviews for each URL, thereby dividing the total number of visits into two separate pages.

Pageviews

If your site has a search utility, Google’s Site Search Tracking allows you to identify keywords that users searched for on your site, the points at which they started their search, how they refined their search terms, and what they did after they searched for a term. This data is invaluable for understanding the terminology of site visitors and identifying potential issues in site structure.

2.       Create Filtered Profiles and Exclude Internal Traffic

Google Analytics allows you to create multiple profiles per account. A profile is basically a set of rules (and/or filters) that define reports for your data.

Always keep a main profile that is completely unfiltered. Administrators can copy the main profile and use Google’s predefined filters, or custom filters, to segment the data. It is considered a best practice to create at least one additional profile that excludes internal traffic from your reports using GA’s “Exclude Traffic from the IP Addresses” feature. If you are able to segment the traffic data to focus on external users only (customers rather than your employees) you will establish a much clearer picture of the kind of information your primary audience is seeking.

Another effective approach is to create separate profiles for main directories in your website, allowing you to quickly assess how one section of your site is performing against another. Permission can also be granted to various users to access each profile. For instance, members of the graduate admissions office can have direct access to the reports that focus solely on the graduate section of your higher education website.

Filters

3.       Customize Your Dashboard

With the latest version of Google Analytics, administrators have the ability to create up to 20 custom dashboards per profile. By customizing your dashboard, you can choose to put the data that you need to see most often front and center each time you login. You can also create dashboards for different purposes; one dashboard could be setup to show international traffic, while another dashboard displays U.S. data only.

There are four types of widgets (Metric, Pie Charts, Timelines, or Tables). Each widget has customizable dimensions and metrics.  After setting up your widgets, the new interface allows you to drag and drop them anywhere on the three column dashboard screen in the order that you prefer.

Widgets

4.       Segment Your Audiences

Audience segmentation refers to a subset of visitors whose behavior you would like to see and analyze. Many people look at the analytics based on all visits to their site, but it can be more useful to analyze only the “New Visitors” or “Mobile Visitors” segments and even compare these segments side by side in reports. Advanced Segmentation allows you to isolate and analyze these subsets of your traffic.

Google Analytics provides a list of Default Segments to choose from or you can create custom segments. All data throughout the reports can be viewed by these segments including Visits, Pageviews, Average Time on Site, Bounce Rate, and even the Organic Search Traffic Keywords report.

Advanced segments

5.       Use Alerts and Annotations

Stay informed of spikes and dips in site traffic by accessing Automatic Alerts on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Alerts, part of Google’s new Analytics Intelligence, monitors your website’s traffic to detect significant changes and automatically generates a report. The Alerts can be difficult to find, they are on the Home tab under Intelligence Events, but once you locate them, they are a great resource for gaining quick access to fluctuations in New Visits, Average Time on Site and Bounce Rate. You can also create Custom Alerts, and choose to receive alerts via text message or email if, for instance, you wanted to receive notification when a page on the site loses significant traffic, or there is a huge spike in mobile visits.

Automatic alerts

You can gain additional insight into your data by customizing reports, setting and tracking goals and campaigns, and using Google’s new visualization tools, such as Visitors Flow Report, to see the paths visitors took through your site. Google Analytics is a robust set of tools; there will always be more to learn. By configuring your settings and customizing your display options, you will have direct access to the insights you need most often, making data much more clear, valuable, and actionable.

For a more in-depth look at best practices, interpreting data, and creating goals to turn your data into actionable items, attend our free webinar Google Analytics: Making Sense of Your Data.