Do you make business decisions based on pertinent information or your gut? Maybe you’re like a lot of people who rely on what I call “gutfo” – using intuition and then finding information that supports it. Either way, collecting and analyzing data that can assist your decision-making is important and easier now than it’s ever been before.

Recently I hosted a Google Analytics workshop that was very well attended. Regardless of what my mom thinks, my hunch is the strong attendance reflects more on the subject matter than it does the presenter. It’s not surprising, your website’s analytics are a great source for actionable business data and Google Analytics (GA) is a free solution that is both intuitive and powerful.

Your website’s analytics can tell you about more than just your website’s performance. Because all of your marketing efforts have the potential to drive visitors to your website, Google Analytics can be used to measure the success of all of your online and offline marketing initiatives. A recent survey by Conductor, a leading web technology company, found that 76% of US marketing executives said digital performance data is affecting their decision-making even more today than it did just twelve months ago. This trend will continue.

If you’re new to GA there’s a lot to learn. I could write a really long and super boring book on the subject (and I am currently accepting six-figure offers), but for this column I’m going to highlight some easy ways to quickly get better data and analysis.

Tip 1: Create Goals to measure website objectives.

This might be surprising, but I’ve had conversations with many clients over the years who can’t define a specific objective of their company’s website. You’ve invested a lot of time and money on your site; was it worth it? The only way to know is to create and measure Goals, specific user actions that you define in Google Analytics. But before you can do that you have to decide specifically what you want visitors to do on your site. More importantly, that action should translate to business objectives and/or the bottom-line (hint: Average Time on Site is not a business objective).

Tip 2: Focus on trending rather than hard numbers.

Google Analytics works extremely well but there are limitations. Not every visitor to the site can be measured and large reports are often generated using a sampling technique that only analyzes a subset of data. Rather than set goals and expectations based on a quantitative amount, allow your site’s performance to set a benchmark and then measure the percent change over time. For example, if you’re sending out emails to a third-party list with the intent driving sales leads through form submissions, measure the landing page’s conversion rate. Then test a new offer, landing page, or recipient list and compare this new conversion rate to this benchmark.

Tip 3: Use annotations to measure the affects of marketing initiatives.

When you start a new marketing or advertising campaign, make a note of the day it started. Once some time has passed you can go back and look at the trending data before and after the campaign started as a measurement of success. If you have a billboard that features the website domain, measure the percent change of direct sessions (visitors who type in your website URL) to determine the effectiveness of listing the URL on the board.

Tip 4: Tag every link that you use in digital advertising and social media.

Another shortcoming of GA is the system’s limited ability to measure exactly where traffic comes from. Fortunately there’s an easy way to ensure you’re accurately tracking visitors based on which link they clicked through by adding parameters to the landing page URL. Parameters allow you to overwrite the information GA would typically collect and include information like the link source (i.e. RBJ-enewsletter), the link medium (i.e. email) and the campaign name (i.e. Free-GA-Consultation). In this example I would use the following link to drive visitors to my company’s homepage: https://masondigital.com?utm_source=rbj-enewsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Free-GA-Consultation. There are free tools online that help you build these link tagged URLs (tip: Google it).

Tip 5: Test and learn.

I know, this one sounds wildly unhelpful. Trust me, this is a crucial tip that is just as valuable as the others I’ve noted. The capabilities of GA have changed drastically over the past few years with many improvements including new features and reports. For example, recently a new report was added that shows demographic and psychographic information about your site’s visitors based on data collected by Google of the users’ web surfing habits. Techniques, reports, and best practices are always changing so be prepared to try new things and never stop learning.

If you want to learn more, we offer Google Analytics training.