How to Mine Your Data in Google Analytics

How to Mine Your Data in Google Analytics

new vs returningOne of the greatest things about the analytical platforms available for websites is the sheer abundance of data. There is so much data, in fact, that it’s easy to get paralyzed and not really know which direction to take. In this post, we’ll explore several options for mining your data from Google Analytics and how to make practical use of it in your everyday activities.

Keyword Traffic Sources

The keywords you use on your website are some of the most important text. Analytics provides keyword reports that show you exactly which terms visitors used to find you. At the time of this writing, the keyword traffic sources report can be found by navigating to Traffic Sources -> Overview. The keyword report should be the default report view. If it isn’t, simply click on “view full report” in the bottom right-hand corner of the summary report, and select from one of the primary dimensions listed above the report view.

The keywords report has a variety of purposes. It can be used to track progress in on- and off-site SEO campaigns, as a tool to optimize for keywords that you may not be targeting but that people are using to find your site, and the level of engagement visitors have with your site in relation to the keyword they used to find it.

Tracking SEO campaigns:

  • The presence of targeted keywords in the keyword report gives a good indication that SEO efforts are paying off. Adding a secondary dimension like referral source can give you further verification that the site is ranking for a particular keyword phrase in searches.

Going after keywords:

  • With all the keyword research tools and software programs out there for determining the best phrases, we still miss the mark sometimes. Keyword data in analytics tells us exactly the terms people are using to find our website. Sometimes, you may find terms that your site is ranking for, but that you aren’t targeting specifically. If you can tell from low bounce rates and high visit durations that these unexpected keywords are beneficial, you can then optimize certain pages of your site to be more relevant for those terms.

Tweaking your Content:

  • On the other side of the coin, there may be words or phrases you are trying to rank for, but data may suggest that visitors don’t find your pages relevant. High bounce rates and low visit durations compared with a high percentage of new visits on a particular phrase may suggest that you are succeeding in ranking for that term, but that your content on the page is not that useful or relevant for visitors using that term to find your site.

Note that you can also associate a Google Analytics account with a web master tools account to view lots of useful SEO data. You can see additional keyword terms that were used to find the property, click through rates, landing pages, impressions and more.


Tracking advertising campaigns online is far more fruitful than tracking more traditional marketing such as direct mail. Using Google’s URL builder, advertisers can put uniqe URLs in their ads so that data can be tracked easily in campaign referral reports provided by analytics. Once you have a campaign and tracking set up for it, other metics in analytics can tell you how successful your efforts have been. The campaigns report can be found by going to Traffic Sources -> Sources -> Campaigns. Basic metrics like bounce rate, visit duration and the number of visits can tell you if your campaigns are doing well or if they need attention.

Bounce Rate:

  • A high bounce rate for a campaign can tell you things about your ad(s). The most obvious problem may be that your landing page is not relevant to your ad. If your value proposition stated in the ad, keywords or other elements aren’t consistent with your landing page, people will leave right away.

Visit Duration:

  • Analytics tells you how long a visitor stayed on your site after clicking an ad. Visit duration can be especially revealing for sites that are sending visitors through a conversion funnel. A low overall visit duration for a campaign where visitors are prompted to go through a conversion funnel may indicate that the process is too long or ambiguous in some way. A short visit duration on a single page in a conversion funnel may also suggest that the process is confusing in some way, or that the pages are poorly designed.

Number of Visitors:

  • The number of visitors from a campaign gives you direct evidence as to the success of your ad in terms of driving traffic. You can use this metric to determine if it’s worth advertising on a specific property.


There are a variety of metrics in the audience reports that can help you make decisions about your website. Some notable reports like Technology and Mobile can help you make decisions about design and programming tasks for your site. Using data in the Browser & OS report, you can make programming decisions about your website. This report can be found under Audience -> Technology -> Browser & OS. Data from mobile overview and devices reports can help you make decisions about whether mobile content is something you should be thinking about if you haven’t already. These reports can be found under Audience -> Mobile -> Overview or Devices.

Browser & OS:

  • There are tons of technologies available that make the web more beautiful. Flash, HTML5, CSS3 and other programming languages and software enable web designers to make visually appealing pages with advanced functionality. Unfortunately, there are few standards when it comes to browsers, and not all features work the same in all browsers. In fact, it can be extremely time consuming and tedious to ensure that a single effect can be viewed consistently across all devices. Using the Browser & OS reports, you can determine if these programming challenges need to be undertaken or not. For example, you may find that 95% of your visitors don’t have the most current version of Flash and haven’t for the past 7 months. Knowing that, you may hold off on relying on the technology for a web redesign.


  • Mobile is growing by leaps and bounds. The number of mobile devices accessing the web now outnumbers more traditional devices. Businesses often ask, “Should I have a mobile website?” The answer isn’t always clear, and as a business, you don’t want to spend a lot of time and money making your site mobile-friendly if you don’t have to. Mobile reports in analytics can give you an idea if users are demanding mobile-friendly content from you. If you have the traffic volumes, it can also tell you which devices are used most often to access your site. Using this information, you can make decisions about whether having mobile-ready content is worth the investment, and if it is, which devices are most important for optimization.

Referring Websites

This is one of my favorite reports because you can see the other websites that are sending traffic to yours. There are a couple of cool things you can learn by looking at data from these reports. If you are involved in backlink building or commenting on forums or blogs, you can see the websites where your time has been well spent building links or being active. You can also use it as a collaboration tool for reaching out to other webmasters in your niche.

Forum Commenting:

  • Forum commenting is a great way to build awareness of a brand, generate links to your site and, in general, position yourself as a thought leader. You can determine if your overall activities are effective by seeing the number of visitors referred, how long they stayed on your site, how many pages they looked at and the percentage of new visits. An example of where you could use data is if you are active on a forum for the purposes of marketing. If you have a link to your website or one of its pages in a signature on the forum, you will be able to see referrals coming from that link. Say you post to the forum three times per day, five days per week over a three month period. If you see that you are only receiving a handful of referrals from those links, this could be an indication that other visitors to the forum aren’t responding well to your product/service, or that the forum isn’t a good place to be spending your time. On the other hand, if you see that your time spent posting has brought you many dozens of referrals, perhaps it would be wise to increase activity on the same forum or similar sites.

Link Building:

  • The referring websites report not only allows you to check on the progress of a link building campaign, it can help you identify sites that probably shouldn’t be connected to yours. By clicking on a referring site in reports, you can see the path where the referral came from. This is the exact page that sent a visitor to your site and also the location of a backlink. By visiting the URLs specified in analytics, you can see if your backlinks are placed in appropriate areas such as within copy and with anchor text that is favorable to you. Viewing these URLs will also give you a good idea if the site linking to yours is of good quality or not. For instance, if you see that the site’s content has nothing to do with yours, or if it is spammy or poorly designed, its links should be removed. The same is true if a site links from blog networks, disproportionate anchor text links, or is generally untrustworthy. Referring website reports will not identify these links for you, but they will show you pages that are referring traffic, which allows you to decide for yourself if the links need to be removed.

Visitors Flow

The visitors flow report is a neat visual representation of how people move throughout your site. Using this report, you can identify where visitors enter your site and which pages they travel to afterwards. Using the data, you can determine if your site is easy to navigate. Looking at this report as a whole can be confusing because there may be many different pages with many different connections. The whole thing can look like a spider web. In other words, it’s impressive, but useless.

Interpreting Visitor Flow:

  • Instead of looking at the visitor flow report as a whole, identify single connections among one, two or three pages. Perhaps you have a conversion funnel or a series of pages that you want visitors to follow. By isolating the pages in the report, you can see where visitors are traveling among those few pages and make assumptions as to why. For example, you may want visitors to travel deeper into your site from the home page. If looking at the visitor flow report reveals that a majority of visitors are bouncing after seeing the home page, this could be an indication that your content is not engaging, your navigation may be confusing, or perhaps some other mechanism in place to drive traffic to the site is misleading.

Google Analytics is a great tool for measuring activity on a website. It’s important to develop specific goals and questions rather than looking at the data passively with no real objective. The amount of data can be overwhelming, but if you have a narrow set of concerns, the data can be very insightful and easy to understand. You can find even more information on how to gather your data and make actionable decisions on the official Google Analytics Blog.


How do you mine data in Analytics? Have you ever found yourself paralyzed by the amount of information presented to you by the platform?

Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.

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