Mastering Google Analytics: Don’t Be a Deer on the Freeway

Not all Google Analytics are created equal. Laser-focus on these three metrics that will actually benefit your retention efforts

Lauren Dowdle
April 16 2018

Even the most seasoned marketers can suffer from data overload at times, and that trend is only going to continue as technology allows you to track and compare more metrics. From email campaigns to your social media pages, there are a variety of numbers and stats you can measure at any given time. While that information can be insightful, it can often become overwhelming if you don’t have a clear goal for the data. One go-to tool you’re probably already using to track your web traffic is Google Analytics, the most widely used web analytics service on the web. There’s a seemingly endless amount of data you can derive from this platform. But instead of running yourself thin trying to collect a variety of data points, why not spend your resources on what really matters — especially when it comes to managing your retention efforts?

There might not be set tools in Google Analytics for measuring things like customer loyalty and satisfaction. But, there are ways to measure the behaviors that produce those retention components, showing you what you need to focus on with your strategy. One company taking advantage of these digital tools is Ideel (formerly ideeli). According to a Google Analytics’ case study, the company was able to exceed its marketing goals by incorporating Google Attribution 360, which is part of the Google Analytics 360 Suite. That cost savings allowed them to spend more to engage prior customers, and they also funded a new retargeting campaign that boosted their repeat purchases by more than 30 percent.

This type of result can be recreated in your company if you know where to start. Here are three metrics you should be tracking on Google Analytics to measure and improve your customer retention efforts.

New vs. Returning Visitors

One of the easiest ways to track your retention efforts is by seeing how many of your existing customers continue to visit your pages. There’s nothing wrong with having new site visitors, but if they make up the majority of your traffic, you’re obviously not doing enough to make them regular visitors. And new visitors are going to give you a higher bounce rate and less time on site, if you’re tracking those metrics.

What it shows: A new visitor is someone who visits your site for the first time on a specific device, and a returning visitor is one who has visited your site before from the same device. So, someone who goes to your site once on their phone and then again on their computer would count as two new visitors. To get a real grasp on where you’re building loyalty, go beyond the main new vs. returning visitor pie chart, and break down your audience. Segment your visitors by channels like email, social networks or even the date (helpful for when you have a big release or campaign that could skew the numbers). That will show you your new to returning ratio for each outlet.

Once you’ve broken down the visitors, you can get a better grasp on which sites or areas create the most loyalty. For example, if your emails have a much higher returning visitor percentage, you’ll know that’s where to focus your retention efforts for the best results.

How to view: You’ll find the main section under the Behavior tab on the left as New vs Returning. To segment your visitors, click Audiences and then + Add Segment when that window opens. You can use options from their system or create custom ones.

Cohort Analysis

Preventing customers from becoming part of your churn rate plays a major role in your retention efforts, and one way to identify when that could happen is through a Cohort Analysis (still in Beta). A cohort is defined as a group of people who share characteristics — and that’s what this metric is after. Google Analytics allows you to group visitors by their acquisition dates to see how they are engaging with your site.

What it shows: Track site visitors by their acquisition date to see if/when they are interacting with your site. You’re able to see when users are disengaging (ex. fewer page views, less revenue per user, fewer transactions), which allows you to identify (and fix) the common points of attrition. If you see a trend of disengagement after one month, for example, you can take a proactive approach to re-engage them before they hit that milestone. Maybe you send an informative marketing campaign or attractive deal to get them back on course.

How to view: From the Reports tab in the left panel, click Audience > Cohort Analysis. You can then use the menu to set the parameters: Cohort Type, Cohort Size (by day, week or month), Metric, Date Range and N selected. There’s even a metric for User Retention.

Site Search

While it’s not exactly a hard data metric, figuring out what words or phrases people are searching on your site can be a huge advantage for your retention efforts. Being able to identify popular searches will also help you improve your site’s usability and the customer experience.

What it shows: See which users are taking advantage of your website’s search function, what they’re searching and if the search results created better engagement on your site. You’ll be able to identify what people are interested in or are having trouble finding on your site’s current navigation.

Do you notice a trend? If numerous people are searching for the same thing, you need to make that information or page easier to find. It’s rare to get such direct access to what your customers want and are thinking, so take advantage of tracking their site searches. If you have a high percentage of search exits, you’ll know they aren’t finding what they need. On the other hand, if you have a high average search depth, that shows they found several valuable pages.

In an effort to ensure their search tool helped with conversions, Wyndham Vacation Rentals used Google Analytics to see which attributes customers searched for the most and what led to a conversion. They found the terms “scenic view” were one of the top attributes customers included in their searches, for example, but that search didn’t have the highest conversion rate. So, they used that data to redesign the search results page so properties including the most profitable mix of searchable attributes appeared on the first page.

How to view: On the left panel, click Behavior > Site Search. You can choose from Overview, Usage, Search Terms and Search Pages. There are expanded features and options in Analytics 360, as well.

Keep Data Goal in Sight

The adage of “quality over quantity” rings true with what you’re tracking on Google Analytics. Each metric you’re watching should be linked to a specific goal — whether that’s improving customer loyalty or preventing churn. You can learn a great deal from the data you collect, as long as you know what to do with the results.

“Without big data analytics, companies are blind and deaf, wandering out onto the web like deer on a freeway.” — Geoffrey Moore, American organizational theorist, management consultant and author


Lauren Dowdle

Lauren Dowdle is an award-winning writer and magazine editor based in Nashville, Tenn. Her nearly decade-long writing career has covered everything from landscaping to marketing — plus being interviewed by Jay Leno and winning a backhoe-operating contest. When she’s not behind the keyboard, you’ll find her spoiling her four furry babies and exploring the city with her husband.

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