There is indeed a best Google Analytics report and within minutes of looking at it, you’ll gain numerous insights. And no, there are no tricks or special expertise needed. This is a report everyone can understand and benefit from, whether you’re a small business owner with no analytics experience or a seasoned web analytics guru.
What Makes A Google Analytics Report “The Best?”
1. The report must be beautifully designed:
The best Google Analytics report is beautifully designed to tell a story both with and about the facts.
Clutter and confusion are not attributes of data – they are shortcomings of design.
~ Edward Tufte
This same report will be easy to read, simple to follow and have clear structure; and, as analysts are fond of saying, the report should “tell the story.” Often, there is a tradeoff between data and clarity, but that isn’t necessary. It is indeed possible to share data with simplistic clarity. I’ll demonstrate this below.
2. Honesty in visualization
The best Google Analytics report is honest. Data visualization in the report must avoid obfuscating the relationship between metrics or data points. That means avoiding the common data visualization mistakes like cropped axes and not following standard conventions.
Much of the honesty in data visualization comes from positive actions that draw attention to relationships and provide quantitative annotations. Keeping bars appropriately spaced, demonstrating context wherever possible and being eminently readable are key factors in presenting data honestly.
3. Context makes for the best reports
If we were talking about journalism, this would be obvious. Sadly, when it comes to web analytics reporting, too often the context is left out. Context is about showing current performance with something that qualifies it.
For example, traffic is a meaningless metric without being shown alongside engagement metrics like conversions or revenue per visit. Another example is context is understanding how the current data we’re looking at fits in the broader trends of one’s website. Is my 10% conversion rate good? Well, only if I usually have an 8% conversion rate.
4. Segmentation provides actionable insights
A last vital aspect of the Google Analytics report is providing easy access to segmented data. Segmentation is where the data diving and insights really occur. Segmentation helps explain and grasp why the current performance is what it is.
Data Diving: Stirring a significantly large enough bowl of alphabet soup until actionable insights are written out on the surface.
~ Jim Sterne, The Devils Data Dictionary
Exploring The Best Google Analytics Report
Shown below is what I think is the best Google Analytics report one can build with Google Analytics data. It’s called “where did my traffic come from?” Sure, it may not answer every single analyst’s question every time. This web analytics report is the best is because every single time you look at it, you’ll learn something that is actionable. This report also conforms to the four points mentioned above.
Ok, let’s go through this Google Analytics report from the top.
The first thing you should notice is that this report is actually a question, “where did my traffic come from last week?” Every report should answer an overarching question. It sets the context for what we’re looking at, right from the start. Let’s dive into the first section on the report…
The Many Roles Of The Graph
The report then answers the question, in a direct, quantitative and visual way in the graph. There’s no doubt whence one’s traffic came last week. Immediately we see that Direct traffic followed by Organic Search traffic are our major sources of traffic.
The report shows the relative volume of each channel as well as the exact numbers of each channel (when hovering over each bar). This is notable because it contains the information one needs without cluttering the report when the information is irrelevant.
Why is this section of the report important? Well, before we answer that, let’s make sure we have some context:
Looking at the time series graph we learn two important items.
- Direct traffic had a big seasonable boost in December but it leveled off back to what looks to be normal.
- Everything else is roughly at expected volumes.
Both of these items are highly significant. If the time series was half as long, all we’d see was a distressingly steep decline in direct traffic. The three month timeline tends to capture any seasonality and show the return to the norm. Thus we can avoid making poor decisions based on incomplete data.
That other channels’ traffic volumes are generally level is significant. It allows us to analyze and consider the other aspects in the report knowing that we’re likely looking at the norm. In other words, when we start to consider the quality of the traffic, we can do so with confidence. It also allows us to look at the bar graph, knowing that there are no strong outliers this week.
Back in the bar graph, noting the relative volume of each channel helps with resource allocation and context. If I was told by my social media manager that we doubled twitter traffic to our site, well, we’ll always understand the impact on our business as a whole. Understanding the relative volume of channels provides the honesty in visualization we want in an excellent Google Analytics report.
Qualitative Analysis of Google Analytics Data
Traffic volume, as described by sessions or users or unique sessions is actually an unhelpful metric, at least when standing alone. However, once you add engagement metrics like bounce rate, conversion rate, time on site and pageviews per session, you’re able to get a far more useful understanding of your traffic. If your site is an ecommerce store, then you’d want to consider revenue-based metrics like avg. order value and revenue per visit.
Related blog post: Does your bounce rate matter?
Here at Teacup, we always consider a combination of engagement metrics. What we do is evaluate each of your engagement metrics in the context of your site’s history and current performance. Then, Teacup reports grade each channel and segment in your reports. At the channel level, it looks like this:
What this shows you is that this week, each channel, overall, is actually performing quite nicely. So, although we saw in the time series graph that Direct traffic has been dropping since December, the quality and engagement of the traffic is a respectable B.
Let’s look at another example:
Here, we see that Organic search is both my largest channel but also my most engaged visitors. That’s useful to know – I can immediately see that my Organic search strategy is working. It’s probably worth investing more there. At the same time, all my other channels are not performing so well. So, let’s put quality and quantity together!
In this example, Social traffic is not as engaged as it should be, but volume wise, it’s a significant portion of the traffic to this site. An insightful light bulb goes off! I need to optimize my site experience for social traffic. This could include posting different content, improving landing pages, or diving a bit deeper – which we’ll explore in the next section.
When including qualitative data alongside quantitative data, your Google Analytics reports become actionable. You’re able to understand which channels attract the “right” traffic and act accordingly. And if you’re ever unsure how to act, just google something like “tips to grow organic traffic.”
Browsing Segmented Data In The Best Google Analytics Report
Up to this point, we’ve already checked off the top three points of good reporting. We’ve discussed good visualization, added relative context and qualitative analysis to plain ol’ session volume. Now, we’re going to explore the 4th point: segmentation.
This report is already segmented by channel but that’s not enough to find the best opportunities to optimize. Segmenting a channel into smaller groups offers inspiration for more targeted optimization.
Let’s look at Social traffic. In our main report example, Social traffic is getting a B grade. We’d like to improve that grade before investing more time to grow social traffic. Before going further, let’s set a scene for demonstration and add a bit more detail.
In this hypothetical scenario, our business goal is to use social media to attract new visitors to our platform. We’d like to be sure we’re reaching the right visitors and once we’re confident about that, we’re going to invest time, manpower and advertising dollars into this channel to grow it.
We already know that social traffic is engaged in mild way (a B grade). But why? Let’s look deeper:
Th best Google Analytics report allows the reader to browse effortlessly through the segments of each channel. Our first stop is User Type – we’ll compare new visitors to returning traffic.
Wow, return traffic is less than half of our traffic but it’s very nicely engaged with the site. Clearly, social media works to maintain a great relationship with our social media audience but that’s unfortunately not the goal in this scenario. When it comes to new visitors, they’re very much dis-engaged with our site. That’s an important insight – we know that we need to improve the new visitor experience.
Next, let’s explore Device type.
Desktop visitors seem to be having a fantastic experience on the site. Unfortunately, mobile users are drastically underwhelmed by our website. Already, I know that new visitors on mobile are going to likely be unhappy with the site experience.
If I were to act, I’d focus on rejuvenating the mobile experience on this site. I’ll also make sure that new visitors are being catered to either by landing page content and on-boarding steps.
This detailed segmentation also includes source site, so I know how I’m performing with Facebook vs. Twitter traffic. I can also see which landing pages are winning visitors over too.
The best part? Because of Teacup’s grading, I never need to work hard to compare individual metrics against other metrics – it’s all analyzed for me and rolled up into a helpful grade. And the very best part? The grading methodology is customizable!
When I claimed this was the best Google Analytics report ever, I wasn’t kidding!
What Makes This The Best Google Analytics Report Around?
I know I’m tooting my own horn, but I’ve yet to find a better report that covers so many bases without being both ugly and overwhelming. When reviewing any Google Analytics reports, be sure to keep your business’ unique goals in mind. If you ever need more information and to go deeper than the segmentation aspect, it’s time to load a more focused report – we’ve got ‘em!
This Teacup report, where did my traffic come from, is one of over 30 questions answered in Teacup’s library of reports. Oh, and if you’d like an even more in-depth article about this one special report, you can read more here.