This post was originally written by Kerry Sugrue, former Social Media Specialist at Apartments.com.
We have talked a lot about tracking, analytics, SEO and reporting on our blog, which has prompted customers to ask questions about what all this means (We love questions! Keep them coming!). So I thought, who better to ask, than the experts? There are many different resources available for website tracking, both free and paid services. A well-known tool, which also happens to be free, is Google Analytics and I had the pleasure to talk with Jesse Nichols, the Partner Program Manager for Google Analytics & Website Optimizer at Google. We discussed the basics of analytics and how to get what you need to know from all those reports. Below is our interview for you to learn from. If you have any questions, please write them in the comments below. A big thank you to Jesse and everyone at Google from the Apartments.com team! Make sure you follow @GoogleAnalytics on Twitter for updates, and view this product tour for more information.
(Kerry) Jesse, can you give us a brief overview of what Google Analytics is and what it can tell me?
(Jesse) Google Analytics is basically a device to measure your website traffic. If you could compare it to owning a retail store, it’s like turning the lights on and watching how your visitors move around your store. It tells you where your traffic is coming from and what people are doing on your site.
(Kerry) What does the Google Analytics tool cost?
(Jesse) It is a completely free service to start. You may need the assistance of an outside professional to implement it if you aren’t sure about how to get started, but otherwise it is free.
(Kerry) What types of websites can you use Google Analytics for?
(Jesse) Any sites; retail, e-commerce, publishers, informational, lead generating, etc. Google Analytics functions on all types of websites.
(Kerry) Is there an easy 123 guide to set up Google Analytics?
(Jesse) Yes, Google provides step-by-step instructions for set up as well as other helpful resources.
(Kerry) Once you have Google Analytics set up for your website, how often should you be checking it?
(Jesse) It depends on how often you will be taking action. Before you go into Analytics, it’s important to have some idea of what you want to find out, and the more often you want to know, the more often you should check. For instance, if you are just interested in visits maybe you should only check once a week, but if you are making marketing decisions based on web traffic, then you might want to check daily.
(Kerry) What is the importance of tracking your website?
(Jesse) You can’t change what you can’t measure. Everyone makes decisions based on data. Now, that data could come from an unreliable source, or it could be really good, precise data. The best chance you have at making the best decision is by using good, reliable data, and that’s what website tracking can give you.
(Kerry) How do you go about setting up reports?
(Jesse) This is the beauty of Google Analytics, once you have installed the basic code and make sure it’s working, the reports will start filling out automatically. The vast majority start working right away. The real value of the reports is that they can show you everything you want to know about one characteristic of your visitors, making it very simple to learn about them.
(Kerry) Using the keywords report in Google Analytics, you can see what people searched to get to your website. What can you do with that information?
(Jesse) You can do one of two things: 1) Change how people get to your site, or 2) Change their experience once they get there. If you would like to change how people get to your site, do things like bid higher on good keywords in a geography where they are relevant. If your reports are indicating that visitors are having a hard time finding what they wanted on your site, you may want to alter to look or feel to make sure visitors have a better experience. For instance, if you find that most people searching are using the words “One Bedroom Apartment”, then maybe you should consider creating a prevalent link on your home page to ‘one bedroom apartments’.
(Kerry) Will you explain about setting up goals in Analytics?
(Jesse) First, determine the most valuable thing someone can do on your site, like submitting a lead or visiting the contact us page. Establish the most valuable action and then note the URL that indicates that the person has completed the activity, like a thank you page after someone submits a request for information. The URL that indicates success should be your goal URL within your profile settings.
(Kerry) How are goals beneficial?
(Jesse) Setting a goal allows you to know if your marketing efforts were successful. By knowing that, you can optimize your investment by spending more on the activities that result in success and spending less on those that don’t. It’s all about optimization.
(Kerry) What is the most common question you hear?
(Jesse) What now? Now that I have my data what do I do next? The answer is to start simple. Start with what you have been curious about. If you are curious about how people get to your site, look at the traffic sources. If you want to know what pages people look at, check out the pages report. Also, think about the things you can actually take action on. For example, if a lot of people who are looking at your website live 50 miles away, maybe you should consider doing some offline advertising in that location.
(Kerry) In the multifamily industry, why would using Google Analytics be beneficial?
(Jesse) It’s important for the rental industry because it’s your best indicator of who is your friend online. What website is sending you valuable traffic? Be it your marketing efforts on Apartments.com, your AdWords account, or just word of mouth, Google Analytics can show you where your best investment is.