When you’re first building your website, you have to depend on audience and competitor research and established best practices to make informed guesses at what will work best. But as long as you set up Google Analytics after you go live, with every day you’ll gain valuable data on what actually works for your audience.
Within a few months, you’ll have enough data to inform meaningful insights on ways your website can be improved. At that point, it’s time to think about a website redesign that puts that knowledge to work.
Redesigning your website is one of those tasks that’s easy to put off. Running the website you have is enough work without taking a step back to change it all up. But if you want to reap the benefits of what you’ve learned in your first few months in business, planning for a website update based on your data within six months to a year of when you first launched is a good goal to have.
Why Using Google Analytics Is Important
Even though Google Analytics is entirely free, it’s a treasure trove of valuable information for website owners. It provides data that helps you understand:
- Who your visitors are
- How they behave
- What they care about
- How they find your website
- What makes them decide to take an action
Google Analytics collects a huge quantity of information on online user behavior, and packages it in a fairly intuitive interface to help you make sense of it. Everyone with a website can benefit from Google Analytics. And for anyone that uses a website to make money, it’s a necessity.
What to Look for in Google Analytics Before Your Website Redesign
Whether you decide to launch a full website redesign or treat this as a smaller project with just a few changes to optimize your site, your first step is to review the data you have now. In particular, there are seven useful categories of data that contain the insights you want to put to use in your website update.
1. Identify your top-performing pages.
To find the most popular pages on your website, first establish what performance metrics matter most to you. Two of the most common metrics to consider here include:
- Traffic – This is a fairly straightforward metric: the number of visits the page has received. You can find this information in a few places, if you scroll down to the bottom of the homepage in Google Analytics, you’ll see a box titled What Pages Do Your Users Visit? That has all your top pages listed, alongside their specific traffic data. You can also find it in the Behavior section, under Overview.
- Conversions – This is a bit less straightforward, because you have to take an extra step to get it. If you haven’t already done so, the sooner you set it up the better. Click on Admin at the bottom of the left-side menu, then Goals under the View column. Click on the New Goal button, then go through the steps prompted to set up your goals. These will be different based on your website, but can include options like making a purchase, setting up an appointment, or viewing the contact page.
Once your goals are set up, you can view conversion data in the Acquisition Overview section.
2. Identify your worst-performing pages.
You have a lot to learn from the pages that are getting results, but you can also learn from those that aren’t. When you understand what doesn’t work for your audience, you’ll know what to avoid in your website redesign.
As with analyzing your best-performing pages, identifying which are your worst performing depends on what you want your web pages to accomplish. Two of the main metrics to consider here are:
- Traffic – To see which pages are getting the least traffic, go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. Once there, click on the top of of the Pageviews section to see the list of pages on your website displayed in the reverse order of how much traffic they get.
- Bounce rates – Bounce rates tell you how many of the people on a page click away without visiting any other page on your website or taking an action like a purchase. Bounce rates can actually be okay on pages where the goal is more educational than action-oriented, but on product or landing pages, they tell you the page isn’t doing its job.
Find your bounce rates for each page under Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. Then click on Bounce Rates at the top of the menu to sort your pages based on which have the highest bounce rate.
3. Analyze your audience.
Very few websites need to reach everybody. In most cases, you’re better served by focusing on a specific audience. You can figure out if the people finding your website are those you most want to reach by analyzing your audience data. In the Audience section, you can learn who your visitors are in terms of:
- Language – You’ll find data on the languages your visitors use both in the Overview section’s default view, along with under Geo.
- Country – In Overview, see your visitor data broken down by which country it comes from by clicking on Country under Demographics, or by clicking Location under Geo.
- City – To get more specific in seeing where your visitors are, click City under Demographics in Overview, or select Location under Geo and City as your primary dimension.
- Age range – Click on either Overview or Age under Demographics for a breakdown of how old your visitors are.
- Gender – See the gender breakdown of your visitors under Demographics, either in Overview or by clicking on Gender.
- Interests – Find out what else your visitors are interested in the Interest section.
Analyzing your current audience will help you figure out if your website as it is now is bringing in the right people, or if you should take a different approach.
4. Check your rankings data.
Is your website optimized for the search engines? If traffic is one of your goals, then search engine optimization (SEO) is an important part of building a website that does its job. To figure out how well your SEO efforts are paying off, go to Acquisition > Search Console > Queries.
You’ll see a list of search terms that are bringing people to your website, along with:
- The number of impressions each produces (that means the times someone has seen your site show up in the search engine for that term)
- The number of times someone’s clicked on your website after it comes up for that term
- The percentage of people that view your site in the results for that term that then click
- How valuable the search term is in terms of volume and competition
- Your website’s average position in the search results for the term
This data will tell you whether your website is ranking for the terms you’re targeting in your SEO strategy and, just as importantly, whether those terms are worth it in the results they deliver.
5. Analyze visitor behavior once they’re on your site.
Getting people to your website is a big part of success, but understanding what they do there is at least as important to figuring out if your website is accomplishing your goals. We already mentioned bounce rates and conversions, which are a part of this. There are a couple other good metrics to check out here:
- Time on site – When someone clicks onto your website, how long they stay on it is a key indicator of how valuable they find it. Someone who clicks away within a matter of seconds clearly didn’t get what they were looking for. That not only means the traffic is less valuable for you, but it can hurt your SEO authority.
You can see the average time on site for your whole website on the homepage of Google Analytics at the top of the page under the label Session Duration. To find the data for individual pages, go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages and look for the Average Time on Page section.
- Journey maps – Some of your most valuable visitors will be those who don’t stop on the first page they click onto, but continue to visit additional pages on your website. You can see which pages are successfully getting your visitors to stick around and check out other pages by clicking on Behavior Flow in the Behavior section.
This will give you a visual representation of which pages visitors frequently start on (the landing page) and where they go next.
6. Pay attention to the devices your visitors use.
A sizable portion of online activity now happens on mobile devices. Your website looks different on a small screen than it does on a larger one. You need to know what share of your visitors is coming from a mobile device, and how their behavior differs from that of your desktop visitors.
In the audience section, under Mobile, you’ll see a breakdown of how many users view your website on desktop, mobile, and tablet devices. You’ll see additional important data here that will help you understand how user behavior compares on different device types, including:
- Bounce rates by device type
- How many pages visitors view in a session on each device
- Average session duration on each device
If your bounce rates are higher on mobile, and your session duration and pages visited are lower, then you know there’s a problem with your website’s mobile experience.
7. Check site speed.
Site speed matters for both the user experience and your website’s SEO authority. When a website’s slow to load, your visitors are less likely to stick around and Google will penalize you for it in the rankings.
But your website will load at different speeds for different people based on factors like their location, device, and internet connection. To get a glimpse of how well your website fares in terms of site speed, go to Behavior > Site Speed. You’ll see your average page load time in the Overview section, and can see the breakdown for different pages under Page Timings.
If your site is taking longer than a couple of seconds to load for most of your visitors, it could be hurting your reputation with visitors and your SEO results.
Use What You’ve Learned from Google Analytics to Redesign Your Website
This list describes a small portion of the information you can glean from Google Analytics, but these are some of the most important highlights when you’re updating your website. Once you’ve reviewed all this data, perform an analysis of the information to identify trends and takeaways.
Look for things your most successful pages have in common, and how they differ from your least successful ones. With your redesign, you’ll want to do more of what you did in the former and less of the latter.
If you identified issues with site speed or the mobile experience, make sure your website update prioritizes changes that will make your website faster and more responsive. And if your users aren’t taking the actions you want them to once on the site, re-think your internal site structure and try out new calls to action.
And keep checking in on these metrics even after your redesign. You still have more to learn. As you collect more data after these changes, you’ll gain even more insights into what works best for your audience for the next update.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.