3 Hidden Optimization Tips in Google Analytics

Google Analytics optimization time

It’s no accident that Google Analytics is the most widely used analytics platform on the web. According to W3Techs, and cited by TechCrunch, GA has an overwhelming market share among web analytics platforms at 81.9%, and is used by more than 55% of the top 10,000 sites.

Beloved for its intuitive format and multi-dimensional reporting abilities, Google Analytics not only provides basic metrics like visits, time on site, bounce rates and conversions, it can also provide valuable insights for any web marketing manager looking to take their business’ online presence to the next level.

Below are three advanced tips that will help you unearth hidden optimization opportunities with Google Analytics.

Optimization #1 – Increase Conversions from Organic Search

You’re well-versed in the importance of content to organic search. You’ve done keyword research, tracked your rankings, and obsessed over getting more visits from your top non-branded terms. But that’s only part of the equation.

Once you’ve attracted visitors to your site, you need to ensure they’re getting the information they need. You can drive all the traffic you want, but the point is moot if visitors aren’t buying. To find the best conversion optimization opportunities from organic search, follow these seven simple steps:

  1. Set your date range back 6-12 months and navigate to the organic search report (Traffic Sources > Sources > Search > Organic)
  2. Next, exclude all branded traffic by clicking on the blue “advanced” link next to the search box in the center-right portion of the report screen. Choose “exclude” from the first dropdown, leave the second on “keyword,” and change the third to “Matching RegExp.” In the blank field enter the following formula, replacing “brand” with your brand name – (not|brand).
    exclude branded traffic filter
  3. Now you have a list of all your top non-branded keywords. Next, select “landing page” as a secondary dimension using the dropdown of the same name.
    secondary dimension landing page
  4. Set the report to exclude any non-conversion related pages. Typically, this will include your blog, “about” pages, careers section, and other corporate information.
  5. Go back to the “advanced” filter, as you did in step #2 above. This time, select “Add a dimension or metric,” and under “Dimensions,” select “Landing Page.” Add all the folders in the “exclude” filter that apply to the description in #4 (e.g. “/blog/,” “/about/,”)
  6. Now that have all your top conversion-focused non-branded keywords and landing pages, you’ll want to narrow your focus even further, keying in on terms and pages that convert at a rate significantly lower than the site average. For example, if your site’s average conversion rate is 1%, filter for all terms/pages that convert at less than 0.5%
    conversion rate filter
  7. You should be left with a handful of pages with a decent amount of visits, but very few conversions. To determine your next steps, consider the following:
    1. Are visitors being taken to the right landing page?
      If your keyword is “red fuzzy mittens,” but visitors are being sent to the “red leather gloves” page, clearly conversions are going to be adversely affected. Have your team update onpage copy and meta data (e.g. title tags, headlines) to help the search engines assign a better landing page for this query.
    2. Does the landing page provide relevant information?
      OK, so the red fuzzy mittens page is ranking for “red fuzzy mittens,” but users still aren’t converting. Check the content and product descriptions. Is it informative? Does it fully describe the product? If the answer is no, get cracking on some new copy.
    3. Does the landing page have a clear call-to-action?
      Does your page have a conversion button in a prominent location? Or do you need to scroll down to find the “buy now” or “learn more” button? Test new layouts, move buttons higher, and watch your sales roll in.

Pro Tip: Don’t forget about Multi-Channel Funnels. My colleague, the Google Analytics superstar Michael Wiegand, has written a great post about the hidden opportunities that multi-channel funnel analysis can unearth.

Optimization #2 – Get the Links You Deserve

Linkbuilding from GA? Absolutely.

This one is so stinking easy you’ll kick yourself for not having explored it already. Assuming you have a healthy history of analytics data, set your date range in GA back at least 6 months. Next, navigate into the Referral report under Traffic Sources. Check out your top 50 referring sites. Chances are you’ll recognize most of them – social networks, email, key partners, etc. But what we’re interested in are the referral sources that are not there.

Depending on your industry and business model, there are a handful of links you can seek out. Take a look at the list below. Do sites in these categories show up in your referring sources report? If not, get out there and claim what’s yours.

Start with your business contact list; vendors who know and love you will gladly put up a link to your site. Then move on to the “colder” leads by reaching out to webmasters. It’s a perfect excuse to establish new relationships for future promotions and collaborations.

  • B2B
    • Current Clients
    • Vendors / Partners
    • Industry Associations
    • Conferences
    • Industry Blogs
  • Consumer Goods / eCommerce
    • Retail Partners
    • Shopping Engines
    • Shopping Malls (if you have brick & mortar)
    • Prominent Industry / Category Blogs
  • Fashion
    • Fashion Blogs
    • Shopping Malls (if you have brick & mortar)
    • Fashion Publications
  • Travel / Hospitality
    • Travel Blogs
    • Travel Associations
    • Country & Municipality Tourism Offices
    • Travel Partners / Vendors
  • Legal
    • Law / Attorney Directories
    • Industry Associations
    • Conferences
    • Legal Blogs
    • Law Schools (.edus!)
  • Health Industry
    • Hospital / Doctor Sites
    • Medical / Nutrition Blogs
    • Industry Associations
    • Medical Journals
    • Conferences
  • Education
    • School Sites (.edus!)
    • Parenting / Education Blogs
    • Industry Associations
    • Conferences

Pro Tip: As you check out your referring sources, navigate to each and search the web for competing sites. For example, if you’re a fashion retailer, and you have links from a top blogger in your category, check out their blog roll. Do those blogs link to you? If not, reach out and establish a relationship. See how you can work together to your mutual benefit.

Optimization #3 – Get Content and Architecture Ideas from Site Search

Site search is one of the most useful places to get new content ideas. Ostensibly, if visitors are using the search box to find information, you should have content to match those queries. Site search data can also tell you a thing or two about your site’s architecture, and whether you’ve got the best navigation links to help folks find what they’re looking for.

If you don’t already have it set up, here’s a great post from our CEO, Ian Lurie, on installing Google Analytics site search. Assuming you’ve got that squared away, and have a few months worth of data to examine, go check out your report. Here’s an example of what Portent’s site search report looks like:


Note the two items boxed in red. These searches have a high Time after Search (average amount of time spent on site after the search is performed), indicating a high level of interest, and presumably, good content on site related to those searches.

Perhaps we can make it even easier for users to find information on these topics. For example, we might check to see if these terms are included in the main navigation. In this case, the answer is yes for “PPC,” but no for “careers.” The latter is included as a link in the footer, though we can always consider making it more prominent.

Taking a look at some other metrics, such as % Search Exits, we can determine if we’re providing users with the right information. Searches on “affiliate,” for example, have a high exit rate. In our case, however, we’re not too concerned because affiliate marketing is not a core part of Portent’s offerings. If it were, we’d want to get our marketing team going on new pages outlining our expertise in this area.

Share your Google Analytics conversion optimization and linkbuilding tips in the comments.

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  1. Nice job, Aviva! A lot of webmasters/business owners don’t value landing pages enough. I truly think that businesses should try to make their landing pages the best that they can be before jumping into search marketing and display advertising. Landing pages make selling so much easier and specific to the customer. Let’s not forget Google’s best practices for landing pages:
    – Relevant and original content. Feature content that you can’t find anywhere else.
    – Transparency. Don’t trick or mislead people.
    – Site navigation. Make it easy for people to find what they’re looking for.

  2. Thanks for these tips. I love learning new things in Google Analytics. I especially like the third one. I think that’s a great way to learn what interests your visitors and also give you ideas on improving site architecture, as you mention.

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