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How to Read Your Google Analytics – Organic Traffic


Craig Hooghiem

In this series of posts, I’m going to walk you through one of the most important tools that every dealership can use in their digital marketing toolkit for free. Google Analytics is a website tracking and reporting tool that opens a world of information to those who know where to look.

Organic Traffic

In this first post we’re going to focus on one of the most important aspects of your website traffic – visitors that found your website organically. What is Organic Traffic? Google explains it like this:

Analytics separates traffic that arrives at your site through a search engine result from traffic that arrives through other referring channels, like paid advertisement or another site that links to yours. In your reports, this traffic segment is called organic search traffic.

What does that mean for your website? Organic Traffic is any of the customers that come to your website without clicking a link on another site (referral traffic) or clicking an ad (paid traffic) – these visitors used a known search engine and clicked a link to view your website. Much of this traffic is customers from Google, but it also includes other common search engines like Bing and Yahoo. Now that we know what it is, let’s dive into understanding how this information can help you improve your website.

Viewing Organic Traffic

There are a few key pieces of information that we want to look at with Organic Traffic. The first piece of information that helps us frame the website performance is the total percentage of traffic that is organic traffic. These numbers will vary greatly based on your AdWords spend, how many email campaigns you send and many other factors. To view this figure, we want to go to the Acquisition section of your Analytics dashboard and then proceed to Channels.

Once you’ve entered the Channels screen, you should be looking at a list of your top Channel Groupings. These groupings will change significantly based on the factors discussed above, so we’re just looking to understand how much impact Organic Traffic has on your website.

The following example shows a Client who receives 55% of their website traffic from Organic Search – typically this is a strong performance, but again this will vary greatly based on paid search. More important than the % is the number of sessions itself – this tells us how many visits (note: not unique visitors) we received through this channel. In this example, we have 7486 visits in 1 month that all came from organic searches.

While still on the same screen, using the date picker in the top right of Analytics to view a longer time period allows us to see how our traffic is trending. To do this, first click the Organic Search Channel in the list, then adjust the Date to show the last year.

After clicking “Apply” the page will refresh to reflect the updated data. I find it easier to filter the line chart based on Month as we now have significantly more data in the same table.

After adjusting that, the table refreshes again and I’m looking at a month-by-month summary of my Organic Traffic. Hover your mouse over any single month dot to view a summary of that month’s numbers. In this particular example, we can see that recently there’s been an increase in Organic Traffic. January had 6,630 organic sessions, February (short month) had 5,982 and then March came in strong with 7,486 organic sessions. This information lets us know that something on the site is performing better than usual in March. In most cases, this means that either interest in a topic has increased or the website has begun to rank better in the search engines for specific keywords. In the next section we’ll begin to break this down further.

Digging Deeper into Organic Traffic

Now that we know what our Organic Traffic is and roughly how many website visits are being impacted by it, let’s try and take a deeper dive into why the website performs the way it does and possibly begin to understand how these visitors are finding the website.

Note: Google made a change a few years ago to how they track keywords and it has had a big impact on the discovery process. Before the change, Google would show which keywords consumers were using to find your website, making it easy to understand where and how your website was ranking. Google changed their tracking system so that any users who are logged into a Google account while searching will no longer have their keywords tracked as their Google activity remains encrypted. Due to this, when looking at Organic Traffic reports you will see (not provided) as a keyword throughout the reports – this often makes up over 90% of organic traffic and requires us to dig a bit more creatively to find what we need.

Landing Pages

The first step to digging into organic traffic is to analyze what content on your website is performing best in this area. For obvious reasons, the homepage is almost certainly the landing page for most organic traffic, but the other top pages are often revealing. To view this data, we’re going to head over to the Behaviour section in the Analytics sidebar, then choose Site Content and finally Landing Pages.
The list on this page shows us all the entry pages on the website, organized to show the most viewed pages first. An entry page is the first page that a visitor sees, which tells us which pages are ranking in search engines. What we want is only Organic Traffic, so we’re going to take 2 steps to filter this down.

Step 1 – Add Medium Parameter

We want to see landing pages that came from organic searches, so first we need to add to this dataset the parameter “Medium” which is how Analytics identifies channels. To do this, use the drop down above the table of data and locate the option for “Medium”. The table below should refresh and now you will have a second column of data showing the channel for each landing page.

Step 2 – Filter Medium to Show Only Organic


Now that we have the data we want in the chart, we use the advanced search to filter it down to only the traffic we want to see. Click the blue “Advanced” link beside the search bar that is just to the top right of your list of landing pages. This will open the Advanced search screen, where we want to setup our query. In the green drop down, choose “Medium” and in the text box at the end of the row we type “organic”. Click the Apply button below the query builder to apply this search.

Now we have a list of landing pages for only visitors that originated from organic searches. Using this list, you can begin to explore your site content and better understand how the search engine is ranking your pages and where some of your traffic is originating. In addition to that, you can also see valuable information about how long these visitors average on the website and how many other pages they view after their initial landing.

What we look for in a list like this is to identify the pages that are performing well so we can continue to capitalize on those. In this example, we see that the inventory pages are getting significant traffic, which is great, but we also see that the Team page and the Service page are both also ranking well. With this information in mind, we should revisit these pages to ensure that they are structured with the right content to perform as the visitor’s first page view, possibly their first glimpse at your business.

In addition to the good, we also want to see the bad. Click through the table headings to sort the data and view landing pages with a high bounce rate, high return visitor rate and high pages / session number – each of these can help you better understand how well your landing pages are working.

Using the same 2 steps, we can also filter the All Pages section and the Content Drilldown to explore further how our organic traffic is using the site. A focus on this Organic Traffic is important because this traffic is, in many cases, free traffic that your website is receiving. Focus on doubling down on your pages that perform well and working to identify any pages that aren’t getting the organic traffic they deserve.

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