7 ways Google Analytics can help when redesigning your website

Jul. 30, 2010 | by Adam Boulton

Your analytics data is nearly as important as the financial accounts of your business when it comes to making a decision about your website. Your analytics data helps you understand how effective your site’s marketing, design and content is. And just as you wouldn’t hire more staff without being sure you have the budget for it, you shouldn’t redesign your website without understanding what your customers do when they are on it.

Below are seven ways Google Analytics can be used to help make the right decisions during a redesign.

1. What browsers and windows sizes should we support?

When designing your site you want to ensure that the majority of your customers can view your website and convert without browser versions or sizes preventing this.

I’d personally think that you should design your website in a size that at least 95% of your visitors can see without having to scroll horizontally. An easy way to check what browser sizes your current visitors are using is to go the Screen resolutions report under Visitors > Browser capabilities > Screen resolutions.

By comparing to site average you can also see if any particular screen resolution(s) has a significantly higher bounce rate

In the graph above you can see that the wider screen resolutions are actually performing much worse – this could be addressed by using a liquid layout or JavaScript to position content.

A quick way to check if your site has browser compatibility is to look at the browser report and compare each type to the site average, for the website below it is clear that there is poor support for safari.

The mobile browser report can help to decide whether a mobile version of your site is needed by looking at the bounce and conversion rate of mobile visits.

2. What territory specific pages or languages do we need to support?

The languages report under visitors is a useful way of seeing the proportion of foreign visitors to your site; this is particularly useful if you have an international website as it may indicate territory specific versions required that may help increase conversions.

Additionally, even if your website is UK focused, you may find that foreign speakers use your site.  This is especially relevant if your business is travel related as foreign people living in the UK or visiting short term may be interested in your services.  See this report under Visitors > Languages.

3. Can our customers find what they are looking for?

The internal search reports are really insightful as they show what your users are looking for once they are on your site, giving you an indication about missing or difficult to find content. A word cloud is a quick way to see what search terms regularly appear.

To create a word cloud, download the data, put the search term in column A, the number of times it was searched in column B and paste the formulae =REPT((A1&” “),B1) down column C. Grab all the words from Column C and paste into Wordle.

Word cloud from the internal search of World Vision, one of our charity clients (posted with permission)

4. Which landing/promotion pages need improving?

In a redesign it is important to understand which pages need changing as well knowing which pages are working well and should be left as they are. Google Analytics offers several reports & metrics for interpreting the performance of individual & groups of pages:

Goal funnel visualization – one of the most easy to understand, it graphically shows where visitors are leaking out of your sales funnels. Goal funnels need to be set up manually and when done so can be found under Goals > Goal funnel visualization

Site overlay – Using this report (Content > Site overlay) you can see at a page level what visitors are actually click on helping to show the effectiveness of call to actions and promotions. Not only can you look at the number of clicks on these items but also the ecommerce value i.e. users clicking this button have gone on to generate xx revenue

£ index – this under used metric, shown in the top content report, shows how important visits to a particular page are when visitors convert. You may find that pages like the about us, shipping & returns pages have high £ index values as visitors often view them before making a purchase and help a user decide if they should buy your products. Sounds obvious but it might suggest that including a shipping and returns policy info box on product pages helps improve conversions (particularly likely on high value goods).

Bounce rate/exit rates – bounce rate shows the number of visitors that viewed one page and then left, while exit rate shows visitors that leave the site after viewing a particular page (they may have viewed multiple pages before). These metrics can help you understand which landing pages are under performing or common places that visitors are leaving your site.  

(Page URLs removed from image)

However, these reports, like most analytics, must be understood in context to know if there really is an issue or not. When evaluating a page it is important to consider the objective of the page, how does its performance compare to other pages and are any problems a result of a design, content, product or brand issue (always difficult to know!).

The analysis of the above reports provide a great starting point for user testing as they can help identify issues on your site that are preventing conversions.

After launch

When a new site is built it is obviously important to bench mark performance before and after using KPIs that are relevant to your business such as visits, conversions, average transaction value, revenue etc.

However, it can take a few weeks for these metrics to settle down making it difficult to tell early on if there are any problems with your new website. By setting up custom alerts you can get near real time warnings of any errors or changes that may have occurred. The sensitivity of these alerts depends on your website, suggested values are used below

5. Is tracking set up correctly?

A common error that occurs in Google Analytics is a large amount of self-referrals showing up in the traffic source report i.e. the top referring site is your own! This can happen for a number of reasons such as certain pages not having tracking codes, use of frames, page redirects or sub domain and/or multi domain tracking not set up correctly. These self-referrals overwrite the original referral information preventing you from knowing where these visitors came from.

To be able to fix these tracking errors quickly before they skew your reports, it’s useful to use a custom alert (Intelligence > Custom report) to email you if there are any large daily increases in self-referrals.

Even with this alert I recommend that you add an analytics check into your QA/testing process to ensure no errors or loss of data when an updates are made.

6. Has the redesign affected our search rankings?

With any luck your new site and content will have significant improvement in search engine rankings and subsequent increases in traffic.

But it wouldn’t be a lie to say I’ve seen a big brand push a site live without removing the staging server robots.txt file, which was being used to blocking search engine access, this in turn caused the new site to completely drop out of Google!  Even if large changes in rankings like that don’t happen, its useful to monitor organic traffic after launch to be aware of decreases or increases in visits (as well as changes in rankings using this GA filter).

If you do see drastic falls in organic traffic I’d recommend not reacting unless you’re absolutely sure you know the cause, rankings tend to jostle around a little after a redesign and you could end up changing something for the worse.

7. Tracking 404 pages

When launching a new site it is important to ensure you redirect old pages to new pages, however, errors can easily occur with redirect rules causing users to land on 404 pages.

Tracking visits to 404 pages in Google Analytics is easy, simply add the tracking code to the 404 page template and ensure the page title has 404 in it. Then to see which pages are missing navigate to Content > Content by title > find and click the 404 page, this will show you a list of page URLs that have been requested but not found. Unfortunately a custom alert does not work here as you cannot have the page title as an alert, therefore it is important to check this report regularly after launch. You can also use Google webmaster tools to check 404 pages but I prefer the additional traffic insights Google Analytics can give.

Please share in the comments any other reports, filters and advanced segments that can help during a redesign.

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    Comments (25)

    • ogepmyid

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      GOOD.Sep 25, 2013 10:51 am

    • Best Internet Marketing Posts of 2010 » Techipedia | Tamar Weinberg

      [...] 7 Ways Google Analytics Can Help When Redesigning Your Website (iCrossing): Find out who your visitors are & how to develop a great website. [...]Jun 21, 2013 04:28 am

    • Lee paul

      Great article, keep your site on the “White Side of life” and remember to study your site statistics and take regular note, look at search teams and were your traffic is coming from. The information is there so make the most of it.Jun 20, 2012 02:02 pm

    • sean browne

      wow, I have so much to learn about google analytics - these tips are GOLD, I have an analytics course, this post has motivated me to get round to watching it - thanks!Sep 21, 2011 05:17 pm

    • 7 ways Google analytics can he… at

      [...] 7 ways Google analytics can help in web design: http://connect.icrossing.co.uk/7-ways-google-analytics-redesigning-website_5391 [...]Sep 14, 2010 07:53 pm

    • Dinesh Thakur

      Hi Adam, A nice work, Earlier don't know about creating alert report in analytic, thought we can use alert report only in Google adwords.Aug 5, 2010 09:10 pm

    • Dave Oliver

      A nice article, looking at analytics from the design perspective rather than refinement.

      Good job I like.Aug 5, 2010 04:36 pm

    • Art Rogue Studio

      When I redesign I use Google Analytics as well as the event manager in Raven Tools. The event manager is similar to google analytics annotations where you mark a date or date period. You can then see that date within graphical views in Raven such as individual keyword SERP history or Google Analytics.

      Events come in super handy for reviewing effects of search engine algo changes. May Day comes to mind.Aug 4, 2010 02:44 am

    • Rob Pearson

      Analytics can also help you do some quick and dirty (and therefore cheap) user experience work.

      A good homepage / landing page should support users' goals in an order that more or less reflects their hierarchy of needs: The #1 element in the visual hierarchy should reflect the #1 user goal, and so on.

      Finding out this hierarchy is usually an £involved bit of research, where someone like me talks to stakeholders, then typical users, and articulates the results in a wireframe that shows how page layout can optimally support all user goals.

      Analytics is a back door to this hierarchy. At a snip (remember, this is quick and dirty) you can use content popularity as a proxy for the goals hierarchy: The most popular bit of content (or site section) probably reflects your #1 user goal and therefore what the #1 element on your home page should be. And so on...

      What you're left with is a new home page layout that more effectively meets the needs of your users.

      Of course this won't highlight any user goals that aren't currently serviced by the site at all... and it doesn't account for corporate goals for the site. No shortcuts around the research there. Phew. I'm not out of a job after all.Aug 3, 2010 04:37 pm

    • Digital Design Diary

      Hi, thanks for the tips, these will be useful!Aug 3, 2010 04:02 pm

    • George

      Thanks for sharing such a useful article. Sure that it will help guys to seek the help of Google Analytics while revamping their site...Aug 3, 2010 03:29 pm

    • Manu

      This is really good article. Thanks for sharing information. In fact I liked Point 5 as I have never tried for web development work that we have done.Aug 3, 2010 11:16 am

    • omelett.es / Out & About – Interesting links from the World Wild Web

      [...] 7 ways Google Analytics can help when redesigning your website // [...]Aug 2, 2010 09:03 pm

    • Internet Marketing highlights for July 2010 | The Blog of Echo-Stream.com

      [...] How to use Google Analytics to redesign a website: Why our web analytic data is important to make effective marketing decisions. [...]Aug 2, 2010 07:41 pm

    • Adam Boulton

      Ah good idea Tim, hadn't thought of setting it up as a goal, thank you.

      You can also see the source of these visits by having the first dimension as content by title (as above) and using the second dimension drop down and selecting source.
      Aug 2, 2010 06:56 pm

    • Tim Leighton-Boyce

      Re Number 7, the 404 pages. I think it's worth configuring the 404 page as a goal. That way you can set up a custom alert on its conversion rate, if you wish. Having said that, I find that in real life the alerts don't arrive until the end of the next working day. So I tend to check the conversion rate for that goal first thing each morning and I also have it set up in a desktop dashboard.

      Using a goal also means that you can use the reverse goal path analysis to delve into any internal bad links which are triggering the 404 page. The reverse goal path is useful when there are many potential and unpredictable routes to a goal.Aug 2, 2010 06:31 pm

    • John Callaghan

      Excellent post. I especially like number 3. Google Analytics data should play a significant role in website redesigns. I'd also use top content and top landing pages to determine which content should be more prominent in the sites navigation.Aug 2, 2010 12:11 pm

    • Adam Boulton

      @Stephan - Xenu is a great way to find broken links and a good way to map your site before the relaunch to help set up redirects.

      @Adam - agree website optimizer is a good way to test ideas before the relaunch or for continuous improvement on your site post launch

      @Optimiczar - Yes the benchmarking report is a good way to compare your site to others in your category, I always take it with a pinch of salt though as no two websites are the same.

      @jerry - Hi Jerry, not sure I get your question, custom 404 pages are good for user experience (users don't like browser default error messages!) and good for SEO as well.

      @Brant - Cheers!

      @Christel & Mark - Data driven design is a great way to make sure your website works, and while gut feeling & experience is always important in design, having the data to back up design decisions always helps!
      Aug 2, 2010 11:45 am

    • Christel Murray

      I agree with Mark; analyzing what visitors are doing on the website and improving those parts should be key.Jul 31, 2010 04:07 am

    • Brant Kelsey

      Nice. I hadn't thought of putting my analytics code in my 404 doc. Duh!Jul 31, 2010 02:34 am

    • Jerry Okorie

      Great post, I was a liitle bit concerned about tracking 404 pages. Why would you track a 404 when typing a wrong in the URL could render the page. It wouldn't show a true reflection of broken or orphan pages. #4 point is spot on.

      JerryJul 31, 2010 12:49 am

    • Optimiczar

      Thanks for the post. Looking at GA results from design perspective is critical as is continous optimization. Another parameter that you can activate is "Benchmarking" where Google aggregates industry based results to provide broad insights for comparison.Jul 30, 2010 10:44 pm

    • Adam Lee

      Using it with Google Website Optimiser is also a good trick to conduct multivariate testing on the new site design to make sure it maximises the site's objectives.
      http://www.gwotricks.com/2009/02/poor-mans-gwoanalytics-integration.htmlJul 30, 2010 03:51 pm

    • Stefan

      Number seven is a great way to find bad links. I allways use it in combination with other tools like Xenu.Jul 30, 2010 02:41 pm

    • Mark Higginson

      Awesome post. I'd expect most site owners to have some sort of Analytics set up these days; Google Analytics has been freely available for some time now. The wealth of information provided can be intimidating however, so it's great to see tips around what to focus on when thinking about site design. Data on what your visitors are actually doing should be the first thing you look at!Jul 30, 2010 01:35 pm

    Please note: the opinions expressed in this post represent the views of the individual, not necessarily those of iCrossing.

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