Using Google Analytics to Create an Optimization Plan

Tuesday, March 24, 2009 | 2:59 PM

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Let’s face it, your website is never really finished. Testing pages is an inexpensive way to manage a constantly shifting audience and market. It's great for:

  1. Increasing ROI on your advertising
  2. Teaching you about the likes and dislikes of your customers
  3. Trying out alternatives used by competitors
  4. Breaking down preconceptions about what works
  5. Convincing a stubborn boss to try something new

What and where to test?

So where do you start? First you need a goal. What do you want users on your site to do? Complete a form, buy something, sign up for a newsletter? Without a goal, it's difficult to optimize, so you should be sure to define one if you haven't already.

Once you have a goal, you can use Google Analytics to identify those pages that are having the biggest negative impact on the total number of people "converting," or achieving that goal. These are the pages to test.

Top landing pages report

(Content > Top Landing Pages)

This report gives you instant insight into how well (or poorly) your landing pages are performing. You want to find pages that have both high "entrances" and a high "bounce rate." These pages are costing you a lot of visitors.

Goal visualization report

(Goals > Funnel Visualization)

The funnel visualization in Google Analytics shows you where people leave during your buying process. For example, the below report shows that 40% of the 200 potential buyers left during "Step X" in the checkout process. Average order value is $100. This means the merchant is losing up to $8,000 in revenue every month due to "Step X."

Exit pages

(Content > Top Exit Pages)

With this report, you should look for pages that are designed to sell, but have high exit rates. Using the top content report, I see that my product pages have a 35% exit rate. These pages are supposed to persuade potential customers to add products to the shopping cart, so they would be good candidates for optimization.

Having looked at these reports, there's a fair chance you've found high-impact pages that perform below average. If not, you can take a look at the "top content" report and pick a few pages that see a lot of traffic, but are poorly designed or out-of-date.

Setting up a test with Google Website Optimizer

Google has a free tool to test you pages called Google Website Optimizer. Find out more here .

Here are a few tips for using Google Website Optimizer and Google Analytics together:

  1. Make sure you get to see your variances in Google Analytics.

In the case of an A/B test this is relatively easy. Tag your variances with the GA code snippet and perhaps give them a unique name. For a multivariate test this requires a little bit of technical knowledge; you have add a little bit of code to your test page. You’ll find the instructions here.

  1. Make a filter to exclude your test data from your other profiles
  2. Create an extra profile where you only measure your test pages
  3. Create Advanced Segments and extra goals in your testing profile relevant to the test. This lets you evaluate the test outcome on different visitor segments.

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