How to understand user behavior with Google Analytics

Most marketers will, without a moment’s hesitation, attest to the sheer value of audience insights that Google Analytics provides. As customer behaviors change and customer journeys become increasingly erratic, it’s hard to argue otherwise. Indeed, a clear overview of your audiences’ behaviors can offer immense assistance toward marketing optimization through personalization. However, while some insights such as demographics are objective and observable, others, like user search intent, are not. This latter category requires a wealth of data and an inquisitive eye to decipher, as well as potent tools. With this in mind, our digital marketing agency NYC would like to explore ways in which one can understand user behavior with Google Analytics.

An introduction to Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a free, but nonetheless extremely powerful, an analytics tool that Google provides. It leverages “Google’s unique insights and machine learning capabilities” to provide webmasters with historical usage data, user navigational habits, and much more.

A photo of the Google Analytics dashboard.

Unfortunately, we cannot accurately quantify the popularity of Google Analytics, as Google has stopped releasing exact usage numbers since 2012. However, Google boasts unquestionable supremacy in the search engine market today. Considering that Google Analytics was reporting use by over 10 million websites in 2012, we may safely assume its prevalence.

Additional analytics tools

Despite its power, Google Analytics can only observe behaviors, not states of mind. That is, it cannot deduce user intent, will, or satisfaction – only observe how users expressed them. Thus, marketers will often resort to additional tools to better understand user behavior with Google Analytics. The three primary types of such tools are the following:

Page Analytics

Another Google property, Page Analytics offers additional page insights as its name suggests. While its last official update was in March 2019 it remains popular, especially in tandem with Google Analytics.

Third-party plugins

Google solutions aside, third-party solutions also value Google Analytics highly. The WordPress plugin library offers thousands of analytics, marketing, SEO, and other plugins that boast integrations with it as their strong selling point.

Heat maps

Finally, heat maps offer an additional layer of on-site user behavior insights. They do so by tracking users’ mouse movements, clicks, and similar behaviors.

A side-by-side comparison of two website heat maps.

How to track and understand user behavior with Google Analytics

Naturally, using any or all of the above will strictly depend on your own business, budget, and needs. Still, you may extract troves of audience insights from Google Analytics alone, helping you understand user behavior.

#1: Audiences

First, Google Analytics allows you to track individual audiences to monitor their behavior more closely. Any marketing agency offering SEO services in New York will attest to audience insights’ sheer value, and understandably so. Here, you may populate your defined audiences with your behavioral patterns of choice and then monitor their future interactions.

The process only requires a few steps:

  • In your Google Analytics dashboard, navigate to Admin > Audience Definitions. Here you may define your desired audiences for monitoring.
  • Allow for usage data to accumulate, and then find audience reports in Audience > Audiences.
  • Analyze their common characteristics, such as demographics, traffic sources, and devices.

This initial step will help you better understand individual audience segments. Moreover, you may use it to identify overlaps with other data sources. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions offer an excellent example.

#2: Site Search

Understanding audience behaviors still requires a firm grasp of their intent and motive. Here, monitoring and examining the exact terms users search for on your website can provide immense value.

To do so you will simply need to set up Site Search in Google Analytics. The basic process will only take a minute:

  • On your Google Analytics dashboard, click on Admin and navigate to the view you wish to monitor.
  • In the View column, click on View Settings.
  • There, navigate to Site Search Settings, locate Site Search Tracking, and turn it on.

The process may then expand and differ depending on your search query parameter choices and site search categories. Thankfully, Google offers an informative step-by-step guide on these alternatives.

Once you set up Site Search, you will be able to track search terms in Behavior > Site Search > Search Terms. For any webmaster looking to understand user behavior with Google Analytics, this feature alone should deserve their close attention.

#3: Behavior Flow

Site Search may only reveal so much on its own, however. This is where Behavior Flow truly shines, as it visualizes your website’s user journeys. It breaks them down by category, starting pages, subsequent interactions, and exit pages, and delivers the information in an easily digestible illustration.

A photo of Google Analytics's Behavior Flow illustration.

You may find this option in Behavior > Behavior Flow; unlike Site Search, it requires no setup to use. Through it, you may inform such aspects of your website and content strategy as:

  • Structure; how does your website seem to facilitate different journeys?
  • Link relevance; do your internal link structures seem to perform as you intended? Do any pages remain orphaned?
  • CTA placement; do your converting pages perform sufficiently? Where do users go if they leave them without converting? Given their journey, how can you bring them back toward desirable actions?

Understandably, this simple feature overlaps significantly with customer journey mapping. In turn, it can inform individual marketing campaigns, Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO), and much more.

#4: User Explorer

Finally, while Behavior Flow will offer a user journey overview from up high, User Explorer will allow you to drill down into individual user journeys. You may find this feature in Audience > User Explorer, and it too requires no setup.

User Explorer offers a deep, detailed record of each individual user’s journey across your site. It tracks such metrics as:

  • User session number
  • Traffic sources
  • Exact pages visited
  • Events triggered, such as signups
  • Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), in the case of eCommerce tracking

Curiously, User Explorer’s single downside lies with its wealth of information. Unlike Behavior Flow it is much less visual and extremely specific, and information-rich. As such, it requires more effort to extract desired information in cases when you need to track a single metric.

Conclusion

To summarize, Google Analytics offers a plethora of features to help you understand your pages’ performance. The above are only a few tools that can help you understand user behavior with Google Analytics. Such tools as Page Analytics, third-party analytics plugins, and heat maps may help inform your efforts as well. However, remember that such metrics mostly explain “what”, not “why”; that is up to you to deduce and cater to.

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