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Understanding Site Visitors with Google Analytics

What do all these people really want from you?

Understanding who your site visitors are is one of the most critical steps in optimizing your online presence. Google Analytics can help you to understand who your visitors are and what their expectations are. Yet, too often, companies focus exclusively on marketing or overall site performance, without taking the time to understand the types of people they are trying to interact with.

This article will not only challenge you to dig deeper into oft-ignored reports for insights, but it will also point you to some other tools to analyze the data.

Who are your visitors?

Start with some of the most basic and accessible information. Most of this is available in standard visitor reports.

Use the geo-location reports to find out where your visitors are. Are they spread across the globe, or are there specific areas with a high concentration of visitors? What language are they speaking? What language is their browser set to?

This basic information should start to raise questions. Why is everybody coming from California? Or, why are there visits from every state but New York? If most of your visits are from India, but your site is all in English, are your visitors having trouble understanding the content? Should you stop using idioms and obscure cultural references? Or, more to the point, if your site is only relevant to certain geographic regions, why are people visiting from other regions?

Know what hours of the day your site is accessed by going to Visitors -> Visitor Trending -> Visits and then clicking the graph by hour icon in the upper right corner of the graph. These hours are in the timezone you specified when you created the profile. (The timezone can be edited by going to the profile settings.)

When do visitors come to your site? Are they at home or work? Do they visit during the day or in the evening? Do they disappear entirely on weekends? Are they using a work computer?

Scan the Connection Speeds and Service Providers reports to get a feel for whether your visitors are using work or home computers.

This kind of information is more valuable than just knowing when to plan ads. It should also inform your schedule for releasing new information, as well as the tone to strike in your site. Is your site being used as a business resource by companies, or is it being used by individuals at home for personal reasons?

Finally, scanning through the list of referring sites may give some insight into who your visitors are. Look especially at some of the long-tail referrals. Are visitors coming from tech articles or personal blogs?

How do they use your site?

When analyzing visitor information, it's important to understand that your visitors are not a homogeneous group. Rather, they are all individuals. If you're lucky, they fit into some rough categories. But the point is looking at all this information in aggregate is deceptive. The next logical step is to start grouping visitors. How do different types of users use your site differently? Also, how do visitors to certain parts of your site differ from one another?

Advanced segments are invaluable here. Here are a few examples:

  • Create an advanced segment based on region. This will help you analyze what time of day visitors are using your site, but also whether there are regional differences in how visitors interact with your site. This is a good way to determine whether language barriers affect visits. Also, see whether some traffic sources and keywords are more common in some areas than others.
  • Create an advanced segment for each section of your website. You may find that each section of your site is attracting a distinctly different group. We were surprised to find, for example, that visits to the Tools section of this site are as likely to be from China as from the US. This is especially surprising considering that Chinese visitors don't go anywhere else on the site.
  • Use advanced segments to track unique visitors by keying in on a very specific variable, like product SKU or an unusual keyword. This allows you to essentially follow that visitor through their visit (use the Navigation Summary report!) and build a better narrative. Do that for a few visitors and you will have a more personal understanding of how people use your site and what prevents them from doing what you expect.
  • As mentioned elsewhere, you can also create an advanced segment for different categories of keywords. Grouping visitors by their intention is a useful way of seeing how different groups use the site. The same goes for Site Search.

What are their expectations?

At this point you have started to see that different visitors are coming to your site for different reasons. Most of your visitors probably do what they set out to and happily leave your site without making a purchase (or doing whatever else you thought they should do). If you don't understand your visitors' expectations, you are missing out on untold opportunities.

Analyzing their organic search terms and Site Search results offers insight into what they were thinking when they came to your site. Comparing the two is very revealing. Most sites' visitors don't come to the site with the intention to buy something right away. Most visitors are just trying to do some kind of research. Try to understand what they are interested in. You might find that some visitors come looking for a topic that you don't have any information on. That might represent an opportunity you're missing.

Analyze the ads they are using to get to your site. Look at the ads from their perspective. Group the ads together by message. What words/phrases/concepts do your ads use? This will reveal as much about visitors' intentions as organic keywords. Pay attention to whether the landing pages for those ads reflect the visitors' expectations. Also look at their visits to see whether their actions lined up with their expectations.

Gathering voice of customer is a sure-fire way of understanding your visitors. More important than their demographic information, though, is understanding what they want from your site. Gather this information using surveys on the site, doing focus groups or using social media. Social media invites discussion by its very nature. Use this medium to understand why visitors come to your site and what they want more of.

Finally, you can use Google's AdPlanner to get a feel for visitors' interests. If your site is big enough, AdPlanner will have some information for your own site. If not, find comparable or competing sites and look at the information for them. The most interesting information here is not demographic but interests. "Affinity" is a measurement of how likely visitors are to be interested in a topic compared to the average internet user. Are there interests in this list that you can address on your site? These interests will give you a better understanding of your visitors' mindset and how you can catch their attention. There also may be a list of other websites your visitors are interested in.