Google Analytics for publishers: What should you focus on?

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If you are writing and managing a blog or website, you really need to get friendly with Google Analytics. Yes it can be a little bit of a head bend, BUT practice makes perfect and there are some simple things you can do to get more out of your analytics.

Analytics is a super tool that you can use to pull insights to improve the metrics that matter to you. You should be using it to answer questions about your site and blog, like: Where are your readers from? Which post is engaging people for longer? Are they returning? Which marketing channels are doing better to drive traffic to your site?

As everyone is at a different stage in their analytics journey, I have focused these points on things you can use today, without (much) additional tinkering.

1) Get to know more about your readers

When you log into analytics you will find the reports on the left hand side.

  • Audience will have data about who is going to your website, e.g. what age, gender, locations, do they return, are they on a mobile?
  • Acquisition will let you know how they got to your website, e.g. do your visitors come from google organic, social media, or email campaigns?
  • Behaviour is focused on what they do when they get to your website, e.g. what pages of your site are popular with your readers?
  • Conversions will be about what you want them to do, e.g. sign up for blog alerts, share content on social media etc.

Start off with Audience > Overview. At a high level it will tell you how many users you have, how many pages the average user’s session will be, and how long they stay on your site.


If you want to get a little more granular, you can head to Demographics > Age or Demographics > Gender to see how old they are, and if they are male or female. If you want to get this data you have to enable this feature in your Admin settings. Head over to Admin > Property Settings and turn the toggle on.


What I really like about this report, when you have enabled this feature, is that you can drill down to see how old your readers are and if they are boys and girls. It always surprises me how these cohorts behave and there is the option (in all the reports) to see how well the age and genders do in regards to your conversions. If you found out that most of your readers were in a certain age range and gender, would you change your tone and style of writing?


You can also find out where they are coming from,  Audience> Geo> Location will tell you where they are from, down to the City.

2) Get context with data ranges to understand if you are going in the right direction

If your reports just focus on last month’s data, you will struggle to understand if you are moving in the right direction. I would recommend always comparing current performance to 2 out of these 3 time comparisons.

  1. % year on year
  2. Month on Month
  3. Today v Yesterday

If you business is older than 1 year, use sequential and last year comparisons. If your business is less than a year old use sequential and average comparisons. For example, instead of just reporting on what happened last month, you can say something like this …

“So our January 2017  traffic is down 25% compared to December, but we are up 30% compared to last January 2016.”

To change the date ranges, head over to the top right of your reporting area and click on the little triangle at the end of the date range, now you just need to highlight the date range, and to compare you just need to tick ‘Compare to’ and select previous period or previous year.


3) Compare to the site average

Averages suck. Yes, it’s great to have a baseline number for your metrics, but it won’t help you see the good, bad and ugly. In all your reports there is an almost hidden trick to pull your data up by its socks. When you look at your reports they are typically pulled into a grid with average metrics pulled into the report.


Hidden away, top right of table you will see 6 little boxes, the 4th one across is one of my favorites, this is the Comparison option.


When you click it you get a visual like this and you can play around with the drop downs to change the report. So you can see, compared to the site average, how your marketing channels are doing in getting you new users, which ones are better at getting you more revenue, etc.


4) Annotations: Sticky notes on your analytics

Have you ever looked at your analytics reports and seen the a spike in your traffic and asked yourself: “I wonder what happened there?”. There is an option to add little sticky notes to your analytics to help you understand what those blue spark lines are doing.

To create an annotation you just click on the little triangle under the reports and select + create new annotation. You can then amend the date and write up to 160 characters. You have the option to make them private (only you see them) or public (anyone who has access to the account can see them). Use this to note when you launch a new blog, make changes to your website homepage, or launch a campaign. You can also view these under your personal tools and assets at View level.


5) Site Search

If you have an option on your website for users to search for information on your website, like BookMachine do, then you can track and record your visitors that use the feature. But, what is even better, is that you can find out what they have been typing in. This, for me, is a little gold mine. It tells you what people are looking for, if you don’t have that information, write it. If you thought it was obvious to people where to find it but they are getting stuck, improve the user experience to help people get what they need faster.


To get this you need to go to your View settings at admin level and turn the toggle for Site Search Tracking ON. One last step is to pop in what your query parameter is – you can find this by looking at the URL when you use your search facility. For BookMachine, the URL puts the letter s before the search term (, so you would add the letter S. In other cases, it is the letter Q.


When you have done this, it will only start to pull in data the day that you turn it on, so get it turned on asap!

When you want to see the results, head over to Behaviour > Site Search and you can drill down to Search Terms.


Jill Quick is a Data-Driven Digital Marketing Trainer and Consultant  working with start-ups, small businesses and established brands to master digital marketing. If you are interested in learning more about Google Analytics and doing an Online Google Analytics Courses The Coloring in Department ( launches in January 2018. Twitter @jillquick

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  1. Thank you for this helpful article. If only Amazon provided this type of information for our books on their website rather than our own websites! I’m planning to build some software that at least measures the different links I use to attract people to my Amazon book pages. This will hopefully give me the most important piece of information I see: the source from which my buyers come from.
    It will be amazing if one day Amazon provides us with the sort of information Google Analytics provides.

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