Most business owners already have Google Analytics and/or Google Webmaster set up for their websites. They know that they need these analytics, and that in some way the information will assist them in bettering their website and in landing more business via their website. But then... they open up Analytics or Webmaster, and when faced with the abundance of information and charts, are lost.
Simply put, Google Analytics is the study of visitors that have come to your site, whereas Google Webmaster Tools is the study of how your site is fairing inside Google's search engine. While Analytics will show you the behavior of people that came to your site from a search query, Webmaster Tools will show you how well your site ranked for that query, how many impressions your site link received for that query, and how many click-throughs it received.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, and yet even getting past the first page in Google Analytics can have your head spinning.
Try the Magic 8 Ball Approach to Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools
You can't expect the tools of Analytics and Webmaster Tools to provide you with answers; they are neutral tools that show data, and lots of it. There will never be a thermometer image that says "yes, your website is doing good!" in these tools, nor any direction for how to improve. Instead, what you need to do is to develop questions that you have for these tools, specific questions that speak towards your own website and your goals for it, and then go to your tool reports to answer them. We think of this as the Magic 8 Ball Approach.
Example 1 (beginner): where are my visitors coming from?
After the first question ("are people finding my site?!"), this is usually the next question. Not in the sense of location in the world, but is it from links, search engines, typing in the URL, an advertising campaign... and yet this report is pretty deeply buried. To find it, you'd go into Google Analytics, then to Acquisition -> Channels. Obvious, right?
Something tiny that many people don't realize is that you can plot the information in the table into a pie chart. Why would you do this? Simple: it's the easiest way to visualize the data by percentages. At the top of the data table, on the right size, is a little pie chart icon. Click on that icon and a pie chart will be displayed, with a mouseover for the percentages.
Example 2 (intermediate): is my site getting search visitors for the keywords and phrases I want?
This information used to be found in Google Analytics, but as Google transitioned to encrypted search, it has phased out all of this information in your Analytics reports and replaced them with (not provided). Thankfully, and fairly recently, Google Webmaster Tools has caught up and provided this information in a usable format, but gone a step further and provided a ton more data as well! The nice thing about Webmaster Tools is its simplicity: the first page you see in your WT report is a small section for "Search Queries"; clicking on the title of that section opens up the complete report. From there you can toggle the "with change" button to see how you're doing vs the previous 30 days, and you can click on a key word or phrase to see the positioning of pages within your site for that keyword in Google.
Example 3 (advanced): how well is my site converting visitors to the goals I've set for them?
Goals and goal conversion are an important aspect of your website capture strategy, and spending time setting goals for your visitors and setting up ways to track them are very important to your online business.
There are two ways to handle goals, and depending on the goal, it can be handled in a more official or more off-hand way. The highly-detailed approach is to use the Goal Tracking provided in Analyics. Rather than provide a tutorial here you can visit Google's own tutorial for setting up Goals.
But some goals aren't always suited to this approach, and when that's the case, I head to the Behavior Flow page (found under the Behavior section in Analytics). On this page you can start from a page, just like a visitor is in coming to your site, and you can see percentages and drop offs as someone navigates through your site. And in doing so, as an example, you can see how many people made it from a popular blog post all the way to the contact page, the path they took, and how many dropped off along the way.
What to do with this information
The point of all of this information isn't just for you to recline, pat yourself on the back, and gloat at your increasing numbers. Not at all! The purpose of this information is for you to gain insight into your website's usage, make hypotheses about what's work, what's not working, and develop strategies, to make changes and test those theories, and to analyze your results.
The technical way of doing this is by doing A/B testing, but for most people this is beyond their skillset. Instead, as a "cheat" way, we recommend a simple approach: making notes in your charts! Head to your "All Traffic" page under "Acquisition". You'll have a line graph of your traffic in the middle of the page; on the bottom edge in the center of that chart you'll see a little down arrow. If you click on that arrow a little pull-down is displayed, along with a link to the right that says "+ create new annotation". Leave a note of what you did, or what happened, and make sure the date is correct!
Looking back you'll be able to view your charts and see these notations in-line with your charts, giving you insight to changes you made or external factors that you felt were notable. Noting the past will give you additional insight into your future directions.
Benefits of this approach: simplicity
As you can see from the previous examples, as your familiarity with the tools increases, and as you get used to thinking more and more strategically about your website, you're able to formulate more and more detailed questions, questions that get into specific aspects of your business online and to improve them!
Need some help getting started? Great! Below are the links for two Google Analytics Dashboards that we've created that will help you find some great information quickly, at a glance.
Your Visitors dashboard
Social Media Traffic dashboard
With both of these dashboard templates you can install them into your Analytics report and click to view a lot of easy-to-digest reports on one page, no more hunting around for information.