When it comes to Google Analytics, I’m a proponent of the 80/20 rule. As in, a large chunk of your most powerful insights can be gleaned from even just surface usage of the tool.
So don’t get intimidated or waterlogged by setting up sophisticated funnels and custom views for each user. At least not in the beginning.
Instead, start with these 5 basic and powerful insights I’ve assembled that will take you less than 15 minutes to check.
1) Traffic Overview
Audience > Overview > "Users" #
Don’t focus on the aggregate number, focus on the trend. Is your site seeing more or less users this reporting period than last? Why?
2) Traffic Sources
Acquisition > Overview > All Traffic > Channels
Where is most of your traffic coming from? Organic Search, Social, Email? If it's Organic Search, how can you improve/increase this performance (take a look at the keywords, can you build more content around these keywords?) Where is the least amount of traffic coming from? If it's Email, take a look at your emails. What can you do to drive more traffic to your site from your emails?
This view also shows you conversions (an email signup, a product purchase, etc) driven by each of these channels. You may discover that even though you only get a handful of conversions from a certain channel, it's showing an extremely high conversion rate (conversions/sessions). This is a great sign because it means you could be sitting on untapped potential. Your goal here would be to figure out how you can increase traffic through that channel, and maintain/increase the conversion rate.
3) Date Range
Dashboard > Overview > Date Range input field (righthand corner)
If you report on a regular, recurring basis, this is a quick visual way to see how your performance compares to the previous reporting period. I like to use it to compare performance YoY (Year over Year), because that quickly reveals any hidden seasonalities, and also gives a generous date range to see if the site has improved from any various efforts thus far.
4) Top Content Pages
Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages
This gives you a list of the top pages through which people are entering your site. You can print this page out, and identify it as the pages you should aim to immediately improve. At minimum, make sure these heavily trafficked pages don't have glaring issues (typos and technical errors).
Conversions > Overview > "Goal Completions" #'s
This is the single most important metric within Google Analytics and the whole point of online marketing, really. This is where you can see if your website is successfully hitting your outlined goals and configured GA Goals (e.g. an email signup, a product purchase, a visit of a specific page on your website, etc).
Setting up Goals is not difficult, but I can not stress enough how important it is, and how frequently it's overlooked. You need to make sure you are marching towards something. Every website has a point — even if it's just to communicate information (location details and hours). Write down that goal, configure that goal as a GA Goal, and you will be able to track your progress against it.
BONUS 6) How is your traffic split across devices?
Audience > Overview > Device Category
On average, the percentage of mobile traffic increases over time, as we become an increasingly mobile-first society. I list this metric because it is oftentimes forgotten, since people are frequently on their work laptop when they’re reviewing analytics. You should have a handle of how large your mobile audience is, to keep that audience and UX in mind when you lay out a seasonal campaign or make any general technical website updates.
Questions? Feel free to shoot me a note at Cristina@hellocurrentdigital.com. I'm always happy to help.