What to look for in Google Analytics – 5 Reports You Need, Explained

You have been running Analytics for a while now and even though you know you are getting sessions and visits, how do you really know what’s going on? What do you look for to make sense of it all?

The problem is Google Analytics is a bit of a beast these days. There is so much data to trawl through so as someone who jumps into Analytics and wants to know where to start and what to look for, here are a few pointers to get you understanding your traffic.

1. Know your traffic sources

This is one of my favourite reports out of all the reports in Analytics. To be honest, I’m kind of obsessed with it. It’s the one I check when I’m on the run as its easy to consume and gives me a lot of valuable information quickly.

Believe it or not, I actually don’t particularly care how much traffic my websites get! I am far more interested in where they came from.

You will find your traffic channels In the left hand navigation column. Go down to acquisition and then hit overview:

acquisition channels in Google Analytics

The overview report will list the top channels:

  • Organic – think free organic/SEO traffic from search engines like Google and Bing
  • Direct – Those directly visiting your website
  • Paid Search – Paid traffic that is often automatically divided into brand and generic
  • Email – As the name suggests, Email
  • Social – Social networks driving traffic like Facebook and Twitter
  • Referral – Referral traffic from other website
  • Display – Display traffic generally from ad networks like Google’s Display network.
  • Other – Your tagged links will go in here.

In a nutshell, this report will tell you where traffic is coming from. You can find websites that are linking to you as referrals (sorry free-website-buttons.com is unfortunately not one of them!).

You can also match up these sources to goals that they have been attributed to. This will help find traffic that performs well so you can double up on them moving forward.

Google as a default also matches the average bounce rate for each channel which can give you an idea of the quality of traffic each source is driving in. I generally look at this with a grain of salt as a lot of traffic sources and acquisition sources don’t need a low bounce rate to be highly effective. I tend to skim over this unless I want to find sources that are skeptical or one’s I am trying to get more information on.

2. Organic traffic

When you go to the acquisition tab and dig into the organic search channel there is very little doubt you will be greeted with the first line of keywords that look like this:

not provivded organic keywords


This has been like this for quiet a while now however it does not mean you can’t get any insights into your organic traffic. You absolutely can and here is how -> landing page analysis. 

There are some complex ways using webmaster tools and matching these with search queries. A few people go into detail on how to do this like this one and this one. That is not what we are here to discuss however.

To get a quick idea of what people may be searching for, you can quickly filter your organic table to give you a little bit more information about how your organic users found your website.

At the top of the main table you will see a tab which says ‘secondary dimension’. Click this and then find the Landing Page dimension.

Secondary dimensions landing page google analytics

Now you can see the pages where your organic traffic landed when they clicked on your organic search result. You will also notice a good chunk of traffic comes directly to your home page. Traffic that landed on your Home page can be difficult to analysis, however for all landing pages that are subpages, they should give you a good idea of what people typed in as it will be closely related to them theme of that page.

For those without much SEO knowledge, to work out the theme you can simply take your title tag (known as Dimension – > Page name in Google Analytics) elements and your url elements to give a rough estimate as to what that page is about. From there, with a big enough data set you can give sound guestimates as to what organic keywords are bringing in traffic.

If you wanted to you can then take it a step further and without any trickery, look into your webmaster tools and see what queries generating clicks match up to these themes.

Now you have a good idea of what organic keywords are driving traffic and you didn’t even need to know code!

3. Landing page reports

We briefly talked about landing pages as a secondary dimension but this is another good report to work out what landing pages best lead to conversions. A conversion could be anything, it could be time on site, pages a session, goal completion, a sale, it doesn’t really matter.

You can find this report in the Behaviour tab -> Site content -> Landing Pages

landing page report


The landing page report will tell you exactly what it says it will, the landing page of people coming to your website from all sources. People can come directly into your features page, contact page, your blog posts and of course your home page.

What I like to know from the report is what ‘themes’ people are interested in or ‘problems’ people have that actually lead to conversions. Some themes may be more popular and drive more traffic than others but won’t convert as well. The question you need to ask yourself from this report is:

A word of caution on this report. If measuring conversions or sales, in order to get this report to work properly and give you the most beneficial data possible, its important you give it a long timeline period. I would ideally suggest a 3 month period but nothing less than a month if its possible.

Why such a long time line? First of all the conversion or purchase process is not straight forward. Someone who visits your blog will, in over 99% of the cases, not convert as a customer straight away. What is more likely to happen is that someone will come in and read your blog, like your content and then come back later and read more. They may then sign up to a newsletter or follow you on social media. Once day when the need arises they may come back and buy, purchase or convert on your website.

Secondly, Google Analytics as a default uses a linear attribution model meaning it will give each website interaction an even weighting when it comes to defining what traffic sources lead to a conversion. Using the example above, the initial blog post interaction will be given an even % weighting to that conversion.

Understanding this, the more time you allow for analysing landing page data, the more accurate and actionable the insights will be.

Once you have good data insights you can start building out your performing themes as well as page and content types. Few questions to ask yourself are:

  • What type of content performed best? ie Did text posts, Infographics, Q&A styles content lead to conversions?
  • What themes had a direct correlation to conversions?
  • Are there high performing themes or post types I can focus on to drive more conversions and volume?

You can always take it one step further and use custom segments to filter the data even further to then understand how traffic source affects landing page performance. Not bad for a free tool ay?

After analysing your landing page performance, you can then go up a level and look at the content overview and view your most popular pages. I don’t find this as useful as the landing page data as it is often skewed by navigation as well as home page bias (people who visit a website tend to check out the home page out of curiosity).

You can find the most popular content within the same section as landing pages. There is an All Pages report found in Behaviour > Site Content > All Pages.

Use this as you would use the landing page analysis to work out pages that are the most popular on your website as well as which pages lead to conversions.

4. Demographics

To be honest, it’s only in the last 12 months that I have really started to enjoy analysing the demographics section in Analytics. Today it is a go to at least every month to check out who my best performing users are.

Unless I am simply interested in looking at the demographics of people who have visited your website (not very often) I always use segments to filter the traffic. I do this because I want to work out who are the people that lead to conversions and revenue on my site.

Custom Segment Google Analytics Demographic Data
I recommend analysing demographic data layered with a custom segment for usable information

For example, I want to know people who have purchased from me and what their demographics are. This will enable me to work out the best performing traffic and their specific attributes such as whether they are male or female, how old they are and what they are interested in.

To get your demographic data go to Audience > Demographics > Overview. You can then drill deeper and look at Age, Gender as well as Interests, both in-market (ie actively in-the-market for…) and affinity (general interests).

Google Analytics demographic and interest targeting

After I have the data I can then use it to build an audience to remarket to, or find channels that suit this behaviour and demographics so I can try to drive traffic from those sources. I do this because Analytics has already told me they love my stuff and I want more of these people!

For more clarity around your customer demographics, after defining your quality audiences, put a quick Venn diagram together and find the ultimate layering to target the best performing traffic.

demographics venn diagram
Use a Venn Diagram to layer your best performing audiences in Google Analytics

Now go out and get some of this traffic!

5. Multi-channel Top Conversion Paths

I have talked about paths to purchase a lot so I won’t need to go into too much detail as you can check out my article about it here. I thought it was worth mentioning again however as I think it incredibly important and grossly under utilised.

Similar to the landing page report, I suggest selecting a data set from a substantial time period for the same reasons I mentioned earlier (Linear attribution default in Analytics and the nature of conversion paths in general).

You can find this report in the Conversions tab close to the bottom of the Analytics navigation panel.

Once in the Conversions tab go to Multi-Channel Funnels > Top Conversion Paths.

top conversion paths google analytics

What I’m looking for are patterns in the paths to purchase. Where does social fit in? Organic search? What channel usually starts the journey and where does it end? You will most likely be surprised how often the end of the journey is through direct traffic. Since you cannot simply ‘drive’ direct traffic look at what other channels make up the path to purchase. How can you assist this journey?


The above list by no means is comprehensive. However what I feel it does it give you a holistic and rounded view of your website traffic. It answers the following questions:

  1. Where your traffic came from?
  2. Who they are?
  3. What they do?

Just analysing the number of sessions gives you a very one dimensional look at your traffic. Analyse from all angles to get the complete picture.