The practical guide to actionable analytics

In my previous business I was more concerned by vanity metrics like where I was ranking in Google and overall total traffic volume than I was with measuring actionable analytics – i.e. things that would influence my decisions.

In my new startup, Informly I was determined to get this right by making sure I had all of the tools setup and correctly configured to be able to track metrics that would influence my actions.

In this guide I’ll step you through my exact setup for Google Analytics and how I am using what I’ve learnt in taking action for my startup. I will also be releasing a similar guide for Kiss Metrics in the future because Google Analytics doesn’t tell me everything I need to know. Feel free to sign up to my emails on the right to be notified when this is released.

Google Analytics Setup

Even with Kiss Metrics installed, I use Google Analytics both on my public website and within the app itself. Here is what you need to do step by step to set it up.

1.  Create an Analytics account and add the code. 

Web Ninja GA will make sure your visits to the site aren’t included in your stats.

This is pretty straight forward, simply sign up for Google Analytics if you haven’t already and it will step you through the tasks necessary for adding a new account (click Admin if you already have an account for a different site).

Google will provide instructions for adding the code to your site, or I use the Web Ninja GA plugin for WordPress which has the added benefit of not tracking my own visits (when I’m logged in).

Visit the site in private browsing mode from a few different computers to rack up a few visits then diarise to check Analytics the next day to make sure it’s tracking.

 2.  Set up Goals

There is no point having Analytics set up without goals. The raw traffic volume numbers tell you very little. If you are running a web app then usually your goals will be quite simple in my case:

  1. Email opt ins
  2. App signups (not currently available so just using opt ins for now but it’s ready to go for when we launch)

You can either use a URL destination or events to track your goals. Events are more reliable so let’s use events.

  • Click Admin in Google Analytics and click on your profile name.
  • Click on Goals and click on the +Goal button
  • Choose the event option and in my case for email opt ins I’ve given it a goal of Emailoptin. Here is how mine looks. As you can see I’ve given it a Goal name of Emailoptin, I’ve kept the category and the label as Emailoptin (you can use categories if you have more goals). I leave the value blank and I set it when I add the code to the site.

  • On my website subscription form I add a tiny bit of JavaScript to the submit button. The code for event tracking needs to be structured like _trackEvent(category, action, opt_label, opt_value, opt_noninteraction)
  • So in my case I’ve got  onClick="_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'Emailoptin', 'email', 'Emailoptin',, false]);" 

Again visit the site in private browsing mode (because web ninja will disable Google Analytics if you are logged in as the site owner) and submit the form from a few different computers. Return the next day and look at the standard reports under Conversions / Goals/ Overview to make sure your goals are tracking.

3.  Set up Campaigns

If you are doing any kind of online marketing (free or paid) then instead of just linking back to your homepage you can use a trackable link so Google Analytics can group your traffic into different campaigns.

As an example I have a banner add for Informly on another blog, I use the Google URL Builder to build a trackable link by:

  1. Adding my website URL
  2. Adding the campaign source ‘otherblog’
  3. Adding the medium ‘banner’
  4. Adding a campaignname ‘otherblogad’
  5. And clicking Generate URL (you can also use campaign terms if you are setting them up for individual keywords or add the Content field to differentiate between different ads)

Here is how it looks and the link that results that I can use in my ad is:

The other bonus with using these trackable links is they are also respected by Kiss Metrics so down the track you can analyse your customers based on what source they came from assuming you are a Kiss Metrics user.

Now it’s not always possible to use campaigns. Sometimes when you add a URL you have to add one that the user sees. For example when you comment on a blo, the owner will be turned off by a trackable link. Or on your profiles you generally can’t put a link that is different to the anchor (i.e. you don’t want that big link above showing on your Twitter profile). There are 2 ways around this. The first is to set up a re-direct.

I use the WordPress plugin Simple 301 Redirects for example on my Twitter profile which works as follows:

  1. I generate the trackable link above and call it ‘twitterprofile’
  2. I then go into WordPress and create a re-direct from the page “” to the trackable link.
  3. I put “” as the URL on my twitter profile.

You can use this a fair bit however realistically you can’t use it for every single link and in a lot of cases if you are putting out a lot of content you will get sick of creating trackable links and re-directs every time you update the various locations you post your content. For this reason and others, I like to use custom advanced segments.

Set up Google Analytics Advanced Segments

I find Google Analytics Advanced Segments more powerful than trackable links because I can use them to compare every single traffic strategy side by side (including campaigns that use trackable links and including strategies that can’t be easily tracked by campaigns).

Setting up the custom segments is a topic in itself and you can check out my detailed step by step guide at Google Analytics Advanced Segments.

Unfortunately custom segments aren’t utilised by Kiss Metrics so where possible it’s good to use campaigns.

Google Analytics Tracking

Setting up is obviously important but there’s no point doing it unless you are going to pay attention to the data, and then take action on it.

I use Informly for a summary of high level Google Analytics data and log into Analytics as well to delve into the details. Here is what I keep an eye on:

Traffic Volume

I still look at traffic volume, particularly month by month comparisons with Informly and the yearly trend. I want to know my traffic is going up and what kind of trajectory I’m on.

In Analytics the visitors Overview report in the Standard Reporting will show you the trend.

Here is the volume trend for Informly since focusing on the site full time in July / August. Traffic is on the way up which is good but we need to delve into more detail before we get too excited.

Conversion volume and rate

The Informly conversion chart shows me quickly how my conversions are going compared to last month.

I also look at my total conversions and my conversion rate.

I do this daily using Informly for the total conversions and I have a goal to hit a certain amount of email opt ins before I launch. You can also track your conversion rate and how it changes when you change aspects of the site or change your traffic strategies.

In Analytics the Conversions area under standard reporting will show you your total conversions and your conversion rate.

Note: The % goal completions shown for each location or source / medium are not conversion rates, these are just a % of your total conversions. To see actual conversion rates by source you need to view the sources chart and then use the Goal Set buttons to view them by Goal (a bit annoying). Informly users can get a simple chart that displays their top 10 segments by conversions (see below). 

Campaigns and custom segment traffic

Once you understand the overall data it’s time to plunge into some more detail to work out where your best traffic is coming from.

As mentioned above, I use Informly to show me a top 10 list of my custom segments in terms of traffic volume and conversions. In Analytics you can do a similar thing but you can only show 4 at once which makes it very hard to get a high level view of your strategies.

The overall traffic chart by custom segment can show you straight away which strategies are sending you the most amount of traffic. In my case you can see that my onsite content generates traffic through Google and this is my highest source followed by my email newsletters. Of course I could send more newsletters but these people are already on my list – what I really want is more customers or opt ins.

For that I need to look at conversions.

Campaigns and custom segment conversions

The conversion chart shows me my best strategy for conversions and also shows the conversion rates for various strategies. With this information I can see:

  • Longtail SEO isn’t my best source of opt ins right now, guest blogging is.
  • Natural product coverage, twitter auto follow and partner strategies weren’t high up on the volume list but they are good sources of total conversions. I can focus more on these now and when I launch.
  • The partner strategy has an exceptional conversion rate but since I haven’t been doing a lot with that prior to launch, the volume is fairly low. This tells me what I might focus on more after I launch.

As you can see the conversion data is extremely powerful. If I can get a 20% conversion rate compared with my site average (around 5%) then clearly I’ll increase my ROI on my marketing 4 fold. Imagine the wastage if I only focused on total traffic volume.

If you wish to look at campaigns, in Analytics click on Traffic sources / Sources / Campaigns and you’ll get a list of your main campaigns, their overall traffic and use the Goal Set buttons to see your conversions and conversion rates for each of your goals.

Top referrers

I also like to look at my list of top referring sites. I can do this in Informly or directly in Google Analytics (Traffic sources / Sources / All traffic). I tend to do this after I put content out like after guest posts go live or after I’m mentioned or interviewed on another site. This list will also include search engines and your campaigns but if you just want individual websites you can go to Traffic sources / Sources / Referrers. You can get some pretty decent information from the detailed report in Analytics here as well.

I’m often surprised by what I see in the list of referrers for example above:

  • Adding my posts to Hacker news seems to be sending me a decent amount of traffic (I’ve only just started doing this).
  • Alternativeto is an app comparison site, I was added months ago and haven’t done anything since and they consistently send me a lot of (very high converting) traffic. WhenI launch I’ll be looking for some more sites like this.
  • Xero users seem to be particularly engaged with the product. We are ramping up our work with with Xero as a result.

Top Keywords

Top keywords is another indication of the success of your onsite content efforts and your optimisation efforts. In my Step by step guide to content driven SEO I lay out my exact process for building content and doing basic SEO to get more traffic from Google. Because my site is only a few months old I know it’s going to take time before I’m ranking for any keywords other than ‘brand’ keywords. But the long term goal is to get more new traffic through ranking for keywords that reflect what my potential new customers are searching for.

In Analytics you can find these under Traffic sources / Search / Organic. I use Informly for this because I can see quickly and visually how the keywords compare in terms of traffic and how much they have increased or decreased for the period.

As you can see from the chart I still have a lot of brand keywords in there but I’m starting to get new potential customers searching for keywords related to my app as well which is nice. Over time I expect I will get more and more of these and I’m also learning which keywords to focus on for future content.

Metrics should be actionable

I hope this has been useful. I find it handy when looking at my stats,what can I do after looking at these stats.  You might change direction on your site, put out different content, drop marketing strategies, double down on others. Whatever it is, if you are taking action as a result then you are on the right track.

What do you like to track in Analytics

I’d love to hear what you like to track, please feel free to comment below.


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Dan Norris is a co-founder at WP Curve and a passionate entrepreneur with an obsession for content marketing.

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