Analytics Knowing When a Win is a Win

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Analytics: Knowing When a Win is a Win

analytics data from website concept art

Why Visitation Isn't Enough

A long time ago, visits to websites were the most important thing you could earn as a website owner. These days, just seeing an increase in visitation isn't enough. You need to be tracking a multitude of things to get to the heart of why you're seeing an increase - or decrease - in your website's traffic. You can do that with Google Analytics.

Let's say that you all of a sudden notice an increase in visits to your most recent blog article. What you first want to do is check into your Acquisition tabs in Google Analytics. Do you see a lot of organic traffic heading toward that article? Or is it mostly referrals? Something else? Looking deep into these facets of your analytics will help you to understand what you're doing right, and how you can possibly continue to do it right.

Let's look at some scenarios for an increase in traffic, and how to know that your win is a win.

I Have Had an Increase in Traffic, Should I Celebrate?

First of all, congratulations. It feels good, doesn't it? Well, before we get too excited, we need to look at why you've had an increase in traffic. The first thing you must determine is where the traffic is coming from. And, to do this we will need to compare visitation to the months, as well as the year prior, around the exact same dates, to see if it is a seasonal increase, a random spike, or an external link, etc.

Best Case Scenarios

  1. Best case scenario: Organic search has increased, you are trending or gaining a lot of traffic for a specific question which people are submitting to Google and have earned a "Google card" for best answer to this common question from Google. This is search engine gold - pop the bubbly.
  2. You find that the increase is the result of a referral link that a partner has placed on their website.
  3. A popular blog or website has used your information and included your website link as the source.

Worst Case Scenarios

  1. Bots have learned of your website and are now targeting you with false referrer links.
  2. You have covered a topic in a confusing way and are picking up search traffic for something else altogether. The reason this is bad is because your bounce rate will skyrocket and it will trigger Google to "fix" the misdirection. To combat this, we will need to see what you're being found for that is so incorrect and suggest a change in your content, or a move to provide the actual answer that is making you popular.

After years of working with analytics and customers that are new to the concept, it has become quite obvious that we SEO's do a poor job of teaching our clients how to interpret and work with analytics. It isn't enough to see a rise in traffic over a period of a month and get excited that more visitors are finding your site through search. A rise in traffic should be recorded, measured against previous years (for patterns) and then researched to find its cause. This is just one example of common mistakes everyone makes but the following list will cover some of the other mistakes and give examples of how to make your analytics work for you.

Tracking External Marketing Efforts with Analytics:

External marketing push mentioning the website

Common mistake: Since a printed material with a website address cannot be tracked through analytics, many people simply pull up the date of delivery within their analytics to see if there was a significant rise in number. The problem with doing this is two-fold: First of all, coincidences happen and you may get heavy traffic from another source while you run your marketing campaign; not having a way to differentiate the two will give you a false impression on how well your campaign did. Secondly, like an email campaign, people tend to act on the call-to-action on their own time. People using your print material months down the line will give you a rise in traffic, and you won't be able to tell that this tail is due to your print marketing.

Best Practices for Print Material Using a Vanity URL:

  1. Create a Google Campaign URL for the address that you are directing people to. Be sure to name the campaign, label it 'print', and then include a unique identifier for the type of campaign that it is.
  2. Use your campaign URL as the source for your vanity URL. As an example: usfit.whatever could point to usfit.whatever?utm_source=postcard&utm_medium=print&utm_campaign=last_chance
  3. Be sure to use your vanity URL on all of that campaign's print material.
  4. The visits that are attributed to your print material will now appear in the acquisition > campaign tab of your analytics report.

Campaigns on Google Analytics Example

Best Practices for Print Material Using a QR Code:

  1. Are people still using these?
  2. Create a Google Campaign URL for the address that you are directing people to. Be sure to name the campaign, label it 'print', and then include a unique identifier for the type of campaign that it is.
  3. Use your campaign URL as the source for your QR code. Be sure to indicate that it is indeed a QR code (campaign source?) this way if you have both a vanity URL and this code, you can see which one is doing the heavy lifting.
  4. The visits that are attributed to your QR Code will now appear in the acquisition>campaign tab of your analytics report.

Pro-Tip on Campaign Tracking (for Google Analytics Admins)

In Google analytics one of the most important things to do in order to get a clear picture of what's really what is to utilize the secondary dimension button.

Image of Secondary Dimension in Google Analytics

With the secondary dimension button you can weigh your campaign against other factors that don't show up on the campaign page. One of these factors could be the second page that someone visits after landing on that page. Let's say you have a call-to-action there and you want to see what percentage of your print people are actually clicking that button.

Tracking Internal Wins with Google Analytics

Using Google Analytics' Goals

Google Analytics Goals Image Example

One of the surefire ways to track wins and get good data from Google Analytics is to use the "Goals" tab. If you aren't an admin on the Google Analytics account, you can make a plan and tell your SEO specialist to set it up for you. Unfortunately, Goals work with very simple rules (person has visited x amount of pages, person landed on this URL, etc.) and more complex tracking requires Google Tag Manager. For your call-to-actions, Goals is very useful. Let's consider some examples:

  • A form is setup on your website and you want to track the number of people who complete it during the week - Best way to do this is to build a thank you page or a script that is not attainable beyond filling out the form and setting a goal to track the number of people who reach that thank you page.
  • Tracking steps in a funnel - If you've developed a set path that you expect your visitors to follow in order to get information or to get to a call-to-action, then you can set a goal to show everyone who follows the sequence. Steps in the goal can also be setup to show where you may or may not have lost visitors in the sequence.
  • Tracking people who stay on a page for a long duration of time - For blog articles and informational webpages, this particular goal is very useful. Within the goal you can set a duration that you expect people to stay on a page and track it later on to see if the page or article is performing well.

All Spikes Aren't Created Equal

Note: When you look at analytics long enough you will find that random spikes and dips in traffic tend to happen. You may have had your article mentioned on someone's social media for that day, or someone used it as an example at a seminar. Whatever it is, you will gain a lot more traffic in that hour, day, or week than you had before. But none of those visitors will stick. It is easy to see these patterns and ignore spikes moving forward, but I must caution against this because not all spikes are built or based on the same things.

Traffic Spike Image Example

Good spikes:

  • A link from one of the massive trending blogs online, such as Reddit or Huffington Post, can crash your server due to the astronomical number of visitors they can send over to your website through referral links. Seeing a spike that high will cause excitement, but slow your roll ... it's sobering the way it sinks after a few days. There is a reason we call them spikes and not hills, mountains, or ramps. You float up fast and then you drop like a stone. The reason I placed this in the good spike area though is that most of these referrals have lasting effects, I've always seen growth after a spike from one of these websites - not incredibly significant, but noticeable.

Bad spikes:

  • Evil, computer-run, false-positive bots who spike our bounces, falsify hits, and leave us wondering why so many people visit yet take no action: These give us bad spikes. They can be spotted by their patterns and host name. If the source is a referral labeled as "get-better-seo.something" or anything similarly shady, you may want to ask your SEO to block it from Google Analytics. Sometimes these bots use the "organic" metric as well, but the tell is always in their name or language. If it's a strange website, add it to your blocked list and ignore the surge in traffic. Unfortunately we cannot retroactively block these false hits in our results. More information on this is available here for anyone who'd like to learn more!

What do you think? Do you feel confident in your Analytics game? Let us know on our Facebook page!

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Bekah Witten
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Bekah is the content writer for the University of South Florida department of Information Technology.