We recently saw an innkeeper commenting that they were overwhelmed by all the things to look at in Google Analytics – too many choices, and no clear idea of which were the important things for them. When you can’t devote the day to studying the data, what do you really need to know, and how can you focus on that quickly and easily?

Google Analytics is a powerful tool – no question about it. However, everyone doesn’t have time to poke through its details on a regular basis, export all the info to spreadheets and then slice-and-dice the information. Today we’ll look at the essentials – the things that will give you an idea of how your website is performing, and suggest some ways to simplify your time with GA, by setting these things up, then simply checking them periodically.

1. What do we want to know?

What are we trying to learn from GA? Avinash Kaushik, author of two books on GA, and Digital Marketing Evangelist for Google, suggests you consider three elements: Acquisition, Behavior and Outcomes. Acquisition is the way the visitor came to your website. Behavior is what the visitor did after arriving at your website. Outcomes are the conversions, or other ultimate result of the visits.

[pullquote]Where did they come from, what did they do, and what was the result?[/pullquote]Though your individual priorities may dictate some differences, certainly general rules of thumb for small lodging properties would indicate that we want to look at these same areas, specifically:

  • Acquisition: referral sources, search (organic vs. paid), campaigns, landing pages, cost of acquisition
  • Behavior: time on the site, bounce rate, pages visited, path through the site, time on pages, checkout abandonment rate
  • Outcomes: conversions (goals, ecommerce)

We’re going to use analytics for all three categories, but the shortcut will apply to the second (Behavior) and third (Outcomes), while we’ll need a bit more for the most important part of Acquisition (though we don’t need to do it too frequently).

For Acquisition you can obsess over referral rates from one directory or another, or whether a review site is sending visitors who bounce, and all of that is useful data, but without more information, we’re just guessing about their value. While you may want to keep an eye on such things, we’ll need a spreadsheet to get the additional information we need on Acquisition. Consequently, we’ll look first at Behavior, then Outcomes, then wrap up with Acquisition.

2. Behavior of Visitors

It is useful sometimes to see how page views have increased (or not) over time, or how time on site has changed over time, but neither of those, without more information, tells you what guests are doing. After all, they could open your site, walk away to answer the phone, and close the browser 10 minutes later without reading a line!

Instead, let’s look at Bounce Rate (visitors who never get past the first page) and Checkout Abandonment Rate (people who start into the booking process, only to leave without booking).

A. Bounce Rate

The Bounce Rate is the percentage of visitors who leave after viewing only one page. Something caused them to decide that you were not the answer to their question. We’ll want to keep an eye on this figure, and use our keywords to see what keywords are bouncing, what landing pages have the highest bounce rate, etc.

B. Checkout Abandonment Rate

Google Analytics doesn’t calculate this for you automatically, but another free took, Paditrack, does. Create a free account, and authorize Paditrack to connect to your GA account, then create a conversion funnel that matches your checkout/booking path. If you’re not sure what that is, create a fictitious reservation, writing down the address of every page along the way, then enter those pages, one by one, into a funnel in Paditrack. Paditrack also allows you to quickly create reports by segments (using your GA segments), so for example you can see the conversion rates by directory or other referral source.

So what is the Checkout Abandonment Rate? The ratio of the number of people who entered the checkout process but didn’t complete it, to the total who entered the checkout process. In numbers, take the number of completed bookings and divide by the number who entered the booking process, and convert to a percent.

Paditrack makes that easy, by showing the conversion percent, so you can subtract that number from 100% to get the Checkout Abandonment Rate. There is no rule of thumb, but a 50% abandonment rate would be fairly common, and rates as high as 70% are not unusual.

3. Outcomes

Fundamentally, a small lodging property is about bookings, not about mailing list subscriptions and lead generation. Consequently, the main thing is the online booking. Set up a Goal for your booking, and set up ecommerce tracking (including both on your booking engine, as well). Then check your Ecommerce Overview page and either Paditrack or your Goals Overview page to keep an eye on the outcomes.

4. Acquisition Cost

As mentioned above, this one is a bit more complicated, just because GA doesn’t provide all the info we need. But once you set it up and save the spreadsheet file, you can repeat it as needed

Sample spreadsheetHere’s the process to set it up:

  1. In GA, go to your Traffic Sources -> Sources -> All Traffic report, then click on Ecommerce under the Explorer tab near the top.
  2. Select the number of rows you want to display (10-25 is probably adequate, but see what that gets you, and if it doesn’t include referral sources that are important to you, increase the number to get them).
  3. At the top of the page, click Export, and select the type of file you want to export (choose CSV if you’re not sure)
  4. Save the file, then import it into a spreadsheet. Add a column for Cost, and then two more, one for Cost per Click and one for Cost per Acquisition
  5. For any paid items, enter the cost in the Cost column. For items you don’t pay for, add a value for your time to manage them
  6. In the Cost per Click column, enter a formula to divide the Cost by the number of Visits
  7. In the Cost per Acquisition column, enter a formula to divide the Cost by the number of Transactions

Now you can see at a glance how much it is costing you to get a booking from any particular source. Keep in mind that this method is not 100% foolproof, as it doesn’t take into account phone or other reservation methods, and it is not taking into account booking sources that are not tracked by Google Analytics (for this purpose, GA usually tracks just the last referral source, so any prior referral sources are not included).