Google Analytics is an amazing tool for understanding website traffic.

There’s a reason most of the top websites use it.

Among other things it can tell you:

– How many people visit daily, monthly, and across years and seasons
– How much time people spend on pages
– What pages get the most visitors
– Which pages people arrive on and depart from

Despite the vastness of Google Analytics (GA), it can’t tell you everything. Examining data from GA is a bit like being a detective at a crime scene. Artifacts and evidence help you piece together what happened, but it can be quite challenging to understand the whole picture from just the bits of evidence available.

Here are four things GA can’t tell you but which UX research can.

1.    Visitor Intent

GA can tell you where people are coming from (geographically), the search terms they use to arrive, as well as any AdWords they might have clicked. But it’s difficult to know the motivations and goals of visitors. For example, are people not purchasing the product because they had trouble purchasing, were they just there to do research or did they accidentally click the link?  Like having a theory in science, knowing visitor intent helps drive more informed and effective design changes.

2.    Better Demographics

GA has the capability to guess some key demographic variables for site visitors, such as gender and age. The data is far from complete or reliable though. Google is taking advantage of those creepy tracking cookies that follow you around the Internet, which reveal information about your browsing history. You can see what Google thinks your age and gender are here. In my case, it has my age bracket right but has no data on my gender. A short survey asking key demographic questions can provide a much more accurate and complete picture of who your users are and what they are trying to accomplish.

3.    Sentiment

You can only infer so much from bounce rates, conversions, and exit pages. In particular, it’s hard to know how customers think and feel about the experience. The user experience is measured using a combination of attitudes and actions. What customers think is often not what they do; but what they think affects what they do, and customers’ thought processes aren’t captured in Google Analytics.

Using standardized instruments such as the SUPR-Q with your visitors reveals both what users think of the experience and how it compares to hundreds of other sites. With this overall pulse on sentiment, you can dig deeper in additional UX research studies. This helps tell you how likely visitors are to return and recommend the website to others.

4.    Interaction Problems

When people leave without purchasing a product, is it because the price was too high, they couldn’t find the right product, the filter didn’t work, or they had an error on the checkout form? And what exactly were they doing? What should you test in the A/B test: the button color, price, description, or none of those? Observing just a few participants interact with the product pages and checkout experience can uncover the more obvious usability issues. Understanding the interaction problems allows you to come up with more informed designs that you can then use in A/B tests.

Mixing GA and UX Research

A good detective of course uses both the evidence from a crime scene and interviews and other investigative techniques to understand the motivations and implications of crimes. The same idea applies to UX research and Google Analytics: mix the methods to make the most of your effort.

We offer our clients the often underutilized capability to survey customers on a website, collect SUPR-Q data, AND capitalize on Google Analytics. We do this by combining our customizable website intercept tool with standardized questions in a compact survey.

Combining this true-intent survey data (attitudes) with Google Analytics tracking data (behaviors) allows you to see how attitudes and demographics differ based on:

  1. Paths taken
  2. Products purchased
  3. Entry pages
  4. Search terms used
  5. Effectiveness of marketing campaigns

Better understanding goals and motivations and how they differ across the site allows you to better understand what’s working and how to change or tailor the experience.

Google Analytics is an essential tool to understand some key aspects of your website traffic. But it can’t tell you everything. Combining GA with UX research methods help you better understand who your users are, their intent for visiting (goals), what they think of the site (attitudes), problems being encountered, and what to fix.