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Google Analytics Overview

I was asked recently to write a post about Google Analytics (GA), specifically what kinds of thing I pay attention to on a daily basis. For those who may not know, Google Analytics is the premier tool to monitor traffic and activity on your web site. At Cairn, we cycle through analytics data for each client every morning. A blog post is not the right format for a comprehensive tutorial for Analytics, so what follows is a high level explanation of a few key ideas.

We are also working on a glossary of web terms which can be found here.

It is important to state at the beginning that every web site will have a unique set of objectives and a unique design ( or at least that's true for our clients ). So you can't apply some cookie cutter success template to your web site. Mostly, GA is a tool to measure your progress toward a unique set of objectives.

Quantity Measures

In order to accomplish anything on the web, you need to have some traffic. GA provides a couple great measures of the traffic on your web site; they are visits and pageviews. Visits is simply the number of people who come to your web site in a given period. Pageviews are the number pages your visitors saw in a that same period. Pageviews are not the same as hits. Click here for the difference between hits and pageviews.

Quality Measures

Next, I pay very close attention to some metrics that are suggestive of the quality of the traffic that we get. Start with the bounce rate. The bounce rate shows number of people who came to your site, no matter how, looked at one page, and went away without clicking anywhere else on the site. By implication, the visitor did not find what they were looking looking for, although there are important exceptions to that rule. One exception would an ajax driven web site that delivers all of its content on a single uri. Another exception would be a site that delivers its content through a blog where visitors come, get their daily update, and leave. Both of these sites will have a bounce rate that skews high. .

Another important quality measure is Pages/Visit (PPV) which is simply the number of pageviews divided by the number of visits. The calculation results in an average number of pageviews per visit. A site with a significant amount of content and a high PPV number is likely engaging their visitors with the content. A photo gallery makes an excellent example. Many sites now employ an ajax photo gallery that allows the visitor to cycle through the images without reloading the page. The down side is that you may be getting a lot of paging behavior ( your visitor interacting with your site ) without seeing that behavior in your Pageviews and PPV results.

A third important quality metric is average visit duration. This answers the question: how long did visitors stay on the site on average during the period? If your site is a marketing site, you probably are hoping for a longer duration, where as if your site provides some functionality that is a critical part of a company's work flow, you might be trying to drive that number in the other direction.

Traffic Sources

Another thing to be thinking about is where your traffic comes from. Common sources would include organic search, referring sites, direct traffic, email blasts, pay-per-click campaigns, etc. Organic search will be a result of your SEO efforts. Referrals are a key part of search engine optimization, so Cairn monitors the Visits and PPV numbers by referral source. There is also information to be had that breaks down referrals specifically from social media outlets such as Facebook, LinkedIn, twitter, etc.

Search Data

No discussion in this area would complete with out mentioning search. Google is very clear about the traffic they deliver to your site based on search phrases. It is important to understand the search phrases relevant to your business and optimize your site around those phrases. An initial moment of success is found when your brand name drops out of prominence in the keyword phrases driving traffic to your site to be replaced by phrases that describe your products or services. I like to say that it is better to have your site drive traffic to your brand than have your brand drive traffic to your site.

About your visitors

Depending on the nature of your business and web site, it may be important to know where your traffic is geographically. The location functionality in GA provides information as wide as continent and as granular as city.

You can also gain formation about the technology your visitors use. If you are considering a mobile landing page, it might be useful to know what percentage of your visitors use mobile devices to read your site and what areas they access with those devices.

Social engagement metrics are also available.


There is a great deal to be learned about your traffic through Google Analytics, and you can spend an enormous amount of time trying to understand and manipulate your web site to increase its performance. Especially in the “post -panda” world, you need to understand that Google is constantly looking for ways to deliver only the the highest quality search results to their users. A lot of smart people at Google are paid a lot of money to prevent web site owners from gaming the Google algorithms. The best advice is to be an expert in your content area, and work hard to deliver quality content to your visitors. That's Google's objective and it's Cairn's objective as well.    

Dumping cache from your browser.

You may be aware that most browsers cache certain files such as images, javascript files, style sheets, etc.  They do this in order to increase performance by decreasing load times. Files that already exist in your cache, do not have to be transmitted over the Internet to your browser. 

There are a number of factors that determine whether a cached file is acceptable for use.  These factors include the age if the file in cache, and the size of the cache ( the amount of space you have allocated on your file system for browser caching ). 

Occasionally your browser will use an existing file from cache when a newer version is available on the server.  This is especially irksome when working with a web developer who makes frequent changes on your web site.  I frequently make a change to a site and have the client say something like "nothing changed!"

Fortunately most browsers employ a short-cut to dump cache and force the browser to reload all the files.  For most browsers, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari, the short cut is <ctrl> + <del> to dump cache followed by <ctrl>+r to reload the page with all new files.

I hope this helps.

Thunderbird: Getting reply above the text

A customer asked how to get the text of her reply to show up at the top of her emails in Mozilla Thunderbird.  The default behavior is to show response at the bottom, but most of us are conditioned ( by the preview window ) to look for a reponse to an email thread at the top.

Here are some simple instructions:

  • Open Thunderbird
  • Select Edit from the menu then Account Settings
  • Select Composing and Addressing on the left side of the window
  • Select the check next to Automatically quote the original message when replying
  • There are then drop lists to control the placement of your reply and your signature.

Note: If you read more than one email account through Thunderbird, then you will need to do the above for each email account. 

I hope this helps.

Version: I am running Thunderbird 5.0 on Ubuntu 10.4

Set up mailing lists in Mozilla Thunderbird.

A client asked me for instructions setting up distribution lists in Thunderbird so here goes:

Note: I am running Thunderbird version 3.1.10 on Linux.

  1. Open Thunderbird.
  2. Click on the Address Book at the top of the window. 
  3. In the address book click on New List at the top of the window.
  4. Give your list a List Name so that you can find it later.
  5. Start typing the first few letters of your contact data in the email address list.  If the contact already exists in you address book, this should auto-complete. Other-wise you will need to add the entire address.
  6. Repeat the above step until you have added all the address you want.
  7. Click OK to save and close the list.

Now you should be able to address you email to the list name that you selected.

NOTE: There are a couple of key points to consider. 

First it is extremely bad form to put your distribution list in the To: field.  This exposes every email address to everyone on the list.  To avoid this, always BCC to your distribution list.

The second thing to consider is that you should not sends a ton of emails to large distribution lists through your normal email account.  Doing so, runs the risk of getting the server labeled as a SPAM source and SPAM filters will start to filter out anything that comes from that server.Bad for you and everyone else on the server.

Cairn Applications LLC maintains a Constant Contact Email Marketing account specifically for our customer's use.  We will craft emails messages from your content.  These messages look more professional and  reinforce your branding.  This service is included in your maintenance fees.

Please contact us for more information.