Google Analytics is a powerful web analytics tool. A Google Analytics power user might rely on it to establish goals, analyze campaign performance, drive e-commerce, and gain a deeper understanding of customer behavior.

I’ve seen far too many businesses set up Google Analytics… then stop. The tools gathers data. And every now and then people log in, look at the total number of visitors over a period of time, and log out. Unfortunately, the data is useful only if you act on it.

So to get you started, here are four ways to put Google Analytics data to work for your business’s website.

(Note: the following assumes you already have Google Analytics configured and gathering data for your site. If you haven’t done that yet, see “Five things you should know about Google Analytics” from TechRepublic and “Get started with Analytics” from Google.)

1. Focus on content people care about

Look at Pageviews (see Behavior > Overview) to understand the most viewed pages on your site. Limit your focus to the pages that get the majority–more than 50%–of your traffic. Use the Pageview % data to identify the most important pages. As you can see in Figure A, it takes just four pages before the “50% of pageviews” total is crossed (i.e., 36.74% + 6.59% + 4.69 + 3.32% = 51.34%). Extending further, just eight pages comprise 60% of Pageviews on the site.

Make sure the content on these most-viewed pages is up to date and accurate, since it’s the content the majority of visitors care about.

Figure A

2. Streamline site navigation

Look at the Behavior flow report (see Behavior > Behavior flow) to understand page navigation patterns (Figure B). The report shows three things: the pages where most site visitors start, the page(s) they navigate to next, and when they leave the site (i.e., “drop off”).

Figure B

Pay attention to the path to the most viewed pages on a site. For example, I worked with an executive search firm where the “job openings” page was the most popular page. The behavior flow report showed that from the home page, people navigated to a “career opportunities” page, then to the “job openings” page. This suggested two possible simpler flows: put a direct link to the “job openings” page on the home page, or even put the “job openings” content on the home page. Either change would make it easier for viewers to get to the “job openings” content faster.

Change your website’s navigation to reduce the number of taps (or clicks) it takes for visitors to get to popular pages.

3. Make sure your site works well for visitors

Google Analytics tracks the tools people use to access your site. You can identify whether people use desktops, tablets, or phones (see Audience > Mobile > Overview). You can also see which mobile devices and browsers people use (see Audience > Mobile > Device, and Audience > Technology > Browser & OS, respectively).

The technology adoption and usage patterns of people who visit your site may vary from the headlines you read about in the news. Not every site receives the majority of visits from a Chrome web browser on an Android phone, even though that is the most commonly used browser and device globally.

Again, make sure your site works as you want it to on the platforms your visitors use. For example, in the sample site shown in Figure C, 54.72% of visitors access the site from a desktop, and 61.51% use Chrome. Among mobile devices, 30.83% of visits are from an Apple iPhone. So for this site, at a minimum, test it in Chrome on a desktop and on an iPhone.

Figure C

Most modern website content management systems automatically adapt content to work well with a variety of devices and web browsers. But if you find that your site site doesn’t work well on the device or browser most of your visitors use, you may need to change to a different site template/theme or move your site to a different content management system.

4. Improve promotions

Find out how visitors arrived at your site with Acquisitions Overview (see Acquisition > Overview). The data tells you the percentage of visitors who typed/tapped the address in (“direct”), followed a link from another site (“referral”), connected with a link from social media, or arrived at the site after a search (Figure D).

Figure D

You may also explore any of the referral sources to see more details. For example, look at “referral” traffic to see which sites link to yours. An art gallery I work with receives some web traffic from a nearby hotel’s website, which provides an opportunity to start a conversation about offline partnerships, since some hotel guests clearly are interested in art. Similarly, delve into the traffic from social media sources, such as Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. You may discover that one–or more–of those social media services drives traffic to your site, even if you don’t actively use it.

Repeat periodically

Check in on your Google Analytics data periodically. For many small to midsize businesses, a look at Google Analytics data each month–or even each quarter–may be sufficient. And don’t redesign your site on Tuesday just because you noticed traffic went down on Monday. (Well, that is, unless you’re Amazon or Google. But both of those companies have years of data and huge numbers of customers. Most businesses don’t.) Keep in mind that many businesses experience seasonal traffic changes. As you do with financial statements, compare data to the same period for the prior year. If you’ve made adjustments–that is, if you’ve acted on the data above–the difference should show up in the numbers.

Your thoughts

What actions do you recommend people prioritize when getting started with Google Analytics? Which numbers do you use to inform website changes? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!