Analytics Guidance for Planning a Site Redesign

Published July 9, 2014
You hate your website. Or, at least, you think your website could work better and be doing more to help you achieve your business goals.
We’ve all been there.
Planning to rebuild or redesign a website, whether large or small, can quickly turn into a significant and intimidating task. You want to improve the site to meet users’ needs and offer compatibility with the latest web technology, but you don’t want to undo the good stuff that’s already working. You want to better target your site toward your customers’ questions and their concerns, but you want to first identify how your customers are engaging with your current site.
You need a plan. Thankfully, Google Analytics can answer many questions about how your customers are already using your site to help you successfully (and painlessly) redesign your website.

website redesign with google analytics


Below are five important questions to ask when preparing for a site redesign:

1. How are customers interacting with your current site?

All too often, you’ll find that your users don’t interact with your site in quite the way you planned. Perhaps they don’t click half the items in your main navigation bar, or they get frustrated trying to find a section of the site you thought was more visible. Analytics data can help you identify where you can improve user experience, such as adding a navigation item for a popular page, removing a button that’s rarely clicked or changing a specific call to action.

In-Page Analytics is available under the Content section on the Standard Reporting tab. It works to give you a visual assessment of how users interact with your website so you can see your site from your customers’ eyes. In-Page Analytics offers a wealth of data about where users are focusing their attention on a particular page, as well as things like:

  • Are certain links being clicked on?
  • Are my calls to action visible and/or compelling enough?
  • Are customers finding what they’re looking for?
  • Are they seeing important content or messaging elements?
  • Are customers using the intended conversion path or are they creating their own? Is theirs better?

You will want to enable enhanced link attribution to see more granular details about clicks on specific page elements. Look for elements with large percentages of clicks to identify sections you should make more prominent, and identify elements with low percentages to see sections you may want to remove or rename.

If Google Analytics doesn’t show you enough information, heatmapping tools such as Crazy Egg can provide even more data on clicks and scrolling activity across individual pages.

Google Analytics In Page Analytics

Note: Google now has a Chrome extension – Page Analytics – which lets you easily browse your site and see the In-Page analytics data directly in the Chrome browser.

In addition, pay attention to User Flow reports (Behavior > Flow) to see what paths people are taking through your site. If they’re taking an average of five steps to get to a crucial product page, you should revise the site to make this process simpler.

For example, below we have a User Flow report for a higher education site. We know the nursing program is one of the college’s most successful programs and of high interest to visitors. However, as a mobile user, we see it takes three steps from the homepage for visitors to reach this information. Based on the importance of the page, a redesign should be considered to provide a shorter navigation path and to help users find the information they’re most after.

Google Analytics User Flow

2. What are they not finding right away?

Using the internal search functionality on your site (note that tracking site search does require some extra setup in Analytics), can provide invaluable data about your customers. Your internal search acts as your window into a customer’s mind, allowing you to see what information they’re looking for but are unable to find on your site.

For example, below we see analytics data for a college website. We see that many users are using the internal search functionality to look for information regarding “tuition.”

Google Analytics Internal Search

This is a good indication that a link to the Tuition & Fees page should be more visible or that perhaps another call out is needed to bring added attention to this item.

As an online retailer, you may use your internal search to discover a particular product your customers are looking for that you should begin to carry or a new page of content you need but don’t currently have.

Another benefit of tracking internal search using Site Search is that you can see what keywords users commonly search your site with (see: Behavior > Site Search > Search Terms). This can be invaluable data especially now that most organic search keywords from Google are hidden behind “(not provided)”.

3. How did past changes to the site go over?

While you may not always have the luxury of accessing a wealth of past analytics data, any information from past redesigns can prove invaluable to see how changes to various elements on the site improved or hurt usability. If you have the data accessible, look back over time and identify any dates where major changes were made to the site. You can then see if changes such as adding image sliders or changing the navigation bar helped engagement and decide whether or not to keep those elements in another round of the site.

Annotations prove incredibly helpful for marking important dates, such as when a site redesign launched, or a popular post went up. Annotations allow you to leave private notes directly over your analytics data to add context to the activity you are seeing. Whether the annotation helps to explain a dry spell or give insight into a traffic spike, it can provide clarity to the activity you are seeing.

For example, in the screenshot below we’re able to attribute a spike in traffic to a new site launch. Also, when going back to look at stats from before and after the site launched, we can easily click the annotation to see the exact date.

Google Analytics Annotation

In other instances you may have found time on site improved significantly after a blog was added to a site. You then decide to make links to specific blog articles more prominent across the site.

Also, adding a slider to the homepage in a previous design may have increased the bounce rate noticeably. You then decide to do away with a slider for the next version of the site.

4. What technology are they using?

If you’re looking at rebuilding a site that’s several years old, the previous site probably is not too user friendly on mobile devices. Of course, you want to create a new site with phone and tablet users in mind, likely using responsive design. While ideally you want to make sure your site is compatible with every imaginable screen size, device, and OS, Google Analytics provides a starting point by showing you the technology visitors are most commonly using, allowing you to prioritize the devices you optimize for.

The Browser & OS report and the Mobile Devices report prove especially helpful in identifying this information. For example, you may see that very few people access your site from an older version of IE, so backwards compatibility is not overly important. Or you may see that your site previously showed an abnormally high bounce rate in mobile versions of Chrome, so you’ll want to take special care to make sure the new site works properly in Chrome on a mobile device.

Google Analytics Browser & OS Report

5. What content do they like best?.

Design and development changes to a site will do little to improve performance if not coupled with strategic content planning. When creating the sitemap and content for the new site, looking at how previous content has performed can help you decide which pages to make more prominent and which ones to get rid of. See our post on using analytics to plan content for some practical tips on how to examine your existing content’s performance.


Use your analytics to help you create a plan for your site redesign and to help you determine where your current site is working and where there is an opportunity for you to improve upon it using actionable insights.


When the client first came to you, you talked up the value of Google Analytics. You emphasized the importance of seeing where your traffic was coming from. You went on and on about how Google Analytics can show traffic sources to pinpoint whether people came from search, social media or a specific site referral, and how valuable this data was. You sold them on it, so much so that your client looked forward to receiving that first report, the magical day when they would finally understand where visitors were coming from.
But then the report came, and it looked like this:



It showed that 10% of your client’s traffic came from “(direct)/(none)”. What does this label mean? How do you explain Direct traffic to your client? Better yet, how do you explain “none”?
Let’s take a closer look at understanding Direct traffic in Google Analytics and how we can address it with clients.
Digital marketers spend a lot of time focused on PPC and SEO campaigns in order to drive desirable traffic to a website. The phrases we’re ranking for and bidding on get meticulous attention, so much so that we often forget about some of the other ways that visitors find us.

We put a tremendous amount of the effort we put into reviewing organic search data and PPC campaign performance in analytics. But how closely do we monitor referral reports?

If that’s not a channel you review regularly, you may be missing out on seeing traffic that is coming directly from links you’ve obtained around the web, local business listings, news mentions, and more. Many times, links are only considered as a means to an end, a metric that Google uses in determining how to rank sites in the SERPs (search engine results pages). But the fact is, many of a site’s links may be directly contributing to its traffic.

In this article, we’ll review how to look at referral reports in Google Analytics, and some of the many ways to use that data to better inform your web marketing decisions.


Remember how your mom told you not to stand too close to the television because it might hurt your eyes?

The same rules can apply to data. If you’re too close, you may miss the patterns and trends that are crucial to understanding your website’s performance. You can’t judge a site’s performance looking at data in the bubble of a single day, you must consider any day’s traffic compared to the days before and after.

Google Analytics makes it fairly easy to analyze trends over long periods of time. But it also allows you to stand right in front of that TV, to look at more granular levels of time, right down to the hour.
There’s a better way to get that close to the data, without burning your retinas. We’ll cover how to analyze traffic effectively in today’s post.