People like to hate on Google. Whether it is because of privacy concerns, shady practices or the power they yield in their massive checkbooks it's just...easy. While I certainly don't agree with everything the "Don't be evil" company, I have to say I'll always be a big fan as long as they give me piles upon piles of data for free.
Google Analytics is an incredibly powerful and versatile tool that works just as well on a small mom and pop site as it does on a massive ecommerce site. It is often disregarded because of the assumption that free = junk, which is a massive mistake.
Those who do utilize this incredible resource, however, oftentimes only make use of 5-10% of its capabilities (Source: My head). A lot of top-level users simply look at total traffic, maybe some traffic sources and if they even have it configured, Goal reports.
While there are countless ways you can segment, filter and customize your reports, there are three main areas where all-too-many users glaze over.
Top Conversion Paths
Find It: Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels > Top Conversion Paths
A common mistake is simply looking at Goal reports, then only looking at the sources to see where these converting users are coming from.
One thing you need to keep in mind is that a single user doesn't always visit your site through a single source. Sometimes, a user might first be exposed to your site after clicking on a PPC ad, then searching you in Google, then a 3rd direct visit now that they know your URL by heart. If they convert, which source gets the credit? Paid Search? Organic search? Direct traffic?
Google Analytics uses what is called a last click attribution model, which means that they give credit to whichever source was the last to bring the user to the site before they converted. By viewing your Top Conversion Paths, you can see how all of your traffic sources work together to drive a conversion, because like any sales cycle, it often takes more than one impression with a customer to "convert" them.
Find It: Traffic Sources > Social
A common complaint among social media pessimists is that you can't track the value of your social media efforts and you're essentially "flying blind." That is an outdated and unfortunate point of view because Google Analytics has come a long way in reporting the value of social media.
Your Social reporting includes an Overview and reports for Network Referrals, Data Hub Activity, Landing Pages, Trackbacks, Conversions, Plugins and a Visitors Flow.
With these wide-ranging reports, you can can an excellent view of which social media outlets are sending traffic, which ones send qualified traffic and where they convert.
The Real-Time reporting is the first item beneath your Standard Reports. Until recently, Real-Time was in beta and includes a couple reports that are in beta still. At first glance, it looks like nothing more than an area you can oversee your users as they traverse your site, however this section can be incredibly valuable for content marketing.
When you have a piece of high quality content you're about to release---if all goes according to plan---you'll be getting traffic from all sorts of referring sites and social media outlets. With Real-Time analytics pulled up as your command center, you can monitor in real-time where significant traffic is coming from and where conversations about your content could be popping up where you can go and respond and contribute. By doing so, you can get more conversations going and build more buzz around your content.
If you haven't taken the time to fully explore Google Analytics, you're missing out (there is no "could be" about it). There is valuable data at your fingertips which will help you refine strategies and increase traffic, conversions and impressions.
So what are you waiting for? Go dig in!