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Using Google Analytics to Compare Traffic from Different Periods of Time

Matt Huggins has put together a useful article titled Beginner’s Guide to Interpreting Website Traffic Metrics with Google Analytics which will be very useful for anyone wanting a primer on how to use Google Analytics. Matt’s post reminded me of something I’ve been using Google Analytics a lot more for recently – comparing different periods of time to one another.

I’ve been getting a lot more into Google Analytics over the past few months – it’s one of the most useful metrics programs that I’ve ever used and has so much power under the hood.

There are a number of metrics that I keep an eye on but one of them that I’ve been tracking lately is to compare traffic from one month to another.

Let me illustrate. Here’s the last month’s traffic graph from ProBlogger (click to enlarge):

Last-Month

Now lets compare the this graph with traffic last month? (note – I’ve lined it up so that the periods both start on the same day of the week so that we can compare Mondays to Mondays and Saturdays to Saturdays):

Last-Month-Compared

You can immediately see that the dips and flows in traffic had some similarities on many days but that there were a couple of big variations. The first spike was when one of my posts got some attention on Digg’s front page for a few hours and the spike around July 2 was when we had some server issues one day.

OK – to this point it’s just an interesting graph – but one of the things I then like to do is drill down to different types of traffic.

Lets take a look at search engine traffic over the period:

Se-Traffic

With this graph we can see that from last month (green) to this month (blue) there is a noticeable increase in traffic coming from search engines. In fact lower on the metrics page we can see that there was a 6.11% increase over the month. Not bad considering that on the day of my server issues there was a 60% decrease. You can also clearly see the weekly cycle of traffic which is almost perfectly mirrored from one month to the next for the first half of the month.

Drilling down even further we can check out the comparison by actual search engine:

Here’s Google:

Google-1

Here’s Yahoo:

Yahoo-1

Knowing this helps you in thinking about the SEO strategies that you’re using. Obviously some of the changes that I made a couple of weeks ago are paying off when it comes to optimizing for Yahoo.

Drill down even further and you can do the same analysis on particular keywords. Lets take a look at one from the same period – the word ‘blog’:

Blog

Obviously something was going on this month with this word. Either there was a lot more searching for the word mid June or my ranking for the word shot up.

The type of analysis that you could do using these types of comparisons are endless. You can compare how many pages are being viewed, time on site, bounce rate, page views, ad word campaigns etc. You can also do it with different periods of time (week to week, year to year) and you can drill it down in any number of ways.

You can even compare how a specific post does from one month to the next. For example after revealing that ‘About Me’ was the #1 search term to bring me traffic from Google last week – the page that the traffic all went to (How to write your About Me Page) has had an increase in traffic:

About-Me

Virtually every stat that you can check on Google Analytics can be compared from one period to the next – and the results of doing so can be quite illuminating – particularly when you’re tracking changes that you’ve made to your blog to see how they convert.

PS – How to Compare Periods: I just mentioned that I was writing this post to a friend on IM and they told me that they didn’t know that Google Analytics could do this. I suspect others will want to know how to compare different periods also – so here’s how:

Once you’re on your analytics dashboard click on the date area in the top right hand corner. This will open up a screen like this:

Date-Selection

Select the first period of time that you want to compare.

Once you’ve done this check the ‘Compare to Past’ box and the ability to select another period will open up:

Compare

As mentioned above – I don’t just choose the period exactly before the first one as I like to start the periods on the same day of the week. You could do it with calendar periods though if you wish.

After you’ve done this simply click ‘Apply Range’ and it’ll compare the periods for you.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Google analytics seems a fairly powerful tool, and I think tracking your site stats has got to be one of the most important ways to ensure stable long-term growth.

    I currently don’t use Googly Analytics, although you might just have swayed me on that one…

    If you know where everything’s coming from, you can better leverage your traffic channels to build your blog and increase visitor numbers.

    Great post Darren – I’ve saved a copy of the comparison tip so I can use it later on ;)

  2. Dan Cole says:

    Wow, this is really cool. I’ll have to check it out on my own website.

  3. I didn’t know you can do more with Analytics! I usually just use it to see stats. Thanks for the tip.

  4. Mason Hipp says:

    Darren,

    The ability to compare time frames is an awesome addition to Google analytics. It can be extremely useful to monitor how changes and other things effect search traffic over time.

    Do you have any idea if they still let you view intra-day statistics? In the previous interface it was possible to view traffic by the hour in the day, etc… I think they may have removed it from the new interface.

    Thanks for the article,

    – Mason

  5. Bachelorium says:

    Thanks for the breakdown Darren.

    The most useful part of Google Analytics I believe, is being able to breakdown traffic via source, then delving deeper into that data. Really opens your eyes to how traffic from a different sources navigates your website in vastly different ways.

  6. Homemom3 says:

    What a helpful guide. I’ve recently started using google analytics and my favorite feature has been watching it rise up and down but also the keywords being used. I was shocked by some but not by others. It’s amazing the things people may look up to find my site. I wanted to thank you for walking us through the how to compare two dates, I had wondered about that. Okay well I’m off to compare days of the week now.

  7. Blaine Moore says:

    Thanks for the heads up on this, Darren. That’s a great tip, and I was unaware that Analytics did this.

    I need to start using it more.

  8. Rhys says:

    Thanks Darren, now I have conclusive graphical proof that the Harry Potter 7 launch, coupled with the flooding in most of the UK, DID have a profound effect on my traffic last weekend! :D

  9. Matt Huggins says:

    Great information, Darren. I’ve used this several times in comparing various pieces of statistics over different time ranges, and it’s an invaluable tool. Thanks for linking to my post as well, hopefully some new Analytics users will find use from it! :)

  10. I’ve always studied just the previous months traffic in the past, rather than comparing month on month. I’ll be looking into this feature further to see what trends I can find. Thanks for tip.

  11. Russ says:

    I have been using Analytics for the past few months, but I never realized there was so much possibilty with it. It seems to be a very powerful system, and thankfully, it’s free! :)

  12. Google Analytics rocks! You can do sooooo much with it. I have never compared time periods but now maybe I will. I enjoyed just looking at your traffic graphs! ;)

  13. marquis says:

    Thanks for the tip. I’m going to use this more often.

    http://alltalksports.wordpress.com/

  14. Bush Mackel says:

    I can’t believe I didn’t know about this feature! This is why you’re the Pro Blogger!

  15. Comparing month to month is a good trick, but I hadn’t thought to bring that concept across to a per search engine comparison. Thanks for that idea. I will definitely do some trend reporting with that and see what happens, especially before and after any major changes to the site or promotions I might be offering.

    Charles McKeever
    OpenSourceMarketer.com

  16. Darren

    Thanks for the tip.. I have just added google analytics to my site

    It was easier than I thought it would be !

    Matthew

  17. Great tips Darren. I especially like Google Analytics to review my content and SERPS position on different search engines. I find it amazing the huge differences between Yahoo, Google, Ask, MSN, AOL, etc. What’s even more amazing are the keywords people find my site by.

    You can also analyse you content by looking at the Bounce rate and Time On Page. That will let you know just how good your content really is.

    Don

  18. brian says:

    Wow. I’ve been using it since Beta and never thought to try this. Very cool. Seems I should be spending more time learning all the features of GA.

  19. Shine says:

    Darren you do read your readers’ minds… I am actually thinking about writing you an email asking your advice on statistics. The thing is I’m using a couple of them, mainly including the google analytics as well as the website host (Blue Host in my case). What I am aware of is the trend is more or less the same but the figures are quite different – and I don’t know which one should I use and whether there is any discrepencies on the definition…

    Thanks for this very very very useful post with all the tips. Keep learning…

  20. Buxr.com says:

    Great info Darren.. I’ve been doing this for about a month now, and it give you real insight about traffic changes.

    The real question for me is, when do I find time to do all this analysis?

  21. Yes, Google Analytics really provides good statistics. Before Analytics, we were were actually depending on software like awstats, etc which is not that accurate.

    After adding a code snippet from Analytics, we started relying on it very much.

    There are many good features within Analytics! We especially like the detailed demographic feature as well as features that show us more about serps

  22. rich page says:

    This is a great post about a great feature of Google Analytics, and I am a big fan of Google Analytics. I decided to be different and actually help improve it. I created the 10 ten things that need fixing for google analytics and made a blog post for it:
    http://rich-page.com/web-analytics/google-analytics-10-missing-pieces/

    I would love to know what you all think. Especially Google?

    Rich Page

  23. Laura says:

    Good post! I’ve never really understood Google analytics and this helps.

  24. Xavier says:

    Thank you for this Darren!

  25. Wow, this is really cool.

    http://www.technobuzz.net

  26. Thanks for the insight. I am still trying to learn the new analytics interface now that they shut the old one down. It is a very powerful tool and can’t wait to see what other tricks you might post about. I guess I still have a lot to learn.

  27. XiaoRouWan says:

    Thanks for the great tips, Darren, especially on the compare period. I been using for months and like the others I didn’t know that Google Analytics could do this. (^ o ^)

  28. @rich-page, While I don’t agree with all 10 of your suggestions, mainly the 10th, the others were on target in my eyes.

    @Darren, Nice write-up on using Google Analytics in a more meaningful way. This article directly addresses the 10th suggestion from Rich – support.

  29. zool says:

    OO.. I don’t know that google analytics can do this..
    It can be used to compare my traffic ..
    good tips

  30. Anne Maiden says:

    Hi everyone,
    I was wondering if it was possible to get the traffic for every friday from 2 pm to 5 pm. I have not figured it out yet and need help if it is at all possible

  31. Cher says:

    Hey Darren! I’ve been using Statcounter to track the visitors. Can i use google analytics for the same website? Will there be any problem if i use two traffic counters at the same time.

  32. cardiogirl says:

    I’m curious exactly *how many* page views you receive per day.

    Definitely you have illustrated how to compare time periods and how to use Google Analytics but you have cropped out the amount of page views on the side of the graph.