Columns > Published on September 6th, 2019

Sell Books, Get Noticed: Google Analytics for Authors

This is some seriously unsexy stuff. Buckle up.

We all know that Google, Facebook, what have you, all of them are doing some weird, creepy data tracking. And it’s probably no coincidence that the outlets doing the most data tracking are also tremendously successful. Data is power. Data is currency.

They own your ass, is what I’m saying.

This leaves you, the average Joe, with two options:

Rage against the machine
Use the machine

Google Analytics is a pretty astonishing tool, especially because it’s free! You don’t even have to pay for it, and you can get all kinds of data about your website’s users, people you might go ahead and call “fans.”

With a little bit of learnin’, you can start collecting and using data from your author website to push your newsletter to new heights, figure out where people are falling off in the book-buying process, and see just how much your social media time is paying off.

Not convinced? Let me tell you how Google Analytics can help.

Why This Isn’t Evil

Learning how people are finding and using your website assists them. Think about it. If you discover that 80% of users who end up on your main page are immediately going to your “Books” page, you can save them time by changing your site so the “Books” page serves as your landing page. If you spend A LITTLE time learning how to use Google Analytics, you can save each of your fans a little time and energy, which adds up to A TON of time and energy. Time and energy they can use to read your stuff.

You aren’t tricking people into buying your books, reading your work, or doing anything they don’t want to do. I don’t have any advice for flashing subliminal They Live! messages on your site. It’s nothing that sinister. You’re interpreting user behavior and tailoring your site to make it easier for them to accomplish the things they’re looking to do anyway. If that just happens to help your bottom line? Seems like a win-win proposition. 

The last pitch I’ll make on this front, before you decide whether or not it’s evil, learn more about it. Don’t just say, “Big data? That’s evil.” Find out what it is first.

Setting Up Google Analytics

It’s simple: sign up, get a code, and start tracking.

Even if you’re not interested in the other steps listed below or interested in the data right now, take 10 minutes and set this up today. Why? Because Google Analytics starts tracking data when you put the code on your site, but it can’t reach into the past. So, you can always go back and poke around in previously-collected data, but you can’t create data from a time before you started collecting.

Think about it like this: Say I run a small bookstore, Pete’s Print Hole. I want to see whether my new commercial, a HILARIOUS send-up of Demolition Man, is bringing more foot traffic into my store, so I set up a digital counter that tallies everyone that walks in. In order to know how effective my commercial is, however, I would need to set up that door counter months before the ad runs, right? In order to give me some baseline data? The more baseline data I have, the easier it’ll be to figure out how good an investment a screen-worn Glen Shadix costume really was.

You might not have the time or inclination to do any online campaigning, to create a commercial, to open a bookstore with “Hole” in the name, but you DO have the time to set up Google Analytics now, which will really help you out if you decide to do any of these things in the future.

I’ll even give you links to some of the most common quick guides to getting set up on different platforms:


Most of the specific things I’m talking about are linked to lessons from Google’s Analytics Academy, which is free, takes a couple hours, and will get you going. Here is the link to the overall site. If you’re totally lost, start from scratch, spend a little time, and you’ll be a pro lickety-split. If you already know a little bit, feel free to follow the specific links and do it buffet-style.


Figuring out your users’ preferred technology is important. Why? If your audience is viewing your web site on a mobile device, then you need to retool your site to look good on a phone. We all build these things on a full-size screen, but we should probably be paying attention to how they look on a phone, if that’s where people are coming from. Take a look at your technology stats, see where people are coming from, and adjust accordingly.

You might also look at your bounce rate under the technology tab and find out whether you’re bouncing a disproportionate number of users on mobile devices versus desktop users, which might tell you that your mobile site leaves something to be desired. Don’t know much about Bounce Rate? Fine, read on.

Bounce Rate

This is the percent of people who hit your web site and immediately, well, bounce.

But what does this mean?

But what does this mean? It CAN mean that someone showed up and didn’t find what they were looking for. It CAN mean that people are being funneled to your site by something that your site isn’t intended for, something that’s not helping you out.

You’ll always have some bounce because people go to your site mistakenly, drunkenly, or while making a sober mistake (I GUESS that’s possible). And, if your site is a one-stop, one page affair, then a higher bounce rate is less concerning. 

If you have an exceptionally high bounce rate, consider looking into the things that bring people to your site, and dig deeper to figure out why they aren’t hooked by what you have to offer.


The interests of your site’s users shouldn’t determine the books you’re writing. But those interests could DEFINITELY inform some of the content that goes up on your site. If people are coming to your site and are interested in movies, then it’s a decent bet that a little movie-related content might convince them to hang around a little longer. Maybe this informs what you put in your newsletter. Maybe what you talk about on Twitter.

Point being, I wouldn’t advise writing entire books to your existing audience based on their interests, but what you do online isn’t writing books, it’s marketing. Why not figure out what gives you the reach you’re looking for?


In sales, a conversion is basically turning someone from a browser into a buyer.

On your site, you can drill pretty deep into conversions. You could set up tracking for just about any action. Clicks on a button, watching a video, filling out a form. Whatever weird crap you might want them to do, you can set up code that tracks whether or not they’re doing it. Once you set up the goal in Analytics, you can watch how various actions affect the number of conversions. You can see where in the process people are getting hung up. You can even see which things are assisting in conversions, what those middle steps are, the John Stocktons of your sales process (anyone?).

It’s not just about sales. You can track who signs up for your newsletter. You can track who clicks the little button at the bottom of your page that says “DO NOT CLICK!” Do people still have those? Is that a late 90’s thing?

Measure Campaigns

Let’s say you’re putting out a book about, oh, I dunno, a terrible paranormal detective. So you decide it’s time to put a little money into campaigning.

One of the really useful things you can do with Google Analytics is track your campaigns with data that’s much better than, “Well, I guess I had slightly better sales…” You can see where people came from before they hit your web site, what they were doing, how they behaved once they arrived. You can compare campaigns and easily see how successful they are.

Basically, you can see whether you’re getting a good return on that campaign investment. Which makes it easy to put some campaign energy into different outlets, different methods, and compare where you’re getting the best for your money, your time, or both.

Be Smart on Social Media

Google Analytics can answer the hard question: Am I spending my time well?

Are you on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram? Of course you are. I know some of you are too cool for Facebook and would never admit it, but everyone’s there. Let’s be adults about this.

Analytics will help you figure out which social media platform is driving the most traffic your way. You can use this data in a variety of ways. Maybe your Twitter game is strong, so you double down. Maybe your Twitter game is strong, so you start looking to Instagram as an untapped resource.

However you look at it, just make sure you do, in fact, look at it. It’s very tempting for most of us to spend a little too much time on social media “working” when what we’re really doing is fooling around. Google Analytics can answer the hard question: Am I spending my time well?

You can take this further as well, going beyond raw numbers of visitors to find out which sources bring you the most valuable traffic. Maybe a lot of people visit your blog from Twitter, but when people find your site via Instagram, they are a lot more likely to stick around, to click on other pages, subscribe to a newsletter, or to buy (and therefore, perhaps, are a more “valuable” audience to court). There are a few different ways to look at the value of a given audience, and you should take advantage of them. 


Analytics can tell you when people are using your site and help you make a timing decision.

Traditional techniques would tell you it’s smart to send out your newsletter just before your web site usage peaks for the day. That way, you’re giving your new content that little kick in the ass at the time when it can just be a LITTLE kick in the ass. When people only need A LITTLE nudge to look at your great site.

You can also use this to schedule posts to make sure they’re ready for those who come to your site, hungry for new content.

When are people inclined to visit your site already? Let the data tell you, and be ready for them.


This is where things start to get a little complicated, but stay with me.

Google Analytics offers some powerful tools to do what’s called Remarketing. Remarketing is about creating ads targeting those people who ALMOST bought something, maybe spent a lot of time poking around, but ultimately didn’t pull the trigger.

This might not be a huge population, however consider that they were ALMOST there. They might only require a small, extra shove to get them to buy. They might be the people who respond to a slight discount, a package deal, or any small incentive. In other words, you might be able to sell a fair number of people with a small effort. At the very least, it's an alternative to the shotgun approach of advertising.


If you’re selling directly from your site, good for you, first of all. Second, why not find out where most people are dropping out of the checkout process?

This can be extremely valuable because there may be a technical issue with your site that is throwing a lot of potential buyers. There might be a weird button location or some kind of looping glitch that’s frustrating a good number of folks. If you add shipping costs, you might be able to see that this is what’s changing minds. If nothing else, get peace of mind that people aren’t ignoring your stuff because it stinks. Maybe it's because of a technical issue.

This is just the tip of the nerdberg, but taking a little time to work with hard data gives you a leg up as an author, and it's a tool the big boys are using to crush you. Why not do some crushing of your own? I really do recommend Google's Analytics Academy. You'll find out that you've got options you never thought possible. 

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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