Yes, I was in your position too. Back when I was starting, Google Analytics confused the hell out of me.
The terms were complicated and so were the reports. Analytics is powerful and functional, maybe too powerful and functional, that sometimes I don’t know where to go or what to click.
And I am sure I am not alone in that regard. Google Analytics has a reputation for having a steep learning curve and is undoubtedly unforgiving for the beginner.
You will find yourself asking, “Where do I begin?” “What’s going on here?” “What’s this?” during your first few sessions. But don’t be frustrated; it is complicated because it covers many things in-depth.
How did I manage to work around it, then? Well, the experience gathered from trial and error helped me.
Compared to when I was beginning, it is certainly much easier now. I got the hang of the most important things, though there are still new things to discover and learn.
Fortunately, the presence of different media makes setting up your analytics easier. Guides are available online; video tutorials are accessible; even Google itself has resources you can use.
I am so much more comfortable with Google Analytics now, and I want you to be too. Google Analytics is currently the most popular and powerful data analytics tool, so you are missing out on a ton of useful information if you don’t know how to use it.
Gathered through my experience with Google Analytics over the years, here is my definitive and in-depth guide.
What is Google Analytics?
Let’s start it off by outlining just what Google Analytics is.
Google Analytics is a data gathering and examination tool that allows the webmaster an extremely detailed and in-depth look at the performance of his website/app. With Google Analytics, a site owner or app developer can see where all the traffic for his site is coming from and what the visitors spend their time on while on the site.
Google Analytics has the added benefit of being able to integrate the many marketing products of Google (Search Console, Ads, Tag Manager, Data Studio, etc.) into its calculations. If you also use these Google products, then Analytics is for you.
The platform gathers an enormous amount of raw data and processes them into manageable reports. These reports contain the summarized and understandable information used to gain valuable insight and make informed decisions.
Without these data, you will not know if your marketing strategy produces the desired results. Being able to track, interpret, and summarize meaningful data into digestible information makes Google Analytics an essential weapon in any digital marketer’s arsenal.
Relevant: You would also like to read about generating leads with OptinMonster here
Is Google Analytics free?
Google Analytics has a free and paid version, called Analytics 360. If you are a relatively small business, then you will get all the functionality you need with the free version.
Large enterprises who want more advanced features such as attribution modelling, roll-up reporting, unlimited and unsampled data, and metrics per property will want to use the 360 version. Paying for the premium version also gives you access to your own account manager, and a dedicated support system.
About pricing though, it’s definitely not cheap. At $150,000 per year, the 360’s cost is a deal-breaker for many companies.
The standard version is plenty sufficient for a lot of users. But if you are a large business with the budget to pay for the subscription and a team that handles technical analytics, then you might consider investing.
The Google Analytics platform gives a full view of how the site is performing as a whole. How does the tool achieve this?
The program gathers lots of data about your site, mainly about:
- The number of visitors per page
- What page the visitors came from
- What those visitors do on your site
- How the users interact with the many different elements on the page
- At what stage the visitors leave from your site
- How long the visitors spend on the page
- And many more.
These cookies send hits to your Google Analytics account that reports each interaction of the user to your site.
The cookies send hits to your Analytics tool, and these hits are analyzed to generate reports. Google Analytics works with three types of hits.
A pageview hit is sent every time a user visits any of your pages. It includes information such as the browser and device they are using and the pages they are visiting.
An event hit happens when a visitor does something. Examples of these events are clicking a link, playing a video, downloading a file, or filling up a form.
A transaction or e-commerce hit is when a site visitor purchases something from your site. Straightforward transaction-related insights, such as price and quantity bought, are included in the hit.
The tool does not present the data in its raw, unprocessed form. Google Analytics, through powerful calculations, first transforms the data into meaningful and digestible reports.
Data is separated into users and sessions.
User data relate to the visitors of your site. Google Analytics gives each visitor a unique ID tag; Analytics recognizes them if they return to the website and tag them as a ‘returning’ visitor.
The ‘returning’ tag only works if they use the same device, and can be circumvented if the user deletes the cookies from their browser.
Session data relates to the visiting of the user to the site itself. A session is essentially the time a visitor spends on your website.
It begins from the time of the pageview hit and lasts until they leave the site. Session data analytics include actions taken, time spent, and pages visited, among many others.
Google Analytics processes these reports into visual form for understandability and makes it easier to identify patterns and convey complicated ideas. All of the reports on Google Analytics display a mix of both metrics and dimensions.
Dimensions, in a way, refers to the categorical and fundamental attributes of collected data sets. For example, a “country” dimension shows the countries where the site users come from.
The metrics are the quantitative attributes that tell you the amount of something. Pageviews and clicks, as well as the length of stay on a page, are some of the metrics available.
However, not all of both can be combined into reports. Each has a specific level at which the data is collated, referred to as ‘scope.’
‘User level,’ ‘session-level,’ and ‘hit level’ are the different scope levels. Only metrics and dimensions lying in the same scope can be combined.
In any Analytics report, the Dimensions are the horizontal rows and the metrics are the vertical columns.
Google Analytics has default reports, as well as custom ones where you can dictate what and what not to see.
Why do you need Google Analytics?
You are seriously missing out on a ton of useful metrics if you are not using an analytics tool. Such a tool allows you to see what works on your site and what doesn’t.
What makes Google analytics valuable?
- Tracking conversions. An owner of an e-commerce store will not only care about the traffic the site derives but also whether the website visitors purchase from the online store or not. With Google Analytics, you can set up goals that the program can track. These goals are usually actions that the visitors complete on the site.
- Improve Customer Engagement. Google Analytics has numerous functions helping you understand the behavior of your site visitors and users. Understanding this allows you to improve your site’s content, refine the user experience, and create something of value to your users.
- Monitor Mobile Device Performance. Google adopts mobile-first indexing, meaning that for your site to rank in the Google SERPs, then your website must be mobile-friendly. Google Analytics can monitor from what device your site is being accessed from, and can give you an insight on how your site is faring on mobile.
- Marketing Help. Google Analytics will help you adjust and customize your marketing campaigns, showing channels to invest in and stay away from.
- Site Performance Analysis. The tool also gathers useful data on your site performance so that you can build a plan to improve it. Google Analytics can monitor metrics such as traffic, load times both on desktop and mobile, and the average time a user stays on your site.
- SEO Optimization. Google Analytics also has features that highlight the performance of your site in terms of SEO.
Glossary of terms
Before delving into how to set up your Google Analytics account, here is a quick reference for the terms you will commonly encounter throughout the use of the tool. Understanding what common words mean will make your work easier.
- Audiences. Audiences are customized groups of web users you create. These will aid in identifying the types of users in Analytics reports, Google Ads campaigns, and other Google marketing tools.
- Bounce Rate. When a user visits your site or app and leaves without doing anything or never interacting with any of its elements, the visitor is said to have “bounced.” The bounce rate is a percentage of sessions resulting in the event described, during a chosen range of dates.
- Campaigns. Campaigns are the different specific ways the users find about your app or website. Google Analytics has the power to track campaigns, such as Google Ads campaigns or any custom campaign.
- Conversions. The number of times a user completes a defined goal.
- Direct Traffic. When a user starts a session on your site without coming from or directed by a different traffic source (such as another site). For example, a user typing the URL into the browser instead of clicking at a link from a Google SERP is a kind of direct traffic.
- Funnels. A funnel is simply the path a user takes to complete goals. For example, a user with the intent of purchase will go through a sales or transaction funnel.
- Goals. Goals are the specific objectives that you can define as necessary for your business. They can be thought of as the desired result of a site visit from a user. Accomplished goals are usually significant determiners of how your website or app is performing. For example, the goal of an e-commerce site is to drive purchases and conversions. If your site is accomplishing decent conversion numbers, then your site seems to be successful.
- Pages/Session. This refers to the average number of pages a user visited on the app or site per session. It includes the times when a single page is viewed repeatedly.
- Pageviews. The total number of views your site or app pages accumulate over a selected time range is referred to as the total pageviews.
- Reports. This is one of Google Analytics’ main functionality. The tool, aside from giving you the choice of 50 free reports, allows you to create custom ones you can tailor depending on your intended use.
- Sessions. The period where users are interacting with the elements on your site or app on a chosen date range.
- Users. The ‘Users’ and ‘Active Users’ metric reflects the number of website or app visitors who engaged in at least one session on the site or app for a selected date interval.
Now, there is no real need to memorize the terms mentioned here. If you encounter a dead-end with your use of Analytics, hovering over the words will show a pop-up box with the description.
The question mark at the top right of the Google Analytics window gives you access to the tool’s very own help center, where you can search for information.
Set up your Google Analytics campaign
To make use of Analytics, you have to set the tool up first. And to set it up correctly, you have to understand the various tiers first to organize your account.
Google Analytics hierarchy
Google Analytics has a hierarchy system that helps in the organization. It also dictates just how many elements of each tier you can have on one account.
Organization is the highest tier and is typically reserved for large companies. One organization account can have many Google Analytics accounts under it.
Accounts are mandatory; you cannot use Google Analytics without one. A Google Account is enough to use Google Analytics.
Under a single Google account, you can have 100 Analytics accounts at most.
Properties are simply the websites or apps examined by Google Analytics. Up to 50 properties can be assigned to one Google Analytics account.
A question often asked is if it is better to create a new account for each property or adding properties to one account. I say that it depends on individual circumstances.
If you have one website with many subdirectory sites, then you will want to create different properties for each site to better monitor their performance.
But if you have, say, a site as your main one, and another one you are maintaining not related to that. In these circumstances, you may want separate properties in separate accounts.
Views are divided into two: one not configured whatsoever and one with exclusion filters set up to exclude any traffic you do not want to be examined, such as views from your own company.
Views are the information captured after the application of configurations and filter settings. You are allowed up to 25 views under a single property.
Note, however, that there is no definite way to organize your Google Analytics account. It’s all a matter of preference.
If you want to combine many different properties in one account because you don’t want to be bothered logging into different accounts, then you can do that.
Things to note, though, are that deleted views cannot be retrieved, and properties cannot be migrated from one account to another.
Set up your Google Analytics property
To make it simple, we’ll assume that you have only one account and one website or app needing an analytics tool. Setting up your own Google Analytics campaign involves five general steps.
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- If you don’t have an account already, create your own.
- Add the industry, URL, and name of the site you want to track.
- Add the code just after the tag of your site.
- Verify that the set-up is working by opening the Analytics portal while opening and clicking around your site through a different tab or device. The report is updated in real-time to show one visitor (you).
Let’s take a look at the process of setting up a property.
Log-in with an account, or create one if you don’t have any.
To get started with Analytics, you need an account. If you are using Google ads, docs, Gmail, drive, YouTube, or any other Google product, then you’re good to go.
Once you have an account, go to Google Analytics, then click the “Sign In To Analytics” button. You are then greeted by this window.
The window shows the steps needed to get Google Analytics up and running for your site.
After clicking the “Sign Up” button on the right, you will be redirected to a page that looks like this.
Follow the instructions on the screen to proceed. Once you have an account name and made the choices you want, you will then be given three options on what to measure: app, site, or both.
After choosing, the final process with the account set up is to give the exact details of the site you intend to track. If you want to add another property, then you can add those later if you would like, but for now, enter the URL of the main site you want to analyze.
Once everything is in order, click the “Create” button to finalize your Analytics account. The tool will also give you a code that allows it to collect the data that it processes into reports.
Once all that is done, you need to add that code to your site.
Add the tracking code
The window looks like this, and the tracking code is inside the rectangle.
This is a unique identifier for the registered website or app. You will need to paste it to the code of every web page you want to track.
There are several ways to add the code to your site.
- You can do it manually by copying the gtag.js code given by Google Analytics and pasting it on the tag of the header file. Do this for each of the pages you would like to track. You can do this through a text editor program (such as Notepad) and then upload the HTML file to your web hosting program through software such as FileZilla.
- The Google Tag Manager is there to help with adding the code to all of your pages at once. Access Google Tag Manager, select Create Tag, and Google Analytics. Select Universal Analytics, then give a name to your tag. Name it something simple and easy to remember. Choose the appropriate track type, typically page view. Select the firing trigger you want, “All Pages” in this case. This option will apply the tracker to all pages of your site.
- If you are using a CMS such as WordPress, there is an option to install the Google Analytics code via a plugin. The WordPress app store has a selection of plugins for Google Analytics, just choose one, and follow the instructions.
- App maker software, e-commerce sites such as Shopify, and popular website building platforms such as Wix, have their specific directions on the installation of the tracking code.
These are typically found in the administrative dashboard or in the help section of the platform you are hosting your site with.
The installation of Google Analytics depends on the platform, plugins, and theme you use. You will be able to find detailed instructions on the proper installation of the tracking code with a quick Google search on how to install Google Analytics on the platform you use.
Verify that the tracking code is working by opening Google Analytics and opening the page on a different tab or device. You must be able to see at least one pageview.
Once the account properties are set up, the tracking code is added, and it is verified to be working, then you are good to go. Google Analytics is now tracking data.
While the data builds up, you can set up other features. One of the most important of them, in my opinion, is the Goals function.
Set up goals
As said earlier, different websites have different goals. And this metric can be one identifier of the success of a website.
Google Analytics has a way to see the details surrounding how well a site facilitates achieving goals.
To set up goals, go to the Analytics Admin panel, then select the Goals option. A new page will open with a ‘+Goals’ option, choose that and decide whether to use an already existing Goals template or create a custom one.
Most Analytics users will find the default goal templates enough to fulfill their needs because all common goals and settings are already there. You can also create your custom settings, and it is pretty easy to do.
There are four goals that Google Analytics can measure. The tool counts the event as a conversion if it satisfies the condition of the goal.
- Destination – A conversion is recorded upon the visit of a user to a specified URL.
- Duration – If a user stays on the site for a set length of time, then Analytics records a conversion.
- Event – If a visitor finishes a particular action, such as filling out a form or downloading a file, then that is recorded as a goal conversion.
- Pages/Screens per session – A goal completion is reached when a user clicks and views a pre-specified number of pages in one session.
These are the goals that Analytics measure, and are the options to choose from for a custom goal.
Once you are done setting up your goal parameters, follow the on-screen steps. Google Analytics will ask for specific details and fields for the exact nature of the goals.
For example, Analytics may ask for a specific URL for a destination goal. Duration or pages/session are also easy to set up.
Event goals, however, are quite different and require the setting up of events under Analytics. This warrants a separate article altogether, and Google has a pretty comprehensive piece about this.
When you are done with this, click the “Create Goal” button to complete the process. Analytics then immediately starts with goal tracking.
Add additional properties and accounts
You may want to add new properties and accounts before delving into reports. Same as the goals, to do this, then head to the admin menu.
There are ‘Create Account’ and ‘Create Property’ buttons in this window. Choose the relevant one for you, after which you will be taken through the sequential process of setting up these new accounts or properties.
Google Analytics reports
After everything has been set up, you can just wait and do what you usually do. Your first report with enough significant data can be seen after 24 hours, which is enough for the tool to have collected data.
These reports are accessed through the Analytics dashboard, and links to the different types of Analytics reports are on the left side of the dashboard window. The right side has detailed graphical breakdowns and occupies most of the remaining space.
The overview dashboard is the main window of Analytics and is where you will find the links you need to navigate the tool. Your every visit and use of Analytics will start here.
The left side contains the links to specific Analytics reports, and the right side is the graphs, tables, and other representations of data. It also occupies most of the window, and understandably so.
The graphical information is displayed on cards, and there are options on those cards to tweak what they show. You can change the date range or the type of data shown.
The left-side menu contains the different report options available, and clicking on them will give you more options for in-depth measurements. Let’s take a look at the reports.
Real-time reports are the first option on the left menu. It is similar to the main dashboard, but instead shows data of the users currently on your site.
Because of this, the real-time reports regularly update as Analytics receives new hits.
You, as the webmaster, will be able to see the pages they are currently in, the sites they came from, their location, the device they are using, and more.
Clicking the different options on the left side provides more insight. For example, clicking the ‘location’ options shows where the visitors are based.
While the real-time reports are undoubtedly helpful, you will find yourself using this report the least. It has some case uses, however.
As an online store with a one-day sale campaign, you will want to monitor how the sale affects the single-day traffic and conversion. If you posted a new blog post, you might want to take a look at the traffic for that blog post.
The audience report helps you know more about your visitors, both on the site currently, and about the past and returning visitors. You can get data on the number of users, session length, and more.
One great thing about audience reports is the depth of information they provide. These include the following.
- Language and Location
- New vs. Returning
- Recency vs. Frequency
- Device type
- Browsers, operating systems, and network connections the visitors use
All the information in this section is crucial to making a successful marketing campaign.
Acquisition reports are focused on how visitors end up at your site.
The report dissects your traffic by where it came from and how the visitors found your site. It takes a look at the traffic generated through ad placings, social media, and organic searches.
- If Google ads is your ad campaign manager, then you can integrate its results into Google Analytics. You can see information regarding how your keywords and search queries affect your site traffic.
- The search console option is critical when you want to know how your site fares when it comes to organic searches. Information such as how often your site URL comes up in SERPs or user queries are readily available.
Data about site engagement, such as conversion and bounce rates, and other post-clicking data, are also accessible. This can help you optimize the site for it to come up more in organic searches or to increase user engagement.
- The acquisition reports’ social function measures how social media consumes your content. You can see how users interact with your social media content, as well as how it impacts the behaviors of the site users.
- The campaigns report is geared toward paid Google ads campaigns. You can see data related to paid and organic keywords, as well as cost analysis.
Some of the reports already mentioned provide surface-level data. Behavior reports are where you will go if you want to delve into more comprehensive information sets.
Actions such as how the visitors use the search function and view content are available here. Technical information, such as the bounce rate, session duration, page views, and load times are also under behavior reports.
There are seven specialized reports under the main Behavior report, accessible through the left side panel.
This report shows the path visitors traveled to get from one page to the next. This is useful for knowing what pages keep the users engaged the most and identifying pages with potential content issues.
The site speed report, as is with the name, tells you how fast the site loads, which can be sorted by page, browser, and location. The report also contains some ways or suggestions to improve the load times.
In site content, you will find the list of pages visitors have viewed for a specified period. This allows you to examine how the pages are performing, the number of pageviews, the bounce rate, and the average time a user stays on a page.
The site search option reflects how the visitors use the search function of your site, helping you know the pages they are looking for and the keywords they use. With this knowledge, you can optimize your existing content or create new ones.
Analytics defines an event as a unique user interaction aside from the usual screen loading, and which can be tracked independently. Examples of these are filling out forms, watching a video clip, or downloading a file.
As said earlier, you can set up a tracking method for a particular page to see the interactions with that specific piece of content.
If your ads are monetized with AdSense or AdExchange, this particular report gives out metrics on the clicks, impressions, and revenue your site generates.
The experiments reports are for those who are interested in the more technical aspects of the page. The reports here focus on things such as A/B testing, cookie targeting, multivariate testing, and geotargeting.
These experiments are available through Google Optimize and can be integrated with the Analytics platform.
The conversion reports section is about the goals and conversions driven by your site. This dashboard is linked to the goals you have described earlier.
The ‘Goals’ option represents the total number of accomplished goals. Head to the overview section to know how you are performing in terms of the number of completed goals. The goal URL shows the URL of the page where the conversion exactly happened. The reverse goal path allows you to trace the pages the user headed to before completing a goal.
Funnel Visualization and Goal Flow generally give out information about the path the user took to complete the goal. While Funnel Visualization is more concerned with sequential completions, goal flow has less restraint and even shows when a user goes back to a specific page.
The ecommerce reports are for the online stores and are used to know purchase activity on the app or site. Basic transaction-related information such as price and quantity, as well as advanced details like conversion rate and average order values, are available.
There are multiple ways to sort the data in e-commerce reports, and it is up to you to find your preference. When maintaining a site, you are not exactly communicating with your users in one way only. When there are many sources of traffic, then it can be hard to track just which works well the most.
The multi-channel funnels report under conversions provides a way around this. It shows how the many marketing channels you employ (organic searches, paid ads, referrals, etc.) work to drive conversions.
Google Analytics FAQs
Q: I am not that good with reading data. Can someone or something just summarize it for me?
A: There is a site named Quill Engage that gathers Google Analytics data and transforms it into an understandable English report. The result is an easily digestible and understandable narrative report you can use.
Q: I want custom Analytics reports. Can I make one?
A: This is reserved for the more advanced because the default report options are enough for the typical user most of the time. But if you want to, Analytics has that option.
Simply head over to the ‘Reports’ option over at the left panel, then click customization, custom reports, and +new custom report. Enter the details needed, and you are good to go.
There are four report visualizations that you can choose from.
- Explorer is the standard analytics report with line graphs and tables and dynamic elements such as a sort option.
- The flat table report is mostly static and arranges data in rows.
- Map Overlays show a map of the world and color gradients to represent traffic and engagement by geographical area.
- Funnel is the same as conversion funnels that you define.
Click save when you are done with your configurations. To access them, click on the same reports button, then customization to see the listing of all your custom reports.
Q: What is a Segment?
A: In Google Analytics, segments are the site visitors who share the same characteristics. The tool identifies specific types of traffic that allows you to interpret data better.
For example, users from a location have high bounce rates from your site. This knowledge then may prompt you to create targeted campaigns to improve conversion rates.
You have a choice of custom segments or those built into the platform.
Q: How can I deal with my keywords showing up as (not provided)?
Keywords shown as (not provided) is Google’s way of giving search privacy. Thankfully, there are some workarounds.
Linking Google search console to your Analytics account, now provided reports from Authority Lab, and Hittail helps you uncover some of those covered terms.
They are of no use to other reports and data but are useful to know the keywords driving your traffic.
If I have to recommend one must-learn Google marketing tool, then it has to be Google Analytics. Data is king in the digital marketing landscape, and Analytics is the primary source of such valuable data.
Simply knowing what’s working and what’s not based on the set of data will go a long way in ensuring business growth. The power of objective data is accessible through a mouse click.
And the best part of it all? Google Analytics is free!
The interface is easy enough to learn. What is hard is navigating those multiple reports options to find what you want, and analyzing the data to find what you need.
Use the insights you have grabbed in this article to start with Analytics. Further trial and error will sharpen your experience, and you will get better with the tool in time.
Have you used Google Analytics before? Tell me your insights by dropping them in the comments section.
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